My 2016 Review – 30 countries, $200k+, 64 flights!
As the new year bounces in with all too familiar hangovers and false promises, I think it’s important to take a while and reflect on our previous year. Too often, we get caught up in the hectic nature of life in the 21st century and we forget about our goals, our achievements, our mistakes. January gets filled up with new gym memberships, quitting booze and trying to cut back on scrolling through FaceBook feeds, all of which are great things but how long will they last without genuine reflection? With that in mind, I want to pause my new year’s resolutions for today and instead look back at what happened in my 2016 and check out my #travelgoals.
To appreciate where we’ve come from helps us as we move forward further still, so I’d hugely recommend everyone, bloggers or not, to sit down and think about the year you’ve had. What did you do right, what did you do wrong, what you’re proud of. More often that not, upon considered reflection you’ll have accomplished a lot more than you think. It’s a great way to motivate yourself for the year ahead, and on the off chance that 2016 didn’t work out well for you? Well, you have to own that shit. You wasted a year, it’s painful, but if acknowledging the grim reality prevents it from reoccurring, then it’s instantly transformed into a positive thing. So get out your iPads, laptops or the good old pen and paper and get writing. Here’s my year in review to get us started:
Traveling to every country in the world is a lot harder than most people think. I get a lot of messages saying if people had the time and money they’d do it too, but honestly time and money are way down the list of things you need to achieve it.
Also, I actually want to travel the world, explore the countries, have experiences in them, meet locals and have adventures. This has made my goal a hell of a lot harder to complete. I’m sure you’ve seen the pretty blonde American girl trying to become the fastest (wtf?!) person to visit all the countries. Nearly 200 countries in about 400 days or so. Wow. Airports and airport hotels. Or a travel friend of mine who I really like, swanky hotels, flying in and out (remeber Book Cheapest Flights Online), no hostels, no long bus journeys, NO STORIES! For me, when I finish I want to feel like I’ve explored the world, not ticked boxes with an hour across a border and onto the next one. Also, my personal rule is that I need to get a visa and actually enter the country. Recently I physically crossed the border in Yemen, tried to bribe my way into the country but the border guard wasn’t having it. I know a 99% of the people who have visited ‘every country in the world’ count those few steps as visiting the country, and move onto the next one. That’s not for me, so back to the Yemeni drawing board I go.
So I started 2016 on 186/197 countries. I remember reaching 50 countries, back in 2011 or 2012 and thinking “Wow, quarter of the world, that was pretty easy!“, then reaching 100 and thinking something similar. But in reality you’re only getting started, it becomes progressively more difficult as you reach 100-150, and then 150-197. You have to earn it, and that’s why I love it. So how did I do? Ok, I’d score myself 6/10 I guess. I wanted to finish the journey in 2016 but I failed, I just couldn’t get visas for Saudi Arabia or Yemen, so here I am stuck on 194/197.
2016 though, my travels were amazing. Some of my best ever travel experiences were had in 2016. I visited 13 or 14 new countries (the least amount of new countries since 2011) and 30 countries in total:
Libya: A brilliant experienced in a war-torn country, ISIS moving in and through the kindest of a stranger, and a huge leap of faith, I managed to visit Libya this year. You can read more about it here.
Eritrea: A huge moment for me completing my 54th of 54 countries on the African continent. I’ve spent the best part of 2 years in Africa (2012 and 2015), overlanding for the most part, and a great trip in Eritrea ‘finished’ the continent for me. Huge thanks to Tekeste and Gareth for bypassing hellish visa procedures for me. If you’ve never heard of Eritrea, check it out here.
Afghanistan: A beautiful country with a turbulent past. And oh, yeah, I took my mum to Afghanistan for her holiday. Seriously, check it out here! I also met a reader from OneStep4Ward.com here too, an inspiring feminist artist in a country where that would be extremely difficult. Amazing.
Turkmenistan: Bucket list territory with this one. I have dreamed of visiting Turmenistan to see the ‘Gates of Hell’ forever, finally this year I got to see it, check out a video I made below and a blog post here.
Pakistan: I promise I’ll write a blog post about an amazing trip to Pakistan soon, but for now let me just say a MASSIVE thanks to Faisal and his family for getting me into the country, calling in favours and showing amazing hospitality. I’m humbled by the help I’ve had on this journey.
Palau: The Pacific islands is by far the most expensive region of the world to visit, back in 2013 I backpacked through Papua New Guinea, Fiji, Vanuatu, Samoa, Tonga and the Solomon islands. It cost me a fortune and I had just begun making money blogging for a year or so, so I was scared it was going to end every day so I cut my trip short. Now I was back to finish my Pacific Island trips – I had 6 countries to visit and I spent about 2 months in paradise. Palau was the most developed by a distance and was a great way to start.
Micronesia: Beautiful Micronesia was next, where I even managed to meet another OneStep4Ward.com reader, wow! Also, I met a really nice guy on a journey to every country in the world too, David from World Adventurr. Hiking mountains, swimming in untouched waters, it was beautiful.
Marshall Islands: Perhaps the most beautiful country on this little trip, untouched and tiny. And all these places are so safe, beautiful.
Kiribati: I met another OneStep4Ward.com reader here too, and met some great expats so after a while on the road it was nice to be able to chat sport and drink beers again with similar cultures. I loved Kiribati actually, but it was more to do with the companionship than the country, which is tiny and of course beautiful as with all the Pacific island countries but not so much to see or do here.
Nauru: Another bucket list item here for you guys. Officially the least visited country in the world, and the smallest fully independent nation in the world! It was super expensive to get here ($1800 for return flights from Fiji, about 2 hours each way) and it has a tarnished reputation thanks to the Australian immigration camps being based here. Still, it’s a fascinating place and you can run around a whole country in a few hours if you’re up to it, wild dogs et al, I was stupid enough to attempt it, and it was hard – read about it here!
Tuvalu: My last Pacific country, a gorgeous little island that may not be here in a few years due to rising sea levels. At some points the country is about 3m wide, it has to be seen to be believed. Most of the ‘every country in the world people’ skip Tuvalu or spend 10 minutes (seriously!) here because the flight lands and leaves again within minutes. I wouldn’t count that, so you have no choice but to stay a few days in the tiny town. It’s cool to explore though and I met some fun people here. Oh, and the runway is their main road, it’s closed when flights take off and land.
Somalia: In my obsessive quest to visit every country in the world, I had visited Northern Somalia before, back in 2012. The area is called Somaliland and I had a run in with a terrorist and some bootleg alcohol, brilliant experience believe it or not, read about it here! However, Somaliland is pretty much an independent country – it’s own Government, own currency, own flag. It’s not recognised internationally for political reasons but in all honesty, for me to visit Somaliland and count it as Somalia proper was cheating, and I did it because Mogadishu is too scary to go to. 2016 came along and I put that right. I visited Mogadishu properly, 4 days, bombs in the air, gunfire going off, it was crazy, but I did it.
Oman: A beautiful, beautiful country, one that I’d happily spent months in. I stayed in one of the best hotels of my life there, the Chedi, Muscat (wow!), and showed my mum some serious VIP luxury (sometimes you have to enjoy the fruits of your labour, and my mum deserves it). This is also where I rented a car and tried to bribe my way into Yemen from. I failed, but Oman was breathtaking.
Gibraltar: Not one of the 197 countries, but a separate nation in some sense of the world. I was in Dublin for the Blogger Conf and wanted to take my mum somewhere with nice weather so we had a quick 3 day trip in Gibraltar aboard the Sunborn superyacht hotel, fun times.
Travel fails? Saudi rejected my visa more times than I care to think and in Yemen my bribery attempt at the border failed at attempt 1, followed by a second visit to Oman to try again where my permit for a private charter flight being cancelled pretty much as we were at the airport. Gutted.
Other countries visited in 2016: I also. visited another 16 countries that I’ve been to before too:
Ireland: Now my businesses are afloat, I spend a lot more time in Ireland and the UK each year to see friends and family. I was in and out 3 times in 2016. New Years Eve in Dublin, showing my mum some luxury in Northern Ireland, and spending time in my home town of Kilkeel. There’s no place like home and I love going back. I also keynote presented at Ireland’s premier blogging conference, Blogger Conf and it was a brilliant experience, would love to do it again in 2017.
UK: Visiting my sister in London is something I look forward to immensely and seeing my nephew and niece is a beautiful thing, I was in London 3 times in 2016 and hopefully it’ll be at least that again in 2017. I also did some property investment there, more on that later.
Dubai/UAE: Transiting to Eritrea, transiting to Afghanstan, transitting to Oman. I LOVE Dubai, really. It has every reason to hate it, but for some reason I love it, and would happily live there for a while. I’m in and out of Dubai multiple times throughout the year transitting on my travels.
Turkey: I was invited to Istanbul for the World Travel Forum, an event keynoted by the Turkish President (for better or worse, cough cough). It was a brilliant place to meet some awesome bloggers, and I was proud to be invited. Istanbul is one of my favourite cities in the world, and I could eat kebabs and baklava for breakfast lunch and dinner.
Thailand: My adopted home! As many of you know when my blogging money took off I bought an apartment here in Bangkok 3 years agoc so it’s very much my new base. I also visited Chiang Rai ( you have to see the White Temple here to believe it!), Hua Hin, Kanchanaburi, Amphawa, Pu Chi Fah ( on the Laos border, home to Thailand’s most beautiful sunrise spot), Koh Chang this year in Thailand, such an gorgeous country and I feel very privileged to spend so much time here.
The Philippines: Palawan. 5 days exploring the west of Palawan at Sabang Beach. We had an wonderful time, and the Philippines is without doubt one of the top 10 countries in the world to visit.
Fiji: Transitting twice on my Pacific island trip, who doesn’t love Fiji?!
Australia: Sydney. I used to live in Sydney and it’s one of my favourite cities in the world. I was visiting 2 of my best friends here, and managed to do some indoor skydiving in Sydney in a kind of wind tunnel thing, so much fun.
Singapore: I went to Singapore on a ‘Lost Luggage Challenge’ with MoneySuperMarket.com, so I literally went there with NOTHING for 3 days, no bags, no toiletries, no toothbrush! It was lots of fun to do that.
Switzerland: Geneva. I was trying to fly to France for the European Football Championships for which both Republic of Ireland (my country of birth) and Northern Ireland (where I grew up) had qualified. Our flights were cancelled so we flew last minute to Geneva to avoid missing the first game, and then took an UBER from Switzerland to France, crazy times.
France: Paris and Lyon. Amazing experiences following Northern Ireland for our first every Euro finals with some of my oldest, closest friends, I’ll never forget this 2 crazy weeks.
Hong Kong: I love HK, absolutely love it. I wanted to take my mum on her first ever Biz Class flight, so we flew with Hong Kong Airlines and then spent a few days in Hong Kong and Macau, she had a awesome time.
Macau: Part of my Hong Kong trip with my mum, fascinating place. Vegas of the east for sure.
Cambodia: I started a charity called the GiveBackGiveAway.com along with a friend, and this year we ran it in Cambodia and Thailand. More on that below but we visited Battambang and Siem Reap, one of the best trips of my life.
India: A spectacular trip with my girlfriend. I hadn’t been to these parts of India since 2008 when I was liviing on $10 a day for accommodation, transport, activities and food. It was so nice to be back again but to see it from a different side. Delhi, Agra, Varanasi were all truly, truly eye opening. I spent Christmas overlooking the Taj Mahal, pretty special.
Oman: Again. I love Oman but this time I was stuck in Salalah for almost 3 days waiting for our permit to fly to Yemen to be re-issued by the Saudi Airforce. It was never was, the trip failed. Quite a big waste of time and money but you gotta buy a ticket to win the lottery! I’ll try again next month, and then in February and again in March. Yemen, I’m coming for you.
Phew, that was all my travel in 2016! It didn’t feel as busy as it sounds, which is exactly why I think it’s important to take stock at times like this. That was a lot of flights (64 to be precise!) and I had a lot of life-changing, humbling experiences. I’m grateful to be able to live like this, but there’s absolutely no reason why you can’t to, if that’s what you want. Hope you’re drawing up your reflection list as you read.
Enough of travels, that was tiring just writing it let alone reliving it. So business time. I kind of have 4 projects running at the moment, so let’s break it down:
OneStep4Ward.com: The blog that started this whole new life for me, my baby. When I started OneStep4Ward.com back in 2009 I had no idea that blogging could be a career, that it could be a business, that you could inspire thousands of people from every corner of the globe and every walk of life. If a tech-idiot like me, with average writing abilities, subpar photography skills, and a penchant for laziness and partying too hard, can create his dream life, then you can too. I’m so proud of that message because I know it’s true. So how did OneStep4Ward.com pan out in 2016? Pretty well.
My social media numbers grew a fair bit so now it’s almost 200, 000 across my FaceBook page, Instagram, and Twitter. That was helped hugely when companies like CNN and BBC had ran features on my travels and online blogging (it is absolutely crazy to see yourself in those publications, seriously). My traffic increased too but nowhere near as much as it should have, I’m such an unprofessional blogger and it’s something I aim to improve on in 2016. The thought of millions of people each year on your website blows your mind, it’s a beautiful thing and I will endeavour to blog more regularly, with more useful content, I need to spend less time reading football and chatting to friends around the world, and more time creating quality content.
Secondly, I redesigned my blog this year, dragging it to the level it deserves to be at considering its readership numbers and the money it makes. It was a hell of a lot of work, cost a chunk of money but I’m happy with how it’s come out, it’s not perfect, nor is it the finished article but it’s a vast, vast improvement.
I finished my first ebook too, which is free if you subscribe to me blog, so check that out. It’s a short version of my rags to (relative) riches story and then the first few steps and nudges to help you make money blogging.
I got my first brand ambassadorships with momondo.com, FitBit, Large Minority, Thantakit Dentist in Bangkok and Aspire Gym in Bangkok. I aim to have 10 ambassadorships with companies I trust, worth in excess of $100k per year, endorsing brands I would only work with regardless of partnerships, and to work with all these awesome guys is a great, great start.
Money on the blog? The million dollar question. My blogs income continues to rise and I believe that I could now do no work for a year and still travel the world and save money. That’s amazing, but of course I plan to travel the world AND build the brand. I have planned for 6 months to design a course plotting my journey EXACTLY step by step, so other people can follow in my footsteps but I’ve been lazy, slack and intimidated by the project size. I wanted it done in 2016, but it hasn’t been so 2017 will be the year for that I hope. Watch this space.
My SEO/Digital Media/Social Media & Blog Management company continues to work well with a great team of 4/5 of us working on it. I trust my staff literally 100% so the management takes less than an hour or 2 per week. We have some large clients, some small clients, and as SEO continues to evolve we’re still plugging away. It should always bring in $100k+ per year.
Wow. What a ride. My newest and most passionate project. You can read how I accidentally started a non-profit charity here, and this year we built a playground for an impoverished school in Battambang, Cambodia complete with donations and equipment. It was unreal, and the group we brough along were legends, new friends for life. I’m so so so happy with this new project that we’re running a new project on the Thai/Burmese border in early June this year.
The concept is that people donate to our charity through the goodness of their heart, then a winner from the donators will be selected and flown to work with the project, and backpack around the region for 2 weeks, FREE OF CHARGE. Then we sell another 11 tickets and make an awesome big trip out of it, this year through Thailand and Cambodia, all overland, flashpacking style. It was perfect, and I can’t wait to do it again, I’d love to build this charity into something hugely meaningful.
Bit of a disaster in 2016 for our education start-up. I couldn’t talk about it online but I had been selected for a TV show in Los Angeles, USA – it was a reality TV show for start-ups where they help you out like an incubator as you launch your start-up with investors etc, really exciting. We put everything on hold and then at the last minute, the show was cancelled and we lost months of momentum. We’ll pick it up again in 2017 and try to get accepted into an incubator, perhaps in Singapore? Maybe even Thailand, or Ireland? The concept is great, we have the reach and marketing capabilities with my channels but we need some expert mentors, so an incubator will be the way to go.
It’s a goal of mine to increase my networth each year by an absolute minimum of $100k each year, without focusing toooo much on saving. I want to travel the world, have crazy, cool experiences, see people I love, do fun stuff and also build my business and have my money work for me. Did I reach my goal this year? Yes, for the 5th year running I reached that goal, which I’m delighted about. My stock portfolio increased $40kUSD in a year post-Brexit, which helped. Capital appreciation on my properties helped further (more on that below), and of course I still save hard cash each month. I like to keep a balance of $100k minimum in liquid cash if possible, especially now as I invest more in property and stocks. Honestly, for me to talk about these kind of numbers, coming from a poor single parent family in Ireland is madness. You may be reading this assuming that I’m blase about these kind of figures. I’m not. It blows my mind every day. I still live a pretty simple life, I’ve never owned a car, my most expensive purchase ever is my MacBook and after that it’s probably a $150 pair of jeans.
If I didn’t spend money on travel, I’d hardly spend anything at all. I eat street food every day in Bangkok, always fly economy, try to leverage my social media for special deals and rates which is a win/win for businesses and me. Read a book called Rich Day, Poor Dad and prepare to change your life. You don’t have to earn crazy money to be a millionaire, just be careful and smart. That being said, starting a blog changed my life, and I always recommend everyone does that too.
Bricks and mortar. Blogging, SEO, stocks and shares – you can make a lot of money quickly, that’s the truth, but it could end tomorrow. Houses though, bricks and mortar, you have that shit forever. I’ve always loved property, even growing up when the thought of even owning a place seemed out of my reach. Now I have a place in Bangkok, 2 places in London and I’m about to buy a 3rd. That’ll be 4 places in total, with a total worth of almost $1, 500, 000. It’s crazy.
I think everyone should try to invest in property, whether it’s buy-to-lets or whatever. My first 2 properties both have increased in value by over $100k (one since 2013, one since 2015), the 3rd one bought 4 months ago is up 10% already (about $40k), and I hope the 4th one will behave similarly. Do your research into up and coming areas, invest aggressively and make it happen. I don’t believe in pensions, but property will always take care of you. Just make sure you have enough cash if the market takes a hit for a year or 2. London is always a winner though. Supply doesn’t meet demand there, and you don’t have to be an economist to understand the results of that.
I wrote a very emotional, personal piece about Travel, Love and Heartbreak when my girlfriend of 5 years and I finally cracked under the pressure and broke up. Living my kind of lifestyle, traveling the worlda nd with my kind of personality – driven, ambitious, single-minded – is tough for any relationship, but that together with the fiery nature of a Thai girl and it spells trouble! We have since rekindled, wobbled, consolidated and who knows what the future holds. Neither of us our blameless and it takes a pretty special person to accept, support and appreciate the kind of life I live, so let’s see. 2016 was turbulent, but to be honest, I’m not sure if I’d have it any other way!
My mum and sister who I’m both super close to are great, and that’s awesome. My mum suffers from Parkinson’s and she continues to inspire me with resilience and determined attitude to life. Thankfully that amazing positivity has slowed the regression of the disease somewhat and our regular travels keep her motivated further. This year she visited Oman, Turkey, Afghanistan, Eritrea, Ireland, UK, Gibraltar, Thailand and Hong Kong, not bad when you’re pushing 70! She continues to be the only inspiration I carry in this world, my only mentor. It’s my goal to bring her to 50 countries around the world, we’re currently on 44 so we’re getting there!
My sister has started blogging at mummyontherun.co.uk, and in all honesty, she’ll probably end up a much bigger (and better!) blogger than me. She’s the modern supermum and a shining light as to what can be achieved despite a ridiculously busy schedule. Her blog will focus on marathon running, mum stuff and travel and I CANNOT WAIT to welcome the whole family to Thailand for a money backpacking with 2 toddlers for them in May, great stuff!
I continue to make an effort with all my friends from around the world, I think it’s really important to work on friendships, just like relationships, and it’s a shame to see so many fall by the wayside. I feel fortunate to have so many amazing people in my life.
My fitness (although right now, this isn’t strictly the case) is the best it’s ever been, and I feel fitter at 33 than I did at 23 which is great. My gym in Bangkok, Aspire, has opened up a whole new world of fitness, healthy eating and camaraderie and has made my life in Bangkok so much better, and the gym and it’s members are one of the things I miss most in the world now when I’m on the road, that says it all!
Life is good, but of course it’s not perfect. I need to stop procrastinating online, I need to worry less about the future and focus on living in the moment, over-thinking worst-case scenarios is something I need to reduce, so I’ll work on that for sure in 2017, but my loved ones are well, my businesses are growing, and I’m living my dream traveling the world, making money finally now, also giving back. I’m proud of 2016, and even more so after writing this article, I hope you guys take the time to do something similar. Tomorrow i’ll create some goals and resolutions, but today is for reflection. Happy travels!
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