Lessons from Franci Neely on Eco-Tourism & Human Connection
Eco-tourism is becoming more popular than ever. Grandview Market Research projects it will grow over 15% a year through 2030.
Many factors are driving the demand for sustainable tourism in 2022. We are experiencing some of the worst weather events in history. A recent report shows that the landslide in Ischia, Italy this past week was due to climate change as much as poor construction practices. Germany also logged the warmest year on record, which is also blamed on climate change.
As fears about the growing problems associated with climate change rise, more people are looking for ways to lower their carbon footprint. The travel industry accounts for between 8% and 11% of global greenhouse emissions, so embracing sustainable travel practices is going to be more important than ever.
Franci Neely is one of the renowned tourists that can teach us all something about sustainable tourism. Although her recent stories focus largely on building human connections, she also shared some wisdom that sustainable tourists can embrace as well.
What Tourists Can Learn from Franci Neely About Sustainability and Human Connections
Franci Neely is no typical tourist. She’s on a mission to fulfill a longtime dream of visiting every country on the planet. Whether she’s sipping mint tea with newfound friends in the Sahara or soaking in the majesty of a volcano in Cape Verde, the accomplished traveler shares that it’s all about the journey of reaping the soul-satisfying rewards of the human connection.
To date, Neely has explored more than 180 nations. Lately, she’s been spending the bulk of her time exploring Africa — where she experienced a magical moment with a group of inquisitive Nigerian children who were on a school trip.
“They were curious about me,” Franci Neely recalls.
Neely says the engagement was mutual and she was eager to communicate with the little ones, smartly dressed in green school uniforms. “I’d rather they teach me,” Franci Neely says. “I have a lot to learn and maybe we can teach each other, we can share with each other. It’s reciprocity that I’m interested in.”
In addition to sharing some insights on human connections, she also has some experiences that can inspire people looking to reduce their carbon footprint while traveling. She has found a number of great ways to enjoy the finer and simpler parts of traveling, such as exploring the beautiful scenery and simply chatting with the locals. This has a much lower carbon footprint than going to large concerns or cruise ships when traveling abroad.
Slowing Down To Explore ‘Beauty and Simplicity’
During a sojourn in Algeria, Franci Neely says the 10th-century fortified town of El Atteuf took her breath away as she basked in the antiquity surrounding her. This was a great way to enjoy the area without leaving a large carbon footprint. It was also an excellent opportunity to immerse herself in a new culture.
“There are four or five or six of these fortified towns in this one area. They’re amazing,” she marvels. “[There is] no vehicular traffic in them. A donkey is the means of transport. That just shows to me the beauty and simplicity of this way of life. Vehicles can’t get in these little tiny streets and they do just fine. And it was gorgeous to see these fortified towns.”
Sustainable tourists can appreciate these means of transportation. Vehicles obviously leave a large carbon footprint. Of course, there are eco-friendly vehicles out there as well, but it is better for the planet to just avoid vehicles altogether when traveling.
And to see its people. Like the street vendors who beckoned, arms outstretched, with offers of warm, pillowy breads from fiery hearths. Or the passersby, who stopped for a hug and a quick photo with a snap-happy traveler, wide-eyed with wonder, named Franci Neely.
For Franci Neely, the Eyes Are the Conduit for Human Connection
That the eyes are the window to the soul is something Neely understands on a molecular level. “When you make a connection, you can see it in the eyes. And that’s what I hope some of my photos show, that very real connection,” she says. “It’s momentary often, unless I’m traveling along with them, [and] I continue to see them. It doesn’t get to be deeper than that, but those momentary connections, they live inside me. They’re in me and I hope in some way I’ve left a little tiny, tiny atom of me in them.”
Some of the most precious souvenirs Neely has collected are the intimate photos she’s snapped of not only the memorable places, but the unforgettable people she’s encountered. Some of the kinship she’s sensed was so profound, she has maintained pen pal relationships and remains in touch with those far-flung friends long after the ink on her passport stamp had dried.
For her, it’s never been about maintaining a mainstream travel log depicting landscapes and exotic backdrops for social media fodder — hers is a deep-seated purpose.
“That’s not my idea about [travel],” she explains. “It is to show visually that around the world, one can have human connections that are significant even if you don’t share a single word in common.”
That cultural education, she says, could never be learned from a book. Also, human connections don’t require the same kind of carbon footprint that many other travel experiences involve. Therefore, eco-tourists can follow Neely’s example and focus on building these meaningful connections to lower their carbon footprint.
“I very much believe that when one experiences different peoples and different cultures, one has a greater understanding of the universal humanity that we share and that really, none of us are strangers if we look at each other in an open, accepting, sharing way, nonjudgmentally,” she says. “And it’s very life-affirming to me to do that.”
Travel Alerts Franci Neely to the Majestic Wonders of Life Around the World
Neely says her travels have opened up her heart, eyes, and spirit to the beauty of the planet, which she admits that some people often take for granted.
“No amount of money is worth the beauty of a waterfall that may disappear because of the way we’re treating our planet,” she cautions.
Franci Neely says her awareness was awakened to how crucial it is for Americans to be exposed to other cultures, especially when some American leaders make questionable comments about foreign lands.
“George W. Bush — he’s a fine ex-president, I think he’s a nice man, but he labeled three different countries as the ‘axis of evil’ and that is so unhelpful,” she says. “I went to Iran sometime after he had said that and Iran is one of the places that affected me most deeply because of its incredible people. Of course they have zealots in their government, just as we have zealots in our government.”
As an intrepid wayfarer, Neely has experienced the ridiculous and the sublime throughout her journeys.
She says she was impressed with the richness of the Iranian culture and just how much the average citizen in Iran knows about their history and their literature.
“They were exemplars of kind hospitality to this American and repeatedly told me how they loved Americans, not our government, but Americans,” Franci Neely says. “I’m fortunate I have had that opportunity. I realize it’s hard to have these opportunities, but I’ve been blessed.”
But even the most seasoned traveler can run into some snags — and Neely ran into hers in Turkmenistan.
While she says she’s never felt in mortal peril on any of her excursions, she did experience a sticky situation trying to leave the Central Asian land. There was some confusion over her visa and length of stay, and for a time, she was detained by customs.
For some, grappling with security halfway across the globe in a foreign language would spell the end of their adventures, but not Neely. Experiencing all the world has to offer — even inconveniences — is what feeds and soothes her psyche.
“To get out of your comfort zone, don’t just go to countries [such as] France and Italy,” Franci Neely says. “Go to places that you don’t know about — Africa, Asia, the Middle East. The Middle East — it’s so warm and [full of] wonder.”
Sustainable Tourists Should Follow Neely’s Example and Focus on Human Connections
There are many great things that you can do to enjoy being an eco-tourist. You should start by visit the right places to lower your carbon footprint and support eco-friendly communities. However, it is also important to participate in the right activities when traveling. You should follow Neely’s lead and focus on human connections instead of activities that are worse for the planet.