Ten years ago Jonny Blair left Bangor, Northern Ireland, to travel the world. Since then he has worked in bars, boats, offices, farms, theatres, shops and schools, as well as online, in his efforts to remain on the road.
When we spoke to him his odyssey had taken him to Yangon where he was enjoying a cold Myanmar beer and cursing the wifi.
Myanmar, that’s a long way from County Down. Until recently you were teaching in Hong Kong. How did you end up there?
A number of things influenced it, but I was basically backpacking there in 2011 and found a job in a local pub after two days so I ended up staying, or at least using it as my base for my recent adventures. My girlfriend is from Hong Kong which was the reason for my visit but I didn’t mean to move there that quickly and easily. Things just fell into place. China and Taiwan were the first two Asian countries I visited so it was cool to end up working in Hong Kong with China on my doorstep.
How did you find this job?
You mean the teaching job in Hong Kong? Ha ha! I went to a house party for about an hour before my shift in the pub and a guy offered me a job in a local kindergarten. It was that simple. That’s the way things have generally happened for me on my travels! I wasn’t looking for a teaching job, I was happy working in the local pub to be honest, but the teaching job had better money, better holidays and better hours so I could see my girlfriend more.
What experience or qualifications do you need to teach English in Hong Kong?
None – honestly! They are more concerned about whether you live in Hong Kong and whether you look Caucasian. If you don’t live in Hong Kong but have all the qualifications, then that comes second best to actually living here and being ready to start work. I lived here while working in the pub so my employer snapped me up to teach straight away. Later on I got my qualifications. I’d say move here first then look for a job, if you feel the need to get your TEFL or TESOL (etc.) then get one online or before you come. They can also be got easily in Zhuhai in China for cheap.
Had you taught abroad before this?
Not really – teaching isn’t my thing. I’d done a few football training things before and kids days out but generally I like to work in customer service – bars, ice cream stalls, hotels etc. It was total chance that I got into teaching. If I had no interest in teaching and can suddenly get into it at the drop of a hat, then anyone can do it – providing your level of English is good. You don’t even need to be a native English teacher either! I met Polish, German and Peruvian guys in the last few months all teaching English. For some of them, English is their third language.
How much were you paid?
I started on about 22,000 HKD a month which included some Saturday work, but decent holidays. I still backpacked on my holidays! That was more money than bar work. You can earn a lot more if you work in a full time scheme in Primary Schools through the government. I’ve also heard from mates teaching in places like China, Taiwan, Thailand and South Korea and they say the rates there are also really good. It’s easy to live a luxury lifestyle. My mate lived in Seoul for a few years and never once paid for his accommodation! He even got free flights from London, so there are plenty of other options with bonuses. Look out for the free flights and accommodation!
Tell us a little about the average day of a teacher in Hong Kong?
Not much different to other teaching jobs, I’d imagine. I did mostly Kindergartens. You meet and greet the children in the morning when they arrive and at assembly. You have about 10-12 lessons a day (normally 25 minutes each) and you get a short time for lunch and breaks. Working hours are 8am – 5pm, and the children in the morning are normally different to those in the afternoon. When I taught in the Primary School I did one hour lessons, so a bit longer.
What are the best bits of this job? And the worst?
The best bits are the satisfaction and happiness of the children. The worst are the badly behaved kids. I’ve sent a few home crying, but then again, I was a bad kid myself at times in school so I know what it’s like. The holidays are also great.
The Working Traveller is a big fat fraud. The only work we’ve ever done is on our laptop but it is fair to say you have found many and varied ways to keep on travelling. What was your first job abroad?
It depends what “abroad” is – I’m from Northern Ireland so even England is overseas to me and I was a till cashier first there, before moving into bar work and ice cream selling. I later worked in France and Guernsey on and off by being a ferry steward on Condor and Brittany routes, which I see as really abroad. Failing that being a barman and broccoli farmer in Australia is fairly “abroad” as it’s out of Europe.
I think it is fair to say you are now a professional nomad. Where else have you done?
I’m just over the 75 country mark for travelling with another five or six lined up. I’ve only worked for employers in about six or seven of those places, saving like hell and backpacking through the others. Although I’ve started to do a lot of online work these days so it feels like I’m working in a lot more countries nowadays. Wi-fi bars, hostel dorms, buses and airports have become my “nomadic office”.
How did you find these jobs? Any tips for others looking to work their way around the world
My main tip is don’t be fussy – work anywhere doing anything. Don’t say no, never turn down jobs and keep yourself busy. I studied with people at university who were lazy as hell – some of them didn’t even work and I’ve met people who haven’t worked a day in their life. It kind of makes me look down on them, and when they ask how I can travel so much, then that gets me irritated. Get down to a farm and start harvesting potatoes and you’ll start living your dreams. You don’t start a revolution sitting in a rocking chair. Simple as.
Tell us why this is the life for you, rather than settling down in Northern Ireland with a wife, kids and a mortgage?
I think it’s because I spent 23 years in Northern Ireland already so I know what will happen there. It’s inevitable. You get married, you get a job which you keep, you have kids, you buy a house and you stay put. It’s too bland and normal for me. I need more change and diversity in life and travel gives me that. Since 2003, I haven’t spent more than a year in the same flat/area which really suits me. Even six months in the same area gives me itchy feet and I need to constantly move on and explore new places.
What next for Jonny Blair?
Let me be honest and greedy here. I want to visit 100 countries by the age of 35, I want to attend a World Cup Final, I want to watch my football teams a lot more often (Glentoran, Bournemouth and Northern Ireland) and I want to see my friends and family more. In between times, I’ll explore the world and make sure that Don’t Stop Living is the best one man travel guide to all seven continents. It’s already the longest running one man guide to all seven, I just need more readers, advertisers and sponsors now (hint, hint). I have a degree in Public Relations so will concentrate my business on online travel work over the next few years. I already work for a few other sites, writing travel stories, planning itineraries and being an online travel adviser. It’s also my dream to visit every country in the world and still be able to relax and write about it when I’m older.
Jonny Blair’s blog can be found at Dontstopliving.net where, along with offering backpacking advice and stories, he regularly writes about working abroad in his regular Working Wednesdays feature. He is also on Twitter and Facebook.