Have you ever dreamed of leaving your 9-to-5 routine behind?
Irishman Johnny Ward did, and has just completed a 10-year mission to visit every country in the world, a trip which has seen him visit 197 nations, ending in Norway earlier this month, where he celebrated the achievement with his girlfriend and family. But it wasn't all champagne popping; along the route, Ward encountered corrupt border agents, travelled across war zones and spent nights in police custody and hospital beds. He saw a man shot in front of him in Angola and heard bombs in Mogadishu, Somalia.
The 33-year-old is keen to stress that he's not "just another white guy from a rich family, travelling around on daddy's credit card". Indeed, he was brought up by a single mother in Galway and then in County Down, Northern Ireland, and his family often struggled for money. He initially financed his travels by teaching English, before going on to start a travel blog, which expanded into a media brand encompassing more than 100 separate websites. The explorer says he has earned over $1.4 million from advertising revenue on his websites, bought property in London and Bangkok, and will never need to work an office job again. On his website, One Step 4 Ward, he chronicles his travels and also offers advice to those wishing to emulate him.
We managed to pin Johnny down for a few moments to ask some questions on his extraordinary experience, including his most memorable moments from his travels, and whether he really thinks his lifestyle is achievable for anyone.
Where did this desire to travel come from?
It's the freedom - travel is a symptom of that. Growing up poor, with no father, meant I hated being stuck and authority was a struggle for me. I tried to create a life where I could make the choices I wanted, not based on some grey middle manager who approves holiday leave, and not based on financial restraints.
Tell us the story behind your first trip
I had been working on a summer camp for disadvantaged kids in New York all summer, then travelled around the US, so I came back to Ireland broke. I was desperate to travel but my mum couldn't fund a gap year for me, so I had to do it myself. I needed a few grand to pay for an English teaching qualification, and my flights to Asia so I signed up for medical research, where you lock yourself in a hospital and they test drugs on you before they can release them to the general population. I did five weeks - you're not allowed out and can't have visitors - but it set me up, and within a couple of months I was living in Thailand, teaching English - so it was all worth it.
What are some beautiful sights that stand out from your journey?
I couldn't choose one, but some highlights include: Guilin in China, Lalibela in Ethiopia, the Bhutanese Himalayas, wild cheetahs hunting in the Serengeti, and the World Cup Final in Rio!
Either Sri Panwa in Thailand or Per Aquum Niyama in the Maldives - and the Chedi in Muscat, Oman, is insane too.
Which meal stands out as the best you had?
Thai street food - grilled chicken (gai yang), sticky rice (kao niaw) and spicy sauce (nam jim jao). I love it and a meal costs about $5!
You're very open on your website about having made money from your travels. How did you do it? And can anyone do the same?
I've always been pretty open about money stuff, I don't quite understand why people are so guarded about it. When I first started blogging, I was broke, and I was very open about that too, so now I've managed to make money from blogging, I'm equally open from the other side! I've had to be diligent enough to take out my laptop and work in the evenings when I was in Mongolia, or Kazakhstan, or Ethiopia. Those were the tough times, putting the work in while I was actively travelling, not knowing if it would pay off or not. I started outsourcing lots of the work and that was key I think. Anyone can do it - as long as they're willing to put the rest of their life on hold and focus on blogging, it's 100 per cent possible.
Do you ever need to work again now?
For sure. Most of my money is tied up in property, so I still need to make sure everything ticks over every month, and besides, I'll always travel and that costs money!
Could a woman travel in the same way?
The decision to do it is that hardest thing, once you're out there, your gender is irrelevant. Are the risks bigger as a female? I don't think so. If someone is going to shoot me, or rob me, whether I'm a guy or a girl, it's going to happen. Besides, the chances of these things happening are so slim. I don't like when people try to create obstacles, it's possible if you think it's possible, that's the end of it.
Where do you want to go next and what do you want to achieve?
I'm off to Spain at the weekend, then to Norway and onwards to Bangkok, where I'm semi-based. Next month I'm racing tuktuks around Sri Lanka and having a couple of days in the Maldives, then back to Thailand to build a playground for disadvantaged kids on the Burma/Thai border through the charity my buddy and I set up, the GiveBackGiveAway. The rest of the year is pretty busy; I'm also planning a round-the-world-trip without taking a flight, so that should be fun.
Do you think that more people will adopt this kind of remote working lifestyle as time goes on?
I think so. People are starting to realise that to be an effective, efficient, happy employee, you needn't be measured by the hours you put in, but by your output. That shift alone will allow for more remote working. Life isn't meant to be lived in a cubicle, it's so short, we need to make sure we make the most of it. Working remotely plays a big part in that.
What would you advise someone planning to set out on a trip of a lifetime?
Forget the media version of countries, they're wrong. Forget people telling you to focus on your career, they missed their chance, don't miss yours. Remember you're never ready, you'll never have enough money, and you'll never be brave enough, yet here you are and you're good to go.