A COUNTY Down man who vowed to visit every country in the world has managed to become a millionaire whilst living his dream.
Johnny Ward, 31, left Northern Ireland in 2006 to begin ticking places of his 193 country list.
But just a short time into his trip, the entrepreneur realised he could earn money while travelling.
Having now broken the $1million mark, Johnny is now the owner of successful travel blog OneStep4Ward and has his own digital company Step4WardMedia.
And Johnny, who always dreamed of exploring the world says he’s never looked back.
He said: “Growing up, our summer holidays were limited to visiting family in England and a couple of camping trips to France but I’ve always had a curiosity about the world and always dreamed of travelling and visiting the sites I’d read about and seen on the television.
“I come from a modest upbringing, growing up in a small place in Northern Ireland with my mum and my sister.
“We didn’t have much money and there were times that I clearly remember when my mum struggled to make ends meet. I guess that’s where a lot of my drive comes from and my mum has always encouraged me to fulfill my potential.
“Years ago, I made a bucket list of the things I wanted to see and do. I’ve still got a few to tick off the list, some of which will take a bit more time – like getting married and having kids – but I sometimes have to pinch myself that it’s nearly finished.”
When Johnny set off on his mission he did it with very little, but he was determined to make his dream come true.
He said: “I left Northern Ireland with very little, I had been working at a summer camp in the States, but I was completely broke when I got back home so I signed up for a medical research trial.
“I was locked in hospital for five weeks, no visitors, 18 injections a day trialling some new drug.
“I was paid about £2,000 I think and it was definitely a means to an end – I used that money for a one way ticket to Asia and the fees for my CELTA English teaching course.
“I headed off to Thailand with very little again, but with the skill set to secure a job teaching and my new life began.
“I’m 31 now, when I was 26 I was super broke, travel funds pushing zero, I had been going to Korea to work on English camps to replenish the funds but it wasn’t enough.
“I didn’t know what to do but I didn’t want a lifetime of the corporate grind so I compromised and move to Sydney, Australia and got a job with a working holiday visa. Then one day I quit and flew one way to Zimbabwe once I had saved up enough money.”
Johnny admits even he finds it hard to believe his luck not only to be looking at completing his round the world trip but to do it with financial success.
“I always wanted to be a businessman, with my own company, but if someone had have told me I would do it on a trip to every country in the world, working from my laptop, I wouldn’t have believed them.”
Earlier this year Johnny hit his biggest milestone and hit the $1million mark.
“The money has allowed me to know that I can complete my every country goal. That’s awesome” he said.
“It also means when I get to dangerous places for example, I can afford armed guards, or a taxi, or a nice hotel, so it’s certainly safer.
“Also, my mentality is more secure, know I can travel like this but still have a roof over my head if it all goes wrong.
“Having the freedom to know I can fly to Brazil, or Costa Rica or Thailand tomorrow is unreal, I can’t believe it sometimes.
“I hope to finish next year, but then I want to cycle from New York to San Fran, and ideally in the future four months in the UK/Ireland, four months Thailand and four months traveling – that would be my dream. So I don’t plan to settle in the normal sense.”
Throughout Johnny’s travels he’s had many ups and downs. From meeting inspirational and interesting people to seeing some of the world’s worst heartache he says it’s been a rollercoaster.
“I’ve seen so many amazing landscapers, crazy wildlife and awesome sporting events, but the highlight is the people” he said.
“The family in Bangladesh inviting me for dinner, the guy who drives me from city to city, the old lady who helps me find my way from the airport – people are awesome, all around the world.
“There’s a family in Malaysia, where I started my Masters, who really took me under their wing, when I had no money they treated me like a brother or a son – I’ll never forget it and we are still close friends to this day.
“I was alone and they picked me up from the airport brought me to family dinners and even bought me birthday presents when they barely knew me. Amazing people.
“But on the other side of the coin some countries are really difficult to visit normally due to weird visa rules or wars. Angola, Algeria and Equatorial Guinea are difficult to get into, where Burndi, Iraq and Syria are just a little scary.
“The hardest thing to deal with overall, more so than crime, is the poverty – it’s heart breaking.
“I used to stop myself giving money to beggars, thinking it perpetuated the problem but now I’m getting older I find myself succumbing to it and giving, I can’t help it.”
Now Johnny is spending some of his time travelling with his beautiful flight attendant girlfriend Jaa.
And he admits back when they met in Bangkok, Thailand he couldn’t even afford popcorn and a drink when they went to the movies.
He said: “Jaa is pretty understand about my crazy plans but sometimes it’s tricky being away so long. She must have thought I was a right vagrant when we first met and she was probably right to be honest.
“But things have been on the up since then, I can fork out for a drink and popcorn combo now
Johnny is due to finish all the countries in the world late summer 2016. He will also be back in the UK in December 2015 to host a series of seminars for people looking for travel and lifestyle design inspiration.
Follow Johnny’s journey at www.onestep4ward.com