From Backpacking to Digital Nomad: Jonny's Story

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Welcome to this Travel Lifestyle Interview Series where we’ve had the pleasure of speaking with Jonny from Don’t Stop Living. Jonny has had some amazing travel experiences in both popular and not-so-common destinations. Check out our Q&A with him as he gives some insight into the digital nomad lifestyle, advice for just living and enjoying life, and how he’s ended up in some of the untouched travel gems in the world.

1. How and when did you discover the digital nomad lifestyle?

Sometimes, idea of being a digital nomad doesn't click right away; it's a gradual transformation.

My travel blog began in 2007 when I backpacked Canadainfo-icon. I met two other travel bloggers in a hostel in Toronto and then started my own travel blog. My original blog was known as Don't Stop Living and was successful until 2016. Since then I have switched my niche to the Polish market. I run Northern Irishman In Poland now. But it was all an accident. I only wanted to be a tourist, writer and backpacker back in 2007 and be happy and healthy. The rest was all fate...

So, for me becoming a Digital Nomad happened by chance and I certainly didn't want it or dream of it. Anyone that wanted it and started a digital nomad life for that reason is a fake. Hard work, real travel and honest friends brought me here. I despise those who start a travel blog in order to make money or become a digital nomad. Many of those buck “eejits” (idiots) have fallen by the wayside. Honesty and passion wins. You don't just say "today I will be a digital nomad". You work hard at it and earn it. 

"Would the real slim shady please stand up"- Eminem.

"Spend your night lifetable hoping and trying to keep your bag of bones in trim"- Noel Gallagher. 

2. What about being a digital nomad made it preferred as opposed to a "traditional job"? Do you still use the same skills?

Jonny doesn't limit himself when it comes to jobs while traveling.

The thing is, I will work anywhere so I don't limit myself like many digital nomads. It is as traditional of a job as a butcher or banker. All jobs are traditional as nobody has a divine right to define normal or tradition. If I'm offered a job in a shoe shop tomorrow and it suits me, I'll take it. And so should you. We're a long-time dead. Yes, I use the same skills I always used. I was writing travel articles in the 1980s. I was writing books and fanzines in the 1990s. I do the same now, except I go "whackpacking" a bit more now.

"Hats off to the insane" - Therapy?

"It's twelve o' clock till midnight; there must be someone to blame" - Manic Street Preachers.

3. Can you share some tips on balancing work and life while traveling full-time? 

Be a tourist every day, even in places you call home, to fully immerse yourself in the freshness of our world.

Yes.

Work every day. Travel every day. Live every day. I like an equal mix. Too much work without travel isn't healthy. Too much travel without work also isn't healthy.

Also, be a tourist everyday. Always be a tourist. In your home town. Down the pub. At the restaurant. On the tube. Always feel you are the tourist and everything feels fresh, new, exciting and "wacaday".*

*crazy in a wacky touristic way. Copyright-a-thoned by Timmy Mallet in the 1980s.

"Be a tourist in the war zone"- Richey James Edwards.

4. What has been your favorite destination to visit and why?

Jonny loves Belfast because of its culture, friends and football.

"All these places feel like home"- Snow Patrol. 

If I have to choose one, I'll pick Belfast in Northern Irelandinfo-icon. It's a vibrant city with a torn history. A lot of my friends and family live there (or nearby) and it houses 2 of my favourite football teams - Glentoran FC and the Northern Ireland international football team. I love it. It should be first on everyone's tourist list.

If I am allowed a hat trick I will choose Neko Harbour in Antarctica for its sheer beauty of landscape and Gdańsk in Polandinfo-icon for its history yet completely modernized vibe in some of my favorite cafes and bars. Both deserve a visit.

"I'm so excited, I can't wait to meet you there"- Kurt Cobain.

5. How do you decide your next destination to travel?

Friends, football and work are the greatest influencers of Jonnys' travel destination choice.

"Move closer. Set my mind on fire"- Tim Wheeler.

I normally look at a map and pick a cheap and easy new place I've never been to before. The less people have heard of it, the better. I recently toured Zalipie, Ballyhalbert, Romkerhall, Grand Bassam and Terri. I want to go where nobody else goes.

Other times a friend, family member, work colleague or even fake friend may influence me. I backpacked Guasca in Colombiainfo-icon thanks to a friend, Julio. I visited Liverpool thanks to my brother. I toured Brunt Island thanks to a work friend. I toured tranquil Kokoszkowy thanks to a fake friend.

TV can also influence me. I watched Michael Palin documentaries as a child and I often backpack to Palin spots as part of a pilgrimage. 

Football also influences me. I backpacked Faroe Islands, Preston, Grodig, Lyon and Azerbaijaninfo-icon due to my football obsession.

In fact, there are many other things that dictate my travels. I went on tours to Gdynia, Senegalinfo-icon, Tanzaniainfo-icon and Palestineinfo-icon because of work.

6. What is your reason for traveling?

Meeting people on your travels is a great way to experience other lifestyles and wisen up a bit.

"Moving, just keep moving"- Supergrass.

Life is boring when you stay in the same place. It becomes routine and repetitive and that bores the sunshine out of me.

I also travel to places just to meet friends. It's a big reason. Every friend I met on my journey I wanted to visit their towns or villages. The more unusual and obscure the better. This led me to places like Biskupiec (Poland), Chia (Colombia) and Shahr e Kord (Iraninfo-icon).

I also love to visit unrecognized and lesser known countries. I have recently toured The Kingdom of Romkerhall, The Sovereign Military Order of Maltainfo-icon, Lovely, Podjistan and Karakalpakstan. In 2015 I was the first ever tourist in Austenasia.

"If it exists as a place, I'll go to It" - Jonny Blair.

7. Advice for people interested in being a digital nomad?

Be passionate and energetic about the things you do, and do your own thing!

"You're wasting your time and my time as well" - The Seahorses.

Don't trust anyone you meet because there are so many nasty liars and “GuruGods” out there. Do your own thing, be selfish. Be passionate. Be honest. Be real. Be energetic. Also, if someone lies to you or does something wrong, name and shame them. Be in control. Be the boss and don't follow any other tourist trends or fads. Don't spend time on people who waste your time. Expose liars.

It's your world. Not theirs. This is your life and you are world leader pretend.

" Times running out the door you're running in " - Ian McCullough.


Jonny Blair is a long term travel writer, perpetual tourist, blogger and football supporter. Jonny grew up in the seaside resort of Bangor in Northern Ireland but his global adventures have seen him live in Australiainfo-icon, Uruguay, Englandinfo-icon, Kyrgyzstaninfo-icon, Poland and Hong Kong. With 30 years writing experience in football, travel and music, Jonny is a veteran writer with a taste for the unusual and quirky. Jonny's 163 country journey around the world saw him attend over 500 football matches, tour monasteries in Afghanistaninfo-icon, hitch-hike in Iraq and visit disputed regions unrecognised by the UN. Jonny is an avid football fan of Glentoran FC, AFC Bournemouth and Northern Ireland. Jonny is currently based in Poland but is never far away from another adventure and runs travel blogs in several niches.

Check out his recent journeys on his website, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

Bryan Shelmon a freelance writer for aSabbatical.com
The best part about travelling is experiencing completely different ways of living that make you appreciate life even more.