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
Lush solid shampoo bar
Hair conditioner (also doubled as shaving cream)
Body wash (replenished in Vienna)
Face wash (replenished in London)
Makeup (powder, blush, eyeshadow quad, eyeliner, lipstick, mascara, eyelash curler)
Microfibre towel (a must if staying in hostels)
Portable luggage scale
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.