Editor's Note: Forty years ago, in 1972, Greenevillian Alex S. Jones, a son of Greeneville Sun Publisher John M. Jones and his wife, Arne Jones, set off for the Greek islands in his mid-20s with a college friend to fulfill a longtime goal: an open-ended, self-financed and self-directed backpacking adventure through Europe and Africa.
With university and a tour of duty as a U.S. Naval officer behind him, Alex Jones would not return for months, and after many experiences -- some of them harrowing -- on two continents.
Along the way, he sent back numerous columns based on his journey from Greece through Eastern Europe (then under Communist control), Western Europe, Great Britain, and Africa.
As some readers will remember, he called the series of columns "Give My Regards to Broadway."
Now, four decades later, one of his nieces with a similar taste for open-ended backpack-style travel has launched out on a similar adventure, but in a different part of the world.
Marshall Harbison, 24, a 2010 graduate of Wofford College who has been living and working in Atlanta since her graduation a little more than two years ago, embarked in October on a five-month, on-her-own backpack trip through several countries of Southeast Asia, beginning with Thailand.
Along the way, she has agreed to share the experience with readers of The Greeneville Sun through first-person articles emailed to the newspaper periodically from the countries to which the journey takes her.
The series of articles begins in today's issue of the Sun, as Harbison explains how she decided to make the unusual journey: her second visit to Asia but her first under these circumstances.
Harbison is a daughter of Steve and Sally Harbison of Greeneville. Steve Harbison is the general manager of the Sun.
BY MARSHALL HARBISON
SPECIAL TO THE GREENEVILLE SUN
BANGKOK, Thailand -- Independent. What does it mean, really? Is there an invisible line one can cross to qualify as being "independent"?
I have always considered myself as such, in many of the choices I've made and places I have gone. But I have come to find a new realm of independence since arriving in Thailand completely alone.
After the 13 months of reading, saving and preparing for my extended trip to backpack through Southeast Asia by myself, I thought I'd be ready for anything.
However, nothing could have prepared me for the utter shock I had as I sat next to a food stall to enjoy my first bowl of Thai noodles, surrounded by strangers who did not speak a bit of English.
"I really am here...alone." Well, in the sense that I don't know anyone, have no one to report to, no set agenda.
A lot of thoughts have run through my head -- from the typical "What on earth have I done!?" to "Ok, you've proved your point. You can go home now." And finally, "You go, girl! You're here!"
Two-and-a-half weeks into my five-month adventure I still continue to go through this process.
A little over a year ago, I decided my dream of traveling again was possible, but not without hard work. I had been out of college for a year, worked and made some money, and I was ready for something big.
I am happiest when I have some sort of goal to work towards; however, I admit, I have not followed through with many. Caught between trying to make a living and having absolutely no clue what I want to do for a career, I felt stuck.
Then I read a book that changed everything.
The book is called Vagabonding, by Rolf Potts. It inspired me to take control of my life, and stop making excuses.
So I did just that. I mean, what better time to satisfy my wanderlust than now, while I'm young and unattached?
I knew that, in order to help my parents feel comfortable with me doing something like this, I would need to know my stuff before I mentioned it to them.
I was not asking for anything except their moral support. I wanted them to feel confident that I knew what I was doing.
Long story short, after extensive reading, researching and steady persuading, they became convinced that I was serious and have shown me tremendous encouragement.
Now that I am here, I am learning how to be completely independent. Maybe for the first time in my life I am the only person who can plan where I go and when, at every moment of the day.
I have to trust my instincts 100 percent because anything can happen, good and bad, and it's up to me to deal with it. This reality has helped me realize that growing up is tough, but quite wonderful and liberating at the same time.
And to top it off, I am fortunate enough to get to share my "growing up" ... er ... travel experiences with the readers of The Greeneville Sun.
Next: Trekking into northern Thailand's hilltribe country.