Teaching Traveling: Jonny Blair is a traveling Northern Irishman currently teaching English in Hong Kong. His travels have taken him to Peru, Botswana, Antarctica and Taiwan. He runs a popular and regularly updated travel site called Don’t Stop Living and admits he has “no idea” where he will end up next.
Jonny, tell us about your background.
Jonny: I grew up in the town of Bangor in Northern Ireland back in the 1980s and 1990s but having left there a decade ago, I have managed to live, work and travel around the world. As a result I have changed jobs a lot and I’m always budgeting. I’m 32 now. I’ve worked in bars, on boats, in theatres, on farms, in offices and countless other places. My travels have taken me to all seven continents, and almost seventy countries to date. So while teaching wasn’t what I planned to do, I am now a Native English teacher in Hong Kong! I just kind of fell into it! When I arrived in Hong Kong I was working in a pub and at a party one night a guy told me about an English teaching job so I applied and got it. It was just a bit of fate. I have done Kindergarten, Primary School and Private Tutoring.
TT: Wow! Tell us more about your travels.
J: I have traveled extensively and on a very regular basis for the last ten years. My highlights were a two week tour of Antarctica and the four day Inca Trail hike in Peru. On my travels I have also bumped into Roger Federer in Melbourne, sky dived, bungy jumped and crossed the equator by foot.
Antarctica is my favourite trip so far. I got a 13 day tour as a special offer which left from Ushuaia on the south tip of Argentina. We landed on the Antarctica Continent, we visited the British and Polish bases, we saw thousands of penguins, done a few hikes and we even went for a swim in the ice cold waters at Deception Island. It was totally inspiring.
These trips were before I became a teacher, the best (and most surprising) trip I have been on since becoming an English Teacher is to the Fujian Province in China. The Earthen Buildings there and the island of Gu Lang Yu were very unexpected travel gems!
TT: How do you find these travel opportunities?
J: I had always wanted to go to Antarctica– it fascinated me– and it was when I was living in Tasmania when I visited the Antarctic Centre that my childhood dream became a real probability. Once I knew I wanted to finally do Antarctica, I just shopped around for a good deal and booked it early to ensure I knew I was doing it. Six months later I stepped on the Antarctic mainland at Neko Harbour!
TT: Amazing. How do you fund your travels?
J: All my travel is self funded from working and I have had over 20 different jobs. I have never been out of work in my adult life. The Antarctica trip I funded entirely from working on broccoli fields. I lived in my tent up in the mountains of Poatina in Tasmania, working 12 hours a day and 7 days a week for a few months. I had bought a cheap car at the time so I was also basically sleeping and living out of my car and tent for around 6 months! One day,having been isolated for a month or so, I checked my bank account and realised that I had enough money to finally book my Antarctica adventure– so I did! I find that travel just falls into place, I try not to plan things too much, in fact I only ended up in Tasmania in the first place because of a mate I was living with and look where life led me!
TT: Tell us one moment from your travels that was particularly powerful, interesting, or funny.
J: Just one moment? There are so many to choose from! Can I go for the day I swam naked in Antarctica? That pretty much tops the list. We assembled in a group at Whaler’s Bay – there were about 100 of us on the ‘beach’ waiting and watching but only about 30 of us went in to the ice cold water for a dip. Once I got in the water, I whipped my green shorts off for a slight celebration of freedom in the world’s coldest, most remote and most peaceful continent. One of life’s better days.
I also smuggled drugs by accident in Argentina, worked on the world’s first broccoli harvester, crossed into North Korea and appeared on Slovenian TV.
TT: Whoa! How have your travels impacted you as a teacher, and in your current career?
J: My job is my job and my travels are my travels. I always keep work separate. It’s my mentality. I give 100% in work but when I leave the door and I’m not being paid by that company, it’s my life. Teaching has allowed me to have decent holidays off to travel in short bursts to the Asian places I’ve missed out on before. I normally work 5 days a week in kindergartens, a half day Saturday in the Primary School and a few hours of private tutoring. Three incomes ultimately means more money for my travels. I also write for a number of magazines and run 3 websites (my main website “Don’t Stop Living” is kind of my passion!!)
TT: How have your travels impacted you as a person?
J: To be totally honest, they haven’t really changed me that much. I am still a quiet Northern Irishman who likes to watch football, have a beer and talk to my mates! Honestly. No matter where you travel to, you should not forget your homeland and your friends and family. OK, so it has impacted on me in that I don’t see my family and friends as much as I should. But deep down the only other change is I can now tell you with my own eyes what the world actually looks like. I budget more for sure– I won’t waste money on ridiculous things such as TVs, beds, mortgages, flats or taxis!
TT: What’s it like teaching English in Hong Kong?
J: To be honest, it’s pretty fulfilling. A lot of Hong Kong people work too hard and allow work to rule their lives, which affects their social commitments. But I don’t! I have an 8am – 5pm teaching job and that’s exactly what I do. The kids are all fun and they really want to learn English. Hong Kong is a totally fantastic place to teach English and to live and I would totally recommend it to anyone out there!! If you need any further advice on teaching in Hong Kong, just send me an e-mail or message through my website, http://dontstopliving.net. Rate of pay is good, standard of life is excellent and there are countless things to see and do in this contemporary skyscraping metropolis! English teachers– what are you waiting for??! Head to Hong Kong!!
TT: What advice do you have for teachers who are dreaming of travel, or travelers dreaming of teaching?
J: Teachers, my first advice (which is obvious) is if you have ever thought about traveling, don’t just think it, do it!! You can teach in pretty much any location in the world and earn at least enough money to get you by – normally more. You can immerse yourself in local culture, one which is alien to you. You will meet hundreds of amazing new people and you will have such a varied and fulfilled life. I want to pass on my inspiration for anyone out there that wants to travel (not just teachers) – anyone can travel the world. You just need to make the first step. The most important thing to be is self confident and hard working. I have managed to get a job everywhere I have wanted one – and you can too! It is your life – don’t be bound to a company and don’t get stuck in a route. Book your first trip, pack your bags and off you go!!
Travelers – Simply find a place you traveled to which you love or loved and stay there, checking out job options. Get your TEFL/TESOL to give you a start and land yourself a teaching job. Congratulations you now live and work in your favourite place in the world!!
TT: Finally, how on earth did you end up traveling the world?
J: Interestingly it was never my plan. I enjoyed looking at maps as a child but was set on a career in journalism or something related (I still write of course and have a degree in PR). But the catalyst to why I traveled is actually because the butchery counter I worked in back in 2002 ran out of meat one day due to the “Foot and Mouth Disease”!! I was given a day off work. That day I decided I was going to head out and see the world. I moved to England to study first and that was my first step, ten years down the line, I’m pretty delighted I did it!
Get out and see the world, teachers!! Don’t Stop Living!
TT: Thanks so much, Jonny! Readers, what questions or comments do you have for this remarkable Teacher-Traveler?