This week for the Travel Tales series I interviewed one of the top travel bloggers in the world – my good mate Johnny Ward from Onestep4ward.com. With 107 countries under his belt, he’s by far the most travelled person I’ve ever met. He has a passion for travel and a great outlook on life and business.
Read on to find out more……….
Tell us where you’re from, and a little about your blog “Onestep4ward”?
Sure, my name is Johnny Ward, and I’m from Ireland (born in Galway, grew up in the North). I left Ireland at 18 to go to university in England, and then after graduating from there I started my travel life. After a few crazy experiences in Bangladesh, China, Nepal etc I decided to start blogging about my stories. I guess I started the blog almost 4 years ago.
You’ve been travelling for quite some time now, where did you start your journey, and where are you currently?
After uni I went to the US to work on a disadvantaged kids camp in New York, then I travelled around the USA for a while. Back to Ireland for Christmas in 2006, then one way ticket to Thailand to teach English. Since then, this has been my lifestyle. Right now I’m on a bus in the desert in Iran, a very awesome country to travel in.
Your photos of Kurdistan and Uzbekistan look amazing. Are these countries somewhere you’d recommend backpackers to travel?
Absolutely. Traveling has the potential to really change our lives but sometimes I despair when I see the hordes of ‘travelers’ flock to South East Asia to get drunk with each other from one step to the next. It’s a glorified boozey holiday, I would encourage everyone to really go and see the world. Don’t follow the crowd, or you’ll become lost in it.
Thailand has been your home for the past number of years – specifically Bangkok. Is Thailand somewhere you see yourself living longterm?
It’s as close to a place I call home as any. I really, truly love Thailand. My Thai language isn’t bad, I own a place in Bangkok, I lived in Chiang Mai for a year too. Thailand, for me, is the best place to base yourself if you work online. Without a doubt it’s my favourite country to live in the world.
You’ve stayed in some cool spots along your travels – which one stands out the most for you?
Wow, good question. I slept rough in a dock in Malaysia once, cockroaches running around me all night – that was memorable. Once, in Sudan, I discovered a rats nest under a bed in my room, I won’t be forgetting that in a while! If we’re talking about the other end of the scale though – the 2 best hotels I’ve ever stayed in are Niyama Resort, Maldives and Sri Panwa, Phuket, Thailand – I don’t know how any hotel could EVER better those too.
What’s your country count at the moment?
I guess it depends on what we call a country! According to the United Nations, I’m on 107 I think. Although I count Taiwan as a country too personally (and maybe Hong Kong).
You’re currently on a quest to visit every country in the world – what year do you hope to have this completed by?
Eeeek. If I go by the UN list, there’re 196 countries, so I have 89 to go! That’s a hell of a lot! When I was on 50 or so, I thought it would be a very manageable task, but now im approaching 110, the task seems larger than ever! That being said, I hope to finished by Christmas 2017, that gives me 4 more years to finish. The first 50 are easy, then 50-100 isn’t too bad, 100-150 starts to get tough with logistics etc and I’m sure the last 50 will be a (expensive) nightmare. I can’t wait though, it’s my life’s dream.
Is there any country you’ve not yet visited that’s a must see destination for you?
Too many to list! Brazil and Antarctica (although that’s not actually a country, I know!) are the main ones. Pakistan, Mexico and Peru are 3 more I’m super keen for.
What first made you want to travel?
It’s hard to say mate. Growing up quite poor, and on an isolated island like Ireland are the main reasons. The fact that I couldn’t do it until I was 22/23 meant that when I had the chance, I was a goner instantly.
If you had to choose your favourite destination so far, what would it be and why?
To live, Thailand but to travel – Ethiopia is awesome, as is Iceland, Iran and Papua New Guinea. All amazing destinations. Ethiopia because of the sites it has, the churches at Lalibela should be a wonder of the world. Iceland – riding a snowmobile across a glacier at sunset was amazing! And I stayed with a local tribe in PNG, so I’ll never forget that experience either.
Name two personal items that you can’t live without while travelling?
I’m a self-confessed flashpacker buddy so it’s my macbook and iphone all the way!
What’s your most epic travel story to date?
Oh God, we need some beers and a couple of seats for the list I could reel off! One story though, which sort of set me on this crazy travel path was hitchhiking a lift on a Chinese cargo boat up the Mekong river. The Chinese captains (and my) awful Thai at the time left me thinking that we could arrive in China in one day. Instead it turned into a 5 and a half day slog with 5 chinese sailors, illegally entering Burma and Laos and endless whisky drinking and chilli eating competitions with the crew. Only nearly get accosted by Chinese police when we finally crossed the border, and we were ceremonially dumped at the side of the Mekong in this tiny chinese port town in the jungle. Mental.
Is there one post on your blog that you prefer over all the rest? If so, then why?
I’m a huge fan of trying to spread a little motivation along the way – I wrote am ironic post about 10 reasons NOT to travel, it’s quite fun.
Was there a specific moment when you realised that travel was a lifestyle you wanted to pursue?
You know what mate, there is actually. I was riding my sh*tty motorbike to school one day in Chiang Mai, Thailand. I had been there about 2 months and I was riding alone that day. I just turned the corner past an ancient Buddhist stupa and I had this profound moment of clarity where I though ‘wow, I came to this country completely on my own and set up a cool life here. I’m experiencing something new and really living my life’. I was genuinely happy, to the core and it was that moment I knew I could never do anything else.
What motivates you to keep travelling, and do you have days where you think a more settled life back home is more attractive?
I just love it mate. Absolutely love it. When I hear about people on holiday in Colombia, or Alaska or something even when I’m traveling I still get jealous. I wanna see everything, do everything, experience everything. I get so excited about every place I go. I’m slowly setting up shop in Thailand, right now I guess I spent 7 or 8 months around the world about 4 months or so in Thailand each year. Potentially I may slow down to 6 months traveling/6 months in Bangkok or Chiang Mai in 5 or 6 years, but we’ll see.
During your travels, what’s the best travel tip you’ve received?
Front opening backpack! If you buy a top loading backpack, you’re gonna struggle!
Connecting with locals can be one of the most rewarding things about travel. Do you agree?
Absolutely, and that’s another beautiful thing about ‘real’ travel – outside the gapyear hotspots. Traveling in Somalia, Iraq, Kyrgystan etc people are so warm and welcoming, They’re delighted you’re making the effort to visit their country, they actually thank you for being there. It’s amazing.
Is there any one country that you’ve been to that you didn’t like, and would make you not want to return?
Almost mate. South Africa didn’t win me over, luckily Cape Town was its saving grace so I wouldn’t say I would never return. And I haven’t visited Lesotho yet, so I have to go back to finish my quest! Oh, and Russia – not a huge fan of Russia either although taking the trans-siberian was brilliant.
In order to sustain a life of travel, you need to have some sort of income stream. How have you funded your travels?
I do a few things actually, all of which have come to me in a kind of right place/right time situation. Initially I worked on summer camps then travelled, Then I was a medical research patient, then travelled. Then taught English, then travelled. Then working holiday visa in Australia and then travelled (you get the picture!). That brought me from 2006 to 2010 and to about 40 countries. Since then I’ve been a full time travel blogger, that got me through the next 2 years. And in the last 2 years I’ve manage to set up an SEO/online media company which allows me, and my colleagues, the freedom to travel.
What are your travel plans for the future?
The rest of this year will be Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia, Turkey, Cyrpus and Malta. Then next year it’s back to Thailand for a few months before spending 7 or 8 months in Central/South America. I’ve yet to venture to that part of the world so sometimes I feel like a bit of a fraud actually, it’ll be good to finally get there. And of course the World Cup will be on in Brazil too!
Do you plan on writing a book about your life story at some stage?
I’d love to but I don’t think my story is compelling enough yet to warrant a book! If I manage to visit every country in the world, and scramble my networth to $1m then I’d begin to believe people would be interested in me and my story. Until then sharing stories over Thai whisky will be enough for me.
Favourite travel quote?
“You’re never as young as you are tonight”. Is says so much.
Johnny Ward is an Irish travel blogger and wannabe entrepreneur trying to visit every country in the world. With over 100 countries under his belt, he blogs about travels, motivation and inspiration at onestep4ward.com. He’s also a partner in the Hong Kong based education start up FindATutor.com.hk and the founder of Step4WardMedia.com.
Website URL: http://www.onestep4ward.com
Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/onestep4ward
Twitter name: @onestep4ward
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