Interview: Francis Tapon

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Northern, Southern, Western and Eastern and everywhere I set foot in between…I have loved Africa. When asked about my time on the continent, my answer is always the same, ‘Africa gets in your soul, and stays there’. Each time we leave I can’t wait to return. Through social media and travelers postings, I connected with Francis Tapon who is on a journey to document the Unseen Africa. A traveler, author, speaker, co-founder of a robotics vision company in Silicon Valley and owner of an MBA from Harvard Business School, Francis Tapon ditched life in Silicon Valley in 2006 to pursue another dream to travel to each of the world’s countries. To date, he as been to more than 80, backpacked over 20,000 km (walked across America four times) and is currently on a three year trip around the African continent. His most recent journey works on showcasing more of Africa than what is shown in the media. In his own words, this ‘adventure travel show is part documentary and part reality show’. If you’ve never been to Africa, want to reminisce about your travels or want to learn a bit more before you book that ticket this might be your chance. Check out his travels, back the project, follow the journey or just delve a bit further into the gifts of travel provided by the beauty that is Africa.

Click HERE for video

Standing on Morocco’s Wall in the Western Sahara

1.When did you get started traveling? My inflection point started in 2001, when I thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail. I learned to love the wild. In 2004, I travel to all 25 Eastern European countries. There I learned to love traveling in civilization too. However, it was in 2006 when I embarked on the Pacific Crest Trail that my life of nonstop travel truly started.

2.What made you decide make the jump to a location independent/travel-based existence? On the Appalachian Trail, I asked myself 5 questions to help me determine what was my passion in life. I realized that travel was my passion and that I’d live a wasted life if I didn’t pursue it.


3.What benefits do you feel you get from this lifestyle? How do you handle the nay-sayers in your life? The main benefits are freedom, variety, and wisdom. There are few nay-sayers: at worst people say, “I couldn’t do that, but I’m glad you like it.” My mom wished I didn’t travel so much. She worries. My solution is just to communicate with her often.


4.How did you save money to be able to afford living ‘on the road’/traveling often? How long did it take you to make the jump to a location independent/travel-based life? I worked at Hitachi and Microsoft as a consultant. I was well paid, but I lived like a student. So in 4 years of work and some lucky investments, I had accumulated significant savings.

Waterfall in Burkina Faso

5.How do you choose your destinations and for how long you’ll stay? What type of accommodations do you typically choose? Are there any specific resources you recommend? Unlike most nomads, I pick one region of the world to explore for 3-4 years, instead of hopping around randomly across the globe. 2008-2011 was Eastern Europe. 2013-2017 will be Africa. I visit every country in the region. I spend about a third of the time camping, a third of the time couch-surfing, and a third of time in a rental for a few months. I rarely stay in hotels or hostels. My favorite site for lodging is couchsurfing.org, but I recommend everyone reads my advice on being a couch-surfing guest first.


6.How much money do you traditionally need annually to support this lifestyle? I’m not sure, but probably $30,000.


7.How do you make money on the road and save for retirement? I sell my books and videos from my website. I’m not able to save, but it decreases the burn rate. In rare moments I get paid to do speeches. If I successfully sell The Unseen Africa TV series idea, then I might finally make money again for the first time in 8 years.

A rough plan for the 4+ year journey

8.How do you handle visas, vaccinations, legal documents/passports, taxes and healthcare while living without a home base or an ever-changing one? Most of those things you can do on the road and over the Internet. I just use my mom’s California’s address as my permanent address.


9.If you decide to settle somewhere – where and when do you think it will be? I won’t settle till 2030. My favorite cities are San Francisco (my hometown) and Venice. Perhaps both will be underwater by 2030, so I may have other ideas by then.


10.What advice do you have for others trying to make the jump to a location independent/ travel-heavy lifestyle? Live frugally. Learn to love camping. Learn to save and invest your money. Start building a location independent career now.

The Kickstarter program closes on the 24th of June 2014.Click for more on: Unseen Africa or Francis Tapon.

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