Monthly Archives: December 2018

Pre-Europe: Packing Light

I’ve always considered myself a good packer. I went between my parent’s homes for 15 years, I’ve been on a lot of holidays interstate. I spent 2016 touring theatre in Australia. I’ve done New Zealand twice, I’ve been to America. But this trip was something else altogether. Five weeks, 13 countries, literally the other side of the globe, and in the dead of a European winter.

Now, we Australians know how to handle heat. When my mother and I visited Disneyland in 2016, it was 38ºC. That’s pretty standard heat, but without the humidity. The cast members, on hearing our accents, kept apologising for the weather and we just waved it off. “This is nothing!” And we meant that. Give me dry heat any day of the week. I’ll take it. But with the levels of humidity we get in Sydney, neither I nor my hair enjoy that situation.

Until I went to Europe, I had seen snow exactly twice in my life. Once when I was eight, and my Dad drove my brother and me out to a town called Oberon, located 180km from Sydney’s CBD. There were a few patches on the ground and we got to make a snowman for the only time in our lives. Then, in 2004 when I was in Year 6, we went on school camp to Canberra and the Snowy Mountains. All you need to know about that trip is I vowed I’d never go skiing again, and to this day it remains a threat I have carried out.

Childhood trauma aside, I did an immense amount of research on what to pack. Having never really had to dress for extreme cold and snow, nor having ever stayed in hostels before, I needed help. Plus, I’m just one of those people who loves researching and planning, so it was a lot of fun anyway.
I knew I’d be limited in weight and space for Topdeck, and I’ve never been one to overpack in the first place. However, I discovered there were plenty of ways I could improve on my already formidable packing abilities.

Now before I go on, a lot of the websites I looked at were advocates for packing carry-on only. As appealing as this idea can be, you also need to be realistic. For me, this was the other side of the world, in winter, 34 days, changing countries every few days…it just wasn’t going to happen. This didn’t mean that I was going to pack three suitcases containing my entire wardrobe and the kitchen sink, but I also wasn’t going to get everything I needed into seven kilograms either. Some airlines in America and Europe may allow more generous carry-on allowances, but in Australia, 7kg is standard. In this post, I’m going to go through some tips for packing light, and what I actually ended up packing.
Not packing carry-on only doesn’t mean you’re overpacking!

1. Get a smaller, lightweight suitcase

Some people on the Winter Spirit had a backpack, and if that works for you, great. I’m more of a suitcase girl myself, and I prefer soft ones. If you’re going on a coach trip like I did, you will likely have luggage limits in terms of dimensions and weight. For Topdeck the weight limit was 20kg, and my airline, Cathay Pacific, was 30kg.

The bag I travelled with was the Lanza Roam 68cm Expand Spin Suitcase. It measures 68cm x 41cm x 27cm, and weighs 2.6kg when empty. It also has an expandable section if you’re really in dire straits. I have a larger Flylite suitcase which came in handy while touring and moving house, but I needed something smaller for this trip. The lighter the suitcase, the more you can pack. And the smaller the suitcase, the less you can fit.
Also, it’s not a bad idea to get a bag with a distinct colour or design, or using some kind of tag to identify it at the carousel.

2. Choose clothing carefully

Every tip I’ve read about packing light comes down to one thing when talking about clothes: Choose clothes that mix and match.
I went through every item of clothing I picked to take with me and made sure they went with every other piece. Stick with solid colours rather than patterns, and neutral colours like black, grey, blue, red. You can add accessories to spice up your outfits. You’d be amazed how many outfits you can make with just a few pieces. And if you’re travelling in cold weather, your outfits will be hidden under your jacket most of the time. For me, I had a taupe down coat from Uniqlo. It was perfect.
Layering is your friend. To stay warm in Europe’s winter, I packed thermals to keep myself warm. I chose a lightweight down coat and lightweight merino wool jumpers/sweaters, and I bought wool socks from Kathmandu. Pick clothes that you can easily wash and will dry quickly. Wool is your friend, because it’s light, very warm, easily layered, and doesn’t need to be washed often. Also, think of clothes that can be dressed up or down for versatility on nice nights out.
I’m a low maintenance kind of girl, and pyjamas aren’t really important so I stuck with some cheap leggings from Supre instead of thick flannel fabric. Lightweight, comfortable and hardly take up any room
Typically for a day of sightseeing in Europe, I would wear a thermal top and leggings underneath jeans/ponte pants and a merino sweater with my down coat on top, scarf, hat, gloves. With my lined boots and wool socks, I was warm as toast. I did laundry maybe once or twice a week, and didn’t feel like I was missing anything. Be brutal when packing. If you don’t wear it in normal life, you won’t wear it on holiday. If it needs dry cleaning, ditch it. If it takes a week to dry, forget it too. Leave the heels unless you actually need them for an event or something. 2-3 pairs of shoes MAXIMUM is all you need.

Another tip I know to keep baggage weight and space down is you can wear your winter boots and coat on the plane. This has worked wonders for me in the past, but because I was flying out in the blazing Australian summer, this wasn’t an option for Europe.

3. Packing cubes are your new best friend

I wish, I wish, I WISH I’d known about packing cubes years ago. They have changed my life. I will literally never travel without them again. They’re small fabric zippered bags which serve to keep your clothes organised. They help you pack less (you’ll be amazed how much they fit when you roll your clothes!), stop you digging around in your bag for that elusive pair of socks and when you need to repack (as I did every couple of days), you just throw them in your suitcase and away you go. I had one for sweaters and tops, one for socks and underwear, one for pants and one for thermals, scarves, hats and my gloves. Just four packing cubes held everything. My down coat came with its own pouch, and I had a toiletry bag. All electronic cords stayed in the zippered section in the lid of my suitcase. I also packed a cheap laundry bag from Daiso to keep my dirty and clean clothes separate.
You can get packing cubes in different sizes all over the place. Amazon, Kathmandu, travel stores, even the $2 shop. Get a few and prepare to have your life improve.

4. Downsize toiletries and makeup

Toiletries and makeup, along with shoes can be the bane of your life. You can either decant all your toiletries into smaller bottles, buy full size once you arrive, or go with solids. For makeup, I did just fine with mineral powder, blush, brown eyeshadow, neutral pink lipstick and light eyeliner. In fairness, I don’t wear makeup much except when I’m performing. Regardless, you don’t want to be packing heavy glass foundation bottles.

I highly recommend getting a hanging toiletries bag, especially for Europe, because the bathrooms can be very tiny and there usually isn’t anywhere for the bag to go.
And for the girls, if you want to make everything easier, ditch the pads/tampons and go with a menstrual cup. For more reasons why, click here. Again, I wish to heaven I’d known about these a long time ago.

5. Whatever you do, don’t pack at the last minute.

The best thing you can do is start packing at least two days before you go. Last minute packing is stressful, and tends to lead to overpacking. If you find you’re missing something a day or so before you leave, you have time to fix this. Take the time to write a list, and stick to it!

Below, I present my packing list. In this form it may seem like a lot, but in total it weighed 9kg.
Next blog will be dedicated to the long haul flights and carry on.

My European Winter Packing List

7 x underwear
4 x socks
3 x bras
3 x thermal tops
2 x thermal leggings
5 x merino/merino blend sweaters (1 black turtleneck, 1 red crewneck, 1 blue crewneck, 1 light blue crewneck, 1 grey turtleneck)
4 x ponte stretch pants (1 black, 1 navy blue, 1 green, 1 dark grey)
1 x skinny jeans
1 x belt
1 x blue top (for going out)
1 x black skirt (for going out, wore thermal leggings to keep warm)
2 x cotton leggings (used as pyjama pants)
1 x cotton pyjama shirt
1 x cotton t-shirt (for the flights)
1 x taupe down coat
2 x scarves
1 x merino wool gloves (these had touchscreen fingers so I could still use my phone)
2 x merino wool hats
1 x lined walking boots (could be dressed up or down for nights out)
1 x sneakers (for the flights and long travel days on the coach

Prescription medication
Lush solid shampoo bar
Hair conditioner (also doubled as shaving cream)
Body wash (replenished in Vienna)
Face wash (replenished in London)
SPF moisturiser
Night cream
Body lotion
Body puff
Contact Lenses
Contact Solution/Case
Makeup (powder, blush, eyeshadow quad, eyeliner, lipstick, mascara, eyelash curler)

Laundry bag
Portable clothesline
Microfibre towel (a must if staying in hostels)
Plug adaptors
Portable luggage scale
Spare padlock

Dedicated to European travel, this website is brilliant. It’s full of tips, packing advice, travel guides, scam warnings, you name it. I would have been lost without it.

A great website for packing light. Literally has a list for every destination, in all weathers. They’re big fans of carry-on only, and they also have ideas for reducing toiletries, makeup etc. Great for the ladies.

Next time: Long haul flights and carry on advice

Pre-Europe: Planning

Travel has been a huge part of my life, especially over the last few years. Those who read and followed my Wanderlust recap know that from Dec 25, 2017 – January 29, 2018 I travelled from my home in Sydney, Australia to Europe. I visited 13 countries over five weeks as a solo female traveller. This trip was one I planned meticulously and I was not supposed to go alone (I don’t feel comfortable going into the how/why details at this point). My next few blogs will be about how I planned, packed, and survived the long haul flights. This, obviously, is my own experience and what worked for me. It may not work for you or your destination. But never forget the power of adaptation!

1. Decide where you want to go!

It may seem obvious, but it’s crucial to figure out where exactly you want to visit and how long you want to spend there. Being in Australia, it’s a huge trek to get anywhere in the world, so I wanted to see and do as much as I could. That’s why us Aussies spend so long overseas. We get 4 weeks annual leave every year, and if we’re going to spend 20 hours in the air, we might as well make the most of it.
What do you want to see? What do you want to do? What is your goal, so to speak, for this trip?
My goal was to get a taste of everything, a taste of Europe. I chose to spend some of the trip on a 23 day Topdeck tour, because it went everywhere I wanted to go, ticked a number of items off the bucket list, and if I was somewhere I ended up not liking, I would be stuck there long (I’m looking at you, Venice!). Moreover, if there was a place I really liked, I knew where I wanted to return someday. I doubt I’d do another bus tour anytime soon, but for a first trip, and especially since I ended up alone, it was the best option, and probably the safest for a first time solo female traveller.

The entire trip I visited Hong Kong, London, Paris, Swiss Alps, Florence, Rome, Venice, Salzburg, Vienna, Budapest, Krakow, Prague, Berlin, Amsterdam, not including day trips and stops in towns/cities throughout the journey.

2. Consider weather, time of year

Summer is tempting, but remember that it’s also peak season and lines/crowds will be horrendous. I chose winter because a) it was the most convenient time for me b) it was off-peak season and therefore a lot cheaper and c) Ok, the idea of snow and the holiday season was very appealing.
I was not used to that kind of weather, but I managed fine, and the lack of crowds and lines meant I could fit in so much more to my schedule, and being on my own I could do a lot more in a shorter amount of time.

3. It’s best to have solid ideas that can be adapted rather than a rigid schedule

Obviously, this all depends on your situation, but when I travel, I find it’s best to have a list of things you want to do, the non-negotiable must-haves and a list of ideas as well before you book. For me, I wanted to spend more time in London either before or after the Topdeck tour, and I wanted to make the most of a stopover in Asia.

4. Trust your travel agent

They know what they’re talking about. For instance, my original travelling partner and I had plans for a three day stopover in Singapore on the way to Europe, and meet the tour in Paris, then spend time in London afterwards. He also had the grand idea of cutting costs by flying on different airlines. However, the travel agent was upfront over how difficult this would be. Changing airline carriers adds a whole lot of expenses that you neither need nor want, and Singapore was going to be difficult to do in three days. In the end, it seemed Singapore should be a separate trip altogether. We still wanted to make the most of a stopover, if only to break the 20+ hour journey. Instead, Hong Kong was suggested as an alternative, and with a stopover of close to 12 hours, we could definitely get a good feel for the island. I had never even thought of Hong Kong as an option. It literally never crossed my mind. But I agreed, and will be forever grateful I did, because Hong Kong was a wonderful place and I’m dying to go back!
Travel agents know your destination. They can give you all sorts of tips, recommendations and ways to make things smoother. Trust them, and it may just make travelling better than you imagined.

5.Book your flights early, and don’t forget travel insurance.

I cannot stress this enough. Not only will this save you a LOT of money by booking as far in advance as you can, but it takes a lot of stress off. My original companion kept delaying and delaying. We were meant to leave in December, and didn’t book flights til mid-September. Only a few dramatic weeks later, I made the difficult choice to travel alone. Thank goodness for travel insurance, or I would have been screwed. If you can’t afford travel insurance, you cannot afford to travel.

6. Research, research, research!

This is crucial for a trip like the one I took. I had never been that far away from home, and despite my fascination with history, I knew very little about some of the places I was going to. After my less-than-great first experience with a long haul flight to America, I wanted to figure out what I should do differently next time. I knew Europe was full of petty crime and scams. Being Australian, I’d only ever seen snow twice in my entire life so was unprepared how to dress for a European winter. I needed to know about public transport, the airports I would be flying in and out of. And when it became clear I was going on this massive venture as a solo female traveller, something I had never done before, I wanted to know how to keep myself safe.

Google is your friend. Look up all you can about your destination. There’s some incredible websites about travelling that meets every need. More on that in the next section….

Next time: Packing light!