Member Spotlight: Frank Robinson, Bordighera, Italy

Frank Robinson standing in front of an abandoned army tank in Somalia.

Over the years, family and friends have always asked me to write about my travels. While I have kept a travel diary for each year, and my twelve expired passports tell another story, my response has been that it wasn’t important and my quest is personal.

Recently, my sister Maisah relayed an article written in 2019 about Jessica Nabongo. I was delighted to read about Jessica and her accomplishment of being the first Black woman to visit every country. My sister asked why I had not made my accomplishment known of being the first Black man to visit all countries. I didn’t even know these travel categories existed and accomplishing this as a Black man had never occurred to me. Until reading Ms. Nabongo’s words, I had not realized that maybe my accomplishment could inspire someone positively. Maybe it wasn’t just about me!

My quest has taken decades with the passion to know about everything in this big beautiful world. The Travelers’ Century Club has provided a good standard and being a member has given me the impetus to continue.

By September 2017, I had completed all 193 UN countries but my goal of completing the TCC list remains having visited 314. However, since some remain virtually impossible to visit because of military possession, and thus illegal to visit, i.e. Chagos, gratification is delayed. COVID-19 restrictions canceled flights to eight of my remaining sixteen territories.

How did I get here? I was born in Bristol, Tennessee, and my aunts and uncles nicknamed me “Little Frank.” At age eight, my wanderlust initiated when I received a full-sized bike for Christmas. It may have been way too large for me, requiring something to step on to get over the frame, but it provided the ability to venture far from my neighborhood and see other areas in detail. I saw that people lived very differently.

My next impetus came after many years of immersion in education. On completing medical school and subsequent training, I was drafted into the Army in 1969 during the Vietnam war and my assignment was Germany for three years. At the age of 27, this was the first time on a plane, as well as the first time out of the United States! Fortunately, I studied German in college and could speak fluently.

The experience of living in a foreign country was stimulating. It took a while to become comfortable going to a restaurant, a cinema, and to mix freely with Germans, French, and then Swiss people. I enjoyed it and resolved that when my last child leaves home, I would live somewhere in Europe and travel. On discharge from the army, I moved to California where I practiced medicine and raised my children. California was the perfect base to not only learn Spanish, but to visit North and South America, and Asia. In 1987, I retired once my last child left home.

In 1991, I fulfilled the promise to myself and moved to France. Even though I established temporary residence there, visits to Italy brought the realization that it was better suited to my wine, food, music, and cultural leanings. Thus, in 1993 I settled in Italy and it was the year for full-time European residence. Afterwards, it was all-out travel. Even now, after living in my small city for 29 years, neighbors still think I’m only a frequent visitor. Until COVID, I’ve always been on an airplane to a new destination.

Travel is an education — an opening of the senses and the intellect—something that non-travelers may see this as cliche. In the past, I had mixed feelings that if I knew what I know now, I would’ve not spent so much time in school and traveled more. With travel under my belt, I see that without the education, which ideally teaches one how to think and make helpful decisions, just traveling would not have been as rewarding. Fortunately, childhood training and schooling gave me that education. The outgrowths of travel has given me more empathy for others, humility and thankfulness. When on a travel high, I frequently say: “This is Little Frank from Bristol, Tennessee. Whoever thought that he could be doing this!”

Being a member of TCC and meeting people going about their travel in their individual ways, I realize how special our experiences are. My best example was a boat voyage to Bouvet Island. I met so many dedicated and determined travelers who put comfort and ease aside in order to reach their goals. Horrible weather conditions kept us from setting foot on the island. However, it was astonishing to see continual optimism and good cheer. There were no calls of, “Let me speak to the manager.”

Many reasons exist to not travel, fear is one of the biggest. It is not only protective, but it is harmful when causing excess restriction. Only in Afghanistan and Somalia (Mogadishu) did I need armed guards to travel safely. Even that is not the norm as a majority of travelers have not needed guards there. And the experience far outweighed any discomfort.

I hope to have contributed to improving the world where I’ve traveled. I especially hope that relating some of what travel has given me, inspires others to venture into the world. I’ve been fortunate not to encounter threats of physical harm, theft from my hotel room nor my person, and no medical illness requiring treatment. For this, I give thanks to the travel gods and wish that they give the same fortune to all other travelers and those desiring to travel.

And now I must get started on those eight cancelled trips!

Frank Robinson is all smiles after reaching Queen Maud Land (Norwegian Antarctica).

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