5 Questions with… Jonny Blair of Don’t Stop Living – A Lifestyle of Travel

I love travelling even though I don’t travel as much as I’d like to. There are times when I feel like I can’t but then people like Jonny Blair from Don’t Stop Living – A Lifestyle of Travel remind me that anything’s possible and if you really want to do something, all you need to do is get moving! Jonny is passionate about traveling and wants everyone who reads his blog to catch the travel bug. He also shares some great experiences, funny moments, and good advice on how you too can get up and see the world first hand.

Check out this “5 Questions With….” and get to know Jonny and his site a little better!

Jonny Blair is a long term traveller from Bangor in Northern Ireland. He doesn’t believe in staying in the same place for long and he wants to see the world while he can. A veteran backpacker of over 90 countries, Jonny aims to inspire others as he himself continues on his jaunts around the world.

I like to believe that everyone dreams of doing something out of the ordinary at least once in their life but only a few will actually go out and pursue it.  Was there a particular moment that made you decide that traveling the world was something you wanted to do?

There was no particular moment for me like that. Things just developed since I left my hometown 11 years ago, initially I thought I’d just be away for a few months. A few months became a few years, and that became over a decade. Almost 90 countries in now, and having been to all seven continents, I’m pretty happy with the way life has panned out for me.  There were a few factors that influenced my decisions along the way though. As a child I used to watch football and collect football stickers so I always wondered what places like Uruguay, China, Australia etc. were like. I knew eventually I’d want to travel to all those places.

One day while working in a butchery in my hometown of Bangor, we ran out of meat and this gave me an excuse to check if my qualifications to date were enough to get me into University. They were as long as I studied for another 8 months on a course, so I did that, moved to England and as soon as I started working in England I knew I wasn’t coming back. I worked in hotels and on the beach as an ice cream salesman often working 7 days a week and meeting people from all over the world. I had mates from Colombia, Angola, China, England, Spain, Poland and Australia. By 2007, I had been to China, Russia and New Zealand. By 2009, I was living in Australia, by 2010 and by the age of 30 I had visited over 50 countries across all 7 continents. I relocated to Hong Kong using it as my base as I toured the Middle East and Asia and now aiming to break the 100 country mark before the year is out.

What are some of the difficulties you’ve faced throughout your journey and what advice would you give others who may find themselves in the same situations?

If I’m honest I will say I haven’t had many difficulties, I’ve always worked hard to keep myself on the road. But I know of others that do have problems on their travels and my best advice is work hard, save hard and don’t waste money. There is no need to worry too much when you travel. If you can’t get a visa, try again. If you can’t get a job, be relentless. Have no limits or boundaries. Clean toilets. Work for free food. Do anything to get money. If you get tired or bored of travel, find a location to stay in for a time and work there to get ready for the next adventure. Talk to as many people as you can and build up a load of new contacts. Soon you’ll know someone in every country you go to.

You’ve been to many places that I’m sure are very different from your hometown of Bangor in Northern Ireland. What are some of the most interesting experiences you’ve had throughout your journey?

Too many to mention so I’ll do a top 5:

1. The Inca Trail in Peru – the Inca Trail was magical. It’s a 4 day hike through the misty and mysterious mountains of the Sacred Valley that leads you on the final morning down to the ruined and lost Inca City known as Machu Picchu. It’s just an epic journey and one not to be missed. Makes me sad that some fit and healthy travellers actually just get a bus or a train to Machu Picchu ruining the whole glory of the 4 day hike. To make things even better I did this adventure at Christmas, arriving at the lost city of the Incas on Christmas Day. My Inca Trail Stories

2. Antarctica – Antarctica was a dream trip for me. I set my mind on it. I camped out in the wilderness in Tasmania saving hard for this epic trip and I went and did it. When our ship sailed into the coldest continent it was just magical.Top 5 Backpacking in Antarctica moments

3. Hyena Feeding in Harar, Ethiopia – At dusk in the walled city of Harar, you can head down a lane on the edge of town and feed wild hyenas mouth to mouth. It’s supervised by well known local hyena tamers, but these animals have the largest bite of any land mammal. It’s an adrenalin rush and I needed a beer afterwards!

4. Homestays in Iran – Iranian people are easily, by far the friendliest and most welcoming people you will EVER meet. Ever. Fact. While just backpacking in Iran, you will get endless invites to local people’s homes. They will treat you to their superb hospitality. Try the local food, tea and shisha. Relax and chat about every topic in the world and help them learn English and about your culture. Iran is a special country.

5. Off the Wall stuff in Taiwan – It was hard to pick a 5th one as I had to leave out China, Bolivia, Uruguay, Iraq and Jordan, but Taiwan was a place where I rediscovered my backpacking touch. I toured about 7 or 8 cities that nobody I knew had ever heard of. Places like Chiayi, Shinying, Hualien, Taidong, Eluanbi, Changhua etc. and loved it. The Taiwanese are an awesome bunch of people to meet and my best mate Neil worked out there which meant we could also get our fix of football and beers down the bars in Tainan, Kaohsiung etc.

What have you learned about yourself and people in general from your traveling experiences?

I’ve learnt that if you want something enough, you just work hard and you get it. Put your mind to it and do it. I don’t have limits anymore and I don’t use the word “can’t”. There is no can’t. Have no fear – be fearless, create no boundaries and don’t put obstacles in your way. Despite travelling the world I will always be a very proud Northern Irishman. It’s my treasured homeland and I love it. I’m proud of where I’m from and I believe everybody else should be.

What I’ve learned from people in general is that you need to phase negative people out of your life. People that say they “can’t” or “won’t” do something – they really grill me. I’m not impressed and I’m not inspired. However the people who stay happy and create no limits for themselves are the best people to meet. My best mate has worked in about 6 or 7 countries. He got out there and wanted it. He worked hard for it. My girlfriend has been to every continent. She didn’t follow the norm of her school buddies and lived her dreams. These are the people that inspire. “These days the stars ain’t out of reach” – Jon Bon Bovi. I share my inspiration tips every Sunday on my blog – Sunday’s Inspiration

If you could hop on a plane/boat/ship right now, where would it take you?

There are a lot of places I haven’t been, so it’s too tough a question. I do want to visit Cameroon, Nauru, Turkmenistan and Nepal at some point. If you give me a few minutes, I’d actually just google what airport is the most expensive to fly into and take that one. I’m a budget cheapskate tightass so if the flights gonna be covered, I’ll pick the dearest one!


Thanks Jonny for contacting me and introducing me to your site. I look forward to following you on your next adventures.

You can learn more about Jonny by visiting:
Websites: Don’t Stop Living – a lifestyle of travel / Jonny BlHP,MwedoAY/RGG,5olR&vg%3/a> / Crossing World Borders

Check out my other “5 Questions With…”:
5 Questions With… RomePhotoBlog
5 Questions With… Olio di Oliva e Sogni di Vino
5 Questions With… Cherrye of My Bella Vita
5 Questions With… Diana Spechler
5 Questions With… Megan of TorreBarolo
5 Questions With… Anna of La Dolce Vita di Pizzo Visitor Guide in Calabria
5 Questions With… In Italy Tours
5 Questions With… Johnny Ward of Aspiring Backpacker and One Step 4ward

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We are Happy from… Calabria!

Since posting Cosenza’s version of Pharrell Williams’ super catchy and uplifting song “Happy” a month ago, I’ve seen many other cities in Calabria contributing their own versions. These videos embody the nature of Calabrian people and showcase some of the beautiful places that can be found all over the beautiful region of Calabria.

I’m sure these will get you up and dancing, it did for me!

We Are Happy from… UNICAL (Università della Calabria)

Happy from Amantea

Happy from Reggio Calabria

We Are Happy from Scalea


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Filed under Calabria, Cosenza, Italia, Italian, music, Randomness, Video

Happy….we are from Cosenza

Cosenza is going viral!

It’s making its way across Facebook and has also been mentioned in the Corriere della Calabria.  It’s a light fun look at the city of Cosenza and the people that live within.  This video was shot in different areas of Cosenza including Cosenza Vecchia, Rendano Theatre, Corso Mazzini, UNICAL – University of Calabria as well as other shops and squares.

The video which was uploaded to Youtube just yesterday, has already recieved close to 30,000 views and that number is growing fast.  Take a look, you’ll be “happy” you did!

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Filed under Calabria, Cosenza, music, Randomness

Carnevale in Italia: Le Chiacchiere

“Le Chiacchiere” are a traditional Italian sweet, made during the period of Carnival.  I’ve also heard people call them “Bugie”.

It is a simple recipe involving a flour dough which is rolled out and cut into strips and twisted.  They are then fried and excessively sprinkled with powdered sugar (with the majority of the powdered sugar ending up on your face and clothes rather than in your tummy).

Some people like to top their chiacchere with honey, or chocolate.

For the past couple years, my roommate and I have started a sort of tradition of making chiacchere the weekend of Carnival.  The first year was the first time I’d ever made chiacchere and it was the first time my roommate had ever done them without help from her family.  Our first attempt turned out great.  This year, we gave it another go, and I have to say we are getting better!

We decided to make the traditional plain twisty chiacchere with half the dough.  With the other half, we made plain strips which we dusted with powdered sugar before drizzling dark chocolate over them.  They are divine!

We made enough for everyone, enjoy and Happy Carnival!


Filed under Calabria, Festivals, Food, Italia

I fell in love…..with London!

“There’s nowhere else like London.  Nothing at all, anywhere.”
~ Vivienne Westwood

It’s true what they say,  love comes to you when you least expect it.  Although in this case it wasn’t a person, but a place.  I never expected London to have such a profound impact on me.  It literally swept me away and has stolen my heart.

I was so frustrated with that fact that I’ve lived in Italy for 3 years and haven’t traveled much (really at all). On a whim and an incredible seat deal with RyanAir, I planned a trip to London for my birthday weekend last November.

I was excited to see my friends who live in London but other than that I didn’t have high expectations for this trip.  I knew I would only be there for a couple days and I wouldn’t be able to see everything but I wanted to try and take in as much as I could.  We arrived late on Saturday night, and of course it was rainy (not surprising) and colder than I’m used to.  We quickly found our hotel with a little help from a few Londoners.

That was one of the first things that really made an impression on me.  The people of London have a genuine kindness to them and are so generous, quick to offer help; even if you don’t ask for it.

We woke up Sunday morning to a beautifully sunny day.  It was so wonderful to walk along the Thames without an umbrella and just take in the busy city buzzing with tourists and locals.  We walked to the Tower Bridge before hoping on the underground to make our way to meet my friends.  Seeing my Toronto friends, who have lived in London for years now, was so amazing and surreal.  We wandered through the streets of London passing the Big Ben has it chimed, the House of Parliament, and the London Eye.  We made our way to Trafalgar Square and had afternoon tea in the National Café located in the National Gallery.

In the evening, we walked around the Regent and Oxford Street shops and Piccadilly Circus.  Although it was mid-November, the streets and shops were already lit up and ready for the Christmas season.  It was so enchanting.  I could have walked up and down those streets forever.  You couldn’t help but notice the explosion of culture and the mixture of languages that filled the air as you weaved through the many people walking through the streets.

The next day, we made our way to Buckingham Palace and through Green Park before we hopped on the underground and made our way to Abbey Road Studios.  I have to admit, I wasn’t too impressed with the famous Beatles crosswalk. It was the walls that enclosed the studios completely covered in names and quotes and messages from people all over the world that made the biggest impression on me.  Having worked in the music business, seeing the studios and seeing the mass amount of people that come here to see such a historical place that played such a profound role in music history was truly inspiring.

After Abbey Road Studios, we decided to stop in Notting Hill.  Not only because I am a fan of the film but I was told that it would be a neighbourhood that I would definitely fancy.  It was a rainy Monday afternoon, so there wasn’t too much chaos.  I absolutely adored this little neighbourhood lined with unique shops and home to such an interesting blend of people.

Cosenza doesn’t have many ethnic restaurants (in fact it’s one of the things I miss about living in Toronto) so I wanted to take advantage and have some Thai food.  We noticed there were many in Notting Hill but we were drawn to one in particular, Thai Rice.  There were a few people eating inside so we decided to give it a try, not knowing what to expect.  We were pleasantly surprised by how good the food was.  I even had my first taste of Asian beer

We headed back to Piccadilly Circus to meet up with an Italian friend who moved to London last June for work.  We headed to Carnaby Street, a pedestrian area in the SoHo district, which is known for its unique Christmas lights.  The street was lit up with tons of birds, robins to be precise.  We stopped into the Red Lion, one of the many traditional English pubs that you can find in that area.  We could have chatted the night away, but unfortunately we had to get back to the hotel to get some rest before our super early flight the next morning.

It was very clear to me throughout the trip that I would return.  As we headed to the airport I could feel the energy of London pulling at me; it wasn’t finished with me just yet.  I promised myself that I wouldn’t wait so long to return to this wonderfully intoxicating city that is home to some very important people in my life.  London was beyond all my expectations.  I’m very much looking forward to going back and making more wonderful memories.

Have you ever fallen completely head over heels for a city?  What was it about the city that swept you off your feet?

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With A Little Help From My Friends

Photo credit:  Amanda Venner

I know it sounds cliché but the New Year has always been the best time for me to take a moment and reflect on what has happened in my life as well as the things I want to improve, change or eliminate from my life.

As I look back on the past year and even months, I’ve come to realize that last year was a year of finding my own in this “not-so-new-anymore” life I’d chosen for me.  I remember when I first moved here, I became a more careful person; afraid of being taken advantage of or falling prey to dishonest people.  There were moments when I felt alone as I struggled to find my place and thought about what I’d like for my future.  It wasn’t always easy.  There aren’t many who can truly understand what it’s like to pack your life into two suitcases and leave the safe and comfortable place you’ve shared with your family and friends for the most part of your life and move to a place that is “foreign” and full of uncertainty.

I am overall an independent person but like all human beings we have this innate need to be with others and seek out affection.  As time passed, speaking and understanding Italian became easier and I was finally able to show people who I really was as a person and build new relationships.  Over the years, I have been reminded of the importance and influence other people have on our lives.  I don’t have my immediate family here and so I’ve turned many times to my relatives nearby and  the people with whom I’ve formed relationships with in my everyday life; be it roommates, workmates, friends, etc.   Although there are times when I’m perfectly happy being alone, I realize that we weren’t created to be alone;  we need companionship and we need to feel connected to other people.   I have been extremely fortunate to have met some truly wonderful people here.  People I can count on when I feel a crisis coming on and who are supportive of me and the choices I make daily.

Being in the situation I’m in, there are times when I’ve gone beyond my comfort zone and opened myself up to people (more than I would have normally). I mean, how else can you lay down the foundation for a true friendship or relationship?  Unfortunately, in doing so I also ran the risk of leaving myself vulnerable and open to disappointment (which I never did in the past).  For the most part, opening myself up to people has allowed incredibly good people into my life but sadly, I’ve also been disappointed by people who turned out to be different than I thought they were.  Maybe I expected too much or maybe I made these people more important to me than they should have been.  Regardless, it was a disappointment.

But, I decided that I won’t let these bad experiences change me.  I’ve decided to distance myself from those uncertain people to devote more time and energy to the relationships that continue to be such a positive force in my life.  I’m sure there will be other disappointments; after all it’s part of life, but I refuse to let it hinder me in any way.  I will not let one person be the reason I bring up the walls that have taken me so long to lower.  I’m not 100% there yet, but I will be.

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Bring on Christmas!

If you follow International news, especially news regarding Italy, you know that we have been and still are in an economic crisis.  I will admit that when the “c” word started to make its rounds on the news circuit, I didn’t think much of it.  The stores were full of shoppers, the supermarkets well stocked, etc.  Maybe the bigger cities felt it first.  We in the south tend to live off the land more so than Italians in the north.  When I returned to Cosenza after a summer trip to Toronto, I began to see a very different city.  The first thing I noticed was the windows of the big Benetton store on the main pedestrian area in Cosenza completely papered up with a sign on the door “chiuso” (closed).  At first I thought they were closed for summer holidays, but I was wrong.  Following the closure of Benetton, came the closure of two other rather well-known companies: Coin and Bata.  Things have definitely changed.  Corso Mazzini is still packed with people, but the stores which were once overflowing with people are practically all vacant.  Smaller stores finding difficulty to make ends meet have closed or are closing down.  It appears the crisis has found its way to Cosenza.

A holiday like Christmas during a time of crisis is difficult for everyone.  I’ve noticed that Christmas (which usually doesn’t come alive until after the Immacolata on December 8th) is starting to make its presence earlier.  Many stores have begun to showcase their Christmas displays, the city has begun putting up the Christmas street lights, although I can guarantee we’ll have to wait another week before they get turned on.  Having grown up in Canada where Christmas decorations and TV commercials start popping up the day after Halloween (sometimes even before), this early Christmas embrace is kind of nice to see.  In a place where snow is substituted with rain, it’s sometimes difficult to feel the Christmas spirit.

Christmas is one of my very favourite holidays.  I am always the first one ready to pick out a Christmas tree and dig out the Christmas decorations from the teeny tiny crawlspace.  And, the great thing about Christmas is that it doesn’t take much to make you feel all warm and fuzzy.  This weekend I began sprinkling a bit of Christmas around my room and apartment. I don’t have much in terms of decorations, although every year I try to add something.  But, I’ve come to learn that you don’t have to go over the top crazy to completely change your environment and bring a bit of Christmas spirit into your home and heart.

I hope everyone has a wonderful start to the Christmas season!

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