Travel Tales with Jonny Blair – Don’t Stop Living

Next in line on the Travel Tales series is Jonny Blair from Don’t Stop Living. This man is a blogging machine – literally. If you ever want to see a hardcore backpacker in operation then go check out his blog. Having currently visited 79 different countries, over 500 cities and worked in over 50 different jobs along his epic journey to all 7 continents, this guy defines the term “hardcore backpacker”.

Jonny Blair

Jonny Blair from Don’t Stop Living – Staying up in the mountains at Xineleq, Azerbaijan!


Tell us where your from, and a little about your blog “Don’t Stop Living”?

I grew up in Bangor in Northern Ireland. It’s pretty much a dormitory town for Belfast. It’s just over 10 years now since I left my town behind though, as I decided to get out and see the world. My blog “Don’t Stop Living” started off in 2007 with me just telling my travel stories. Since then though I’ve really tried to develop it into an online resource to help other travellers as well as just telling my stories. It now acts as a travel guide to the 80 countries I’ve visited.

You’ve been travelling for quite some time now, where did you start your journey, and where are you currently?

The current backpacking journey began about 6 weeks ago, however I left my hometown 10 years ago and never returned so it’s a question I find hard to answer. I see the whole 10 years as a journey, but I did use about 6 or 7 places as bases on the way. It’s been hard work as well as travel. I’m chilling out in Tbilisi in Georgia right now, with plans to head to Armenia next.

What’s your country count at the moment?

Again it depends on the definition of “country” as everyone has their own take on it. The Travelers Century Club include places like Guernsey and Tasmania as separate for their count, so I’d be on almost 100 if I use their list. Realistically I just clocked up counry 79 with Azerbaijan though, of those I’d say I’ve properly gone backpacking in 50 of them. I want to have been to 100 proper countries by the age of 35.

 City Walls of Sighnaghi, Georgia

City Walls of Sighnaghi, Georgia

Is there any country you’ve not yet visited that’s a must see destination for you?

Yeah of course there’s loads!! Cameroon, Iraq and Mexico have all eluded me so far so I’ll get round to them eventually. In Europe I’d like to visit Norway and Svalbard – and do the North Pole. I’ve also spent a lot of time in China – been to 13 of the 29 Provinces and want to see them all!

What first made you want to travel?

The desire that I’d never get bored. As a kid I’d read Panini football sticker album staring at all the countries in the world, looking them up on maps and wanting to visit those places. As a teenager I headed to a few of them, then when I hit my 20s that was it – I was travelling a lot more.

If you had to choose your favourite destination so far, what would it be and why?

Antarctica – it’s the most extreme place I’ve been. I worked my ass off on farms to fund my adventure there and it was so rewarding. A land without offices, murders and ATMs. Complete travel bliss and an off the wall place to visit. I totally recommend it to anyone.

Name two things that you can’t live without while travelling?

A bit obvious here but money and passport. They’re the real travel essentials. However a cold beer and my laptop are two of my luxury travel items I rely on these days!

What’s your most epic travel story to date?
Gosh that’s a tough one – if you just want a cool story, it’s the time I ended up on my own in Tasmania when my mates left me there. Unperturbed, I got myself a job the next day as a broccoli harvester on local farms. When I had said goodbye to my mates I told them I’d go to Antarctica. I don’t think they believed me. However, within 5 months I had earned a load of money working on remote farms, camping up in the mountains and for once I had money to blow on something I loved. So I booked my Antarctica trip and that was it. From being potless an alone, I somehow backpacked my way to Antarctica and proved what a bit of hard wok will bring!
 Backpacking in Hebron, Palestine

Backpacking in Hebron, Palestine

Was there a specific moment when you realised that travel was a lifestyle you wanted to pursue?

Not really,but I always wanted to see new places and meet new people. I guess on my firs trip away from my family (in 1991) I realised how cool it was to see new places. It was a one week school trip to the Netherlands and I loved te freedom and excitement of it all.

What motivates you to keep travelling, and do you have days where you think a more settled life back home is more attractive?

Waking up each day not knowing where I’m going to be that day,that night and even for the next week. I just love the lifestyle for now. Of course it would be a dream of mine to own some properties so I have a permanent place to lay my head, but I’ll keep travelling until that day arrives. In terms of going “back home”, if I ever come into money and have the chance to own a place there then I would. But I’d not live there all the time. You only live once and it’s a big world!

During your travels, what’s the best travel tip you’ve received?

Not to listen to anyone else. Do your own thing. If someone tells you “don’t go there”, then you should go there. Although of course your fellow travellers, locals and hostel workers all give really good tips. So I’ll be a hypocrite and say that meeting as many people as you can is the best advice – the more people you meet, the more stories you have and the more travel tips you’ll receive.

Connecting with locals can be one of the most rewarding things about travel. What has been your most memorable moment while connecting with locals?
I taught English in Hong Kong which was cool – loved teaching the kids. However visiting a school in Tanzania in Africa was a real highlight for me. The kids were so happy and enthusiastic and it was an unreal experience.

I’ve also lived with local families and enjoyed homestays in Uruguay, Vietnam,China, Azerbaijan and South Africa. This is a great way to meet locals and understand their culture.

Is there any one country that you’ve been to that you didn’t like, and would make you not want to return?

There’s been a few. I’m not fond of either Latvia or the Czech Republic. I also hated Venezuela – robberies, muggings, guns to my backpack, visa problems and just a country full of hate, danger and a load of maniacs.

With a restaurant host in Pyongyang, North Korea

With a restaurant host in Pyongyang, North Korea

In order to sustain a life of travel, you need to have some sort of income stream. How have you funded your travels?

Working hard and always trying to have more than one job at a time. I’m also not fussy about what jobs I do. I’ll work anywhere. In the past this has meant I’ve worked at concerts, in hot food stalls, in bars, on all sorts of farms, in offices, banks, schools etc. I counted recently I’d had 50 jobs through the years. My main aim now is to use all the experience of travel I’ve had to earn my own money online. I want to work for myself from now on so I’m always grasping any new opportunities that arise. If you have a job you want done, let me know – I might be up for it!

What are your travel plans for the future?

I’m hoping to crack my way through a load of Middle East and Central Asian countries over te next few months. It’s a case of getting visas sorted on the move and off I go. I’d like to see my family at some point too though and eventually I want to be in Brazil for June – July 2014 so I can go to the World Cup. But my travel plans are always changing so keep up to date on my blog and Facebook page.

Favourite travel quote?

That’s a tough one. I like my own tagline “don’t stop living” and I love the lyric “you turn around and life’s passed you by” (from the Doves song “There Goes The Fear”), but they’re not really travel quotes. “It’s a small world after all” is a great lyric that kind of relates to travel.
 In the Wadi Rum desert, Jordan

In the Wadi Rum desert, Jordan


Jonny Blair is a travelling Northern Irishman who left his hometown of Bangor over 10 years ago. On his crazy journey round the globe he has managed to visit all 7 continents, taking in over 80 countries. Jonny shares his travel stories, wisdom and tips on his one man travel site “Don’t Stop Living” which has featured on the BBC, Wanderlust and Asia Rooms.