Last month we featured some of Ireland’s top travel bloggers, and their adventures over the past few months (you can read more here). Grabbing all the headlines in March was Johnny Ward from OneStep4Ward.com, who successfully visited every country in the world when he reached Norway in time for the St Patrick’s Day celebrations. We recently caught up with Johnny to find out about his travel adventures, the highs and lows, and what the future has in store. Read what Johnny had to say below.
Expedia: Congratulations on completing your goal to visit every country in the world. Can you sum up how you felt when you finally made it to Norway?
JW: Wow, it had been so long in coming, I had played it out so many times in my head so, to be honest, it was a huge mix – pride, elation, relief! I was playing tour guide for my friends and family so I did what I normally do, which is focus on my next step. I’m awful at celebrating my wins, to be honest, it’s always on to the next project!
Expedia: Why did you decide to finish in Norway?
JW: Once I reached about 120 countries, I saw that the finish line was kind of in sight, like ‘3 years into the future’ in sight, but still. From there I looked at what I had left and the two easiest, safest, coolest countries were Norway and Oman, and from there I chose Norway because it’s awesome in both winter (Arctic Circle, Northern Lights, huskies) and summer (fjords, cruises, etc) so I could plan on short notice. Also, it’s close to Ireland and the UK so a lot of my friends and family could join too.
Expedia: Having just completed your goal of visiting every country in the world, can you share with us your first travel memory?
JW: Probably driving to France with my mum on my first ever holiday at 15! Going camping on a French campsite, great memories. I’m sure you were hoping for something from when I was five or so, but we didn’t have enough money to go on holiday then!
Expedia: What made you set off to explore the world, and at what point did you realise you had to visit every country?
JW: It was the freedom that I chased, not the countries. I wanted to live a life full of adventure, experiences and memories, so I left the day after I finished uni and never looked back. I didn’t own my dream of every country until I made money from blogging, it didn’t seem feasible until that moment, that was around 2012 and I had visited 49 countries then I think.
Expedia: You had some difficulties getting into Yemen and Saudi Arabia towards the end of your 10-year journey, but were there any other countries that proved difficult to access?
JW: There are a few shockingly tough countries to enter! Angola, Eritrea, Turkmenistan, Equatorial Guinea, Algeria, Niger, Uzbekistan – a lot of admin, embassies and bribery!
Expedia: Did you ever feel fearful for your life at any point during your travels?
JW: Unfortunately yeah, watching a guy get shot on the street in Angola was horrible. A compound in Somalia and the airport in Mogadishu being attacked was scary. An earthquake when I was in the Himalayas, and a suicide bomb in Kabul when I was there. I was also in Tunisia during the beach terrorist attack, car crashes in Sudan, brakes failing downhill in Borneo, all pretty scary stuff!
Expedia: Which countries impressed you the most on your trip and which ones should Irish travellers put on their bucket list?
JW: Ethiopia is beautiful, and Iceland, and Iran, and Mauritania, and Uzbekistan, and rural China, and the Philippines, and Nicaragua, and Algeria! So many places!
Expedia: You recently celebrated your final country (Norway) by toasting a pint of Guinness. We’ve just launched a new site showcasing Irish Pubs of the World – which destinations had the best Irish pubs on your travels?
JW: Haha, do you have a couple of hours?! When I first started travelling I hated being that cliché so I avoided Irish bars, partly because I couldn’t afford them, to be honest. But then I realised I wasn’t on a gap year or a backpacking trip, but travel was my life, so now I love them! I hate to choose one though, but in Cusco, Peru, having a Guinness to celebrate my mum getting to the top of Machu Picchu was sweet.
Expedia: Sticking to the Irish Pubs theme, which country serves the best Guinness outside of Ireland, and which country is best for a beer?
JW: Nigeria! It’s the second-biggest consumer, I was drinking it all the time there, quality stuff.
Expedia: Your mother (Maura Ward) is also a travel blogger and has joined you on many occasions during your travels. What is the best travel moment you have shared with your mum?
JW: Believe it or not, I took her to Kabul, Afghanistan, with me! Also, we did a trip to Tibet, taking a 49-hour train through the Himalayas to get there, that was epic. We’ve also been to Uzbekistan, enjoyed a trip to the Amazon and the Equator. I only take her on super-cool trips so it’s tough to choose!
You can check out Maura’s blog here – geriatrictraveller.com.
Expedia: Last year you shared your three favourite places in Ireland with our readers. Following your travels to every country in the world, where are your three favourite places in the world to visit?
JW: Wow, that’s super tough. The whole world?! The Sahara maybe. Riding on top of an iron ore train there in Mauritania was insane. Antarctica – spotting orcas and killer whales and swimming in the ocean there was unforgettable. And maybe Bhutan. The Tiger’s Nest is one of the most impressive buildings I’ve ever seen.
Check out Johnny’s three favourite places in Ireland, along with 27 other travel bloggers here.
Expedia: Having met so many great people along the way, were there any areas that surprised you with how welcoming they were?
JW: For me, it’s always the Arab world. Amazing people across the whole region, especially Algeria and Iran. But people are pretty amazing everywhere, to be honest, I don’t buy the divisive media bullsh*t at all, having been to the places that the reports slate, I have entirely different opinions on them, and better-founded ones I’d imagine too.
Expedia: Which country is the best for food?
JW: Mexico, Thailand, Italy or Lebanon. To have to choose between those four would break my heart.
Expedia: You did a lot of solo travelling on a budget back in your early days. Have you any tips for our readers on travelling on a budget or travelling solo?
JW: Travelling solo is a rite of passage, it’s so good for the soul. It teaches you a whole new level of independence, how to meet people, how to say yes more, how to embrace situations. However, after getting through that, travelling with friends gives the best experiences. Stressful situations become hilarious ones and danger becomes excitement. I love it.
And travelling on a budget. It’s not so tough, and I mean a REAL budget, super tight, €15-a-day stuff. It’s just about cutting stuff out – only local booze, lowest-class guest houses and transport, avoiding the ‘gap year’ destinations. It’s a beautiful way to travel, maybe the best.
Expedia: Which did you enjoy the most, travelling alone or travelling in a group?
JW: Neither! Travelling with one or two friends always seems to be the best.
Expedia: You’ve done a lot of great charity work along the way. Can you tell our readers a little bit more about some of your charity projects?
JW: Yeah sure. In 2015, when the online money was still coming in, and my blog was growing, a close friend and I founded GiveBackGiveAway.com, which essentially leveraged my social media following to generate revenue to build playgrounds for impoverished schools, helping kids enjoy their education and contributing to breaking that poverty cycle.
When people donated the ‘giveaway’ section was that donors are entered into a hat and a name will be drawn at random, with the winner flown to travel with me and my buddy to see the work the money does. We did it in Senegal in 2015, Cambodia in 2016 and this year it’s Northern Thailand (starting this month on 28th May). The trips are amazing.
Expedia: You were born in Galway but grew up in the small town of Kilkeel in Northern Ireland. Are you the first Irish person to visit every country in the world?
JW: I believe so, but I’m not to fixated on that kind of thing, to be honest.
Expedia: Are there any other Irish men or women travelling the world that our readers should follow to feel envious or inspired?
Expedia: Last year we launched a website showcasing some of the best driving routes around Ireland. Which country was best for road trips on your travels?
JW: Namibia is beautiful (but I did crash there!), and driving through Armenia was quite an event as well! Southern Europea is hard to beat, as is New Zealand’s south island.
Check out our ultimate Irish driving holidays by visiting our Drive Ireland website.
Expedia: From trains and hostels to villas and 5-star hotels, what has been the best and worst accommodation you have come across on your travels?
JW: Haha wow! The best is either Sri Panwa in Phuket, Niyama in Maldives or the Chedi in Muscat. The worst? Too many to mention! Sleeping on a bed of rats in Sudan, or a locust infestation in Agra, India. Sleeping rough on a dock in Malaysia. I could go on and on from those first five broke years of travel.
Expedia: What advice would you have for anyone reading this who wants to do more travelling?
JW: Stop sharing contrived inspirational quotes on Instagram and take action. Don’t fritter your cash away and focus on what you want. Also, blogging changed my life, so consider starting a blog, and keep your memories and who knows what will come of it.
Expedia: For the man who has visited 197 countries, what’s next on the agenda?
JW: Racing tuk-tuks in Northern Sri Lanka with Large Minority, then our charity trip with GiveBackGiveAway.com, then ‘Around the World in 80 Days (no flights)’ with cargo ships and trans-Siberian trains! That brings me nicely into winter. Then it’ll be Bangkok to Belfast by tuk-tuk soon after that.
Expedia: Finally, what is your favourite thing about travelling?
JW: The freedom. Hands down. No asinine holiday requests, no time-wasting middle management meetings, no suits, and alarms are only for trips to the airport. Being able to live the life you want to live, rather than being stuck somewhere, is a beautiful thing, and it’s a thing available to anyone if they just have the courage to reach out and grab it.
The message behind my blog is that you can do anything you set your mind to, regardless of your background. The internet won’t judge your religion, skin colour, sexuality, family – it’s waiting for all us to make our move, and from there you’re free. I’ve used that freedom to travel to every country in the world, but you’re free to do whatever you want to do! I know the media loves the sexy ‘million dollar blogger’ angle, and I get it, and even though it’s true, it’s click bait. But if it inspires others to be true to themselves, and concentrate on chasing their passions, then I’m happy for it. Thanks guys! #saltflat #bolivia #livingthedream #everycountryintheworld #onestep4ward #uyunisaltflats #uyuni #saldeuyuni
“If an average guy from Ireland can do it, with no tech skills, no photography skills and no idea what he’s doing, then truly anyone can. See you on the road.”
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