Geriatric Traveller blogger Maura Ward has travelled to over 60 countries, taking inspiration from her global adventurer son, Johnny
A self-confessed adrenaline junkie, Maura Ward has travelled to more than 60 countries, including North Korea, Iraq, Syria and Eritrea, despite suffering from arthritis and Parkinson’s disease.
"Life is definitely for living,” she says, talking from Chang Mai, Thailand, about her blog Geriatric Traveller and the hashtag she uses #nevertooold.
“To me #nevertooold is absolutely the truth. You can’t do everything as you get older, but you can bloody well try, you can have a good go at it,” the Kilkeel woman says.
“There’s very little that we can’t do if we really want to.”
Currently in Thailand visiting her son, a few months ago the adventurer was soaring over the Serengeti National Park, Tanzania, in a hot air balloon.
While in Africa she successfully completed 10km of the 2021 Serengeti Safari Marathon, as part of a fundraiser to support The Michael J Fox Organisation for Parkinson’s research. Over £11,000 was raised and Maura was delighted with the figure.
“I left the UK in November, and did the Serengeti marathon, then went to Zanzibar before coming to Thailand,” she says.
“It was a lovely trip. There’s a photograph of the marathon and you can see there actually was armed guards behind me, and the animals were running wild behind me!”
Maura’s son Johnny Ward lives in Bangkok. A keen traveller himself, Johnny has visited every country in the world, and he posts about his adventures on
@onestep4ward to more than 91k followers on Instagram alone. He is the co-founder of Mudita Adventures, a non-profit organisation that uses travel to give something back to the communities visited.
“My son came here in 2006 or 2007 just after he graduated, to teach English for a year and go travelling for a year, and he’s still travelling and he’s still here,” Maura says.
“I’ve been going backwards and forwards for the last 15 years to visit him.
“Just before lockdown I came for three months in the winter time because I have Parkinson’s and arthritis, so the heat is much better for me than sitting in the cold at home.
“I’m in Chang Mai now. It’s the second city in Thailand and is a much nicer city than Bangkok because it’s not as commercial.
“It’s chaotic like most of Southeast Asia. It’s much more sophisticated than Vietnam, but it still retains its charm.”
Despite having a love for travel, it was only in her later years that Maura had the opportunity to see a lot more of the world.
“I always wanted to travel and even before I had children I’d been to North Africa and the US, and I’d been around Europe,” Maura says.
“Then children, life, gets in the way of travelling. I was a single parent, my two children Johnny and Aisling were two and three when I became a single parent, so I had to knuckle down and travelling went out of the window for a while.
“When they were teenagers, I still had no money, I was broke, but I was able to gather enough together to go camping in Europe every year and we did that for three or four years.
“The children are Irish twins, and the two of them were at university at the same time, which was a bit difficult financially, so there was no travelling when they were at uni obviously.
“Then when they finished, — Aisling in 2005 and Johnny in 2006 — he came here to Thailand and that was really the beginning of it. I came out in 2007, the first time to see him. I went to the Beijing Olympics the next year and from then on, I just went.
“I went to the Beijing Olympics on my own, but I met up with a lot of people I knew. I don’t travel all the time on my own. I go to some more obscure places with Johnny because he organises trips to places like Iraq and Beirut, and if there is enough room, I can go too.”
Maura, who now lives in England beside her daughter and family, was in Asia when the Covid pandemic first hit in March 2020, and she found herself caught up in a frantic rush to get home before lockdown measures were imposed.
“I was lucky to get out,” Maura says. “I had been to Yemen with Johnny, then Egypt, and then I’d gone to Brunei and a couple of other places.
“I’d intended to do a few more places, but Covid started to raise its head and I thought I’d better get a move on.
“One of the people on the trip to Yemen was struggling to get a flight home via Europe and I thought, maybe I’d better look too. I got the last plane out of Bangkok.
“I had to go to Russia to get back to Dublin via Moscow. There were no flights into Europe at all.”
For someone who loves nothing more than jetting off, you’d expect Maura to have struggled during lockdown.
However, this wasn’t the case as the optimist tried to make the most of her time at home.
“It wasn’t easy I have to say, but I have groups of friends and family, and we had things like family quizzes a couple of times a week, and I did that with friends as well,” says Maura.
“We had bottles of wine online and it really was quite good. I was probably more social than I would have been if it hadn’t been lockdown.
“It was funny, because I’ve travelled a bit, everybody wants me on their team for the travel questions and I’m hopeless.
“I haven’t a clue where anywhere is, I just know how to get there,” she jokes.
“Covid restricted me [travelling] more than Parkinson’s. Parkinson’s restricts me a bit in the things that I can do. I can’t consider climbing and stuff like that, that I used to do… but that could be years as well; I’m 73 in April.”
When asked what’s the best thing about travelling the world, Maura doesn’t hesitate: “The people, absolutely the people. You meet amazing people when you travel, other travellers and locals. It’s just awesome. I find them very helpful. Touch wood, I have never had a bad experience when travelling on my own, maybe I’ve just been lucky, but I have been blessed with the people I’ve met.”
To those who want to visit other countries, but they don’t have anyone to travel with, Maura encourages them to go it alone.
“You’ve only got one life. There is no dress rehearsal — go for it,” she advises.
“If you can, get your courage in both hands. I am not risk adverse, I suppose I’m a bit of an adrenaline junkie so I’m not that bothered about having a go, but for people who are — I’ve been on a couple of group city breaks and I find them brilliant.
“I don’t stick with the group at all, I go off on my own most of the time but for somebody who was uneasy, for the first time go with a group and stick with the group but go off for coffee or something like that on your own and see how you get on. Test the water. Once you’ve done it once, the second time is easy.”
So, what’s next for the Geriatric Traveller?
“I’m going home in March. There’s an awful lot of places on my bucket list,” Maura says.
“I’ve never been to Poland and I want to see Auschwitz, so I’m going in April.
“I think I ought to do Europe properly, I’ve never visited the Balkans and places like that, but what I might consider doing is saving up and doing inter-railing, maybe in September when the prices go down a bit.
“My daughter is probably going to move to Dubai, so I want to spend time with her and my grandchildren before they go, and that would be the summer taken care of. I have a real yearning to go to Mongolia. That’s on my bucket list.
“Tiger’s Nest in the Himalayas was also on my bucket list but it’s too high for me. I have terrible altitude sickness.
“I climbed Mount Fuji with a group. Johnny organised it, and we raised money for Parkinson’s, but I’m afraid I had to come down in an ambulance.
“I got to the top all right, but my oxygen levels dropped so much that I passed out.”
Undeterred by her dramatic mountain rescue, Maura shows no signs of slowing down, and continues to post about her adventures, primarily on Facebook under @GeriatricTraveller.