Johnny Ward, living life to the fullest in the Seychelles. (Photo: Instagram)
The concept of the American Dream is changing. For many of us there has always been an unwritten expectation that you will work hard, probably at a desk, for 50 weeks of the year in order to gain both happiness and prosperity.
But for many members of the millennial generation, this just isn’t a good enough dream any more.
With the dramatic increase in technological connectivity in the past decade, there is now little reason for people to work from one designated office space. It is now possible to pursue a more nomadic lifestyle, while still making plenty of money along the way.
Johnny Ward is one of these people. He has been to 151 of the world’s 193 officially registered countries and in the past three years has brought in over $1.9 million.
All while working from a laptop.
The 31-year-old tech entrepreneur never wanted to settle in one place. Following university in England, where he studied International Economics, graduating in 2006, he packed his bags and headed here to the U.S.
“I didn’t really quit my job to go traveling, I never really entered the real world,” he explains.
Ward and his mum visiting Mumbai in India. (Photo: Instagram)
Ward says that growing up in Ireland in a single-parent family was hard. It was just him, his mom, and his sister. “We had no car, no central heating. We were super poor,” he told Yahoo Travel. “But my mom always put a big emphasis on education. She pushed us. So both my sister and I did really well. Got good grades. I have a shitty attitude towards authority but I have always been super respectful of my mom, so I worked hard.”
After several months in America post-college, where he worked at a summer camp for special-needs children, he found himself completely broke and with little idea what to do next.
“I did this mental thing to earn money,” he said. “I took part in a medical research trial where I got locked in a hospital for five weeks and had these experimental drugs tested on me. I wasn’t allowed any visitors or anything. They paid me about $4,700, which at that time was loads of money to me. I used it to pay off my traveling debts, buy a one-way ticket to Thailand and pay for my teaching qualification to teach English in Thailand after Christmas.”
Teaching English in South Korea. (Photo: Instagram)
The plan was to stay a year in Asia and then he would return to London and get a job in finance.
“To make my millions,” he joked.
But Thailand was a turning point. He had been living in Chiang Mai for about 100 days, teaching and earning about $620 a month.
“I have this really vivid memory of this time I was driving to work on a scooter, I’ve never owned a car to this day but I bought this scooter for about $310 to drive to work every day. I was late for class and there was this elephant at the side of the road,” he said. “Then it started raining and it was just awesome. I realized that I’m 22 or 23, living in Thailand completely on my own, I can’t believe I’m doing this. I explicitly remember this moment as being the moment I said, ‘I am going to try and live like this, this awesome life, forever. And never go back.’”
“I was still broke. Just broke on a different continent. But it was cool. It didn’t feel like I was broke. It was one of the best years of my life, even to this day.”
Over the next couple of years, Johnny traveled around Asia, financing himself by teaching English, both in Thailand and South Korea, where he would work at summer camps for children, returning when he started to run out of money.
“I would go back and do one of those camps now, even though I don’t need the money, because I loved it so much.”
At 27, and after finding himself broke yet again, he decided to make another change.
“I started to think about what I’m going to do with my life. I don’t want to be broke forever. I knew I wanted to get married, have kids, and buy a house someday, so I needed to figure out how I was going to do that and still have a cool life.”
He headed to Australia, armed with a working-tourist visa and a job offer, and began working in sales.
“The plan was to save as much money as I could and try to get some relevant corporate experience, so that if everything goes wrong and I’m stranded, I would have some actual professional experience to get a real job.“
But instead, Ward excelled at his new gig and started earning huge sums of money, sometimes up to $20,000 a month.
“I managed to save $30,000 really quickly. I had never even seen that amount of money before and as soon as I hit that figure I quit my job and booked a one-way ticket to Zimbabwe.”
After being inspired by an article he read about a travel blogger making $3,000 a month from their site, he began his own blog, OneStep4Ward, and within a short period of time was making thousands a month in income.
“I thought if they can do that, I can do that. But better,” he shared. And after a year of documenting his travels round Africa, he made the decision to head back to Thailand and take his business to the next level.
Ward and his mum in Tibet. (Photo: Instagram)
“I managed to get the site to where I was earning about $7,800 to $9,300 a month. I realized that if I was earning this amount of money from one website, why don’t I start a second and a third site. When they started making money I just went so aggressive with it and built out a big network of 200 to 300 sites.”
Without ever planning to, Johnny had launched a digital media company, Step4Ward Media.
After working hard to increase his income, Johnny then set himself the challenge of visiting 100 countries by the time he turned 30. And he did it, spending his 100th “country-versary” in the Maldives earlier last year.
Currently in Africa again, he hopes to complete his list by some time next year.
“By Christmas I hope I will only have 15 countries left on the list,” he told me. “I have another 15 to 20 countries left in Africa to visit this year and then I will only have 15 left. I pretty much only have West Africa, a few countries in the middle of the Pacific and a few countries in the Middle East. That’s it.”
Ward on a private island that he rented in the Philippines. (Photo: Instagram)
After his next trip, venturing from Cape Town to Casablanca, he plans to return to Thailand, where he and a friend are in the process of setting up another company, Findatutor, this one based in Hong Kong, that will link private tutors with students across Asia. And then maybe he will settle down. Maybe…
“If my start-up in Hong Kong takes off, then I will settle a bit. Eventually, I would like to spend four months a year in Thailand, four months in the U.K., and Ireland and four months traveling. Every year for the rest of my life.”
For those of us longing for this kind of life, or even a piece of it, I asked him to provide some advice. He believes that if you think hard enough about something, you can make it happen.
“I have no tech skills and I dreamed all the time, from when I was 18, about making money on the Internet and being free to do what I now do. At the time, I had no ability to do that but I was so driven subconsciously to do it. And it happened.”