The Travel App That’s a Game Changer and Why Photos Are the Best Souvenir

Franci Neely
4 min readSep 20, 2023
Franci Neely at the Ruins of Ani in Turkey.

I have been on a mission to visit every country in the world and I don’t mean just casually posing by landmarks — I mean really diving in, meeting the locals, and getting the whole sensory cultural experience each place has to offer.

I recently started keeping track of my journey with an app I downloaded called Been. It’s a convenient and customizable way to chronicle your global journey, and you can digitally mark off all the places you’ve been, share your travels with friends, and explore where you want to go next. This clever app even keeps track of archipelagos, so it’s a must-have for anyone with a healthy case of wanderlust and a zest for seeing the world.

I always look forward to having my next trip booked, yet I am always fully present in the moment, too. I think it’s essential to seize the day. Over the years, I have been fortunate enough to have priceless interactions with groups of villagers in Kurdistan in Iraq, stroll through the pyramids of Sudan, meet the stylish Sapeurs of the Congo, and dine on lentil soup and kebabs with locals in Turkey.

I made many friends in Turkey, visiting Hoşap Castle, viewing the enchanting Muradiye Fall, and walking around the Fortress of Van, also known as the Van Citadel. One of the top perks of travel is all the history you can indulge in. I have long said travel is the best educational tool, and while it’s lovely reading about places in books and online, it’s quite another thing to actually plant your feet on the Earth and be in an authentic location.

A constant in all of my travels has been my camera. I have always been interested in photography and for many years I have been snapping pictures on my adventures. I have captured thousands of images at this point and on the rare occasion when I don’t have my camera, I always have my iPhone as a backup so I never have to miss a moment.

I have taken portraits of people, ancient cities, and stunning sunsets. While I always make a point to support local artisans while on my trips and even had a custom dress made in Cameroon, my catalog of images will always be counted among my most priceless possessions. I especially enjoy chronicling candid moments. I must mention the incredible wildlife I have noticed along the way. I met a 6-year-old chimpanzee in Equatorial Guinea who was beyond adorable. We were on a golf course at a hotel when we noticed the curious creature. There was no one else out on the course that day. We stopped our carts when we spotted the chimp heading toward us. Like a human child, she wanted to play, so we indulged her. That was a splendid day well spent.

The thing about travel is it’s unquestionably one of life’s greatest joys. I think about the many hours I’ve spent on every continent, and I’m always working toward my goal of visiting every country on the planet by 2025. In May, I ventured to Norway. I was privileged to be there during their independence celebration. It was truly a sight to behold, with parades and flag waving to honor the Scandinavian country’s 1814 constitution signing. I was so pleased to join in on the festivities, which included people dressed in historic Norwegian attire and a feast of hot dogs and ice cream. Another facet of my voyages has been getting a front-row seat to tried-and-true traditions of other countries. The customs around the world are such a treasure.

When I traveled to the Grassfields kingdoms of Cameroon, also known as the Grassland kingdoms, I was in awe of the people’s tribal traditions. Even those who live in the cities return to the Grassfields kingdoms nearly every weekend to partake in meals and sacred ceremonies. There is enormous respect for the elders and each kingdom has its own ruler-like state within a larger nation. Mud and bamboo palaces are peppered throughout the kingdoms and the atmosphere is quaint and rural. From local carvings to theatrical masquerades, the people of the Grassfields kingdoms don traditional clothing and masks, perform magic with chanting, and exchange tales of the past. There is great symbolism within this culture, especially the carved thrones each kingdom leader sits on.

Customs are so important because they keep cultures alive generation after generation. I had a wonderful time dancing with Bamileke women in the Grassfields kingdoms of Cameroon. These Central African people are welcoming and eager to share their way of life. If you make it to the Grassfields kingdoms of Cameroon, and I hope you do, kick off your shoes and dance like no one is watching. You won’t regret it!

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