'I was literally on the breadline' - Irish blogger (33) makes over €1m after creating online travel journal to fund his wanderlust
A man who left Ireland ten years ago "with nothing" has made over €1m from blogging about visiting every country in the world - and wants to share how he did it.
Johnny Ward caught the travelling bug straight after he finished college but didn't have the finances for a jet setting lifestyle.
His extraordinary adventures of how he's managed to visit every country in the world - bar just three - have helped, not only finance his wanderlust, but also make him a millionaire.
Born in Galway, Johnny moved with his mother and sister in Northern Ireland where he lived until he went to college in the UK.
"I grew up in a single parent family and we were on social welfare benefits until I was 13. We had nothing - no car, no holidays, no heating!," he told independent.ie.
"I studied International Economics in college [which may seem like it would help with what I'm doing now but it doesn't at all!] but I wanted to take a year out to travel before I settled down to work in the City."
With no money in the bank, Johnny's solution was to work in summer camps for disadvantaged children in the New York, allowing him just enough funds to spend several months travelling the US.
"I was on the breadline - I literally and completely ran out of money," he said.
"My flight, which was paid for through the summer camp, flew back into London. I couldn't even afford the train ticket back to my sister's house in London so I bought it with my Mam's card and my sister paid for my flight back to Ireland."
At the age of 22, Johnny found himself back at home with no money, an aversion to the idea of the corporate world and a longing to see the world.
"I just Googled how to travel with no money, how to earn money in a short space of time. I signed up for five weeks of clinical trials for medical research and they paid me £3,000 for it," he said.
"I paid off a bit of debt I'd worked up when I was in Las Vegas and then used the rest to pay for a TEFL course and buy a one way ticket to Thailand."
Chiang Mai was where Johnny's journey really began teaching English, studying Thai and saving enough money from his £400 a week salary to put on his travelling hat again.
"I was saying a big 'F*** You' to the real world; I was loving my life," said Johnny.
"It was cool even though I was constantly broke. Every time I ran out of money I would just go back and teach English for another few months."
"I was budgeting as low as $7 a day and managed to spend about two years travelling around Asia."
A turning point for Johnny came when he turned 26 and believed that he needed to do "something in an office" as the hunger for a more sustainable source of income began to grow.
"I loved the adventure I was having - it was amazing and I'm so grateful that I got to experience things like the 72 hour buses and zero class trains," he said.
"But I wasn't getting any younger and I felt like I needed to get some corporate experience and save some money".
Johnny flew from Asia to Australia and managed to get a job within a matter of days in a conference company as a sales rep. Despite the attractive salary and a good relationship with his manager, Johnny quit his job after six months believing that he'd made a terrible mistake.
But then he was offered a visa, a job change and a pay hike from the same company.
"I think that was another big turning point for me. Now I look back and think that it actually was the making of me but I agreed to stay on at the time. It was cowardly as I knew I wasn't happy. Within four months I'd quit again and flew one-way to Zimbabwe."
This time, Johnny was in a much better financial situation. He'd saved $30,000 and had built his blog ["I paid a guy $100 to do it for me"] during the year he spent in Australia.
"I'd heard rumours about people making a career from blogging. I looked at those and thought they were boring and middle class," he said.
"They were nothing like the crazy experiences I had. I hitch hiked on a cargo ship to China with no visa. I wanted to tell people about that."
Six months after Johnny had been given his blog serious attention, his very first advertiser contacted him to place an ad for $85 - and he thought it was a joke.
"I thought it was my old work colleagues taking the p*** out of me so I took the p*** back until I realised the guy was for real. That was when I realised that I could genuinely make money from this thing - and could realise my goal of visiting every country in the world."
Johnny's revenue began to ramp up every month and soon he was earning just as much from blogging as he was from teaching English. He was "living the dream" but soon his entrepreneur cogs started to turn.
"If I could make this much money from my own website, I wondered how much I could make from several. So I started expanding my website portfolio, deciding on which websites to buy."
Now Johnny has more than one hundred sites that are managed by his "saviour tech guy Aghosh" and employed a number of content writers and sales reps to cover the copy writing, advertising and corporate social content.
"I travelled from Bangkok to Ireland for Christmas, wanting to make the journey without taking any flights. I had a great time partying along the way, deciding which websites to buy. Every month, it just kept increasing and expanding, I had to turn the PayPal notifications off on my phone as the money was just flowing in."
Johnny is still close to his mother and sister and checked in with them for advice as he said he feels like he suffers from "imposter syndrome".
"I still can't believe it sometimes. It still blows my mind. In the last three years I’ve cracked the $1,000,000 barrier of making money online. In those three years, my best month was almost $60,000 and my worst was just shy of $12,000."
He spends nine months of the year travelling the world and the other three in his "second home" in Thailand where he met his flight attendant girlfriend.
"We met five years ago when I just started to focus on blogging. At the time, I was so broke that on our first date I couldn't afford coke and popcorn at the movies!," he said.
Johnny hopes to conquer the last three countries on his list by the end of February but he has other projects that he is working on.
"I felt like I was so lucky that I needed to give something back - and so the GiveBack GiveAway was born. We work on community development focused projects to improve the lives of those who need it, such as buying stalls for single mothers in Senegal so they can sell at the markets with dignity, supplying bicycles and donations to schools in Battambang."
Aside from the charity and his digital media company Step4WardMedia.com, Johnny has created an education start up in Hong Kong and started a small dentist marketing agency. But, regardless of how far he's come, his mantra remains the same.
"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. I want to live now, today so I make sure I do exactly that. Every single day."