Jazz, Thailand, 25, is a highly creative individual and businesswoman who travels, and lives according to the beat of her own drum. Born-and-bred originally in the US, at a young age she experienced homelessness, which fueled her passion & effortless transition to full-time travel since the tender age of 19. But believe it or not, that wasn’t even the thing that first drew me towards her.
I first came across Jazz on Instagram a few years ago, her profile was bursting with bright colours, rich reflective captions – with a little bit of poetry, and unapologetic creativity. I, as we say in the current Instagram age, officially had found a girl crush (insert heart eyes emoji here).
But deeper than that, and what struck me the most, was the feeling that I could see her freedom from her profile. I learnt more about her life and I was suitably inspired. I first enjoyed simply following her on the gram. And eventually, we connected.
A year ago, Jazz sat down with me for a few hours via Skype, her in Thailand and I in Bali, and we finally got to properly talk. And surprise surprise, she had the same energy I expected. Better, in fact. I want to share her story with you because she is someone in this series that I believe can teach us much about living life on your own terms, and how travel can offer you a profound quality of life, and what it truly means to be free. I hope you find this useful, as ever
When did you first realize that travel was going to be a big part of your life?
My first trip abroad without family was when I was a sophomore in college and I studied in France for six months. I made sure I didn’t tell too many of my colleagues because I wanted to see where it would take me. I ended up in Aix en Provence, southern France. It’s funny because of my past, I don’t get attached to material things or locations like a lot of my peers. I didn’t understand that I was different, and that this detachment would soon take me all over the world. I didn’t really keep in touch with my friends and family, apart from telling them I was moving every couple of weeks. I have always been open to change and not really settling in one location.
How often do you travel?
Often it’s pretty cheap to travel within Asia. I can find same-day flights for $60-$100, so I usually take an international trip once of month.
Normally, I am based in Khon Kaen, (northeast ) Thailand and every other weekend I travel to Chiang Mai for my business Mali Pah, and model in Bangkok, so I find I am traveling quite a bit.
How did you end up in Thailand, and what do you do there?
Initially, I came to Thailand with the fellowship Princeton in Asia, prior to getting my Masters, they offered an opportunity to work abroad.
The program decided I needed to have a REAL chance to grow so they sent me to RURAL Thailand.
In Khon Kaen, Thailand, foreigners make up 1% of the population.
So I am not exposed to touristy pleasures at all. I get first-hand experience with the true Thai lifestyle, learning how to speak Thai, cooking authentic cuisine, and budgeting on a Thai Professors wage.
I teach business and culture to Thai University students. 4 days a week I am in a classroom finding creative ways to engage my 300+ students on topics like Intercultural Relations, Public Speaking, Business Exchange all through singing, dancing and skits… I’m that teacher.
With the new skills, I was subconsciously acquiring while teaching, I started my own international business, called Mali Pah, and I got my students involved.
My students kept finding my brand on social media and wanted to learn more, basically use the techniques they were studying. Many of them were interested in international trade, modeling or professional photography, so I ended up hiring 5 of them.
The best part about our “sessions” is at the end of each production we would critique our work and reflect on how we could do better. Remember these are native Thai speakers being challenged to talk about their art in a foreign language.
How do you financially support travelling?
I call myself a travel-prenuer. I invest in and curate creative businesses while I travel. Managing multiple social media accounts, strategizing marketing campaigns for clients in the US are just a few of my ventures.
Teaching in the Thai community on a local wage is humbling to say the least. This past year I have also had the chance to curate travel content with LUVE APP, and my Thai Sisters.
My last stream of income is generated with modeling gigs around Asia. It’s great to be in a place where standing out is inevitable, so I decided to own my uniqueness.
What are some of the obstacles you gave yourself in regards to traveling? And how did you overcome them.
Money tried to be an issue but I didn’t allow. Mainly because I never had it to begin with. All of my travels were funded through educational or service opportunities. If I found an interesting country I would write a research proposal and pitch a project to my university department.
I guess you could say safety was an obstacle. For example, my family and the US government didn’t want me to go to Thailand during the coup in 2014. I went anyway. I had to trust God and my intuition. The unknown safety or cultural differences shouldn’t stop people from traveling. The media will tell you that, but in reality people were just chilling.
Language can be a scary encounter as well, but I’m so intrigued by the doors and relationships it opens. Even if I suck at it, locals appreciate that I’m trying! I really feel that living in Thailand and learning Thai was much more relaxed than learning a language in Europe.
Did you have any preconceptions about the type of people who travel and how did you personally fit into that?
I feel like there are a few genres of travelers.
1. Tourist: takes short trips and spends a lot of money, they move fast and loud.
2. Backpackers: typically younger, on a budget, are more adventurous but don’t spend a long time in one place.
3. Expats: are individuals who live in places for months or years to create true community.
In our society there’s a huge new #trend in travel, people come to locations take a cool photo, but they can’t tell you the country’s population size, the dominant religion or even how to say “hello” in the native tongue.
I realized we all have our own nomadic process, but we also must spread the message of sustainable travel and research how our dollars affect the local economy.
The longer you are in a place the more you learn how to respect local rituals. I did things I had no idea was rude or inappropriate and wasn’t educated on my mishaps until months later (saving face).
Taking off shoes inside, freezing during the national anthem, bowing to monks, and even communal dining were all customs I learned with time.
Do you feel you are changing?
We are ever changing all of us, but now I have stepped outside of the self.
I can see my journey transforming before my eyes by simply allowing things to flow. It’s always been my dream to try every career, live in the most random places, and fall in love on the road.
My style of travel has also evolved dramatically because of my Thai friends/family. They tell me that they love foreigners who live here, especially the ones that don’t just come to party, but also to learn. They also explained that often impactful relationships blossom but typically have to end because expats return home at some point.
I keep that in mind now with all the locations I decide to visit.
Think of a moment for you that sums up why travel is important.
In my neighborhood in Khon Kaen Thailand, there was a family run noodle stand. Everyday after work I would drive by on my motorbike and wave. One day I decided to stop and that changed my life.
We couldn’t communicate but our curiosity for each other was indescribable.
From that day on I learned a few words a day to practice with the babies and eat. After a few visits they welcomed me into their family. I ended up tutoring them in exchange for food. It gave them opportunity to learn English and about my culture: my hair, my skin and my family. This is what travel is about.
How did you learn to speak Thai?
Through conversing with my Thai friends and youtube. You truly have to remove yourself from any crutches that stop your mind from actively translating.
So going to rural Thailand where no signs, menus or radios were in English forced me to learn quickly.
What do you like to do when you visit a destination?
I’m kind of weird, I have never been a destination counter. I knew I would see the world but not by 25 (35+ countries or something).
Usually I already have a friend who lives in a specific place, then I go visit them!
I like to know the hidden spots like, Where’s the cheap food at?!
Where’s the honeys??!!! I think it’s fun to see other travelers, but I want to know local spots. I’m also a reggae club connoisseur and somehow manage to find one in every country.
What type of accommodation do you like to stay in?
I like to live with people, and usually I have a friend I stay with.
Because I come from a past with an unsteady living situation, I don’t mind and am quite versatile with accommodations. I have slept on a couch, in a hostel, been sponsored by a resort, used Couchsurfing, lounged in a penthouse and even slept on the floor of a train station during my various trips – I’ve done it all!
Do you have a favourite place you’ve travelled?
I loved Florence, Italy; it feels like you’re walking in a fairy-tale book. I found Florence is a place of artists – so everything is explosively creative.
When I visited I ended up meeting student studying at an art institute and they showed me an underground subculture. It was one of the most breathtaking trips I have experienced. Running around a historic city, dancing in the night with monuments around every corner.
Thoughts on solo travel?
Everyone should do it. It’s my favourite way to travel actually. You make the most friends this way, you get to move on your own time, wake up when you want, finesse your way into clubs, be more independent. I think it is something everyone should experience; and not for a couple of days, not weeks even, but a couple months. As a woman, we are concerned about safety, and I’ve been in situations where finding an escape route was necessary. Now I can reflect on how alert and forward thinking I was. These are skills everyone needs for daily life.
Jazz on Instagram
I’m an artist of many mediums. On Instagram I’m storyteller more than poet, I try to give educational stories, or make you feel like we are in each others presence. Most of all I like people to leave with a little message to spark inspiration. You’ll find travel, cultural fashion and my daily meditations.
Business perspective: Jazz on her business Mali Pah.
“Mali Pah” is the English phonetics of the Thai nickname (มะลิ ป่า) given to me on my first trip to Southeast Asia. Its translation is “Wild Jasmine Flower”.
I hand make and source limited edition clothing and accessories from Nepal, India, Thailand, and Bali.
I’ve been traveling for five years now and always come home with funky outfits/jewelry and people ask, “where did you get that from?”
I either made it while abroad or found it on an enchanting journey.
After multiple celebrity connections and a magazine feature, I realized I was on to something.
Where is your biggest audience?
Bangkok, America & London!
How has travel changed you? What skills have you gained that you can apply to either your personal or professional life?
Networking: I learned how to properly utilize this tactic while on the road but more importantly to create genuine communication. In LA, talk is fast and is focused on “who you are, or who you know”. But with a new worldly perspective I try to get to the deeper meaning of who people are. This condones more natural long-lasting connections. Networking authentically. Language skills: Embracing languages and fully immersing in communities that challenge your knowledge.
Negotiating: Because I’m not Asian, people assume I’m a rich tourist.
Therefore, I have learned NEVER to buy items at their first price.
Bartering for the Thai price rather than the tourist price is a must; even with things like paying rent, or group trips.
Public speaking: Since I’ve been teaching at the Thai uni, my public speaking has improved as I’m lecturing to at least 40-100 student per class.
I’m not the typical teacher and have had to figure out a way to get credibility since my age wouldn’t support me.
So I mastered the skill of “fake it till you make it” with my public speaking. Thinking of ideas/concepts quickly and engaging my class with my body language comes naturally now.
Jazz on her lifestyle in Asia
I have given up trying to control my life, and Asia is the perfect place for this mindset.
There are more ways to live than the default system: Go to school get a job, get married.
So now I’m experimenting with ventures, building a relationship with my partner, creating full time in the warm tropical weather. And deciding what freedom really looks like from my perspective, on my time.
Favourite websites/ apps for travel?
- Instagram for sure, it’s easy to find people who are living in the destination you are traveling to via hashtags. They might give you all the info you need! A lot of other travelers message me on on the gram, and I meet up with them. It think it’s a great networking tool for traveling and making connections.
- Duolingo, or any language app, where I can learn phrases.
- maps.me sometimes (offline map application)
- Currency+ (currency exchange application)
Can you sum up your relationship with travel in one sentence/ quote?
Your life will be full of mysterious adventure. A fortune cookie I got in 2011. The most accurate Chinese food meal of my life.
Not ready to say goodbye just yet? Follow Jazz’s journey on Instagram.
MEET THE TRAVELLERS: ABOUT THE SERIES
Meet the Travellers is a series profiling travellers from different backgrounds, talking about how they do it, why they do it, and how it’s contributed to their life in a positive way. Aside from fun travel tales, I get them to get useful with their chat – offering you guys some real takeaways for your own endeavours. Looking for their go-to travel apps or most useful item? See the full series here.