With a passion for immersing herself in art and culture, Franci Neely has managed to do something most only dream about. The intrepid wanderer has roamed the most remote regions of the world and has plans within the next few years to complete her mission of visiting every country on the planet. It’s a goal that requires grit and grace and it’s not for the faint of heart — and Franci Neely wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I think that's one of the things that's so rich about travel,” Neely says of experiencing new people, places, and cultures along life's journey. “It’s an incredible learning experience for me.”
Franci Neely’s says her latest jaunts include two places where she says she experienced some memorable moments: Morocco and Cape Verde. In Morocco, she made fast friends with a family who adorned her in traditional Saharawi garb and served her steaming hot mint tea. In Cap Verde, she found a more daring itinerary where she hiked the Pico Do Fogo, an active volcano that blew its top in 1680 causing a mass exodus for survivors of the eruption. Franci Neely Believes Travel Is the Ultimate Teacher
With more than 180 passport stamps under her belt, Neely says she always looks forward to planning her next excursion and still has a handful of places to visit on her ambitious itinerary. After she completes her goal, she says she’d be open to living in Italy for a while to work on her Italian language skills. She’s studied French and Italian and believes the best way to truly learn a new language is to be entirely immersed where it’s the native tongue.
In addition to cultural and historical lessons, Franci Neely says her travels have taught her to carry more in her heart, soul, and mind and less in her bags. “Take less luggage than I do,” Neely advises. “Take less than you think that you need to [because] you can get things where you are.”
Crisscrossing the globe has gifted Franci Neely a deeper appreciation of humankind as a whole. She not only celebrates cultural differences but sees the world through a more comprehensive global scope.
“People opened my mind,” Neely says. And in turn, that fresh perspective has created an evolutionary layer to her adventures.
“Experience the differences and be open to the differences,” Neely adds.
Franci Neely isn’t alone in her quest to conquer new terrain. A recent study by travel giants Expedia, hotels.com, and Vrbo says that 2023 is going to be a year of travel that will be incomparable to any other. And research and analyst division Economist Intelligence Unit predicts global tourism will climb by 30% in 2023.
While taking in the regional scents, sights, and sounds is typically on Franci Neely’s travel itinerary, she also makes an effort to connect with the locals wherever she goes. And there, she says, is where she discovers the soul of her destination.
Heightened Communication In Every Destination
Making new friends in foreign lands has become part of the tapestry of Franci Neely’s life and that means engaging in meaningful conversations on the steps of a monument, or in a quaint village surrounded by local children curiously scurrying about, or with women and men eager to share their stories.
She’s been able to freeze-frame many of these magical moments with her Nikon camera — she won’t leave home without it. Communicating with people as equals is important to her. “[It’s] not my goal to try to teach,” Francy Neely explains. “I want them ideally to come away and say, ‘She's open, she cared, she was generous-spirited, nonjudgmental, and wanted to know about us and wanted us to teach her.”
Extensively traveling the world is something that Neely says has opened her eyes more to the importance of preserving the planet. “[It has given me] an awareness of the beauty of this planet that, unfortunately, people in the first world are too often not preserving and not cherishing,” she says.
As Neely well knows, not only does travel bridge cultural and communication gaps, but it builds better health. People who travel more than 15 miles away from their residence are more likely to be in optimal health than people who stay closer to home, according to a University College London-led study. Traveling thousands of miles from her Houston base on any given expedition, Franci Neely is setting a new precedent for life travel goals. It’s something the retired attorney vows she’ll never take for granted. “I've had the opportunity to see firsthand [the beauty of these other countries and its people],” Neely acknowledges.
Whether she’s standing atop Olumo Rock in Nigeria, strolling down Aomak Beach in Yemen, on an Eco Tour in Angola, exploring dragon art in Beijing, or kicking up her heels in Fiji, Neely is always eager to learn more about the ever-changing world around her.
Even stressful travel experiences have become a treasured part of her globetrotting sojourns. She didn’t let getting stopped at the border in Turkmenistan over a discrepancy regarding the time left on her visa get her down. She was told she could either pay a fine of $440 or be banned from Turkmenistan for good. Neely went with the latter option and was thankful it’s not a common occurrence she has run into.
Despite the occasional snag, Neely continues to encourage others to travel and experience all the cultural and architectural wonders of the world for themselves. Ditching one’s comfort zone is an exemplary start, according to the internationally acquainted American. She also recommends not putting it off when it comes to taking that dream trip, since time is so precious. “Realize time is actually pretty short. It goes by very quickly sometimes,” Neely concludes. “Go to places that you don't know about.”
WRITTEN BYSerena K. Johnson