Johnny Ward left Ireland broke in 2006, and has since managed to create an extraordinary travel life, made millions on his laptop and he is one of the approximately 250 people that have visited every country in the world, with Johnny being one of the youngest at age 33 when he completed the quest in 2017. Johnny is based in Thailand with his wife, and visiting every country is far from enough for him. In 2021 he spent 50 days rowing 3,200 nautical miles across the Atlantic Ocean and he is in the process of a project to climb 7 Summits and hitting the North and South Pole. Nobody has ever done all of this. He does tours to special destinations, charity and public speaking. In this interview Johnny shares some of his favourites. More information about Johnny Ward can be found on his website, OneStep4Ward.com.
What are three of your favourite countries, and why?
Not as a traveller, but as a place to live. It’s my adopted home, and I’m building a house here at the moment.
A Yemeni island off the coast of Somalia. It was my second last country, and I truly believe it’s perhaps the most beautiful place on the planet. I love bringing people there on my tours to Socotra these days and sharing it with them.
Last isn’t a country, but I loved travelling to Svalbard. It’s an island in the arctic circle belonging to Norway. Most people visit Svalbard as a hop-off point to the North Pole, which is what I did when I ran the North Pole marathon, but the island itself is gorgeous. You can do snowmobile ‘safaris’ and see polar bears in the wild.
What are three of your favourite travel moments, and why?
Oh wow, that’s a tough answer!
Completing every country in the world and celebrating with his family
Perhaps landing in Norway with my friends and family to celebrate my 197th and final country.
Iron ore train in Mauritania
The second would be perhaps the iron ore train during my travels on my Mauritania tour. That’s pretty epic.
260-kilometres marathon in the Sahara
The third? Hmm, I ran an ultra-marathon in the Sahara, the Marathon Des Sables. That was a huge feeling of accomplishment, a 260-kilometres race.
Bonus: The relief of getting off the boat after rowing the Atlantic! Read more on One Step 4Ward.
Bonus: Buying my first apartment in Bangkok with money I made from my blog. It showed me that living a different lifestyle is possible. Read more on One Step 4Ward.
What are three of your worst travel moments, and why?
Prison break in Guinea
I once overhanded from on the back of a motorbike from Sierra Leone to Conakry, Guinea. Once there, I realised Guinea isn’t such a wonderful country, and I tried to leave, but there was a prison break, and people were shooting each other on the streets.
A guy getting shot in Angola
I saw a guy get shot less than an hour after arriving in Angola. I had heard Angola can be quite dangerous, and it was one of the hardest countries in the world to get visas, too (now I heard it’s quite easy since new changes!). It took six months and a fake sponsorship letter before I finally got in, and boom. A guy pulls up beside me in a car, and another guy on a bike shoots him. Terrifying. More about this story on Johnny’s blog here.
Getting arrested twice in the same day as I tried to smuggle myself into Liberia
During my every country in the world journey, I tended to travel overland, without flying. I was on a Cape Town to Casablanca overland trip, and the Ebola crisis was still in full flow, so a lot of borders weren’t letting foreigners through. Hence a local guy offering to smuggle me across. But I got caught and arrested. So I tried again and got caught and arrested again. Not a good day. More about this story on Johnny’s blog.
What are three of your best travel tips?
I fly economy but having a card that gives me access to airport lounges where I can work (and drink) for free changed my life! Personally, I use an AMEX business platinum card, so it includes two priority pass memberships. But I’ve just cancelled it, and now I’m going to pay and join again. I can’t travel without it. Either sit on the floor, fight for wifi, find overpriced food. Or drink champagne, work, desk, shower etc., all for about $400 a year.
Collecting air miles (even if you’re from the UK or Europe)
The US air-mile system is more generous, but it’s still possible for Europeans. I finally cracked it recently, and it’s allowed me to fly business class a lot more often. It sounds complicated, I used to be scared of all the info, but it’s really not so tough. Anyone can fly business class for free 1 or 2 times a year just by signing up for the right credit cards, even if you’re not from the US. More info on Johnny’s blog.
Whether it’s for yourself or for your company, find a way to still make money when you’re on the road. If you want an adventurous life, this is the only way it’s possible (unless your family is bankrolling it!).
If you can only choose one:
Favourite airline: Aaaagh tough one. I love flying. Hmmm. Qatar or Emirates. Or Singapore.
Favourite airport: For me, it all comes down to the airport lounge. So as long as they have a quality lounge, I don’t move from there. So honestly any airport that serves cocktails in their lounge!
Favourite city: Chiang Mai, Thailand. Best place in the world.
Favourite island: Socotra, Yemen.
Favourite people: Algerians/Sri Lanks/Iranians
Favourite small town: Good question! Cliche but I love Ubud, Bali. Oia, Santorini too.
Favourite travel book: All 3 by Khaled Hosseini. He transports you to Afghanistan.
Favourite travel movie: Into the Wild.
Favourite travel website: Wikitravel I think.