How travel blogger Johnny Ward became a millionaire on the go

CNN  — 

There can’t be many full-time bloggers in the world who employ wealth managers. Johnny Ward, a 32-year-old Irishman intent on “living life with passion,” is one.

He’s one of a handful of travel bloggers in the world earning six-figure incomes each year through their blogging.

In a few weeks. he’ll complete a decade-old quest to visit every country in the world, a mission he’s documenting on his onestep4ward blog.

An impressive achievement on its own. That he’s been able to earn more than $1 million over the last three years through blogging puts him firmly in the “whaaaaa?” category of inspirational own-your-own-life stories.

And he seems astonished that so few others are doing the same.

It’s hard to tell whether he thinks us office drones are dumb or he has sympathy for our plight. But he speaks with the zeal of an evangelist who’s seen the light and can’t believe no one else is even looking.

“If I can do this, anyone can do it,” he says via Skype from a stylish two-bed apartment in Bangkok that he bought outright with his earnings. “It just takes a bit of belief.”

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Money matters

And he seems to genuinely believe it.

“I’ve been extolling the virtues of chasing your dreams and living the free life that you want to live and not signing up to the nine to five slog for years, you know. So it’s a bit disappointing that only when I mention the money does it go viral.

“I understand it – money is important and I’m grateful for all the attention. But it’s a little sad too.”

He’s referring to last summer, when Business Insider, HuffPo, Forbes and others picked up his $1-million-in-three-years story.

But what comes easy to Ward doesn’t come easy to everyone.

His tale starts in 2006, when he left university in the UK and headed straight to Chiang Mai, Thailand, to teach English. He earned peanuts.

After a year he moved to Sydney as a sales rep, cold-calling customers, and earned $20,000 commission in one month.

Ward quickly points out that was a one-off – but here we get our first clue to Ward’s success – he’s a born salesman.

“I have no problem asking for the world. If you don’t ask you don’t get,” he concedes.

Having saved some money, and growing bored of the cubicle life, Ward quit to travel. But forced to see out his notice period, he started a blog. While traveling through Ethiopia he won his first ad.

“A great day. I started posting more regularly, and by Christmas I was making about $500 a month.

“Around this time too all the stuff about SEO and link-building was starting to take off. By 2011 I was hitting $1,000-2,000 a month and I was starting to realize that this was legit, that I could actually earn a living doing this.”

He launched and bought more websites.

“Eventually I was making upwards of five figures a month, with the best month being $60,000. That was amazing. And so I worked out that averaging about $30,000 a month, over three years I made about $1 million. It’s all totally accurate and real.”

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‘I just want to be free’

From his single blog his stable has grown to around 250 websites and Ward also now runs an online media company.

In a move “The 4-Hour Work Week” author Tim Ferriss would be proud of, he outsources a lot of the hard graft so he can work just a few hours each week.

He says: “I just want to be free, you know. I want to be financially strong enough to be able to do what I want. If I want to go to Brazil tomorrow, I want to be able to go. That’s it.

How Johnny Ward made his million

2009: Started a travel blog, posting once or twice a week2010: Got a request for a single $85 ad2010: Posted more frequently, saw more ads come in2011: Generated revenue of up to $2,000 per month2013: Started to ramp up with more sites and more content marketing2013: Hit a high of $60,000 in a single month2015: Passed 250 websites under management and $1 million in earnings

“At least I feel that I’m not wasting my life. I hear people counting down, ‘Only 45 days till I go to Bermuda for a week!’ and I think, what are you doing?

“When I say I’m maximizing my life, I’m not drinking Long Island iced teas in the Maldives, you know. I’m maximizing my experiences, and I go to bed thinking well that was a cool week, and next week’s going to be cool too. That’s what I mean.”

Ward is full of anecdotes, any one of which could be a scene from a Stallone/Van Damme/Schwarzenegger blockbuster.

Scattered among them are throwaway comments along the lines of “and so I talked my way out of that.” More clues to how he got to where he is.

There’s his trip to Angola, a tricky travel prospect at the best of times, which began badly as he sat in gridlocked traffic shortly after landing.

“Suddenly two dudes rock up to the car next to me, rip open the door, shoot the guy and grab something out of the car.

“This gunman was scared now, you know, obviously the adrenaline was rushing, and for a moment he stared into my car, right into my eyes, and I find myself staring right back at him.

“My driver then hits the gas and we move away, but the crazy thing was I was freaking out and my driver’s just calmly laughing at me, because it turned out he killed 40 people in the civil war there years before! It’s a crazy country.”

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Unreal stories

Or there’s the time he tried to smuggle himself across the border from Ivory Coast to Sierra Leone, twice, got caught, twice, and during the armed escort to the airport witnessed a bus crash with “dead bodies everywhere.”

Or the time he was in Kabul when a suicide bomber struck. Or the time he was in Tibet when an earthquake hit Nepal.

“Now when I tell these stories, it almost feels like I’m making it up, he says. “I’ve got photos of it all but it becomes part of your history. They don’t feel real anymore, it’s weird.”

Hotels now pay him to write about them. “Once you get 100,000 social followers you never need to pay for a hotel again.”

And despite being hit by a Google algorithm change that halved his revenue in 2014/2015, “it’s never dipped below five figures in a month.”

Ward, to his credit, seems to have remained grounded, and even a little vulnerable.

He recently split from his girlfriend of several years, and wrote a heartfelt blog post entitled “Travel, love and heartbreak.”

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The urge to settle

Among Ward’s 115 to-do list items, mostly the usual adrenaline/wonder-seeking stuff (“Learn to snowboard”; “Party in Rio”) are two that stand out, items 36 and 37: “get married” and “have kids.”

This list is incidentally another clue to his success – every item considered, committed to paper (or a webpage) and gratifyingly crossed out once achieved.

“I’m a super-goal-oriented person. These missions give me a sense of completion.”

Next up is a similarly goal-oriented plan to travel the world Jules Verne-style, in 80 days. But he readily admits that a life of constant movement can be tiring.

“I want a base, where I have friends and can party and the people in the shops know your face. There’s no way I want to bounce around indefinitely.”

With two, possibly three properties (pending a new purchase) in Bangkok and London, and thousands in the bank (he’s not quite a millionaire yet, he doesn’t think, but he’s getting close), that should be one of his easier challenges yet.

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James Durston is a travel writer, editor and digital entrepreneur living in Hong Kong. Follow him @jedurston and read more about his work here: