“Scott Amyx’s book injects you with a secret sauce that will compel you to be bold and disrupt yourself. His advice about the importance of stretching beyond your comfort zone is perfect. I ought to know since I just spent five years traveling nonstop overland to all 54 African countries.”
— Francis Tapon
Francis Tapon is a man with a mission: to travel the whole world. And that doesn’t mean visiting 30-odd major countries spread all over; he aims to visit every single of the 193 countries throughout the world. Now, that’s a serious deal, one that’s daunting and incredibly exciting at the same time. Not only does it demand great physical fitness, but, more importantly, incredible mental toughness and a passionate zeal to carry on.
Francis was born on March 10, 1970 in San Francisco, California to a Chilean mother and French father. Francis’ schooling was done at the French American International School and Lick-Wilmerding High School. Thereafter, in 1992, he earned a Bachelor of Arts cum laude from Amherst College. He went to Harvard Business School for his MBA. Subsequently, he co-founded a robotic vision company and worked for global technology giants, Hitachi and Microsoft.
Transition from a Corporate Executive to a Global Nomad
Although he was leading a comfortable life, Francis felt the need to explore life more deeply. He wanted to experience his true purpose in life. Similar to Henry David Thoreau, Francis hoped to find answers in the wilderness.
Taking after his father, the travel bug had indeed caught him, and it soon turned into his life’s passion, pushing him ever closer to his ultimate aim of complete world travel. He undertook the Appalachian Trail (2,200 miles) and documented his journey in his book, Hike Your Own Hike.
In 2006, Francis took the plunge to travel full time. He said goodbye to the cushy executive job with the corner office and became a true global nomad.
To most of us, that might sound insane or even unsafe, but no one in history has achieved greatness by doing what’s considered comfortable. Greatness requires going against the tide. Equipped with a purpose and an iron will, Francis embarked on his passion to thoroughly cover habitable Earth in his lifetime.
Self Belief and Perseverance
When he started, Francis would have niggling doubts about undertaking these enervating trails. With mosquito swamps, treacherous treks, and many things seemingly working against him, it was discouraging at times. But Francis persisted and persevered. Completing the trails taught him valuable lessons and the immense gratification of achieving what he set out to accomplish. One of the most important lessons Francis learned was to map out his own hike—it means doing what you want, the way you want it without regrets.
A great exponent of thru-hiking, Francis has completed the Appalachian Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail (2,600 miles).
In 2007, Francis became the first person to complete the Continental Divide Trail (CDT) roundtrip. This trail starts at the Mexican border, traverses five US states through the Rockies, into Canada, and all the way back. To put things in perspective, Francis walked all 5,600 miles of the roundtrip. And he walked alone for seven months covering the grueling-yet-fun 5,600 miles. And it’s not even a well-defined trail. With harsh weather and danger of grizzly attacks, CDT presents formidable challenges, which, at times, are downright scary and treacherous as hell. Completing the three trails, Francis has earned the triple crown of long-distance hiking.
Losing his father while he was wandering all over the world was a big setback for Francis. However, the last thing his father would have wanted was for him to abandon his dream. Becoming even more determined than ever, Francis pursued his endeavors with heightened vigor and passion.
Francis believes travel, just like his alma mater Harvard Business School (HBS), is transformative and disruptive. After disrupting himself by completing his MBA at HBS, travel again made him disrupt himself. Francis didn’t want to wait forever to realize his ultimate goal of world travel. He jumped right in when the time was right. Matter of fact, he posed the billion-dollar question to his fellow HBS alumni in his article.
How is Traveling Transformative
Traveling the world gives you a chance to experience incredibly diverse cultures, beliefs, habits, geographies, and ways of life. In order to truly understand a culture and its people, however, you need to spend a considerable time becoming a part of it.
That’s precisely what Francis does—he stays in a place long enough to closely observe and absorb its culture. He is traveling with a purpose and meaning. He’s not your thrill-seeking global wanderer, visiting 193 countries for the record’s sake. Instead, Francis seeks to learn about all the places he visits by being a part of it. The journey helps him to discover the many facets that make up humanity. And with each step, Francis enlarges his capacity for compassion, understanding, mutual respect, and love.
In his own words, “Unlike most world travelers, I don’t bounce around randomly throughout the planet. Instead, I focus on a region to get to know it well and write a book about it.”
Having already travelled 120 countries and more than 150,000 miles under his belt, Francis knows what he is talking about. He has already authored two books—The Hidden Europe: What Eastern Europeans Can Teach Us and Hike Your Own Hike: 7 Life Lessons from Backpacking Across America.
In addition to his undying passion for travel, Tapon believes in giving back. He extensively documents his travels so that other travelers can benefit from his experience. He shares his travel insights, rich experiences, and advice through his website, http://francistapon.com/ where he offers articles, photos, videos, podcasts, books, press coverage, his future plans, and a whole lot more.
He’s also a TEDx Speaker. Check out his video on how and why travel transforms you.
Traveling Light and Frugal
Not only does he advise what to visit and experience but also how to travel inexpensively. A lot of people do want to travel far and long, but finances hold them back. It’s one of the most commonly asked question—how does he afford his globetrotting?
Francis offers a simple and practical advice—”Simple living and frugal traveling!”
He maintains one’s earning years must be disciplined with substantial savings and prudently investing those savings. One can always drive a cheaper car or even bike to work; live in a modest home; cook at home; cut down on luxuries; and so on. One can be quite content and happy with just the basic necessities and doing away with the unnecessary and frivolous luxuries. All the money saved, when invested wisely, can generate lifelong income and that goes a long way to financing one’s travels.
While traveling, Francis believes frugality is the key to not only keeping your travel costs low but also helps you discover the real pleasure of traveling a place. Resting in an ultra-comfy bed in a plush 5-star hotel is hardly the way to discover the place—you want to explore the exciting outdoors and meet the local people. He even goes to the extent of suggesting stealth camping if you can pull it off. Even for transportation, there is no better way to explore the region than using cheap local transport or just walk. You get to meet real local people and real culture this way. Even the real local food is best explored out on the streets, not at the expensive restaurants. “Being frugal gives you the flexibility to pursue your postponed dreams. Live a rich life: one that is rich in experiences.”
Braving the Challenges
Having already traveled three continents across diverse geographies and cultures, Francis has faced innumerable challenges during his journeys. Francis has faced the threat of grizzly attacks, spent merciless, bone-chilling icy nights on top of the mountains, walked thousands of miles in knee-deep snow, sweated thousands of miles under the ruthless burning sun, braved torrential rains and lightning, and travelled hundreds of miles all alone. He has witnessed nature in its most raw forms—kind and bountiful, unforgiving and barren, bone-crushing, and highly life-transforming. And he embraces it in every form. He doesn’t complain; he enjoys every experience of his lifelong journey, albeit difficult.
“Any moment you feel despondent, think of the end goal and how important it’s for you. The great satisfaction of having climbed a tough mountain is something I think about when it’s snowing or mosquitoes are bugging me.”
The harder the journey, the sweeter the success. “Remind yourself that there’s often a correlation between the level of difficulty of something and the satisfaction/ happiness you feel after you’ve accomplished it,” Francis remarks. By striving to achieve your goal, we gain so much in the process. When you persevere, go against your natural tendencies, push beyond your limits, that’s when you discover the real potential in you.
Why Francis Tapon Does it?
There is a multitude of reasons for being a global nomad. Of course, traveling excites Francis to no end, but he wants to motivate people to improve their bodies and spirits. In his own words, “I want to encourage everyone to travel more, exercise more, and get out in nature more.”
In addition, he hopes to inspire people to take up walking to better manage lifestyle diseases such as diabetes. “I love hearing from anyone who has made a positive life change because of something I did,” he says.
He also wants to push himself beyond the limits. The vagaries of the weather, the thrill of striving against all odds, pushing the mind when the body says no—that’s what excites him.
And last but not the least, Francis wants to live an interesting life. “Imagine a doctor tells you that you have 3-5 years to live. Now, go ahead and live your life accordingly. When I breathe my last, I want to conclude that I lived a life that was fun and fascinating.”
Beyond Travel and Books
Apart from the books he has authored, Francis is also the entrepreneur behind Best Luxury Safaris that organizes safaris in Tanzania and throughout Africa. With wildlife conservation central to it, Best Luxury Safaris aims to preserve the existing habitat for African wildlife and increase it.
Francis is also a TEDx speaker and has delivered hundreds of presentations. He has been part of workshops, panel discussions, and has given numerous keynote addresses. He also dons the hat of a guide and helps create custom trips for groups. Finally, he is a personal coach who helps people lead a richer, more content life—professionally, emotionally, and spiritually. In 2009, he was one of the finalists for the California Outdoors Hall of Fame, which “features nominees who are world-renowned for their skills and who have helped inspire thousands of others to take part in the great outdoors.”
Currently, Francis is in Africa. In fact, he has been there since 2013. By 2018, he aims to complete touring all the 54 African countries. Like his previous extended excursions in America and Europe, the African experiences too would take the form of a book. Further ahead, in 2021, Francis plans to be in West Asia, followed by East Asia. This will be followed by Oceania.
Taking up the path less trodden, working tirelessly towards one’s goals, persevering through the mightiest odds, clinging steadfastly to one’s belief and achieving well-nigh impossible is what the spirit of strive is all about. And Francis Tapon perfectly embodies that spirit. May his tribe grow.