World traveler Johnny Ward has joined Fáilte Ireland's new campaign, Keep Discovering. The campaign aims to encourage Irish holiday-makers to break their traditional staycation habits and discover many of the unique and wonderful locations across Ireland.
Born in Galway and raised in Down, Johnny spent most of his childhood holidays right here in Ireland. However, all that changed once he finished school. Publishing a successful travel blog and Instagram account, this Irishman became one of the few people to visit every country in the world.
Now, he's going back to his roots to discover the best of Ireland.
1. You're currently in Cairo, what has you traveling so far afield?
I just got back to Cairo last night, I was in Socotra island, Yemen all last week and I'm off there again next week. Just waiting in Cairo for my mum to arrive, and the rest of the group, and we're off back to Yemen on Wednesday.
Since my blog and Instagram took off, I've been running 'adventure' trips to Yemen, Syria, Iraq, etc, using the contacts I made when I was doing my 'every country' thing. It's been pretty wild!
2. You are one of the few people in the world to visit all 197 countries on earth! How did that happen? Did you travel a lot growing up?
Growing up, I traveled very little. I didn't leave Ireland until I was 14, then we had two camping holidays, ferry and car to France. Life in a single-parent family meant we didn't have much money, so we simply couldn't afford holidays. I think that gave me the drive to really travel and be free, both financially and with travel.
So when I got my chance, after university, I took it with grabbed hands. I didn't have the money to travel freely on a gap-year, so initially, I worked as an English teacher in Thailand and South Korea, in addition to doing a stint in medical research and on camps in the USA.
From there, I moved to Australia, started my blog, and once that was making enough money, I hit the road indefinitely. I set a goal to be the first person from Ireland to visit every country, and 197 countries later, I'm here!
I finished my goal St Patrick's day three years ago, but rather than calm down, I'm now on a mission to be the first person ever to visit every country, North Pole, South Pole and climb the seven summits. Which means I'm back on the road again for another while!
3. Do you still enjoy traveling? Any top tips for the rest of us?
Traveling has been my whole life since flying one-way to New York in 2006 - 14 years of almost full-time travel. I'm based in Bangkok, Thailand when I'm not on the road, that's about four months or so a year if I'm lucky!
The freedom, and privilege, of being able to go anywhere is something I never want to take for granted. I'm so fortunate to have these opportunities so I find it difficult to sit at home. My life has changed so much, and you never know when it might end, so I'm a big believer in saying 'yes' more. Even if it gets me into a few sticky situations. I don't know much, but travel is one thing I've got down.
My three tips for all travellers would be:
1. Download the Google map of your destination so you have access off-line when you arrive. Your Irish sim card will still track your GPS on Google map so you can find your way about with no problem.
2. Every traveler should have the Xe.com app on their phone. It means you'll never be confused about how much things cost in foreign currencies, just remember to update it with the country you're going before you arrive.
3. Don't change money at home. Bring a stash of 200-300 Euro or Dollars hidden in your bag just in case, and then use the ATM when you arrive. Other than Iran and Syria, you can use ATMs in pretty much every country in the world.
4. Where has your favourite place been so far?
That's a tough one! I like the feeling of true adventure, so although Iceland, New Zealand, Thailand, etc are really beautiful, they're better for holidays rather than real traveling.
I'd say two places are probably my favourite, Socotra Island, Yemen where I've just come from, and maybe Svalbard island, in the Arctic circle, where you can take a snowmobile to look for wild polar bears - amazing!
Why did you decide to get involved with this campaign? Where are you most excited to visit?
I think Irish people have been to more countries than counties, that's a travesty! But in fairness, me too. I've been everywhere, but only ever down a whistle-stop road-trip on my own island.
Ireland has so much to offer tourists, and I hope to show people that there are so many hidden gems close to home. Beautiful beaches, history, mountains, viewpoints, Ireland is one of the most beautiful countries in the world, it's time we went to explore it.
So now I'm going to try to visit every county, to explore my island as much as I've explored the world, to keep discovering closer to home. I'm most excited to finally see the Ring of Kerry (I know, it's awful I haven't), and I just discovered the oldest pub in the world is in Athlone, so for sure I'll be checking that out.
Maybe a spot of surfing? And I'm looking forward to hiking Ireland's highest mountain for some epic views. I can't wait!
Where are your favourite places in Ireland?
I haven't been to so many places, but my sister was born on Inis Mor and we spent our first couple of years there. On my limited travels in Ireland, I'd say Slieve League in Donegal blew my mind as did Skellig Michael, so beautiful, like another world.
Dublin always enchants me, to the point that I often consider leaving my adopted home of Thailand and moving to Dublin. The people, the craic, the energy. If only we could do something about the weather!
Lonely Planet has collaborated with Failte Ireland to compile the ultimate bucket-list challenge for Irish travellers. You can find it here.