For those looking for their next adventure, consider visiting a destination off the beaten path. Philanthropist Franci Neely finds taking the road less traveled gives her a greater appreciation of the human spirit, and she delights in meeting new people and learning new customs throughout her world travels. She recently voyaged to Cape Verde. It’s an archipelago and island country in the Atlantic Ocean consisting of 10 volcanic islands off the western coast of the continent of Africa.
Journeying to an unusual harbor helps a person enhance self-connection while inspiring a deeper appreciation of their surroundings. She encourages travelers: “Get out of your comfort zone. Don't just go to countries like France or Italy. Instead, go somewhere you don't know about, like in Africa, Asia, or the Middle East.”
And add Iran to your must-see list, says Neely.
“I could go on about Iran; that country is amazing and has amazing people, from artists and filmmakers to truth-tellers.”
What can one learn from visiting places like Iran? “Resilience in the face of incredible adversity and poverty. They carry on often with amazing senses of humor,” says Neely.
“They repeatedly told me how they loved Americans. I'm fortunate I have had that opportunity. I realize it’s hard to have these opportunities. But I’ve been blessed to get an opportunity to see firsthand that Iranians are not evil.”
She’s aware that the region can be perceived as dangerous, “I am repeatedly asked, ‘Aren’t you afraid? Don’t you ever feel in danger?’” she says. “I have never felt in danger traveling, ever.”
Another tip? If ever find yourself in Turkmenistan take it from Neely: Make sure your visa is up to date.
Hanging Tough in Turkmenistan
Still, traveling the road less traveled can have the occasional bump.
“There are a lot of infuriating things that happen when you're traveling, even in the United States,” says Franci Neely. Like the time she was detained in Turkmenistan for a visa mishap and later banned for three years.
Turkmenistan is the southernmost of the Central Asian republics, bordered by the Caspian Sea. Neely had been there for over a week. “They have amazing archaeological wonders,” says Franci Neely. “The people are nice, and their country had much to offer in terms of history.” However, when she was in the process of leaving to continue her travels to Kazakhstan, she ran into an issue with her visa. “I had time left on my two-week visa, yet it said it had expired due to an innocent mistake of recording the date I was leaving incorrectly.” Her choices? Pay a fine of $440 or be banned for life. Perhaps it was standing for hours in a chairless room or the stone-faced guard who gave her that less-than-welcome feeling; Neely chose the latter. Nonetheless, Neely kept her cool and didn’t panic, which is good advice for anyone traveling abroad.
Neely’s incident was a minor inconvenience. However, it’s important when traveling to understand the rules and regulations of the region. A recent study released by the James W. Foley Legacy Foundation finds that the number of Americans improperly detained in places like Iran, China, and Russia is on the rise compared to 10 years ago. The foundation started in 2014 and is named after James W. Foley, who was kidnapped while reporting from Syria in 2012. Its purpose is to advocate for the freedom of Americans held hostage and the safety of journalists worldwide, but all travelers can benefit from its advice.
The United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken believes bringing home any United States nationals that are unjustifiably detained is a top priority. Therefore, in 2022 the US State Department added the D risk indicator to travel advisories to alert travelers to the risk of unwarranted detention.
Franci Neely Says Travelers Should Explore Somewhere Unexpected
Luxurious five-star resorts are a popular pick for vacations. However, if you want to experience all the world has to offer, opt for a nontraditional travel haven for your next trip. Franci Neely is on a quest to visit all 195 countries worldwide — and she’s only got about 15 to go. On one adventure, she mingled with the Bamileke, a Central African people native to the Western High Plateau of Cameroon. “I pay homage to Africa and its incredible richness by traveling to places that are not just game reserves, which are wonderful too,” she says.
As for the Bamileke, she says, “They cherish their traditions. They're getting nourishment and positivity from the traditions they practice with their extended family. They're connecting to their history, which can create a feeling of importance.”
For those looking to slow down and escape the hustle and bustle of our modern, technologically driven lives, Neely recommends visiting El Atteuf, a town in Ghardaia Province in Algeria. It’s home to fewer than 15,000 people. “There is no vehicular traffic. Instead, a donkey is the means of transport,” says Neely. “Seeing the El Atteuf natives living as they did for centuries shows me the beauty and simplicity of this way of life. It was gorgeous to see the fortified towns where there is no need for cars.”
Throughout her voyage to almost all of the countries worldwide, Neely has experienced her heart, eyes, and spirit becoming more open and aware of the beauty of this planet. She has high hopes that people will better prioritize protecting Earth. “No amount of money is worth the beauty of a waterfall that may disappear because of how we’re treating our planet,” she states.
Seeing how people live and embrace their cultures in the world's farthest corners has helped Neely evolve as a person. “One of the richest parts of travel is that it’s an incredible learning experience for me,” she says. “I believe that when one experiences different peoples, different cultures, one has a greater understanding of our universal humanity. And it's very life-affirming to me to do that.”
If this inspires you to plan a trip off the beaten path, Franci Neely advises, “Take less than you think you need and keep an open mind.”
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