Ward's travels to all 197 countries in the world deserves the thumbs up / Johnny Ward

It's taken 10 years with at least two weeks in each country, but this week, Johnny Ward completed his tour of every country on the globe. Dawn Emery reports

He’s been arrested twice, hospitalised in 20 countries and bribed officials. He’s been smuggled across borders and been surrounded by gunfire and bombing. But he's done it. After 10 years of almost full-time travel, plenty of adventure and too many air miles to count, this week Irishman Johnny Ward achieved his goal of visiting all 197 countries in the world.

“I’m a little hungover,” he told The Independent yesterday, after reaching his final destination, Norway and the Arctic Circle. “We had a lot of champagne.” Ward celebrated with his flight attendant girlfriend, family, and friends who’d flown in from across the globe.

Ward, 33, chose Norway as his final destination due to its proximity to Ireland. The previous two countries on his list, Saudi Arabia and Yemen, were the most challenging to visit.

“Saudi Arabia doesn’t even have a tourist visa and I spent nearly $1000 on paperwork, and ended up getting sponsorship to visit, when I clearly wasn’t there on business,” he says.

“Yemen is in the middle of a full-on civil war. I’d tried and failed to get there five times. By chance I ended up meeting the grandson of the King of Socotra, who bribed Yemeni officials and I ended up hitching there on a cement cargo ship.” It took nine months of trying to make it.

 “I’m so grateful to be in this position,” he adds. “I think only about 100 people have done this [visited all the world's countries] in history.”

Unlike other people who’ve ticked off ‘countries’ by spending a few hours in the airport, Ward, who blogs at Onestep4ward, has spent an average two or three weeks in each. And if you’re wondering how he can afford it, he’s earned more than $150,000 by blogging about his travels. He now owns his own digital media company and makes a mint. 

Galway-born Ward, who was raised by a single parent and grew up on benefits, first got the travel bug while working on summer camps in the USA. Back home and broke, he took part in a medical research experiment to earn £2000. He spent half on an English teaching qualification, and half on a one-way ticket to Thailand. From there, he travelled around South-East Asia on a budget of $5 a day.

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Kalasia Beach, Western Socotra – worth Johnny's nine-month attempt to get there. (OneStep4Ward)

It was the start of his quest. At 26, he launched his blog and the rest is history.

It hasn’t been easy. “I’m quite a reckless person,” he admits. “I broke an ankle in Korea, my leg in Thailand… and I’ve been in hospital about 20 times.

“I saw a guy getting shot in Angola when I’d only been in the country for 20 minutes. It was horrendous.”

In Guinea he faced cockroaches, and in Somalia, he says, there were “bombs whistling overhead” - Al Qaeda was on the attack in Mogadishu. Does he feel he's been lucky? “I don’t know about lucky, but I always just put a positive spin on things,” he says. “And it means I have stories to tell.”

Sometimes, however, Ward himself is the bad guy. He was arrested after paying someone to smuggle him and a friend across the border from Liberia to Ivory Coast, when it was closed due to the Ebola crisis. “I got caught, and was taken a police station,” he says. “I tried to bribe them. That didn’t go down too well.”

On his second attempt, he was caught again.

“After three hours of begging them to let me go, they called the Chief of Police. I loaded up my blog to show them that I was trying to visit every country in the world, and he softened up.”

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Johnny was arrested twice in the Ivory Coast, but still found time for selfies (OneStep4Ward)

Ward says his travels have taught him that people are essentially the same, no matter their cultures or beliefs. He’s visited all the countries on Donald Trump’s notorious ban. “That really pisses me off,” he says. “The Middle East is my favourite place in the world. The people are so friendly.”

In fact, Ward has a big following in North Africa. “I was in Tunisia in 2015 when there was the terrorist attack in Sousse,” he says. “I put up this blog post about how this didn’t represent Islam. It’s not them against us, it’s all of us against these dickheads.”

The next day, en route to Algeria, a family who’d been following his travels offered to put him up for the night. It was Ramadan, and although they offered him food, he thought eating in front of them would be disrespectful. Instead, he stayed for a week, fasting with them.

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Johnny and girlfriend Jaa celebrate the end of his quest in the Arctic Circle (Johnny Ward)

Has he not missed his own family on his travels? “I haven’t sacrificed my life entirely,” he says. “I always try to spend a few months of the year with my friends and family in Thailand and the UK.” He’s invested in a condo in the Bangkok (where his girlfriend Jaa lives) and his mum has also joined him for some of his trips, including Afghanistan. His new goal is to get her to 20 countries.

But there’s a serious side to his journey, too. During his travels, he started a charity, Give Back Give Away, whose next project will be providing school equipment and building a playground for refugee Burmese children in northern Thailand.

And at the end of the year, it’s time for another adventure: circumnavigating the globe in 80 days.

“I’m always going to travel for four or six months of the year,” says Ward. “I’m quite free financially, and I can work anywhere I want.”

And the biggest lesson he’s learnt? “Be honest with yourself,” he says. “If you want to travel or want to work 9 to 5, that’s fine. But just focus on your goal. I hate to see people drifting through life. We’re presented with so many opportunities and it’s our duty to grab them.” 

Follow Johnny's travels at Onestep4ward.com and his charity work at Give Back Give Away

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