“You don’t need to be rich to travel the World” : Insights from a World Traveler

This week Tripoto sits down with travel blogger and vagabond at large, Jonny Scott Blair for a chat about life as a traveler and blogger and where travel writing is headed. Jonny has been on the road for the better part of a decade and has left his footprints in over 80 countries on all seven continents. He left his home in Ireland with very little money and has managed to sustain 10 years on the road with a mixture of blogging about his travels and working odd jobs around the world. Read on for expert info. on how to keep the traveling dream alive and the art of imbibing the ‘Don’t Stop Living’ attitude.

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1. Hi Jonny. Please introduce yourself and tell us more about your travels.

I am a passionate and worldly Northern Irishman who loves the sense of adventure by heading out to explore the world. I’ve become a bit addicted to travel, having now backpacked my way to all 7 continents, visiting over 500 towns or cities on route and easily over 80 countries along the way. As well as traveling a lot myself, I like to inspire others to travel and I especially like to prove that you don’t need to be rich to travel. Anyone can do it, if you want it. I left my hometown over a decade now and have proved that working hard in random jobs can take you a long way.

2. Tell us about the ideology behind Don’t Stop Living. How did it start out? Why did you feel the need to start something like this?

“Don’t Stop Living” was always going to happen. I had so many notes, stories and photos from my travels around the UK and Europe that eventually when I worked out how to use computers, I’d be typing stuff online. My motto in life has been “Don’t Stop Living” – a phrase I stole from a High School wall in Toronto in 2001 on one of my early travel adventures. How fitting that on my second trip to Toronto in 2007, I met two other travel bloggers, Lee and Mike and decided there and then to start my blog.

I really just wanted to tell my stories. The early stuff was just me writing about where I went and what I did. These days I try and make it’s more about where I suggest my readers should go and what they can do when they get there. I’ve been a travel blogger for 7 years now, which is even longer than the likes of Wandering Earl and Nomadic Matt, so I hope some of my wisdom and inspiration is rubbing off on my peers. With “Don’t Stop Living”, I really just hope that people read it, enjoy it and live their life to the fullest.

3. What would your advice be for the many travel bloggers just starting out? Three must-dos for a successful travel blog?

 Good question and here’s the three must dos:

  1. Really travel the world (don’t just head to places like Thailand and Australia and try to make yourself out to be a long term traveler – head to places like Iraq, China, Suriname and San Marino and write about places nobody else goes to).
  2. Update your travel blog as often as you can (preferably once or twice a day – keep people inspired constantly – keep writing material – as of now I have 1000 posts unwritten but planned!).
  3. Be yourself.

4. You’ve been to China nineteen times. Is there any special reason you keep visiting the middle kingdom?

Well, there are a lot of reasons, but I’ll make it simple for you:
  • It’s the biggest country in the world so will take a lifetime to explore
  • I have been based in Hong Kong for more or less the past 3 years, so it’s a very very easy place to travel to
  • It’s one of the cheapest countries to travel in
  • It’s off the beaten track completely – I’ve gone days and weeks without seeing other tourists in some of the places I’ve been
  • It’s always a challenge
  • It has hundreds of spectacular sights
  • It’s an easy visa to get (especially the multiple entry one)
  • I want to visit all 29 provinces so until I’m satisfied that I’ve seen every part of China that I want, I will keep going back. (I’ve now been to 13 out of 29 so a long way to go)

On the Upper Trail Hike - Yunnan - China

5. One of your favorite travel quotes is, “Spend your nightlife table-hopping” by Noel Gallagher. Tell us about your most memorable table-hopping night and what this quote means to you in general.

I love it – what a great quote by Noel. It’s actually a very similar sentiment to “don’t stop living” in many ways. Basically, the feeling I get from those words by Noel Gallagher is saying “don’t waste your time”, “meet as many people as you can” and “enjoy yourself”.
I actually prefer pub crawls and pub hopping than “table hopping” so I’ll share with you a crazy time in 2005 where me and a few mates did the Monopoly Pub Crawl. Basically, you have to drink one alcoholic drink on every street on the Monopoly Board, plus we upped the ante and included dares and all the other squares as pubs too, so we had 41 bars to get through. It took us around 36 hours in total and was a crazy weekend but we did it. On the last drink, I was sitting with my mate James, overlooking Trafalgar Square in London thinking “what a great life”. It was a cray time. I hope to organize a similar pub crawl in London this year as part of a big reunion with my mates. Can’t wait. You can guarantee there will be some table-hopping and pub crawling.
Don’t be scared to chat with random people – everyone can be your friend. You’ll never know unless you talk to someone.
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6. Has coming where you’re from affected the way you travel and interact with people? If yes, how?

Yes, completely! I’m from Northern Ireland and it’s a politically charged environment that I grew up in. You learn to live and let live, you learn to hate, you learn what’s wrong and what’s right and you learn to be proud. I’m a proud and patriotic Northern Irishman. I never fail to tell people where I’m from and I always carry my flag with me and wear the national football shirt of our wee country.
Northern Irish people tend to “take no s#it” from other people and I’m the same. I’ll very much get on with my own life and do my own thing without being influenced by others. I’ve no time for daydreamers, lazy people or wannabes. “Take what you need and be on your way, and stop crying your heart out”.
Plus, I believe the troubles in Northern Ireland have made us all stronger, wiser and more sarcastic. I buzz off it. I guess something positive had to come from those years of blowing each other apart.
I’d still love world peace to happen. But history says that “the only way to get peace is to start a war” (my own quote incidentally).

7. Top 5 money-saving tips for the budget traveler.

It’s tough to limit it to 5. If you want more, check out my regular Monday’s Money Saving Tips Series, but here goes:

  1. Stay in the cheapest accommodation options everywhere you go, even if they’re dirty, dingy or dodgy. You’ll enjoy the experiences more and save a lot of money this way.
  2. Avoid taking taxis when you can (I hate taxis and taxi drivers and try to take public transport 100% of the time – only when there are no other options do I take a taxi).
  3. NEVER buy permanent fixtures that are the signs of “settling down” (basically never waste money on things like beds, wardrobes, washing machines etc., – you don’t need them!).
  4. Don’t travel with a mobile phone (you don’t need it – I’ve gone for months without using one and only through peer pressure and my girlfriend’s insistence do I own one).
  5. Be flexible on your dates, and look for the cheapest option, that means don’t be strict to say that you have to fly on the Tuesday to a certain city. Why not get the boat on the Friday to a different city and fly in from there? There’s ALWAYS a cheaper way than the one you’re booking. ALWAYS.

8. You’ve been traveling for quite a while now. And you’ve done a lot of odd jobs while you were at it. Would you like to share some interesting ones with our community?

I’ll share a few. I got into purifying Echinacea on some farms in Forth and Lillico in northern Tasmania. It was a pretty bizarre job. Basically, start work at 7am putting chunks of mud into boxes. Going through the mud to find the actual root Echinacea. Later on, at the farmer’s yard, we’d then dry the roots out, get the Echinacea and it would be put into a machine ready for sending to the suppliers! It was all a bit unusual!

I worked on the cross channel ferries from England to France, which was epic. It was actually like a dream job. Me and my best mate Chris Bilsland from that job used to crack jokes endlessly and have a laugh while working in the restaurant. One day we had a load of customers believing that Barrack Obama was on board the ship in Club Class! The bonus of that job was getting paid to travel, of course. Through the job, I got to see places like northern France, southern England and the island states such as Guernsey and Sark.

I did the UK PR for Apple once when I was an accounts assistant for an agency (Bite) in Hammersmith. The funny thing is, I enjoyed the job, but it was high tempo, stupid working hours and it didn’t suit my travelling lifestyle. I had to sneak breaks away at Easter and Christmas to get my fix. The day after I quit that job was actually the day I was in Toronto and met Lee, who gave me the inspiration to start the travel blog! Times have changed. I now earn more money as a global nomad than I ever did doing PR for Apple.

I’ve also managed a rock band, ran a successful football supporters club, taught English, sold ice cream and worked in countless bars down the years.
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9. You wrote a blog piece about fake travelers and fake travel blogs. What, do you think, makes a fake traveler?

It makes me cringe!! It’s basically all the generic articles and Facebook photos that weren’t taken by the person, nor did they really go there.

In terms of travelling itself, I guess those who only stay in posh hotels (3 star and above), drink in Starbucks and don’t meet the locals don’t get a lot of respect from me, but they are still travelers of course just on a slightly different outlook on how to “see places”.

I prefer to do my cheap backpacking thing and meet the locals! Each to their own.

10. What is your take on the ‘traveler v/s tourist’ debate that has been going on for a while now?

I’m not aware of the debate, but I’ve been both, I love being either and I will continue to be both. I’m a tourist in my own country, I’m a tourist when I visit the really popular places but I’m a traveler everywhere else. That’s normally the way I see it. Anyone that travels can make up their own mind, but it’s the remote countries that do it for me these days.

11. What are your future plans, regarding your travels and Don’t Stop Living?

With Don’t Stop Living – nothing really changes – I’ll just keep writing – I’ve about 1,000 blog posts to write so that’s me sorted on there for another 3 years, plus I also run a site called Crossing World Borders. I might set up a few other side projects on the line for some of my niche travel articles though.

In terms of travel, I plan to crack the 100 country mark by the time I reach 35 (so I have another year to do that). First up will be East Timor. Then I’ll travel in China again and back to Brazil. On the way I hope to have a stop over in London to meet some mates. After Brazil, I’d like to explore Guyana, French Guyana and maybe some of Central America. I never really know where I’m going to end up next though!

12. There has been a boom in websites catering to travel content in the last few years. Which is your favorite travel resource website? What is the one thing that all these websites tend to miss?

You can’t look beyond the likes of Nomadic Matt, Wandering Earl and Johnny Ward. Three passionate travelers who have worked hard to get where they are. I respect them all a lot and hope that someday I can live a lifestyle similar to theirs supported entirely by their travel experience – you never know where life will take you. They would be my top 3. I also like the Boots’n'All website as a tremendous resource.

Joburg Beer in Soweto  Shebeen

13. Best city for drinking?

I can’t pick one so I’ll pick three: Belfast, Bournemouth and Sydney. They all have great pubs, a bit of live music, happy people and are great places to relax and enjoy life.

14. Best city for food-lovers?

Gosh – I’m not a food freak at all and have no real idea on this!!! Sao Paulo in Brazil was pretty eclectic, mixed and the food was always top notch so I guess I’ll go with Sao Paulo!

15. Any messages for the Tripoto community?

Yes – I really want to encourage people to travel more to the unknown places – you will meet cooler people, mingle with more locals and get truly mind-blowing experiences which you cannot get by following the over done tourist trail.

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