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Rolling stone Jonny a man of the world... NI fan's memoirs record his bid to set foot in every country on Earth


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Jonny Down Under, with Roger Federer in the background

Jonny Down Under, with Roger Federer in the background

Jonny in Azerbaijan

Jonny in Azerbaijan

Jonny in Iraq

Jonny in Iraq

Jonny in Palestine

Jonny in Palestine

Jonny in Micchu Picchu

Jonny in Micchu Picchu

Jonny Down Under, with Roger Federer in the background

Travel writer and Northern Ireland superfan Jonny Blair is releasing a series of books about his decades-long odyssey around the globe in a bid to inspire others to follow in his footsteps.

The writer and teacher has been criss-crossing the planet for almost 20 years in a bid to visit every country in the world - a process which started out while he was following the Northern Ireland football team as a youngster.

Now Jonny (40), originally from Bangor but living in Poland, is releasing a trio of books entitled Backpacking Centurion about his travels in the hope it will inspire others to seek out experiences beyond the province.

He told Sunday Life: "People can now read about a traveller from Bangor in Northern Ireland who left that life and travelled around the world and what happened along the way.

"There was no conscious decision to start a book, I write all the time, so if I was on a train in Kyrgyzstan or on a boat in Australia I'd be sitting writing away, so the chapters were sort of written along the journey.

"I didn't sit down at my computer for 10 weeks and just type it all out, most of it was actually hand-written along the journey so I'd say the book writing has been gradual over the years rather than a one-off moment or decision.

"There are three volumes which I had to make distinctly different so the first volume is called Don't Look Back In Bangor. I grew up there and realised there was a bigger world which I wanted to get out and see.

"So that book concentrates on growing up in Northern Ireland and some trips I did as a youngster which built up to me leaving the country and travelling.

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Jonny in Azerbaijan

Jonny in Azerbaijan

Jonny in Azerbaijan

"The second book is more about constant travelling and is called Lansdowne Under and the third is called Taints and Honours by which time I had visited over a hundred countries and was backpacking pretty hardcore and was really motivated to explore as much as I could and was also proud of what I had managed to achieve by that point.

"The books showcase the power we have to get out and see the world and show that it's not difficult, it's very easy.

"All you need to do is go out there and have a bit of passion and hard work and you can earn enough money to travel.

"They're biographical but they also show people who haven't done what I have that actually you can, you could go tomorrow.

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Jonny in Iraq

Jonny in Iraq

Jonny in Iraq

"Obviously there is a virus on at the moment which makes things tricky but I think they show full-time travel is a real thing and it's amazing to visit other countries rather than just live in a little shell in Bangor or Belfast where life is quite stale, mundane and bland. I want to make life more exciting than that.

"I would hope people read it and want to maybe visit some of the places I visited and become excited about travel."

Mr Blair, who also works as a teacher in Poland, says he was lucky enough to meet some famous faces along the way as well as making some narrow escapes.

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Jonny in Palestine

Jonny in Palestine

Jonny in Palestine

He said: "The stories in there are not boring, it's not just about going to the beach and having a beer and a cheese sandwich.

"There's a point where I'm in Laos and I've lost my wallet, camera and everything and I'm stuck miles from where I am staying with no money and no way to get home.

"I'm walking through the jungle and I magically got a lift from a lady on a motorbike but still couldn't find my hostel. It's little stories like that which find the adventures you can have when you leave your hometown.

"I was lucky enough to meet some famous people along the way like Roger Federer and Gerry Armstrong (right) who's a big hero of mine.

"Gerry is quite easy to meet actually because he's a Northern Irish hero so you'll see him around on the football scene.

"Meeting Roger Federer was a real coincidence though. I was in Australia when the Open was on and I had got tickets to the tournament. Whilst I was walking around Melbourne one day a police escort turned up and all of a sudden Roger Federer jumps out of a jeep with the Australian Open trophy the day after winning it.

"He was doing press interviews and I was lucky enough to have a quick chat with him before he was mobbed by a crowd."

Jonny, who has lived in Poland for the last four years, launched a petition last year to get Northern Ireland its very own flag emoji on smartphones after becoming frustrated at what he felt was a lack of representation.

He says his love of travel was super-charged by following the Green and White Army but said his desire to explore had been with him from an early age.

He added: "I think my early travel interest was influenced by following Northern Ireland. In the early days I was just going to football matches but I wanted to do more than that because I thought, 'I might never be here again,' and I felt I should explore the places I was visiting.

"The football supporter trips started a little bit of adventure but regardless of that, I was always going to be a bigger traveller than the others in my family, I always wanted to travel to places on the map people hadn't heard of.

"I remember telling my schoolteachers about some remote village in the middle of Mongolia I wanted to visit."

÷ Jonny's first book in the series, Don't Look Back In Bangor, is available from BookBaby, Amazon, Barnes and Noble as well as his website dontstopliving.net

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