Jonny Blair grew up in Bangor, Northern Ireland before leaving his hometown over a decade ago to travel the world. He has travelled to more than 100 countries across all 7 continents. Jonny has worked in bars, farms, theatres, shops and schools, and has studied in England, China, Australia and Uruguay.
Through his successful travel and lifestyle blog 'Dont Stop Living', Jonny hopes to encourage people to travel and see the world. The blog contains his wonderful tales of backpacking in Azerbaijan, hitch hiking through Iraq, swimming in Antarctica, sky diving in New Zealand and a lot more. On his blog, Jonny also shares travel tips, visa tips and money saving advice for travellers. He has appeared on several renowned media outlets including the BBC, Wanderlust and the Belfast Telegraph.
Read on to know more about this backpacker and travel blogger from Bangor
You have been living a lifestyle of travel for twelve years now. How have you grown as a traveller between your first and the most recent travel?
Deep down I'm the same person but I've grown in experience. I would say the most important things I have learned are that travelling is cheaper than staying in the same place, travelling should never have an "end" to it and that travelling means something different to every person you meet. These days I'm more aware of situations I find myself in. I know about prices of things, best ways to change money, easiest ways to get visas, best flight routes etc. I'm less naive than when I started. I'm more aware of political situations, currency issues, I'm less likely to follow the backpacking must sees. It's always a learning curve - we learn a lot as we travel, every single day.
Tell us three things you always have in mind when you plan a long haul travel?
I wouldn't really think of "three things" straight out but I always say that planning ahead is not a good thing. As plans always change. Over the years I have lost money on flights I didn't take and tours I didn't go on, because I tried to plan in advance too much. I would say don't plan in advance as you never know where you will end up. If pushed to name three things you should have when you travel then it's time, money and freedom or passion, confidence and enthusiasm. By freedom I mean having a mind without bounds or borders - you are free to go wherever you please. In fact the only three things you need are passion, confidence and enthusiasm (PCE). With that hat-trick the others will all fall into place anyone, so get your PCE on and get out there!
What inspired you to choose Tunisia for your 100th real life backpacking country?
It was a calculated choice using a process of elimination. My girlfriend and I had been to six continents together but not yet Africa so it had to be an African country to make it a double celebration. That narrowed it down to 55 countries. It also had to be a new country that neither of us had been to. That narrowed it down to about 40. We were both in Europe when I hit country 99, so we decided on north Africa and for ease of flight it left Algeria, Libya and Tunisia only as the other countries my girlfriend had been to before. The Algerian Embassy were a nightmare with the visas, the flights to Libya were dearer so Tunisia was the easy way out! We planned to relax there and in honesty it's one of my least favourite countries out the first century.
You say you are "still a mega budget backpacker". How do you make choices - destinations, accommodation, food, things to do, local transport etc? How do you go about accommodating expensive choices in your travel itinerary?
Yes I'm a budget backpacker, but I'll always have my luxury budget set aside for beer and football and that won't change! In terms of choices, I really just pick somewhere and get there and see when I'm there what I can do. It only falls into place when I'm in a city and speaking to the people there. I'll be honest and say there is no real advance planning at all! I won't know what I'll see until I get there. Besides I don't really want to waste time planning travel, I just want to travel! I hate time wasting. If I sleep on an airport floor for a night, eat snack food from supermarkets and get the cheapest buses, I can easily justify a few pints of Guinness and a football match. I avoid taxis as best I can. Budgeting becomes second nature when you've done it for years. Even when I get a complimentary night in a swanky four star hotel, I'll take the breakfast fruit and yoghurts for my lunch and I'll walk everywhere rather than pay for a taxi. A real business traveller turns up in a football shirt and shorts with a map, a laptop for travel writing and loads of passion. A business traveller wearing a shirt and tie is all about image and I can rough it better than they can yet still stay in the same posh hotel as them on my budget as I've earned a freebie!
You have written a lot about Antarctica, your favourite continent. How was your backpacking experience away from the civilisation?
It was breathtaking. A land of sheer beauty. A land of superlatives. The coldest, driest, windiest continent. The only continent with zero human murders. I did a special 13 day tour back in 2010 and it really changed my life. For a start, I met my girlfriend there! Just head to my Antarctica page to read all my stories on it -
Antarctica can be an expensive place to travel. As a backpacker, how did you manage it?
I just worked hard and saved for it. I also booked the cheapest bed in the cheapest cabin I could find at the time (which was about $5,000 AUD). I was living in my tent and hardly spending any money for a few months when I lived in Tasmania. I was working 12 hours a day, 7 days a week on broccoli farms. After a month or so of doing that, I could easily afford the trip to Antarctica. All you need to do is work hard and budget hard.
You have worked in countless jobs during your travels. What have been the most interesting jobs that you have taken to fund your travels?
Almost every job I have had has been interesting! I've worked in farms, banks, offices, schools, hotels, bars and on my laptop. One of my favourite jobs was working on the Cross Channel ferries between England and France. Through that job I got paid to travel every day! I would head to work, head to a new country and I loved it. One my days off I also got to tour some remote places like Herm and Sark. When I lived in Tasmania, I worked as a pyrethrum planter. Literally 8 hours a day on a field just planting this insecticide plant! Around the same time I was harvesting and purifying echinacea on farms in the north of Tasmania. It was so remote and rewarding. Views at work for sunset were incredible. I also once worked in the bar in a theatre and conference centre and got to meet some minor celebrities like Britt Ekland, Daniel O'Donnell and Derek Acorah. I saw Avril Lavigne's changing room and wardrobe one day, so I saw her knickers! But not while she was wearing them. I got free entry to an Oasis gig once. On my travels I have also dressed smart working as a welcome host for Internations events in Hong Kong. Some of my more recent jobs have involved compiling travel apps for Smart Phones, being an online Travel Advisor and Copywriting for hotel companies.
Which destination have you visited the most? Do you plan your trip differently when you are familiar with the place?
Apart from Northern Ireland and England, the place I have visited the most is China. Since my first trip there in 2007, I have been back over 20 times and I have toured 13 of the provinces. Each time I want to explore a different part. I do plan slightly differently for China. It's hard to get by language wise, so I bring more maps, travel books and plan some of my travel ideas in advance. They still always change though. Once you get to some remote town in the middle of nowhere, you just want to stay a few nights to chill out before getting a rocky bus through towns you've never heard of in the hope that you might somehow return to civilisation. China is always a challenge, as long as you avoid the big cities. Despite my love for China, I don't like Beijing or Shanghai at all. I'm more a fan of the remote parts like Jiangling, Changsha, Danxiashan and the Fujian Tulou. I currently run a few Chinese based websites so I'm always wanted to learn more about the world's most populated country!
"I haven't paid an actual bill in about 6 years." How do you manage to stay in hostels, hotels, tents, bed and breakfasts, guesthouses, home stays, with friends, with family and not pay any bills?
Ha ha - that quote refers to "bills" such as gas bills, council tax, electric bills, TV licences etc. And yes it's over 6 years since I've paid any bills or signed any fixed term rent contracts. When you're a nomad, hotels and hostels never ask you to contribute towards bills. When I stay with friends and family, often I'll buy them some food or something as a gift or a way to say thankyou, but if they charge me for rent or bills for a few nights, they wouldn't be real friends or family right? I hate contracts but most of all I hate deposits with a passion. I refuse to pay deposits for anything as it's dead money once you pay up. I'll just use another company. If I'm staying in a hostel and they ask me for a deposit to cover the room key, I'll tell them I don't need the key. There will always be someone in the hostel to let you in and I lock my own stuff away in lockers and bags anyway. The last 2-3 years I've also worked closely with hotels and hostel chains and they provide me with accommodation most of the time. Until I decide to stay in the same place, I won't be signing any contracts or paying bills and if you want to really travel, the only way to do it is to avoid paying bills and avoid signing a contract that keeps you in the same place.
You have a fear of settling down and never stayed longer than 3 months in any one place without at least a trip abroad. How did you manage to stay in Australia for 1 whole year, which you say is an exception?
I think there are a number of reasons for that and many fellow backpackers would probably agree with them. One is that Australia is just so isolated and far away from everywhere else that once you get there, you feel you should stay and enjoy all it has to offer rather than leave soon. I don't know any backpackers who have done 2 weeks in Australia, most stay for much longer. Another reason is the visa issue. I was there on a Working Holiday Visa and to leave during it would seem outrageous, as you lose time on the visa and money you can earn, so I stayed exactly the length of my first Working Holiday (and later returned for a second working holiday). Another reason is the money aspect. When you work and live in Australia, you can save so much money. I remember one week I earned $1,200 AUD on a broccoli farm, yet I only spent $60 AUD, so a profit of $1,140. Pretty amazing at the time, so it would have seemed ridiculous to leave and so I didn't - I stayed an entire year. In fact it's the only year of my adult life where I stayed in the one country!
You can find Jonny's blog at dontstopliving.net and connect with him on Twitter and Facebook
This interview with Jonny Blair is a part of Travel Trolley's ongoing 'Best of the Travel Bloggers' series. We are interviewing popular travel bloggers who encourage and inspire people to travel. Check out all the bloggers we have interviewed and learn about their interesting experiences, adventures, travel stories as well as useful holiday tips