[Wanderlust Tips July 2019] Running a marathon in the freezing north pole, 6 marathons in 6 days in the Sahara, or setting foot in 197 countries and territories around the world… Well, Johnny Ward completed these wildly impressive experiences during his travels! The discerning travel blogger has left his footprints in every corner of the world.
Welcome Johnny Ward, the readers of Wanderlust Tips are curious about your journey around the world, where did you start and how did you pluck up the courage to go?
I was born and raised in Ireland. My childhood was difficult with my single mother raising both me and my sister. We used to live on social benefits, without a car, holidays and often heating, nonetheless, I was very happy. When I turned 18 I left Ireland for England to begin 4-years studying at university. After graduating, I started travelling. From 2006 to 2012, I encountered some financial difficulties, so I had to find work in the US, Thailand, Korea and even Ireland to save money to travel. At that time, I spent around USD10 to USD20 per day on personal living expenses, so an estimated USD5,000 per year. In 2012, I surpassed a milestone and began to have a more stable income from blogging and the development of my website, namely onestep4ward.com meaning I had more money to spend comfortably.
Can you tell us more about the places you visited?
Since 2006, I have spent 10 years reaching my goal of travelling to 197 countries and territories (193 member states of the United Nations and special cases include the Vatican, Kosovo, Palestine and Taiwan). I travelled to the North Pole and South Pole and I have been reaching dizzy heights conquering the seven highest peaks on seven continents including Everest in Nepal, Asia; Aconcagua in Argentina, South America; Denali in the United States, North America; Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, Africa; Elbrus in Russia, Europe; Vinson Massif in Antarctica; and Puncak Jaya in Indonesia and Papua New Guinea, Australia.
Would you travel to all the countries for a second time?
I may do it again in my lifetime, but I am not in any rush because I am currently busy with other plans. In addition to my blog onestep4ward.com, I am focused on taking people on adventure tours to explore special lands. For example, I took 18 people to Baghdad in Iraq, organized trips to Socotra Island in Yemen and I am planning an upcoming trip to Syria. Additionally, I also started a charity, GiveBackGiveAway. com, where I organize for people to support and develop communities, build playgrounds, dormitories, classrooms, etc. for poor and disadvantaged children around the world.
You are extremely positive and enthusiastic about your travels and must have experienced countless unforgettable moments. Could you tell us about your most impressive journey recently?
Around 3 months ago, I participated in the “Marathon des Sables” or “Marathon on sand” race, which is one of the longest and harshest races in the world. The race takes place every April with approximately 1,000 participants who have to complete a distance between 210km and 260km in total (it differs each year). The race is always run in the Sahara Desert in Morocco, near the Algerian border. It’s a self-sufficient race, which means you must carry everything you need such as clothing, a sleeping bag and mat, medical equipment and food. Water is supplied every 10/15km at different checkpoints.
I am not a runner and in fact I have only ever run more than 10km once before participating in “Marathon des Sables”, and that was when I ran the North Pole Marathon with a 42km track at -400C. The challenge this time was much harder because we had to run 200km over 6 days in extreme temperatures reaching over 400C. I do feel a sense of trepidation and fear because my body is not as strong as it once was, I am 35 years old now and the recovery process takes a little longer than before. I have had so many injuries for instance, a broken foot in Korea, broken ankle in Norway, broken leg in Thailand, broken nose in Ireland, broken hands in England and many other injuries. I also managed to get a stress fracture from over training, less than a month before the actual race. All-in-all, I am not really cut out for this running lark, so I channel all my determination and energy in order to not give up.
The first 3 days are the harshest when I have to cross the dunes in the seemingly unbearable heat of the desert with blistered feet. The fourth day is the longest journey of 80km taking you from day to night, sometimes you cannot see the surrounding landscape, head torches help you avoid any dangerous species that might be lurking in the shadows like scorpions and snakes. The fifth day is a rest day. The sixth day is both the last day and the time to use up all the painkillers to finish the marathon. I finished the race in 200th place. At that moment, I was a little drowsy, my socks were soaked in blood, but crossing that finish line is just the most unique experience, you feel an overwhelming sense of relief, pride, appreciation and gratitude. Only visiting Yemen, one of the last destinations on my list of 197 countries and territories, could match those emotions. But that is why we travel, that is why we push ourselves.
You mentioned Yemen, is that one of your most meaningful journeys?
With my target of travelling to 197 countries and territories, I wanted to finish with my last country as Norway, chosen because it is a safe, easily accessible beautiful country where my friends and family can come and celebrate with me. The dream seemed to become a reality when I visited Saudi Arabia in January 2017, fulfilling the life goal of 195/197. However, things didn’t quite go to plan when I attempted to enter Yemen yet failed five times, I spent so much money, effort and time without feeling that it was ever going to happen.
I thought that although the country is dangerous and tricky to access I couldn’t just step one toe over a geographical line and move on. For me, travel should not be a race to the finish line, a stunt for a few minutes of fame nor merely a collection of stamps in a passport. To travel is a privilege, so I honestly believe we should respect that. Travel is about breaking down barriers, discovering the world, making new friends and learning as much as you can about new cultures. Travel is purer and deeper than that at least it used to be.
And I so am glad I did it right. I was lucky enough to meet YahYa – the great Yemeni guy from Socotra. YahYa enthusiastically helped me in any way that he could so that I could enter Yemen, to visit his native Socotra. I really could not express how grateful I am for what YahYa did for me and thanks to him I finally reached my Yemeni goal. I got onto a boat for the 50-hour journey to Yemen. After that, my adventure to Socotra began spectacularly and unforgettably.
Despite the difficulties, all of the positive things far outweigh the negatives on this journey.
A huge number of people dream of travelling around the world, and it is certainly true that among the paid jobs to travel around the globe, travel bloggers would get first mention. As a travel blogger with many years of working experience, could you share your perspective with Wanderlust Tips’ readers?
Successful people work hard. They focus on their dreams and make it happen. Nothing is a gift, no one is lucky. If you dream of exploring the world, go and make it happen. Sitting around complaining and feeling unlucky never got anyone anywhere.
Don’t be a fantasist. Get your finances in order first. We need to earn money to survive, so first focus on building around USD1,000 income per month. From there, anything is possible.
So, after all your time travelling, have you ever wanted to stop, or do you plan to stop and settle down in the future?
I will never stop completely. I want to feel alive. I want to experience everything, do everything but I will not travel fulltime anymore, 4-6 months a year is ample.
Thank-you Johnny, for sharing your honest experiences. Wishing you the best with your upcoming plans.
Van Ly | Wanderlust Tips