First off thank you for taking the time to get involved in this interview for my readers.
I should first start by disclosing that we have not yet met but I came across your blog and have really enjoyed the content. Although I have worked online for many years, I still find it inspiring when reading about other people’s journeys.
Yours was particularly interesting though as you really have traveled extensively around the globe visiting every country!
I am keen to find out more about your journey. From humble beginnings as a teach English as a foreign language teacher in SE Asia, travel blogger traveling the world to creating a digital marketing agency, and even your own charity.
So, thanks again Johnny, let’s jump straight into this with our first question.
1. It would be great to get some background on where you’re from, your early life, studying.
Sure, I was born on a small island off the coast of Ireland called Inis Mor, near Galway. I had a turbulent childhood and ended up fleeing up North with my mum and sister, where we grew up.
I spent the first 10 years or so on welfare, single-mum life. Broke but happy. We couldn’t afford holidays, or anything really, so I knew I wanted to be free to go where I want and not worry about financial restrictions from a young age.
At 18 I went to Uni in England, to Loughborough Uni, and then at 22, the day after my final exam, I flew one way to the USA. I’m 36 now, and I never lived in the UK or Ireland again. My gap year has become a gap decade and a half!
2. Your blog is 10-years old this year, so a big congratulations on this! What gave you the push to leave Ireland all those years ago and to start travel blogging? At first, was your intention to be a full-time blogger or was this an organic process?
I read a story about Nomadic Matt (great blog, not such a great guy) making $3k a month from this blog. I had been teaching English for $700 a month and figured my life was much more exciting and travel-filled than your average blogger.
So, I wanted to show the world that you don’t need to come from a wealthy family to travel, you can live your dreams even if you’re working class. And it kind of took off from there really.
3. You’re known for having traveled to every country in the world. All 197 countries. A massive achievement. If you have to pick your favorite destination, which one would it be and why?
Socotra Island, Yemen. Without a doubt.
It was my 2nd last country, and it’s the most beautiful, untouched destination still available on our planet today. It’s still tricky to get too, and not cheap, but it’s worth all the effort.
I just came back from there last week, after taking 32 of my followers on a couple of group trips there, and I’m bringing another group there in January 2021, so if you want to go on a tour to Socotra, let me know and you can join!
4. Are you still traveling around the globe, or do you split your time between certain countries and cities?
I planned to slow down when I finished every country, but since then (3 years ago today!) I’ve ‘accidentally’ visited 42 countries again, run 6 marathons in 6 days through the Sahara on the Marathon Des Sables, ran a marathon at the north pole, and climbed 4 out of the 7 summits.
I also started a non-profit called Mudita Adventures, where I use adventure travel to fund sustainable projects around the developing world, we’ve donated over $200,000USD in the 4 years of doing that too.
So I haven’t slowed down at all! I’m based in Bangkok, Thailand through where I bought an apartment, and I plan to build a house in Chiang Mai, Northern Thailand in the next year or 2 too.
5. Could you give us a glimpse of your typical day as a digital nomad? Do you follow any particular routine, any 5 am morning routine or particular blogging schedule that works for you?
Unlike most digital nomads who are more-or-less ex-pats in a particular destination, I spend well over half of my year moving constantly. Whether with my non-profit, or with this new goal of being the first person to visit every country, North and South Pole, and climb the 7 summits.
So, my “regular” day is hard to pin down.
When I’m in Bangkok though, it’s normally an 8 am wake-up, fasted 10km run, work from 11-4 pm or so. Evening work-out, then movies/Netflix to wind-down.
I’m not religious about it at all. I should focus on it more, to be honest, but I just blog when I feel like it.
6. You have made a full time living from blogging and have to date earnt in excess of $2 million online. This was triggered by travel blogging and getting the attention of the likes of Forbes. Do you still focus on affiliate business model?
I never really focussed on affiliates, to be an honest buddy.
Initially, on my ‘every country’ journey, I was publishing a lot of SEO-linked articles. That grew to about $3k/$4k/$5k a month just from onestep4ward. I then bought more blogs, expanded, etc.
My traffic kept increasing through media stories about my journey, so onestep4ward.com then started making money from CPC, affiliate and SEO content, while my other sites focused on sponsored content.
Those combined made me my $2m.
6. How has your business adapted to changes in the Google algo? Are you spreading the risk to other online traffic sources?
I don’t focus on that stuff, to be honest mate. I’m not a pro-blogger (not in a way that I’m an expert). I know how to make money from the blog, but I focus on my life first, my travels, my non-profit, my friends, and my family.
My biz comes after all that. And for some reason or other, that’s rewarded me in the business world.
7. You made a condo purchase in Bangkok some years ago that’s been a shrewd investment as its since doubled in value. Do you invest in offline assets such as property, stocks or commodities?
Mostly in property. I have a few properties in London, my place in Bangkok and now I’m beginning the process of the “dream house” in northern Thailand.
I also invested in Crypto and I have a fund manager for my stock portfolio, although, with the Corona Virus, I have lost tens of thousands in the last week or 2, heart-breaking when I’m saving for my new house!
I don’t live a flash life, no Rolex or sports care, no renting a penthouse in Bangkok.
Lots of youngish guys do that when they make money online, I’ve avoided that, invested, and now if it all ended tomorrow I’d be ok. I’d advise anyone to do the same when your money comes from the net.
8. You have set up a Charity called Mudita Adventures, which looks to give back to local communities. Could you outline who this project started and how this is going?
I kind of started it by accident to be honest! A buddy of mine, Josh, suggested we do something to give back, so I crowdfunded $5k or so through my blog and offered someone a chance to travel with us in Senegal.
Lots of people wanted to travel with us, so it grew from there. We’ve now done about 20 projects, funding Malaria clinics, dormitories, playgrounds, toilets, primary schools, etc in 10 or more countries.
I’m so grateful for having the opportunity to do that. It’s going well, but it’s tough to grow. The reality is most people don’t give a shit, so it’s hard to make them part of with their time and money and ‘give back’ to a region before they travel in it.
Thankfully enough people so far have cared, and it’s allowed us to donate the $200k or so. I want to grow it, but I’m struggling to know-how.
GiveBack GiveAway – Thailand 2017 Video
9. What’s next for you Johnny, any big plans for 2020 and beyond?
I had planned to climb my 5th of the 7 summits, Denali in Alaska. But I guess that’ll be canceled with the virus. I have an AWESOME trip planned for Pakistani Kashmir with my non-profit (5 spots left if you want to join), and then crossing the highest border in the world, in the Himalayas, through to China so that’s something!
Getting married in November too. Cook Islands, Niue, and I’m going to organize a group trip to the Central African Republic for my Birthday in December too.
Until then I guess I’m stuck in Bangkok so I’ll train like a beast and maybe run a marathon or two, looks like travel is on the back-burner for a couple of months.