Money

How one 33-year-old went from welfare to making over $1 million traveling the world

After graduating from university in England, Johnny Ward booked a one-way flight to New York City. "I literally left 12 hours after my last exam," he tells CNBC. "And then I never really came home. That was about ten-and-a-half years ago."

Ward, who grew up on welfare in Ireland, has always been fascinated with travel. "We had three TV channels when I was a kid and I would end up watching all these travel shows," he says.

"I would see the Great Wall of China or the Sydney Opera House and just looking at them, it could be another planet it was so unattainable to a 13-year-old kid in Ireland. I was itching to have that freedom. The freedom to choose where to go, talk to who I want to talk to and be who I want to be."

As of January 2017, Johnny Ward has traveled to 194 countries
Courtesy of Johnny Ward
As of January 2017, Johnny Ward has traveled to 194 countries

He worked as a summer camp counselor in the U.S. and then taught English in Asia for two years, making about $650 a month and living on $10 to $15 a day. Whatever he managed to save went towards travel.

"But realistically, for me, this teaching for peanuts, saving a little money and hitting the road wasn't a long-term solution," he writes on his blog, OneStep4Ward. "I wanted the freedom, I wanted this lifestyle but I couldn't live my life with no financial security."

That's where blogging came in. Ward, who admits his tech skills are "non-existent," paid someone $100 to build his site, which went live in 2010. His $100 investment turned into a million-dollar company.

A photo posted by Johnny Ward (@onestep4ward) on

"Within six months I was making $500 a month; another three or four months, it was $1,000," he writes. "I was now making more money from blogging than I had made teaching English."

By the end of 2012, he was making up to $40,000 a month. "I had to turn the PayPal notifications off my phone!" he tells CNBC. "It was surreal. It's still so surreal."

Ward started to think bigger. He hired someone to help him build five more sites and then started buying sites. He's now bought over 100 of them, hired a team to help him manage them and created his own digital media company, Step4WardMedia, which has earned over $1 million.

A photo posted by Johnny Ward (@onestep4ward) on

While his income has skyrocketed, his lifestyle remains simple. "I eat street food and go to a local gym," he tells CNBC. "I don't live that high-end lifestyle."

His biggest purchase has been an apartment in Bangkok, which he bought three years ago for $90,000 in cash. He also started a charity, Give Back Give Away, which focuses on community development projects.

A photo posted by Johnny Ward (@onestep4ward) on

When he's not at his homebase in Thailand, he's traveling and pursuing his goal of visiting all 196 countries, which he'll likely achieve in early 2017. Two countries remain: Yemen, which he hopes to hit this week, and Norway, where he'll throw a celebratory party.

But the celebration in Norway won't mark an end to traveling, Ward says: "It's a big part of my life. My whole life is one big trip."

He advises people who want to lead a similar life to start a blog. "The worst case scenario is that you have a diary, which is cool anyways for your grand-kids in 100 years," he tells CNBC. "And the best case scenario is people read it, it gets popular and you can monetize it and leverage your position with brands.

"I'm not even a very good writer or photographer, but I'm honest and I'm passionate about what I do. As long as you're honest, passionate, and willing to take a risk, anyone can do what I've done."