I travelled to 37 countries and 6 continents, all with a single carry-on
A knack for packing and finding cheap flights helped me travel the world on a small budget
It was a warm January morning in Auckland and I was waiting for the airport bus.
I glanced at my phone and my stomach dropped.
I'd miscalculated: when I got to the airport, I'd only have 40 minutes to make my flight from New Zealand to Australia.
My heart pounded the entire bus ride as I checked the time every few minutes. When we finally pulled up, I walked as quickly as I could to the check-in counter.
The line was short and I didn't have bags to check, so it wasn't long until I was making my way up a flight of stairs and feeling slightly relieved.
But then I came face-to-face with my worst travel nightmare: an airport employee standing next to a scale.
"I need to weigh your carry on," she told me.
My carry-on and my backpack held all of my earthly possessions: a week's worth of clothes, an extra pair of shoes, some toiletries, my laptop and a few notebooks.
There was no way I'd make the cut-off.
Little room for possessions
How did I get to the point where my life was packed in a small suitcase while boarding a flight on the other side of the world?
I was born in Newfoundland and raised in St. John's, but for the past five years my focus has been international: in 2013, I sold off nearly everything I owned and took my first transatlantic flight to Istanbul.
Since then, I've visited 37 countries in every continent except Antarctica, and lived in Australia and New Zealand, all while owning only as much as my carry-on bag could hold.
With little room for possessions, I kept my my wardrobe simple — and the idea of buying trinkets at every stop didn't enter my mind: photos were my souvenirs.
Travel wasn't always part of my plan. It interested me, but it wasn't until I started reading about other budget travellers that I decided I wanted to see the world when I was young.
I worked for a year to save enough money for a solid adventure. I knew that long-term travel wouldn't be possible if I stayed in hotels and ate at restaurants. Instead, I stayed almost exclusively in hostels and either cooked for myself or got food from cheap takeaways.
My daily budget was $50 for accommodation, food and entertainment — nearly everything — though I wasn't always able to keep costs low. It was much easier to stay below budget in Eastern Europe and parts of the Middle East, where hostels can be as little as $10 a night. Prices are much higher in North America and Western Europe.
Pro tip: carry-on bags don't often get weighed
I've developed exceptional packing skills and a knack for finding cheap flights — Miami to Brazil for $70, Dublin to St. John's for $130 — but I also saved a ton of money in baggage fees by travelling with just the one bag.
After flying on nearly 30 airlines, I've learned that hardly any of them weigh carry-on bags. In the past five years, I can only remember having my carry-on bag weighed twice.
The first time, in Shiraz, Iran, I proceeded through security with no problems.
But in Auckland, I was clearly going to have more problems.
With only minutes left before my flight took off, I rushed to the check-in counter where a fantastic gate agent ushered me to another counter to pay the baggage fee, then through priority security alongside fancy business travellers and the family of someone who seemed to be a professional athlete.
With minutes to spare, I made it onto the plane.
And when I got to Sydney, I was pleasantly surprised to find my bag — and everything I owned — had made it too.