‘It is all about the freedom’

Johnny in Yemen

Johnny in Yemen

Ahead of his St Patrick’s Day celebration in his 197th and final country, Galway born travel blogger Johnny Ward sat down with the Galway Advertiser to talk about visiting every country in the world and how he has carved a career out of his passion for travelling on his blog onestep4ward.com

“It is the freedom, I think. Being able to just choose to have an adventure in any corner of the world, learning new languages, embracing new cultures, the food, the landscapes, the relationships you build. It is all about the freedom.”

When Johnny Ward lands tomorrow at Gardermoen Airport in Oslo, Norway, a 10 year odyssey will come to an end as the travel blogger becomes the first Irish person to visit every country in the world; a total of 197 countries across six continents. “It is pretty crazy,” says Ward. “It will take a while for it all to sink in to be honest. Right now I am still in stress-mode, and I will be like that until I finally step foot in Norway I guess. But I love that I could organise it for St Patrick’s Day; it is really awesome.”

Having lived on Inis Mór until the age of one, Ward grew up in Kilkeel, Co Down, and commenced his journey around the globe upon the completion of his degree in international economics. “I left Ireland in 2002, when I was 18, first to go to university in England. I started travelling literally the day after my final exams in summer of 06, at 22 and I never really came home. I did come back for that Christmas but then it was one way a ticket to Thailand 10 years ago last month.”

‘Dream Big. Travel Far. Live Full’

Ward’s achievement is all the more impressive when it is considered that he has turned his passion of travelling into his job, thanks to his website One Step 4Ward.

“I started it [the blog] in 2009, for a couple of reasons. I had had some hardcore travel experiences due to my lack of funds for those first three to four years of travelling and I wanted to show what ‘real travel’ could mean and how much fun it was. Also, I had heard rumours of people blogging as their ‘job’ which blew my mind, and I figured, if they can do it, so can I.”

And it has turned out to be a fruitful decision with Ward estimating that he has made over $1.5 million from his online blogging of his travels, including setting up his own charity GiveBackGiveAway.com which builds playgrounds for kids in impoverished schools. Yet despite the enormous success of the site, Ward admits that he does not see himself as a writer. “Even now I would not consider myself a writer at all. I am just a normal guy who gets into crazy experiences and is determined to chase his dreams, and when I have time I sit down and blog about it. That’s it.”

But in a travel blog world where many bloggers’ adventures are funded by generous parents and show luxurious holidays which most would never to be able to afford, Ward goes against the grain. Growing up on welfare and benefits, Ward’s story is testimony to his determination and entrepreneurial spirit. The six words that headline his website “Dream Big. Travel Far. Live Full” sum up his mantra to life if you have a dream or goal, then only you can dictate your course, not your circumstances. His ebook Blogging Brought Me Here offers advice to those wishing to pursue a career in blogging, travel or just a dream career path.

“Blogging changed my life so I would definitely recommend that. Secondly, teaching English in Asia is a great platform, especially if you are broke and you want a new adventure. I taught in Thailand and South Korea and it was a great start to my travelling lifestyle.”

Getting into Yemen

Those familiar with his blog will have read about Ward’s adventures, top travel tips, the food, and visa application processes. In recent times, his efforts of trying to successfully gain entry into Yemen has been a major theme. After five failed attempts, Ward finally made it into the war torn state thanks to his friend YahYa and a four day ride on a cement boat to Socotra.

But notwithstanding the trials and tribulations of entering Yemen, Ward was confident that he would not be stranded on 196 countries.

“Never. I did fear I would be delayed a year or so, which after 10 years felt like I was failing but I would never have allowed myself to get truly stuck, hence me trying and trying and trying, and eventually, I got there.”

With Norway to be ticked off the list tomorrow, Ward has many options from which to choose when it comes to selecting a favourite adventure. “It is so, so tough to answer that. I love China, especially rural western China but I also love the Arabian world too. But hitching a ride on the Iron Ore train through the depths of the Sahara in Mauritania was one of my most epic trips.”

Yet with the good comes the bad as Ward highlights there are some horrible days when you live the nomadic life. “[There are] Too many; watching a guy getting shot in Angola; getting arrested trying to smuggle myself out of Ivory Coast into Liberia; breaking my leg in Thailand, [breaking] my foot in Thailand; and my stay in a hospital in Burkina Faso; so so many.”

Next adventure

But with over 10 years on the road you could be forgiven if you thought Ward would have a longing for home. However, despite missing certain aspects of Irish life, the traveller says he quite content expanding his business, dreaming big, travelling far, and living life to the fullest.

“I miss Irish culture, the friendliness, the banter, the pubs, but I will see how business progresses. If I hit it big in the business world, for sure, I would love a house in Ireland to come back to for a couple of months a year, so if I have kids they can feel at least half Irish.

“[But at present] I am working with the Irish tourism board in the next couple of months on a trip around Ireland so that will be awesome. I am also focused on growing my charity, GiveBackGiveAway.com We are running another trip in June on the Myanmar/Thailand border. And I am off on a ‘around the world in 80 days’ with no flights, later in the year, which should be great fun.”

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