Marsha Jean – better known on Instagram as @themarshajean – is a badass solo travel woman who earned my awe and esteem for the deep respect and understanding of the challenging countries she visited. Yes, because she visited on her own countries like Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq. Nonetheless, she’s not the kind of Instagrammer that would visit such misrepresented countries for surprising followers and just look the cool kid on the block: she is the kind of person who really tries to understand what is around her, respect the culture and makes her best to share it through her pictures and words.
Marsha’s story is also about the healing power of roaming the world. So, let’s not procrastinate anymore, and let’s get to know this amazing traveller!
Marsh, tell me a little about you: how old are you? Where are you from? How long have you been travelling?
I’m 22. From Hong Kong. I’ve been travelling now for about 3.5 years.
Why did your trip start?
Initially, I left my abusive home at 18 and was very depressed and just wanted to spend all the money I had to travel a bit in Australia and… commit suicide. I had no plan to make it last more than 3 months, but travelling was a lot cheaper than I thought.
It had always been my dream to see the world. I didn’t know it was possible. My mind opened. I learnt how beautiful life is, I realised I knew nothing about the world.
I caught the bug and decided to keep travelling. Before I left home I really was so naive. For example, I didn’t know it was possible to work in hospitality to save for travelling. I have Australian citizenship that’s a huge blessing in finding work around the world. I also used Workaway.org a lot.
What countries did you travel as a solo woman?
Australia, Indonesia, Singapore, Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia, Philipines, Myanmar, Thailand, Nepal, Iran, Iraq (Kurdistan), Turkey, Greece, Macedonia, Kosovo, Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia, Italy, France, Monaco, England, Morocco, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka and UAE.
Did you ever feel unsafe? Did something bad happen to you?
It happens as I do take more risks than the usual person while travelling. For example, when I was first getting used to hitch-hiking I made some mistakes because I was not listening to my gut and getting into the wrong cars. I had also bad run-ins with the authorities as they question my purpose of travelling in some countries. Or getting stuck in the middle of nowhere. Also, when I did my bicycle touring trip in Central Asia a few drivers should have given me more space.
Sometimes media depicts countries in such a way to make us think they are dangerous. Which one is the country you think we have the wrongest idea about because of their representation in the media?
Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq (Kurdistan).
I can’t agree more. At least for what concerns the countries that we visited (Iran and Iraq). I came across your account looking for information about Pakistan, and it seemed to me that you loved this country very much. Why did you like it? Is it a safe country for solo women?
I travel mostly for experience and in Pakistan there’s a lot of opportunity for traveling deeply.
The locals are usually so helpful and hospitable. The country itself is full of treasure – different cultures, archaeological sites, stunning nature, and amazing people.
Safety is relevant and everyone would have their own point of view. Pakistan is a developing country and has a very different culture compared to the west. So for a western woman who has never travelled alone in Asia before might find it challenging. For me, I’m very used to how to mingle into the culture to receive the most respect. As always, women have to take more cautions everywhere in the world. In terms of kidnapping and violent crime, I never felt much threat and it is uncommon nowadays.
Pakistan had its difficult days but the army has been doing a pretty good job with security. But as always you need to do your own homework and stay updated. There are areas such as Baluchistan province which aren’t safe but foreigners are not allowed to enter anyway.
Tell me more about mindset and travelling, something that is quite important for you:
It’s important. The mindset you carry while travelling – makes all the differences in the world. It changes your perspective of the country, what you learn, and your impact. I myself prefer to have an open mind and heart with the intention to learn and absorb the culture, history, nature. meet people and connect with them.
It’s so so important to have no expectations for a country, otherwise, you might become an imperialist or only see the generalised side of a country you want to see.
Then what you experience becomes so superficial. For example, if you go to Pakistan and want to take photos with AK47 kalašnikov and tell your friends this is Pakistan – just stay home.
Also, the way you travel can dictate how much and what you learn about a place. I personally like to travel slow and stay with as many locals as possible. I barely ever stay in hostels or guest houses. I use Couchsurfing or just by talking to locals I get invited to stay with many different families.
How do you think travel is impacting on the world? How can we make travel sustainable?
Travel has many impacts on the world. Good and bad.
Economic growth, people becoming more understanding, globalisation, environmental issues, etc. I think it’s important we do research on travel responsibility and environmental responsibility. Try to fly as little as possible. Understand what imperialism and orientalism are. How not to impact negatively on a community socially.
For example, travel photography can have huge negative impacts on a country or your morals if you don’t do it responsibly.
What is the most important thing that travels taught you?
That we are all one.
Happiness is when you realise what are the most important things and don’t become a slave to something – whether it is money, beauty or fame. The most basic purpose of life is just to live it out the happiest way you can be, be bubbly, and cause no suffering.
I guess when you interact and see how so many different people live and think, you really start to see “it” .
What will happen now? What are you planning next?
Right now I have just spent a year travelling through Central Asia. I’m very tired and want to spend some time in one place to save money and focus on my health.
Marsha Jean’s last trip was a second visit to Afghanistan. Find out more about it on her Instagram account’s stories, and be surprised about how little we know about this country!