The story of Johnny Ward: from Humble Beginnings to the Ultimate Explorers’ Grand Slam

17 February, 2024 | Blog, Interviews

In the realm of modern explorers, few names resonate as profoundly as Johnny Ward.

Our latest report reveals that about 470 people have visited every country. Meanwhile, just 73 individuals have completed the Explorers’ Grand Slam, which includes climbing the Seven Summits and reaching both the South and North Poles. 

A few people came very close to achieving both milestones. Records show that Brundo Rodi is only missing a few disputed territories. Legendary Jeff Shea in his attempt to conquer the Seven Summits climbed Mount Kosciuszko in the Australia-Pacific region, instead of Puncak Jaya,—a confusion caused by the different versions of the summits list. Jason Wang has set a goal to complete these challenges by 2025.

Johnny Ward aka One Step 4 Ward climbing Everest

Johnny Ward on the top of the world – Mount Everest.

Yet, there is only one person who has accomplished it all, earning the title of the Ultimate Explorers’ Grand Slam. Who is that? Yes, you guessed correctly! Meet Johnny Ward, the author of the blog.

Video Interview

There is a video interview we recorded with Johnny in Chiang Mai, Thailand.


  • 00:00 – What is the Ultimate Explorers’ Grand Slam?
  • 03:24 – What drives you to take these challenges?
  • 06:28 – How does your poor background affect you now?
  • 07:37 – What about relation with your mother who raised you?
  • 11:02 – Why did you choose Chiang Mai as your base?
  • 12:43 – How do you stay productive on such a pace?
  • 16:23 – Blogging as a business model to work and travel?
  • 20:20 – How does your marriage and travel work for you?
  • 22:34 – What about kids and family?
  • 23:35 – What charity work do you do?
  • 26:29 – What are your further plans?

What the full video interview here

And read the text version of the story below.

A Humble Beginning

Johnny came from a humble background in Ireland. With a father in prison, raised by a single mother and a childhood shadowed by financial insecurity, the odds were stacked against him.

“I was poor until I was 28. 29 is almost 30 years old. And, when you’re a kid, it’s even more difficult. You see what your friends have got and compare. I’m a big football fan, but I could never afford a Liverpool shirt or even a pair of Adidas sneakers. And I think these kind of experiences when you’re young, for better or worse, they change you permanently.”

JOhnny Ward in Ireland as a kid with his siblings

Try to find Johnny on the picture.

Yet, Johnny’s spirit remained unbroken. He saw travel not just as an escape but as a realm of endless possibilities. “I wanted to show people from a tricky background that you can still do cool stuff,” he says. 

The Path to Every Country

Travelling the world is a dream for many, but economic challenges make it seem impossible for most. Johnny didn’t just want to travel; he was on a quest to prove that one’s background does not define one’s future. His first goal was to visit every country. “When I reached 100 countries, I heard that no one from Ireland had ever visited every country. And then I thought it would be cooler if someone with a story like mine could do it. Normally it’s just rich people and posh people who do these things.”

Johnny documented his travels on his blog,, inspiring countless others to follow in his footsteps.

Every Country, Every Summit, Every Pole

Having visited every country wasn’t enough for Johnny. Visiting every country (…) left me in a dark place, to be honest. I realised (…) anyone could do it if they committed their life to it.” 

He craved real adventure. “Running ultra-marathons, cycling across countries. I even ran a marathon at the North Pole and rowed across the Atlantic Ocean,” says Johnny. “I feel it’s important that I’m not an elite athlete.(…) You don’t have to be some special superhero, and I’m not that, and nobody is that.”

Traveller Johnny Ward running a marathon in the North Pole

After visiting every country Johnny started looking for other challenges and adventures, like running a marathon at the North Pole.

His ambition led him to tackle the Explorers’ Grand Slam, a challenge that included reaching the North and South Poles and conquering the Seven Summits. When Johnny realised that no one before had ever done it all – visiting all the countries, climbing the highest mountains on every continent AND reaching both the South and North Poles, he knew he was up for that challenge.

Explorers’ Grand Slam Explained

The Explorers’ Grand Slam has variations, mainly about how to approach the Poles and which mountains count as the Seven Summits. For the seven summits, there’s a debate on which mountains to include; the Messner list is believed to be the correct one, highlighting Puncak Jaya as Australia’s highest peak, not Mount Kosciusko. Reaching the poles isn’t straightforward either.

The true challenge is skiing from the coast to each pole, a task so demanding that only 12 out of the 73 people who’ve completed the Grand Slam in any form have managed it.

Traveller Johnny Ward reaching the South Pole

By reaching the South Pole Johnny became the first person in the history to complete the Ultimate Explorers’ Grand Slam

The True Explorers Grand Slam also includes climbing all 14 of the world’s peaks over 8,000m in height, beyond the traditional Seven Summits and polar challenges. Johnny Ward claims to be alone in achieving the Ultimate Explorers’ Grand Slam.


Throughout his travels, Johnny has not only formed deep connections with cultures and communities worldwide. He also strengthened his bonds with his family. His relationship with his mother, in particular, shows the profound impact of his journey.

As a single parent who struggled to make ends meet, she supported Johnny’s dreams unconditionally. “As long as you’re happy,” she would say, which is something that I don’t take for granted. I see a lot of parents chasing their children, being like, when are you going to get a real job? Why did you go to university if you’re not going to do something with your degree? And she was never like that.”

Traveller Johnny Ward and his MOm

Johnny’s Mom has always been supporting him in all his adventures. 

Today, as Johnny navigates the challenges of life, he does so with a sense of gratitude and a desire to give back. Both to his mother stuggling with the Parkinson desease and to the communities he encounters along the way.


Johnny’s wife, too, plays a significant role in his life. Unlike Johnny’s high-adrenaline adventures, his wife prefers quieter travels. Yet they’ve managed to travel to over 50 countries together, helping Johnny find balance between thrill-seeking and enjoying life’s simpler moments.

Johnny Ward and his wife in Thailand

Johnny Ward with his wife, Jaa, in Hua Hin, Thailand.

Thailand remains their sanctuary, a place where Johnny’s roots have deepened, not just in the soil of his adopted home but in the life he’s building with Jaa and the future they envision.

Johnny’s Journey to Financial Freedom

Johnny’s journey to financial freedom began with a blog, “When I started travelling, and for the first five, six, seven years, when I was doing this every country thing, I was still broke. (…) My audience on OneStep4ward grew because I was always very honest about being broke and then not so broke and then now being financially free.” OneStep4Ward wasn’t just a travel diary; it was a step-by-step guide to living a life beyond the ordinary.

From teaching English in Chiang Mai to blogging his way to financial independence, Johnny’s path shows that with hard work and smart decisions, anyone can turn their dreams into reality. 

Johnny Ward aka OneStep4Ward as a techer with a group of his Thai students

By recognizing the potential of online advertising and SEO, Johnny diversified his income sources. He created additional websites, selling ads and leveraging his blog’s success to establish a brand that attracted public speaking opportunities, brand ambassadorships, and online workshops. He also invests in real estate. His transparent journey from being broke to achieving financial freedom has inspired many.

Money: A Tool, Not a Barrier

Johnny’s approach to money has evolved from one of scarcity to one of stewardship. He views financial resources as tools to facilitate experiences and make a positive impact rather than markers of success. This mindset shift has allowed him to engage in charitable work and supporting communities in need, further enriching his travel experiences.

“I started a nonprofit with one of my best mates here, Josh. We run two, three, four, or five trips per year where people who follow me can come and join me. And instead of taking the profit like other tour companies do, we use that money to fund the projects. (…) I live in Thailand. We do a lot of work with Burmese refugees. We build malaria clinics on the border, kindergartens and playgrounds on the borders for the refugees.”

Several years ago Johnny co-founded Mutida Adventures, a company creating sustainable travel experiences to unique destinations around the world in combination with a charity impact.

Here is an example of their upcoming trip to Pakistani Kashmir & World Highest Border Crossing, involving partnering with a local NGO in the city of Sialkot to help install water pumps and toilets so that villagers can live in hygienic conditions.

Johnny Ward – Story of Endless Possibilities

Johnny’s story is more than just an extraordinary tale of adventure; it’s a call to action. He demonstrates that with determination, planning, and a bit of creativity, it’s possible to overcome financial and societal barriers to travel. “The world is a beautiful place with a million opportunities. And when you accept that no one is holding you back, that’s scary, because you got no one else to blame,”  he says.

Johnny Ward and a group of travellers on his tour to Socotra, Yemen

Johnny helps other travellers to explore the world by organizing tours to his favourite destinations. Here,with one of his groups in Socotra, Yemen.

Johnny’s message is clear: you don’t need to be rich or come from a certain background to explore the world and achieve great things. It’s a reminder that the path to achieving extraordinary feats doesn’t require a silver spoon but rather a heart full of determination, a mind open to possibilities, and a spirit willing to take that one step forward.

Johnny serves as a huge inspiration to many. But who does he look up to? David Goggins, Ricky Gervais, and Elon Musk are his inspiration! Check out to follow Johnny’s adventures.