What’s on Franci Neely’s bucket list? ‘I’m trying to visit every country in the world’
Since 1872, readers have been enthralled by Jules Verne’s classic adventure novel Around the World in 80 Days. Modern adventurer Franci Neely may be taking a bit longer, but her goal is even loftier — to visit every country on the planet. Only about 250 people have accomplished this lofty goal according to mensjournal.com, and with more than 180 countries under her belt and 195 countries in the world, Neely’s on track to join that exclusive coterie of travelers.
“I am trying to visit every country in the world,” Neely says. “I do it because I love to explore other cultures, other areas of the world, ways of living, history. I’m very curious about that and I care about it very much. And I very much believe that when one experiences different cultures, one has a greater understanding of the universal humanity that we share and that really none of us are strangers. It’s very life affirming to me to do that.”
Mozambique, Angola, Fiji, Israel, Morocco, India, Hong Kong, the Philippines, and England are among the countries Neely has visited.
Wherever the wind blows her, Neely says she endeavors to become an ambassador for meaningful global human interaction. It’s not enough for the Houston-based voyager to visit places and pose by landmarks and return home. She says she wants a more significant experience than that.
“When you make a connection, you can see it in the eyes,” Franci Neely explains. “And that’s what I hope some of my photos show — that very real connection.” As many of the people she’s met along the way have touched her life, Neely says she hopes she’s reciprocating that feeling with the locals with whom she intersects.
She has documented her adventures in thousands of poignant photos. The images represent a cultural tapestry for Neely, who always makes a point to chat with local villagers and partake in regional cuisine whether she’s journeying through Saudi Arabia or taking a safari through Africa.
Franci Neely perfecting the art of purposeful travel
Neely says every place she’s toured has impacted her in some way, but it’s always the people who leave her with the most inspiring memories.
While marveling at a quaint village surrounded by rice terraces in the Philippines, she was moved to launch a yearslong friendship.
“I met a woman named Virginia, who is now my pen pal,” Neely recalls. “She and I just had this connection. She really doesn’t speak English. Her daughter writes to me on her behalf. Virginia and I just looked at each other and I felt like she was my sister.”
Neely ended up gifting her with a silver necklace that day and in return, the woman gave her a vintage ethnic hat that had belonged to her grandfather. It’s a gift that Neely says she will treasure forever.
The consummate wanderer recently made another significant association. While on the Rio Campo, which runs between Equatorial Guinea on the south and Cameroon on the north, Neely says she befriended a woman named Isabel. And while passing through a village called Ayene, also in Equatorial Guinea, Neely enjoyed a fulfilling encounter with a Dominican nun.
In Batete, Equatorial Guinea, Franci Neely says she was delighted to meet Roberto Selso, a man in the charming colonial village in the southern province of Bioko island. “I met him on Nov. 28,” she says. “We stood by a 200-year-old home that originally belonged to his grandfather or great-grandfather. It’s wooden, [and] these structures are vestiges of the colonial history of this country, populated by Portuguese and then Spanish [people]. Roberto was very happy to share history and a handshake with me.”
Batete is also home to the Spanish-inspired Batete Church, which according to the World Monuments Fund is a 1920-designed building created by Claretian priest Lluis Sagarra, who studied at the same school as famous Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí.
Neely adds that she’s also had substantially inspiring travel experiences in Iran, where she was elated by the kindness and hospitality of the Iranian people.
Life’s lessons along the travel path
Franci Neely says she gained a better understanding and perspective on the world through her desire to reach new destinations. She recalls meeting a man in Cameroon who she says personified resilience in an impressive way. “They cherish their traditions,” Neely says. “Even if some of these people live in the cities, they often travel to the Grassfield kingdoms to practice their traditions.”
According to discover-cameroon.com, the West African country is bilingual, with 70% of the citizens speaking French and about 30% speaking English. Christianity and Islam are the top religions, and it has four main cultural groups — the Fang-Beti in the south, the Sudano-Sahelian in the north, the Sawa in the coastal area, and the Bameliké in the west.
“They’re connecting to their history, and that makes them have a feeling of importance,” Neely says. “And it should; they’re not alone, and that is enriching to them. And we don’t have that in the United States. I mean, we just don’t. Not in the same way, and in Africa, not just in Africa, around the world.”
She says she also appreciates how many people in Africa, large parts of Asia, South America, Central America, and countries such as Guatemala are so in tune with their history and culture.
“And not just Guatemala, but I happen to have a particular love for Guatemala and the highlands, it’s amazing,” Neely says. “So with all of the hardship that they have, [and] there’s poverty, [they] just hard work to survive. They are renewed and invigorated and revitalized by their culture and their traditions and their togetherness in a positive way instead of a negative way, contrasting that with the political tribalism in the United States.”
While Neely says traveling anywhere can be rewarding, she encourages more Americans to travel outside their comfort zones to more exotic areas of the world including the Middle East, Africa, and Asia.
“Go to places that you don’t know about,” Neely suggests.