Blog-trotting around the world
Johnny and Maura Ward in Afghanistan (Supplied photos )
Ward in Tuvalu in the South Pacific
Local people pose along with Ward in Madagascar
The Mohatta Palace, Karachi, Pakistan
Maura in Tunisia
Johnny Ward at Bait al Baranda Museum in Muscat
A gas crater on fire in Turkmenistan
“If you’re not happy, a good salary isn’t progress, it’s financial prison. Life is meant to be lived, not sold to the highest bidder.”
This is the philosophy that Johnny Ward - a digital nomad who is set to become the youngest Irishman to have travelled across the world - propagates to a new generation of travellers.
It’s been ten long years since 22 year old Ward left Ireland and began on his globetrotting adventure. In fact, sitting across the table with his mother Maura, who has joined him in the sultanate, Ward remarks that this month marks exactly ten years since he first began. Now 32, a millionaire and the founder of a digital media company –Step4ward Media - Ward has only three more countries to cover before he sets the record for being the youngest person to have literally covered the whole world.
Ward started off with a zeal to travel and an unfavourable bank balance. The solution to funding his travels came up in 2009 when he heard that people were making money off blogging. Ward realised that he had a lot of “crazy travel stories” to tell. “I saw a lot of people making money off blogging and I thought to myself, if readers are reacting to that , then what are they going to think of my crazy stories…six months into blogging I was getting quite popular.”
Ward started OneStep-4Ward to create a life, where he could be free “in terms of professional restrains and also make money without having to answer anybody”. For him the life he designed, based on travel and blogging, seemed to fit the bill.
His instagram account is a space of wonderment, filled with images that not only reflect the myriad landscapes, flora and fauna and human races that inhabit the earth, but also perspectives - sometimes far different from the ones one tends to come across in mainstream media. For instance, he once took Maura on a holiday to Afghanistan and instagramed it: “Where did you last take your mum on holiday? I took mine to Afghanistan!” A lot of reactions sprung up in the comments, some insisted on breaking the stereotype that Afghanistan is not just about guns. Ward agrees, but he writes back the truth of what he saw, “it (Afghanistan) is beautiful and it’s not just about guns but we have to be realistic, I saw more guns there than any other country on the planet...so for sure there’s a lot more to it than war, but we have to respect that war plays a huge part in its current climate.” He’s honest in his description of places, but he also has a lot more to say about a place and its culture from what’s been reported by the media. Ward makes conscious efforts to provide a “positive spin” on stories that the western media turns negative all the time. For Ward, this stands as a fulfilling experience of his travel blogging. “I enjoyed sharing positive stories from all over the world that people would not necessarily get to see.”
He arrived in Oman from Mogadishu, described as one of the most dangerous places in the world. “Mogadishu is dangerous of course… but you meet beautiful people and there’s a lot of positive stories to share as well,” says Ward. He understands that the Middle East is subject to a lot of negative representation in the western media. Ward is repelled by that negative nuance because he has always experienced the best of Arab hospitality. “I’ve always been treated so well in the Arab world. My favourite region to travel is the Middle East.” That’s also why he wanted to end his journey in Oman. But logistics does not always seem to work in favour of the young traveller.
What are the difficulties he encounters on his mission to place his footprint across the globe? “Its not been all easy,” says Ward. “Visas and wars make it difficult to obtain entry into a country. The more dangerous and corrupt a country is, it becomes more difficult to gain entry.”
He speaks of the time he was stuck in Ivory Coast for weeks as he struggled to get visas to enter other African countries. Such obstacles would make many want to give up, but for Ward quitting is not an option at this stage. “I am trying to go to every country in the world, so I can’t really give up!”
So what’s next for Ward after striking the 197th country off his list? Hardly the one to give up travelling, Ward intends to pull a Jules Verne. “I’ve got lots of cool things planned. I am going to go round the world in 80 days by land and boat!” He also intends to cycle from San Francisco to New York, live three months on each continent and also attend to his business venture in Hong Kong, the list goes on.
Currently, Ward has three more countries on his list - Yemen, Saudi Arabia and Norway (where he now intends to finish off his mission). His visa to enter Yemen has been rejected due to the ongoing conflict. Ward seems stressed, but the collection of stamps on his passports (six to be precise!) that scale across unstable regions is enough to send out a message to everyone who is following his adventures – that this time too, he will manage to find his way.