Johnny Ward is successful blogger from a small town in Ireland and makes a yearly six figure income from his passion for travel. He is on a mission to become the first person from his country and one of the youngest people ever to visit every country in the world, sharing his experiences on his blog Onestep4ward. Reporter Oladipo Akinkugbe had a diary session with the world traveller on his Nigerian stop which was country 162 out 193. He shares some moments and memories for the first time.
A POOR START
I come from a very poor single parent family in Ireland. When I say poor I mean by country standards in Ireland we were at the very bottom. We couldn’t afford central heating in our home when the weather was freezing cold. A car was out of the question. I had to walk to school in any weather because we couldn’t afford a bus fare. We were basically living on government welfare so I still had food in my belly. But the dream to visit every country in the world was beyond me when I was younger.
My father was a really bad guy who messed my mum emotionally and because of that she later became a social worker dealing with children who have gone through tough situations in their lives. But our house was still full of love regardless of what we may not have had and I’ve always had a brilliant relationship with my mum.
I’ve only ever worked at a “real job” only one year in my life. Before then I was working as an English teacher in Thailand earning about $650 a month and travelling as much as I could which meant I was broke most of the time. In 2010 when I was about 26 or 27 years old, I ran out of money and I had to figure out what I was going to do fast. Australia and Ireland have an exchange work program agreement between the two countries. So with that I was able to get a one year work visa in Australia and got a “real job” in sales. The money was really good, generally I made between $6,000 to $9,000 a month. In my best month I was able to make up to $20,000. But I hated the job and it was quite a horrible experience apart from the money. I loved Fridays and hated Sundays because of Mondays.
So after 9 months of what I would describe as torture, I decided I would quit the job and then go to South Africa for the World Cup. That was when I started my travel blog ONESTEP4WARD and for the next two months I went to work but I didn’t do anything for the company. I just went to work every day and tilted my computer screen so no one would notice while I was blogging. Then after the two months I quit and went to South Africa for the world cup and spent the rest of the year there blogging and exploring other African cities by road.
A few people started reading and I had about 4,000 unique visits a month just six months after I started blogging. My first payment came from a guy in England who asked to post an ad on my website. It just came out of nowhere because I wasn’t really pushing for ads or anything like that. It was really a turning point for me because that gave me the belief to that I could make a living doing this. That same guy emailed me after article about me came out on Forbes website reminding me where it all started.
It wasn’t much but having lived in Thailand on a shitty teaching salary I knew I had enough not to have to go and get another torturous office job. I was making about $500 a month and I could also see it growing from $500 and I decided to move back to Thailand and make this work full time.
The funny thing about it is that full time was only working about five to ten hours a week at the most. Then I gradually grew my income from $500 a month to $5000 tax free over the next one year. It felt like I had hit the jack pot and all I did at that point was travel, blog, and party like an idiot.
Then after about six months of that, I got back to my senses and thought if I am making this much from one website why don’t I use the money I’m making to start more websites and make more money? That’s when I started expanding and starting more websites. I employed a team of people around the world to manage these websites. Then as my blogging business grew, I also started offering online marketing services to businesses. I offer search engine optimization (SEO) marketing services to various clients where I specialize in link building from external websites which is the most effective and lucrative part of SEO marketing. Because I own a lot of popular websites I used my own network of websites to build those external links.
It was really great. Altogether my income grew gradually from $5,000 to over $50,000 a month. Recently that income has dropped because Google has been making some changes that has affected our marketing strategy a bit. They’ve basically worked on reducing the effects of link building to favour something more organic. To add to that my travelling got really hard-core, then lots of people have started crowding the SEO business further driving down the price we charge clients even more. All this has affected our revenue by about 50%.
But now I’ve branched into corporate blogging and copywriting because most company’s need blogging which is a very effective tool for search engine optimization.
I am really scared of being poor again. It’s a shitty thing being broke and it will even be shittier of I go broke now after having so much money. I more scared of being broke again than visiting Somalia, Libya or any of these dangerous places I, go to.
But in terms of money no one teaches what to do when you get it. The first $150,000 I had sitting in my bank account I didn’t really know what to do with it even though I have a degree in Finance. So I went and bought a house in Thailand which is where I am based when I am not travelling. I bought the house outright in cash to ensure that no matter what happens I know I have a roof over my head. I realized after I consulted a money manager that it a terrible thing to do with my money.
The difficult thing in investing is getting that capital together but I just wasted all of it the way I did, which I realized much later to be a massive mistake. It such a massive mistake that I actually feel like selling the house I bought in Thailand and bringing some closure to that error.
I learnt about leveraging my position and using that same amount to buy more than one with smaller deposits and mortgage payments. Then I could rent them amount and make enough to pay the mortgages and still have something extra. That is what I have done now for my properties in London.
Getting a wealth manager was really difficult thing for me because of the way I make money and the fact that I am always moving from place to place. I don’t live anywhere and I don’t owe tax to anyone. So there is difficulty in getting financing or loans and things like that. To get a wealth manager I had to present my PayPal statements for the last three years. In my business I get thousands of payments within the $100 instead of hundreds of payments of $1000, so it was massive paper work. Their lawyers had a lot of work to do on due diligence to check if I was breaking any tax laws and thankfully I was find liable in all my travels because how little time I spent in all those countries.
The crazy thing is it all just seems like monopoly money, because I don’t actually see any of it. I still don’t really own anything. Apart from my house, a sexy big screen TV and a PlayStation, my back pack and everything I carry around with me. I don’t own any cars, so my life doesn’t really feel any different but it’s the freedom that I would say is the best thing about my life.
DEFINTION OF SUCCESS
There are not many people I look up to. I feel like my life’s pretty cool and not many people are doing the sort of things I want to do. So for me to look up to anyone that person’s life has to be pretty great. And not just in the sense of having all the money in the world but mostly in the way you live your life.
For me it all just stems from breaking free of societal pressures whatever it is you do from blogging to entrepreneurship to entertainment or whatever. Also feel like the word success is often misused many people deem success with making a lot of money.
Success for me is how many people’s lives you’ve been able to affect positively, your wealth of your experiences, the nature of the people you have in your life and your relationships. That’s success to me. Of course it helps not to be poor and financial freedom is also a measure of success but it’s not the sole definition of success as many people think it is. There are so many ways people can make money and still not be successful at the end of their lives as far as I am concerned.
RELAXING IN NIGERIA
Being in Nigeria is more of relaxation for me than exploration. Because compared to Central African Republic where I am coming from, Nigeria is more developed and less stressful so I am looking forward to relaxing here.
I’m coming from places were the internet is also terrible and I have not been able to get through working on emails and all that. So now that I am in Nigeria where I have access to internet it’s an opportunity for me to get through loads of work before I have to hit the road again.
Then, I am basically just enjoying my time here because the places I will be travelling to from here would be less and less developed as I move on. So this may be my last chance to watch movies in English, drink some familiar beers and talk to the people. It’s like a sense of normality for someone like me that is always in strange places.
I have one of my employees and best mates who would be travelling with me for the next five or six weeks so we’re going to have some fun.
People from Western world always think Nigeria or Lagos is quite a hectic place. I respect that if you’d not gone passed Washington, London. But I am coming from places like Syria, Iraq and the Central African Republic which makes Lagos, Nigeria look like paradise. It doesn’t feel like a crazy place to me that’s why it’s easy for me to come here and relax.
For me there’s nothing super famous that I know of in Nigeria before I came in. I was quite disappointed when I contacted the Nigerian Tourism Board before visiting Nigeria to get some information or assistance and I didn’t get any sort of reply after several tries. I am very happy to promote Nigerian tourism and many other tourists as well but no one seems to be paying attention to it inside the country.
I also find that Nigeria is much more expensive place to live in than most other African countries. Starting from the visa which cost about $350 and even getting a visa to Nigeria is super difficult and expensive which was surprising. It’s probably the third most difficult visa for me to get in all my travels. My North Korean visa was easier to get than Nigerian visa.
I think the people in Nigeria are great but there is some bias for me there because for me it’s always nice to be in a place where everyone speaks English and are able to express themselves freely. I could talk to anyone about anything from politics to culture. It’s great feeling for me.
Even in Thailand where I am based when I am not travelling, people would have to know you very well before even sharing their political beliefs but Nigerians are not shy at all. I love it and I could see myself living here comfortably.
I was in Angola about 2 months ago and I saw someone get shot right beside me! I just landed in Luanda, Angola which by the way is the most difficult visa to get in the world. I was lucky that one of my followers, a really great guy who lives in Angola was able to sponsor me for a visa. He picked me up at the airport and ten minutes into our journey we stopped at a red light. Then a dodgy guy just pulls up on motor bike just five feet away from the car I was in, then grabs someone’s backpack and shoots him twice in the stomach. I was looking at the whole thing happen right in front me and I was in shock. My eyes were glued to the man with the gun until he looked up in my direction, that’s when ducked down in the car and we sped off.
The crazy thing is we were just speaking of how dangerous Angola reportedly is before that incident. I was really shaken by that but it didn’t stop from going out and experiencing the country. I’ve been in so many dodgy places and crazy situations that even though I wasn’t prepared for something like that I’ve gotten used being in dangerous situations. I’ve been arrested so many times and been to different hospitals in dangerous places and seen horrors that people face.
I know Africa generally struggles with corruption. The thing about African countries is that the corruption is really apparent even at the local level. I would say there is corruption everywhere in the world even in Ireland where I am from but in Africa it’s really in your face. Like while I was in Mozambique every policeman we encountered demanded money from us.
It got to a point when I got so angry and I decided I wasn’t going to give them any money. Then I got arrested and was been taken to God knows where through some dingy backstreets and that’s when I realized these guys could be taking me to the point of no return. I finally obliged them after another long argument.
LESSONS ON HUMANITY
The thing I have learnt about people is how kind people could be to total strangers. I have been really desperate situations on this journey and I’ve been surprised by how many people have been so kind to someone they don’t know and don’t expect anything from. I have as many as 50 stories where this happened.
One time, I was supposed to spend Christmas with a friend in Korea. I was supposed to fly from Thailand to Korea through a connecting flight in Malaysia. I got to Malaysia and silly me I missed my flight because I was watching a TV series The Sopranos on my laptop and lost track of time. So I had to spend the next 18 hours sitting in Kuala-Lumpur airport on Christmas day with a little backpack and another big one. It was a horrible experience. I was pissed off and so tired because at that time I couldn’t afford to book a room at the airport hotel. So 18 hours later I got the next plane to Korea and arrived at Incheon Airport, took a bus to Seoul, then another bus from there to somewhere in the middle of Korea, then another shitty bus to where I was going. When I got on the third bus I had my little backpack and that’s when I realized that I didn’t have the other one with me and I must have left it on one of the buses I had taken but I was sure which one. I was still so tired and sleepy that’s why I made such a mistake in the first place.
The worst part of it was that big backpack literally contained everything I owned in my entire life, apart from the small one I had with me. So I got the bus to stop at this tiny bus station and got off right in the middle of nowhere in a rural part of Korea. I go into the bus station to try to find a way to explain myself to someone in case there is anyone that could help me. The problem was I couldn’t speak Korean and no one in this rural town seemed to know any English. I looked really stressed out, I was paranoid and on top of that it was hard for me to communicate with these people.
I still tried to communicate hoping someone would somehow miraculously understand what I was saying. Then this old lady comes out of nowhere and hands me a phone. I answered the phone and on the other end is her niece who lives in Switzerland. I was so relieved to hear someone speak English and she also understood Korean. This old woman had called her niece to help us translate our conversation. I was so grateful for this woman’s intervention.
After she understood my predicament, this old woman spent the next one hour running up her phone bill, calling different companies to locate my bag. I was relieved again when her niece on the phone told me that they had found my bag in Seoul on the first bus I took from the airport.
I was still really tired but happy enough that at least I knew where my bag was. Now I had to find my way two and half hours back to Seoul. I went to the ticket sales person to buy a ticket back to Seoul and they refused to sell me a ticket. I couldn’t understand what was going and the old woman was still with me but her niece was off the phone so we were back to communication confusion. After hysterically and unsuccessfully trying to get through to ticket attendant for a couple of minutes, the old woman just grabbed me by my wrist, drags me out to the parking lot and gestures me into her car.
This woman drove me the whole two and a half hours back to the bus station in Seoul. She follows me into the bus station and helps me collect my bag. Then we get back into her car and she drives me all the way back to where we were coming from and another 45 minutes to my destination and drops off at the door step of my friend’s house.
I tried to thank her as best as I could even though she couldn’t understand what I was saying, but she understood how grateful I was and she didn’t want anything from me. She said goodbye and drove off just like that. Unbelievable.
LIFE AFTER THE WORLD
When I’m done I would like to cycle from San Francisco to New York. I also want to climb Mount Everest but not sure yet because it’s expensive at $50,000 for a permit. I had this idea a month ago of starting blogging centres in developing countries to give back and help the people in these places. The blogging centres would be like a community group where teenagers and young adults could learn English and blog about their lives. Then I help them monetize the blog which could help them a lot even if it’s only $50 a month, you’d be surprised how far that can go in poor countries. I am also working on an online education start-up in Hong-Kong which is set to launch in a few months. There are many things I am thinking of but I can’t say for sure until I am done.