We sat down with inspiring world traveler Marissa Berland Branisavljevic, to find out more about her globetrotting adventures and what she has learned whilst on her journey.
1. Can you tell us a little background about yourself?
Well I grew up in Roswell, Georgia and graduated from the University of Georgia as well, so everything really started there. Growing up I was always considered a hyperactive and or restless type child ( laughs), so right after College I was already wanting to spread my wings and try something new. Around that time I heard about the ” Birthright Program” which allowed those who are Jewish ( my family and I are Russian Jews), to visit Israel on a free program.
It was there during that trip to Israel that the word Backpacker entered my vocabulary, and literally changed my life forever. In Israel it is pretty much a rite of passage that everyone including females, enter the army at the age of 18. After their time in the army and before college, many are encouraged to travel and experience the world. I made many friends during this trip and spent many nights sitting around listening to their stories. They would talk about the adventures they had taken around the globe, to faraway places that were often “off the grid” and would usually take with them nothing more than a backpack.
After hearing their stories I was hooked, I knew right then and there, that I too wanted to spend the rest of my days ( well at least the rest of my youth anyway), traveling the world and having as many diverse and incredible experiences as I possibly could. After returning to the US to work in Real Estate, I used any spare money I had to travel, and then found myself working in broadcasting/radio and later for a Cruise Line, as an Entertainment Host. I enjoyed combining work and travel until I met my husband Marko ( who is from Serbia) on Carnival Cruise Lines, which we nicknamed ” The Love Boat”.
2.How is it that you got into traveling? And how many countries have you traveled to so far?
As I mentioned before, the trip to Israel literally transformed my life and gave me insight and perspective on how I wanted to spend my time. I have currently traveled to 44 countries around the world and I’ve got some awesome stories to tell. (Hopefully I will be able to tell the grand-kids most of my stories one day ( laughs).
3. What has travel taught you about yourself and life?
Honestly, I believe traveling has made me a very confident person and taught me what it means to be independent. It has given me a greater appreciation for my family, where I come from and how I grew up. I have traveled to some of the poorest countries in the world, where the only toy in the town was literally an empty bottle of water. There I saw a bunch of small children happily kicking it around on the ground, and it was really one of those moments that humbled me and gave me perspective for sure.
Now don’t get me wrong, I am definitely a girl who likes nice stuff, however I feel that when traveling, I can forgo most things and happily carry one pair of jeans and a few tank tops in a single backpack.There is a freedom that sort of comes with ” roughing it” so to speak, whilst on the road and things that we take for granted like hot showers for example, are now something you may not have access to for weeks.
I also learned that there are many different cultures and people in the world, and although I am a blonde haired blue eyed Jewish girl, I found I was able to communicate freely and have some of the most beautiful experiences with people all over the world. I particularly remember one trip while in Petra, Jordan where I was embraced by a local Muslim family,stayed in their home, ate meals with them and even helped them with their donkey taxis in the city of Petra.
I discovered that around the globe Muslim, Jewish, Christian,Buddhist or whatever, most people are not looking to hate one another, we are all looking for the same things and that includes peace.
4. What is the scariest thing you have experienced whilst traveling?
I recall one time when I was traveling through Chile, I arrived late at night to a little town on a bus and then discovered whilst in a cab, that someone had stolen my wallet, which had my debit card in it and that was my only form of cash at the time. I was able to speak Spanish fluently enough, that a cab driver understood the situation and graciously let me ride for free. He then dropped me off at a local backpackers hostel and after knocking on the door and explaining my situation, they were kind enough to let me stay for free, until I could have a new debit card mailed to me the following week.
Funny enough ( well it wasn’t funny at the time), when the new debit card arrived the following week, I was literally robbed again that same day. I had befriended a Norwegian guy from the hostel, and as we were wandering down the main street, the locals were yelling and pointing at some guy who was apparently running away with my stuff. To make it worse during this time of frustration ,I couldn’t believe my bad luck when we turned a corner and were literally hit with the pressurized spray from a water tank.
Apparently we had walked right into the middle of some type of protest or riot, and were literally caught between the protesters yelling and screaming on one side, and police spraying water at them on the other side.This day was definitely a low point for me, yet I will admit that learning to speak the language definitely helped me out.
5. What is the best experience you have had whilst traveling and why?
I would have to say my best experience was definitely in 2003, when I was in the country of Laos and trying to head back to Thailand for my flight back to the US. My best friend Ashleigh was getting married so I had to get home for that, however I had kind of ventured off the beaten path ( as I often did) and ended up in the far flung region of Laos, where there were no roads. This meant that the only way I was going to get on over to Thailand was by water.
During this time I ran into a Canadian girl and another guy from Lithuania who were both traveling solo. It seems were were all trying to get across the border and we ended up speaking to a young Laotian guy at the fishing dock, who said he would be willing to take us down the river on his long-tail boat for a fee. That fee ended up being a measly $10USD between us ( which was such a small amount, yet for him it was more than he had made in months).
So we literally spent the rest of the day floating on the river on our way to Thailand, and along the way passed little villages on the banks with children bathing, playing and waving as we continued on past. It was such a surreal experience and at the end of the day we pulled into the little village where the young Laotian guy lived, and he had prepared for us to stay with his family in their hut for the night.This village was so remote, they had never seen strangers from afar before and not ones like myself and my fellow travelers ( it felt like I was Angelina Jolie) lol..
That night the others walked around taking photographs and instead, I spent my time being followed by the local kids. I took out my English to Laotian translation book and tried my best to chat to the kids, when I remembered that I had a can of coke in my backpack. I took it out without thinking totally unaware that these kids had never seen westernized or commercial type food, let alone a can of coke.
As I popped the can of coke and poured its contents into the cup, they giggled and I passed it around. The gas from the fizz tickled their nose. When they actually took a sip, you could see the excitement on their little faces, and seeing them experiencing this for the first time was priceless.The next morning we continued on down the river and eventually ended up somewhere in northern Thailand,somewhere outside of Chiang Mai.The trip was definitely an incredible experience and one I definitely won’t forget anytime soon.
6. If you could offer any advice on life to our wonderful followers what would it be?
Don’t be afraid to travel alone. Even if you have people to accompany you on your travels, make a point of taking some trips alone.The types of people you’ll meet when you’re a solo traveler and the experiences you will likely have, are just so different when your traveling solo, than when you are traveling with others. You will grow as a person and make many new friends to travel with along the way. My best advice is whenever possible, book a ticket, pack your backpack and then just literally go. I promise you won’t regret it!