This week, I am excited to be starting a new series called Travel Talk, were I interview other travellers, travel bloggers and writers, and where best to start, than with the one man that kick started my inspiration to travel. Jonny Blair, writes on various travel sites; his main site being Don’t Stop Living; the longest running one man travel guide to all seven continents. Jonny is on the brink of his 100th country. We met up at the end of last year, and he shared with me some travel wisdom.
Name: Jonny Blair
Place of Origin: I was born in Newtownards but grew up and spent most of my childhood in Bangor and Belfast, Northern Ireland.
I’m “based” in Hong Kong but I try to travel 8-9 months a year if I can! My upcoming destinations include Tunisia, China and the Micronations of Austenasia and Frestonia.
Why do you choose to travel/what inspires you to travel?
I get bored of being in the same place. There is such a big world to see full of diverse places, incredible people, contrasting landscapes, inspiring experiences. A world of pure wonder beyond our doorstep. Everyday on this planet is an adventure to cherish. I hate being tied down to one geographic location.
How do you fund your travels?
In any way I can. I don’t turn down offers. I’m always looking to work and earn as much money as I can on the road. In the past this has meant selling ice cream, working on boats, working in bars, doing PR, teaching English etc. I have no qualms about any job out there. I’ll clean toilets if it keeps me on the road. These days I own multiple travel sites which I earn money from and my main travel blog gives me a platform for earning money through my expertise, my writing, sponsorship, partnership and advertising. I also have affiliates and a book is on its way soon!
When did you first start travelling?
My first trip away from my parents was in 1991 to the Netherlands with the school but I guess it wasn’t until I was studying at University that I first did some real travelling, so from 2003 onwards I’ve travelled as much as I could. My biggest travel years so far were 2007 when I visited China for the first time and 2010 when I first visited South America and Antarctica.
What is your travel style/niche?
I don’t have one strict style as I like to be as many niches as I can. I’m a long term backpacker but using the term backpacker to me can mean luxury hotels, sleeping in tents, flying into countries, crossing land borders, touring museums, eating street food, playing football with locals, skydiving, visiting countries nobody has heard of, pub crawls etc.. It’s all travel to me and I love it to be diverse. I do like to save money when I can but I’ll also gladly pay for a crazy experience that will be worth it (for example Antarctica, Mount Kinabalu and the football World Cup Final). Having said all that most people will know me for being a long term budget backpacker, though I’ve veered out of this style quite a few times!
What do you use to travel with – rucksack (backpack) or suitcase, and why?
Normally two backpacks – a light one on the back with clothes and toiletries and a heavy one on the front with my laptops, hard drives and notebooks/work stuff. Just because it’s easier – you can hike mountains in them and they are lighter. Ironically I used to travel with a suitcase – so I’m the opposite to most people in that I started with a suitcase and realised I hated dragging it behind me, so I converted to a backpack years ago!
What three things that you will never travel without (passport excluded)
Excitement, passion, enthusiasm. (I’ve travelled without a camera, map, clothes and money before in case you wondered)
What is the best thing about travelling?
The diversity of it all. That every day is different when you travel. There are no repeats. You’re on the move to new cities, towns, countries all the time and it’s never boring.
What is the scariest thing that has happened to you whilst travelling?
There have been a few scary moments but by far the worst was escaping a mugging in Venezuela. I was scared for my life and I arrived in the country sadly on the same day as the black market crash back in 2011 so I had to put up with loads of other things like searches, questioning, witnessing drug raids, gun fire etc. It was scary and I locked my hotel door room at night and breathed a sigh of relief.
What have you learnt about yourself through travelling?
That there are no limits out there. You can have anything if you want it enough. I have learnt not to turn down invitations and offers. I have learned not to say no, never to use the word can’t and I have learned that travel is one thing that constantly makes me happy. As humans we strive for happiness and I’ve needed the happiness travel has given me to get through the bad times. I always dreamed of visiting all 7 continents and 100 countries and through belief, passion, enthusiasm it’s now a reality.
What have you learnt about the World through travelling?
That the media and governments have too much influence over people’s opinions and 80% of it is bullshit. People are scared to go to countries as the media tells them they’re dangerous or unfriendly. I urge all travellers to ignore what they hear in the media and get out there and see things for yourself. Recent examples for me have been El Salvador, Iran and Iraq. Before I visited, media, governments and friends were scared of those places and worried about travelling in them. When I got there they were the safest and most welcoming places on those journeys. Especially Iran and El Salvador. I met some truly incredible people in those countries that could teach a thing or two to the media and governments in the UK and the USA let me tell you. David Cameron and Barack Obama might be cool people but they couldn’t last 5 days backpacking with me, I’m sure of it. I’d have them putting up tents in the jungle, writing blog posts and talking to locals with a bit of reality shot into them and no mention of anything political. Shock horror – Iranians are the friendliest people on the planet.
The top of Travel
Top three countries
1. Northern Ireland – I’m from there, it’s my proud homeland and more people need to visit it
2. China – It’s just the biggest country to explore. It’s just so vast and out there. You’re really travelling when you’re getting lost in outback China. There are no foreigners in sight, no information and life is back to basics. Light a fire, cook some food, drink some beer and relax.
3. Iran – I spent a month there and it wasn’t long enough – just an incredible country with the nicest people you will ever wish to me. A truly friendly race of people and some awe inspiring sights. You’ll be invited into people’s homes in Iran just by walking down the street. Nobody will ask for a penny, only your time and company. You’ll have friends for life if you backpack in Iran.
Top three cuisines/dishes eaten
1. Ulster Fry, Northern Ireland
2. Pizza, Italy
3. Blue Enchiladas in San Cristobal de las Casas, Mexico (or any food in Mexico City!)
Top three adventurous activities you’ve done on your travels
1. Feeding Hyenas Mouth to Mouth in Harar, Ethiopia
2. Backpacking up Cuverville Island in Antarctica
3. Summiting Tajamulco, highest peak in Central America
Please state a one liner – your best piece of travel advice for those new to travelling.
Don’t set limits, don’t turn down opportunities, don’t use the word “can’t” and don’t stop living.
You can read more about Jonny’s travels on his website Don’t Stop Living, and connect with him on his various social media sites, as highlighted below