I first heard Francis Tapon on the popular This Week In Travel podcast. Francis has visited over 80 countries, trekked across America four times and just released his second entertaining book The Hidden Europe: What Eastern Europeans Can Teach Us. We are delighted Francis has taken the time out to answer our 7 Wonders questions.
1) I wonder, when looking at the airport departure board, where have you thought, ‘I really would like to go there someday’, and why?
Katmandu, Nepal. It’s not so much that I’m interested in the city, but rather climbing the tallest mountains of the world. I’ve done a lot of backpacking (I’ve walked across America 4 times). However, I have no experience with really big mountains. I’d love to fulfill that dream someday.
2) I wonder if you travel by guidebook or trust your instinct and simply explore.
I usually improvise. During the last 3 years, I traveled to 25 Eastern European countries. During that time, I never booked a hotel/hostel in advance. I might arrive at night, but I would just be spontaneous. It helps that I bring a sleeping bag and tarp wherever I go, so I can camp anywhere. Guidebooks are useful to give you a succinct overview of a country’s history and language and highlights. The maps help too. Guidebooks are great when you’re short on time – they help you be efficient. Since I usually travel for months or years, I don’t mind being inefficient when I travel because it gives me the joy of being spontaneous.
3) I wonder from your travels, what is the favourite photo you’ve taken and the story behind it?
I put my 50 favorite photos from Eastern Europe on my website. My favorite is when I’m jumping on top of Mt. Lovcen, in Montenegro. I feel I’m at the Gates of Heaven. And my jumping in it reflects that emotion.
4) I wonder whilst travelling, what is the one thing you can’t live without?
My camping gear. Travelers spend a lot of time worrying, “Where will I sleep?” Having my shelter and sleeping gear with me gives me insurance that no matter what happens, I can sleep comfortably somewhere. When I walked across America, my backpacked weighed 3 kg (6 lbs) – without food and water. When I travel as a tourist, it’s twice that weight, but still very light. That lets me carry everything I need with me, including my “hotel.” I love the flexibility that gives me.
5) I wonder what’s the most effort you’ve taken to travel somewhere…… and was it worth it?
I walked from Mexico to Canada and then back to Mexico along the Continental Divide Trail. That’s 9,000 km (5,600 miles) across the Rocky Mountains. It took 7 months. It was a lot of effort, especially walking through Colorado’s snow-filled mountains in May. Still, it was worth it. It changed my life and confirmed what I wrote in my book, Hike Your Own Hike: 7 Life Lessons from Backpacking Across America.
6) I wonder if I could ask you, why do you find Eastern Europe so fascinating?
Because it’s the hidden side of Europe. Although communism collapsed over 20 years ago, the region is still mysterious for most people. Western Europe is so passe. Eastern Europe combines something that is familiar (Europe) with something that is surprisingly unexplored (see Kosovo, Moldova, Belarus, and Bosnia, for example). After spending 3 years there, I wrote my new book that just came out, The Hidden Europe: What Eastern Europeans Can Teach Us.
7) I wonder what you have planned next and where can people find out more about you?
In 2013, I’ll start a 3-year journey in Africa. I’ve never been there. I’m curious to go because I’m sure it will surprise me more than any other continent. People can follow the journey by subscribing to my:
Thank you so much Francis for taking part, and good luck with your African odyssey. Be sure to check out Francis Tapon’s books below.
Interviewed by Si Salter