Inspiring Travel Talk: A Man Who Traveled To 100 Countries

We don’t often interview fellow travel bloggers on eTramping, but this time it is different. I am one of the biggest fans of Francis Tapon who had been my travel inspiration long before I started blogging. Who is this man and what does he do?

Interview with Francis
Francis Tapon – my travel inspiration

Francis is the one has hiked across America four times, walked across Spain twice, and has traveled to 100 counties. He has written two books, Hike Your Own Hike and The Hidden Europe. He is currently on a four-year voyage to visit all 54 African countries. He has a Religion BA from Amherst College and an MBA from Harvard Business School.

I felt honored to interview Francis and asked him some questions related to his travel style and nomadic lifestyle. I hope you like it. If you have some more questions, ask them in comments and I guess he will be more than happy to answer them.

1. You mentioned on your travel website that “visiting every country on the planet and sharing the experience with others”  is your main goal in life. Have you ever thought about settling down and starting a family? If so, where in the world would you like to live?

I’d like to settle down somewhat after 2025, when I hope I will have seen all the countries of the world and written books about each major region. I’ll never give up travel completely because it’s too much in my genes.

I don’t plan to start a family, but it may happen. It’s tough (but not impossible) to travel with babies/kids. I’m insanely happy and fulfilled without kids. Why change? Still, I’m sure I’d be quite happy and fulfilled with kids. It’s about tradeoffs. People want it all, but that’s impossible. You have to choose. I discussed my commitment issues in my article about whether nomads are running away from something.

2. Your mom is from Chile and your dad is from France. To what extend has that influenced your desire to travel? Have you always felt like traveling has been in your blood?

Absolutely! As I told CBS, travel is my DNA. My mom left Chile for San Francisco when she was 25. She hardly spoke English. That was quite an adventurous thing to do in the 1960s. My dad left France when he was 17. He lived in Argentina for 7 years before immigrating to the USA. He started a small business that imported products from Latin America, so he spent most of his career flying back and forth from that region.

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YouTube video

Plus, they sent me to a French school in San Francisco. So at home we spoke Spanish, at school I spoke French, and the world around me was in English. I was blessed to have a global view since birth.

Francis Tapon on the jeep
Photo description: “I had just gotten the logo on the car and I was one month away from putting the new tires on.”

3. You speak English, Portuguese, Spanish and French. How do these languages help you when traveling? Which of these languages have you found the most useful?

As anyone who speaks even a little bit of another language knows, speaking the local language is a huge door opener. Therefore, being a polyglot is critical, especially to do what I love to do most: understand the people of each region.

English is obviously the most useful language in the world since it’s the most widely spoken. It’s a toss up between French and Spanish. Clearly, in Latin America, Spanish rules, while in Africa (where I am now), French rules (almost half of the countries speak French).

Black people smiling

If I don’t speak the local language, I always make an effort to learn the three big phrases: Thank you, Hello, and Where Is…

4. After visiting nearly 100 countries, what is your least favourite country and why?

Perhaps Moldova. Its topography is basically rolling hills. Its cities and towns aren’t as beautiful as other Eastern European countries. People are not warm off the bat. But it’s great if you like to drink wine (or any alcohol), since they consume more alcohol per capita than any other country!

5. What has been your greatest find for under $25 a day along your journey?

Couchsurfing.org. You can spend $10-20 per day on a host and you’ll get a great place to stay, you’ll get to meet locals and see how they live. Although you don’t have to spend money on your hosts, I argue that a good couchsurfing guest should.

Francis Tapon is making a movie
Photo description: “We’re laughing about how this area is the highest point in The Gambia. There was no prominent feature anywhere in a 5km radius. — in The Gambia.”

6. What cities or places have you found the hardest to stay under $25 a day in?

Norway. A sandwich can cost $25!

7. What kind of traveller are you? How would you describe your travel style? (We call ourselves “Tramps” as we travel on a tight budget of $25 a day without a permanent home).

I’m trampy! I camp 25-50% of the time. The rest of the time I couchsurf (either through the website or just meeting locals along the way). I stay in a hotel only a few days a year.

I don’t need to travel as frugally as I do. I could certainly splurge a lot more than I do. But part of the reason is that I love to camp. Being in the middle of the Sahara and hearing the utter silence is unforgettable. Another huge bonus is integrating with the locals. I don’t travel just to see nature and buildings. I want to understand the people and their culture. That’s hard to do when you stay in the Four Seasons Hotel. Indeed, any hotel and even hostels separate you from the locals (in hostels you’re likely to meet other international travelers, but not locals).

8. How do you fund your travels? Have you ever worked on the road? If so, what kind of jobs did you do?

I’m lucky to have a Harvard MBA, so corporations pay me well. I worked for four years for two high tech corporations and I lived like a monk. I made some lucky stock investments. As a result, after those 4 years, I “retired.” I haven’t had to “work” since 2006. I’ve been a travel writer ever since, which I don’t consider work. I wrote two books and they provide a little monthly income. I always just dig into my savings to cover my expenses. Although I can keep doing this for many more years, it’s probably smart to earn some real money at some point.

Francis Tapon on the dessert

Therefore, I’m working to create a TV show about traveling to The Unseen Africa. It starts with the Kickstarter Project. If it’s successful, it will help me create a TV series, which could do something I haven’t done in 8 years: make money! It’s also a great way to show sides of Africa that few see.

9. Any advice you would give to readers who would like to travel the world like you?

Learn to love camping. You can save up a lot of money even on modest salaries if you learn to live simply. You can travel for a long time if you learn to travel frugally.

Local market in Africa

10.  How do you keep the balance between full-time traveling and blogging?

I blog once a month, so it’s not much work. I ought to blog more, but I prefer focusing my writing energies on my book. Besides, I’m satisfied with the amount of traffic my blog gets. I’m also filming now, which takes some time.

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Too many bloggers are too digitally connected. I understand that they need to make a living, but it’s hard to immerse yourself if you’ve always got your smartphone in one hand. For example, I spent nearly two months in the Sahara with no Internet or phone. Sadly, some travel bloggers can’t imagine being unplugged for two days!

A black family
Photo description: “Massamba and his extended family. He helped me so much. — with Massamba Seck in Joal, Senegal.”

11.  What was your most memorable travel experience?

I did a round-trip on the Continental Divide Trail. That means I walked from Mexico to Canada and back on the Rocky Mountains. It was 9,000 km and it took seven months. I had no phone or GPS. I hiked 50 km per day. I slept outside everyday alone in the mountains. I was the first to do that zany trip.

12.  Have you ever met someone along your journey who has changed your way of thinking?

It happens almost everyday in little ways. For example, in Ghana, a woman told me that racism doesn’t exist in Ghana. At first I resisted that idea, because I believed that all human tribes have plenty of racists among them. However, her statement forced me to reflect and I concluded that she’s basically correct: it’s almost impossible to find racists in West Africa (and probably other parts of sub-Saharan Africa).

Black girl smiling

13.  What is your favourite travel quotes?

I’ll give you two:

“Don’t be afraid of death; be afraid of an unlived life. You don’t have to live forever, you just have to live.” ― Natalie Babbitt

“If you do not travel, you will marry your own sister.” — Mozambique Proverb

Go ahead and read a few more Inspirational Quotes

Francus Tapon - Africa
Photo description: “It’s unusual for a foreigner to be hanging out in a Saharaui tent with two teenage nomads in the middle of the Western Sahara with no male supervision. That’s an unseen side of Africa. And no, fellas, I never got closer to them than this photo.”

14.  Name one place that left you speechless for a long time.

Kotor, Montenegro.

15.  What are your travel plans for 2014?

By mid-2014, I’ve finished traveling through all West African countries, so now I’m focusing on Central Africa. I plan to spend a few months in Cameroon because I’ve been traveling hard through West Africa since March 2013. I need a break. However, by the end of 2014, I should be somewhere between Congo and Angola.

Happy black boys

16.  What piece of advice would you give to someone who wishes to be in your shoes right now?

Try camping. Live simply. Travel frugally. Go!

Fracis Tapon and a monkey on his shoulder
Photo description: “My Assistant Director of Photography is sometimes a pain in the neck. — in Banjul, The Gambia.”

This summer Francis is participating in KS project and he would like to share the main idea of it with us. The Unseen Africa is an adventurous travel show that will take viewers to all 54 African countries. Think Rick Steves meets Bear Grylls. Or Anthony Bourdain Goes Beyond Food. The host, Francis Tapon, takes you beyond the tired African cliches of safaris, wars, AIDS, pestilence, poverty, and pyramids. Part documentary, part reality show, The Unseen Africa will show sides of Africa that few see. You’ll watch African entrepreneurs who are modernizing their countries, listen to locals describe what life is really like in Africa, and see remote places far off-the-tourist track. The show reveals the Africa that CNN and National Geographic haven’t shown you.

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How do you like Francis’s idea of visiting all 54 African countries within 4 years?

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Picture of Agness Walewinder
Agness Walewinder
Travel freak, vagabond, photography passionate, blogger, life enthusiast, backpacker, adventure hunter and endless energy couchsurfer living by the rule "Pack lite, travel far and live long!"
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