Wish you were here?

Despite travelling the world for 12 months himself, Niall Doherty feels like a novice compared to two hardy, intrepid Irishmen

I’M a 30-year-old man from Slieverue, County Kilkenny, writing to you from a cottage in Kathmandu, the latest stop on a four-year trip around the world without flying. In the past 12 months, I’ve stepped in 15 countries, three times the number I’d visited in my previous years.

My life isn’t sunshine and rainbows, but I’m rarely short on adventure. I could tell you stories of flirting in Amsterdam, presenting a workshop in Zurich, getting trapped in Romania, running out of cash in Iran, learning to dance on the Indian Ocean, making love in Delhi.

I’m not rich. I fund this vagabond lifestyle by working online (web design, mostly). Month-to-month, I’m earning half what I did at the office job I quit two years ago. Everything I own fits into a 42-litre backpack.

Earning and owning less was a choice; I exchanged the steady paycheck and the big-screen TV for more time and more freedom.

I’m an amateur here. Two other Irishmen are further along the alternative lifestyle path. Benny Lewis is a 30-year-old language hacker from Cavan. He speaks ten languages (including the Gaeilge) and has lived ‘everywhere’ from Rio to Taipei. In 2003, he graduated college in Ireland and moved to Spain for a “quick” internship. He discovered his defining passion, languages, while learning to speak Spanish.

Benny funded his travels by working in a hostel, as a yoga-shop manager, electronic engineer, mathematics teacher, English teacher, and freelance translator. For the past two years, he’s supported himself via his popular website,www.fluentin3months.com, which attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors each month and provides tips on language learning. Recently, Benny has travelled through Taiwan and China while learning Mandarin, has spoken at a conference in the United States, and brushed up on his American sign language.

Then, there’s 28-year-old Johnny Ward. Abroad since finishing university in 2006, the County Down native has visited more than 80 countries. He started out teaching English in Thailand and now earns a living via advertising revenue from travel websites, the mothership of which is his blog, onestep4ward.com. He employs a full-time writer, a programmer and a virtual assistant.

From hitchhiking on cargo boats in the Mekong to having rocks thrown at him by old men in Somalia, Johnny has crazy stories to tell. This summer, he’s been winding his way back to Ireland overland from Southeast Asia. In July, he toured Eastern Europe while working less than ten hours per week and earning €8,000.

I know what you’re thinking: To travel the world indefinitely, running online ‘empires’ and earning good money, both of these guys are either exceptionally smart or exceptionally lucky.

“A lot of people assume you’re from a wealthy family, with a monthly stipend being lodged in your account, or, maybe, you won a chunk of cash on the Lotto and you’re keeping it quiet, but that’s not the case at all,” says Johnny. “Then, when they discover that you work online, it switches and they assume you’re the next Mark Zuckerberg, which is probably even further from the truth ... I’m a finance grad, so I’m awful with computers.”

Benny tells a similar story.

What is it, then, that allows these guys to live dream lifestyles? One answer is a willingness to forgo the safe and familiar. “I like unconventional living, because it’s unpredictable and uncertain,” says Benny. “You learn to think on your feet and come up with new rules. Diplomas don’t matter, who you know doesn’t matter. It’s how flexible you are to what the world throws at you, and how you can go with the flow, that matters.”

Another key, says Johnny, is to act in accordance with your priorities: “Anyone willing to take a chance can live this lifestyle. If you need the security of a salary, a microwave dinner and Coronation Street, then, no, it’s not for you. But if chilling in a hammock in Thailand, or watching the sunset in the Serengeti, is more important than who wins the next Big Brother, then this is definitely something you can achieve.”

There are downsides to lives of travel and adventure. While Benny and Johnny regularly visit family and friends at home — Benny has never missed a Cavan Christmas — they more often live in strange lands without a reliable support network.

Says Benny: “I do genuinely worry that if something bad happens to me, unlike back home, I won’t have anyone to bail me out of a tricky situation, someone to visit me in hospital, a shoulder to physically cry on, and the like. It means that you have to be incredibly independent in this lifestyle.”

There’s the challenge of balancing romance and travel. Johnny says his romantic encounters from his first several years on the road were “fleeting.” But having made Bangkok his home base for four-to-five months each year, he is in a committed “proper” relationship, even if a good chunk of it has to be conducted long-distance.

Benny has no such place to which he regularly returns for an extended stretch, and thus continues to find romance a challenge. “I’ve accepted it as a necessary downside to this lifestyle and will continue what I’m doing for a couple of more years. Then, I will look into a semi-nomadic lifestyle of a home base and building longer-term relationships, especially with one girl. I consider this period in my life continued education and firmly believe it will all, ultimately, make me a better long-term boyfriend, husband, father, etc, when the right time comes,” he says.

Likewise, Johnny says he’ll eventually live a more rooted existence, though he doubts he’ll shake the travel bug: “Travel will always be a big part of my life, and, although I mightn’t jet off for eight months at a time when I’m 50, I’ll certainly still be hitting the road, backpack strapped and venturing to some unknown place, maybe with wife and kids in tow.”

So, for the next few years at least, you can expect both of these chaps to continue wandering freely around the globe, working from their laptops, earning a good living, and experiencing enough adventure to last multiple lifetimes. Indeed, these are rich Irish men, but of a new and fascinating breed.


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