Monday, May 14, 2012

What Francis Tapon Can Teach You About Following Your Dreams

If you know me well, you know how much I love to travel. In fact, I believe that the best way to spend your money is to go see the world. Although I have traveled extensively and even lived in four different countries, my experiences cannot compare to professional globetrotter and author Francis Tapon. 

Francis recently published his second book, The Hidden Europe, a volume documenting the three years he spent visiting all nations in the Eastern half of Europe. His book is a funny and insightful account of his experiences in these countries. Is The Hidden Europe a true travel resource book? Probably not. I would characterize it as an adventure travelogue, where you learn just as much about the author as about the places he visited. Francis is opinionated, irreverent, and refreshingly honest. He inspires his readers to go out there and experience these places for themselves. Here is my interview with him. 

Tallinn, Estonia 

You left the corporate world to pursue traveling and writing and learnt to live accordingly. Did you have an "aha moment" when you realized this is what you wanted to do, or was it a gradual change of perception?
FT: Although I can't pinpoint an exact moment in time, the epiphany happened when I thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail.

Your latest book is about Eastern Europe. As diverse are Europe is linguistically and culturally, have you found anything that these nations have in common? If you had to sum up the difference in one sentence between a European and an American could you do that?  What would it be?
FT: Europeans tend to be more intellectual and cynical than Americans. 

Kotor Bay, Montenegro

What do you think is the biggest difference is between the Eastern and Western halves of Europe?
FT: There is still a difference in the overall standard of living. Although you can find billionaires in Moscow and homeless people in Paris, Eastern Europeans still generally have a lower standard of living than Western Europeans. Eastern Europeans are also a bit more hardened and rugged than Western Europeans.

In your opinion, does the EU have a future? Why or why not?
FT: Yes, because Europeans don't want to fade into irrelevance. In 1900, Europe represented 25% of the world's population; by 2060, it will be 6% (and a third of those will be senior citizens). To stay relevant, Europeans realize they need to join forces, diverse as they may be, in order to compete on the global stage.

Meteora, Greece

What was your biggest surprise/ most unexpected thing while in Europe?
FT: That Serbians were nice to me and that Albanians adore George W. Bush (and anything American). Given NATO's bombing, I expected Serbs to be unfriendly to Americans. Instead, they rolled out the red carpet for me. About 70% of Albanians are Muslim, so it was surprised to see that they have a cafe named after Bush and have his face on a national postage stamp. The most important street in Kosovo is named after Bill Clinton. They love Obama too.
Your next book is going to be about Africa. What are your expectations about this continent? Will you prepare differently for this upcoming trip than for the trips before?
FT: I expect Africa to not be as scary and dangerous as most people think it will be for me. That doesn't mean that it won't have tough moments. I just doubt it will be as bad as many imagine. I generally don't like to prepare for trips. I never book a hotel or hostel. I arrive in towns at 5pm and make stuff up as I go along. I like to learn about the history of a place from the people themselves. I like walking into a country with minimal expectations and prejudice. 

Poznan, Poland

You once told me you wanted to visit every country on Earth.  Seeing how you have already made great strides to achieving this goal, what would be at the bottom of your visit list? To phrase it differently, which country will be the last place on Earth you would ever want to visit?
FT: Hungary. Just kidding. Right now I'd put Somalia and Afghanistan at the bottom of the list. It's just no fun exploring countries that are in the middle of a war.
Tell me something I do not know about you that you are also willing to share with my readers!
FT: I've never been to the Himalayas, so I can't wait to climb there!

Not quite the Himalayas, the Julian Alps in Slovenia are nevertheless breathtaking
You can learn more about Francis by visiting his website, All pictures in this post are by Francis and were taken from his website, with his permission. I hope reading about this world traveler will inspire you to follow your dreams!

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