Lively In Liberia: Franci Neely poses with new friends near Kpatawee Waterfalls in central Liberia
On the moo-ve: Franci Neely is pictured with Mundari people and their sacred cows at the Mundari cattle camp near Juba, the capital of South Sudan, on Feb. 19, 2022.
Best-teas: Franci Neely making friends with a Sahrawi woman over mint tea near Smara, Western Sahara, on Nov. 6, 2022.
Franci Neely’s Fondness for Making Global Friends
When one travels as much as Franci Neely has, making friends is inevitable. And Neely has amassed quite a collection of global chums over the years, including many treasured pen pals. Neely’s outgoing personality and zest for art and life have made her a magnet for flourishing relationships with new confidants.
Neely is well on her way to completing her goal of visiting every country in the world. The well-traveled Houstonian, who has a penchant for photography, never wanders without her camera and always has her Nikon or an iPhone in hand to capture some of her sweetest moments. She’s chronicling her adventures on francineelyphotography.com and has thousands of images from hanging out with new acquaintances in Liberia, to snaps of ancient Egyptian tombs, to scenes of the frigid majesty of Antarctica.
Neely says one of the best ways to meet new people while traveling is to be totally immersed in the culture and stay present in every moment. She makes a special point to feast on local cuisine and support regional artisans. While she admits she often has a tendency to overpack, she’s learned that less is more when it comes to roving and lugging around too much baggage can weigh one down while exploring — and it’s such fun to fill those suitcases with provincial discoveries.
“Find [something] that will remind you of your trip,” Neely advises. “You can get things where you are.”
Neely says she’s picked up many intriguing mementos along the way and has even been treated to items from her newfound friends. She recalls being deep in the lush rice fields of the Philippines when a local villager struck Franci Neely’s fancy. Neely says she felt an immense sense of synergy with the woman, as if they’d known each other forever. Neely was inspired to give her the silver necklace she was sporting that day.
The woman was so touched she gave Franci Neely a vintage hat that had belonged to her grandfather. However, Neely says the true gift exchanged that day was the unspoken gift of friendship.
They swapped information and through the woman’s daughter, they continue to stay in contact. “We write to each other frequently,” Neely notes.
Although Neely says she offered the necklace expecting nothing in return, she was simply ecstatic to gain a meaningful new connection that day.
This pattern has reliably repeated itself as Franci Neely makes her way around the globe. With a deep admiration for the arts and culture, Neely is an ambassador of sorts for fostering a sense of community wherever she goes.
“[It’s] not my goal to try to teach,” she divulges. “I want them ideally to come away and say, ‘She’s open, she cared, she was generous-spirited, nonjudgmental, and wanted to know about us and wanted us to teach her.”
She points out she’s met many inspiring people who are richer in heritage and traditions than anyone could ever be simply with money. She’s been surrounded by dozens of smiling schoolchildren in Nigeria and she’s merrily danced with Bamileke women in the Grassfield kingdoms of Cameroon. To say these once-in-a-lifetime moments bring Franci Neely joy would be an understatement. She’s living the global dream and never takes a second of it for granted.
“I’m lucky enough to be able to do this,” she confesses.
Franci Neely: Forging Forever Friendships
During a visit to Mundari cattle camp in South Sudan in early 2022, Neely says she had a remarkable experience witnessing the sacred Ankole-Watusi cows and the Mundari, who build their lives around these intriguing creatures. While South Sudan is on a level 4 — highly restricted, do not travel — travel advisory now, Neely’s thankful for the time she spent there learning about the generational responsibilities of the tribe and how the elders teach the younger members how to care for the cows.
Neely adds that one of her most cherished travel moments happened in Italy. She says Rome is where the heart is, and while she’s studied Italian, she hopes to become more fluent someday and further explore her love of the land and the Italian people. Even when she found herself in a jam after her hotel didn’t have a reservation for her, she says she was immediately awed by the hospitality of the Italian people.
The adventurer had driven into the center of Rome and says she was actually lost before finding her hotel — which had saved her a room for the following day. As she wandered the cobbled streets, pondering her next move, serendipitously her love for fashion led her to a jewelry shop where owners John and Pepe, after learning of her dilemma, insisted she stay with them. Their residence overlooked the Colosseum and Neely recalls how delighted she was to wake up the next morning and see such an exquisite sight.
“Over the next several days, John and Pepe showed me the town,” she says.
She says she hopes to go back and spend an extended period of time there to work on her Italian vocabulary.
Wild About Animal Friends
While Franci Neely deeply appreciates the human kinship she’s cultivated, she adds she’s also had a phenomenal time making animal friends on her journey around the world. Neely, who loves critters and spending time with her precious pet, a Pomeranian named Milo, she has had some wild encounters during her excursions. She’s climbed atop an elephant in Sri Lanka and romping around a golf course with a lovable chimpanzee in Equatorial Guinea. Still, nothing took her breath away quite like a trip to Malawi.
On a boat ride in Liwonde National Park, Franci Neely says she began her day observing a bevy of yellow baboons, lazing crocodiles, and a majestic bird landing on top of a hippopotamus’s back. It was a moment Neely proudly captured on video. “It’s hundreds and hundreds of acres with animals who are protected,” Franci Neely marvels.
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