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From Gabon to Bali, Franci Neely discloses why she’s visiting every country on the planet

Logging in: Franci Neely stands with her guide at the Arboretum Raponda Walker forest outside Libreville, Gabon, on Jan. 27, 2022.

Viewing travel as the ultimate educational tool, the University of Texas at Austin School of Law graduate, now has pen pals all over the world.

What is Franci Neely’s greatest joy? “Travel,” she says.

That’s a big part of why she’s embarked on the ambitious adventure of stepping foot in every nation on Earth.

And the Houston-based philanthropist wants to share that joy, encouraging everyone to wave goodbye to their comfort zone, undertake an unexpected expedition, and relish the experience of seeing something new.

Neely has just a handful of places left to explore before she accomplishes her 2025 bucket list goal of visiting every country. She’s captured many priceless moments in photographs, which she recently started sharing on her website, francineelyphotography.com. Viewing travel as the ultimate educational tool, the University of Texas at Austin School of Law graduate — who spent more than 20 years working as a business litigator and partner at Susman Godfrey LLP — now has pen pals all over the world.

Franci Neely has been to every continent multiple times. She’s walked through the lush rice fields of Bali, Indonesia; soaked in Ireland’s inspiring Giant’s Causeway, and perused the ruins of Saudi Arabia, always with an eagerness to learn about new cultures. She recently returned from a third trip to Antarctica, where she observed penguins, leopard seals, and humpback whales.

“I went this past couple of months ago on a ship to a slightly different part of Antarctica than I’ve been before,” she says.

In the Antarctic Circle, Neely says she was particularly moved by the sight of a humpback whale with her calf swimming right around the Zodiac boat she was traveling in. “We saw amazing landscapes, penguins of many types, seals of many types. It was magnificent,” she recalls.

During a trip to Arboretum Raponda Walker in Gabon in January of 2022, Neely says she was taken aback by the stunning tropical forest.

“For about 30 minutes I got so entranced with its beauty that I meandered off on the wrong trail. No snakes got me,” Neely says. “That same day we traveled to a village called Bolokoboue to its poultry farm and vegetable garden. Near this village, we watched a Bwiti [spiritual discipline] ceremony.”

Neely says some of the locals were eating iboga, a naturally occurring psychoactive evergreen shrub indigenous to the Congo area. It has a yellowish root or bark and produces hallucinations — but Neely demurred from partaking in the root ritual.

“I watched those who do. The Bwiti blessed us,” Neely adds.

Hook, line, and sinker for a big kisser: Franci Neely poses for a playful photograph in Nusfjord, one of Norway’s oldest fishing villages.

I can sea clearly now: Franci Neely puts her best foot forward in Lofoten, Norway.

Franci Neely sees Norway her way
Franci Neely recently visited the Lofoten archipelago in Norway — a Nordic land she’s previously visited. She happened to be in Svalbard on May 17, during Norway’s Constitution Day. The day is traditionally celebrated with a parade and Neely says she enjoyed seeing the locals clad in their traditional outfits. After Norway’s Constitution was signed in 1814, the country became independent. Other highlights of her Norwegian sojourn include bonding with a pack of stately dogsledding huskies and visiting Nusfjord, one of Norway’s oldest fishing villages with a tradition of seasonal cod fishing. Neely took a moment to pose with a fish skeleton in an iconic Nusfjord photo-op spot with the hashtag #nusfjordadventures. More than 1,000 other adventurers have snapped photos in Nusfjord and shared them on Instagram.

Franci Neely’s travel tips for a carefree journey
Traveling the world, Neely says she’s learned the value of packing lightly — although she confesses she often overpacks. Her advice to others with summer plans? “Take less luggage than I do,” she advises. “That’s always my problem.”

In addition to a less-is-more approach to packing, Neely recommends researching the area you’re traveling to and planning ahead so no time is wasted while in the area. Taking a moment to sample local cuisine is another treasured tip. During her time in Turkey, she says she enjoyed a delightful meal of lentils and Adana kebabs made from ground lamb and spices. And she was especially impressed with a cup of mint tea she sipped in the Sahara.

She also advises packing a headscarf or two — a must-have multitasking accessory during her many excursions to the Middle East, Africa, and other regions where headscarves are popular or culturally required. “Accessorize imaginatively. Use scarves as headgear, belts, shawls,” Neely adds.

While many people dream of traveling more, they simply don’t prioritize it and Neely says life is too short to wait.

“Don’t procrastinate,” she warns.
“When you’re young, you always think that you have infinite time ahead of you,” she says. “But no, you don’t. It really goes by very quickly sometimes. Make something of every day of your life.”

Brushing up on a new language is another top item on Franci Neely’s travel agenda. While she shares that she studied French in high school and can understand Italian, she says even learning the basics of a language before visiting a new country can make all the difference. “The language of a particular culture tells you so much about the way that culture thinks,” she explains.

Neely, who had a life-changing experience while visiting Rome thanks to the hospitality of some locals, says she wouldn’t mind living in Italy at some point to become fluent in the Italian language.

In the meantime, the retired Texas attorney is eager to set out on her next excursion. She has plans to cover more international ground later this year with a return to Australia and Africa. She admits she’s not only looking forward to seeing new places but is eager to have meaningful conversations, too.

“I think that’s one of the things that’s so rich about travel. It’s an incredible learning experience for me,” Franci Neely says.

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