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How To Survive An Eastern European Winter (Video)

Eastern European Winter - Bucharest

For the past six weeks, I’ve been in Bucharest, Romania, trying my very best to survive what, even for Eastern European standards, has turned out to be a cruel Eastern European winter. Snow and ice have been piled high, covering every inch of ground for quite a while now, and the temperature has consistently hovered around the -10 to -22C (14 to -4 F) mark.

About ten days ago, after meeting a friend in the city center, I actually had to walk back to the apartment where I’m staying in the middle of a blizzard. The taxis either refused to take me because of the road conditions or they wanted to charge me a ridiculous price and so, I just ended up walking instead.

I walked, for well over one hour, in the thick snow and icy rain, slipping, sliding and almost falling every few meters, with wind blowing in my face, icicles forming inside my nostrils, my eyes nearly frozen shut and my shoes offering as much warmth and protection as would a layer of tissues. As my nose dripped, head ached and my body weakened, every second became more challenging than the last to the point where I could no longer take actual steps and was moving forward through the use of tiny, barely-pick-my-feet-off-the-ground shuffles instead.

When I entered my friend’s apartment, I nearly collapsed, and had to force myself to stumble into the bathroom for a hot bath so that my body could thaw and just maybe not give up and die. I then downed a couple of cups of tea, put on my warmest of clothes, took a preventative flu medicine (didn’t want to get sick again) and laid down to rest.

Somehow, I survived, but I certainly learned a lesson that day. It was time to find a way to dress appropriately for this insane winter weather.

And after a little experimentation, I might have found the answer…

This video was inspired by a video post created by fellow traveler Niall Doherty over at “Disrupting the Rabblement” where he shows exactly what he’s carrying in his backpack during his current 4-year adventure. Be warned though, there is some nudity involved.


Any tips to share on how to stay warm during a brutal winter? I’d be most appreciative of any advice you could offer!

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75 Responses to How To Survive An Eastern European Winter (Video)

  1. jd says:

    hey there, im not sure if anyone else mentioned this but what i do to make getting double pants on without all the pain of pulling the pant legs down is to put my socks on first, the longer ones last if wearing more than one pair and tuck the 1st pants legs into socks so they stay put!! works 110% of the time for me here in new england when i have to go out and shovel or just plain play in the snow :-)

    • Lisa says:

      Thats a good way to do that! I always hold bottom of the first layer of pants with my toes as I put on the second :)

  2. Pingback: How I Can Still Afford My Life Of Constant Travel - Wandering Earl

  3. Mary says:

    A pair of long johns or thermal underwear would have been better for the under layer of pants. Also, Ski pants; they’re bulky but warm! Plus you need better boots. Rubber boots in winter is just asking to get your toes frozen off! Winter boots or at least thermal ones would be way better. I live in Maine so I deal with cold weather every year.

    • Earl says:

      Hey Mary – Thanks for the advice and if I happen to be foolish enough to stick around Eastern Europe for another winter, I will certainly be better prepared :)

  4. Melissa Anderson says:

    Looks about right!

    Consider tucking your first pair of pants into some socks before putting on the second pair of pants. Snow pants or long underwear would be better than jeans. And those boots are disco-fabulous!

    Also, hand and foot warmers are awesome! http://foodstorageandsurvival.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/12/hand-warmers.jpg

    Stay warm!

    • Earl says:

      Hey Melissa – Hand and foot warmers sound like a good idea for sure. Luckily, it’s now quite warm in Bucharest and I am able to go outside with just one pair of jeans, one shirt and my jacket. Hopefully the frigid conditions don’t return but if they do, at least I’m not better prepared to face them after reading advice such as yours.

  5. jonbar says:

    Living in Canada, I completely understand where you are coming from with the 93 layers. Although my typical response is just to barricade myself inside, for ALMOST the whole day (more on that later).
    However this year, I had a completely different challenge: surviving a winter without hockey. Most of the winter was too warm for the community rink to freeze over, and when it did, it would be washed away by rain within a few days. Which is unfortunate since hockey is that one thing I leave home for in winter. And if you want to be joined in winter stupidity, consider the 30 or so guys playing hockey outside in -18C (0F) weather in a jersey-MAYBE a sweater. Rejoice, that halfway across the globe are people more stupid :)

    P.s. after having watched a few videos of yours, I must say, you have a great voice :)

    • Earl says:

      Thanks for that Jonbar :) And that does sound insane with the hockey. I can’t even walk to the store in all my layers without being in pain, let alone spend an extended period of time in that weather with just a jersey on. I’ll stick to staying indoors!

  6. Just a couple suggestions Earl. I live in Calgary where our winter temps often go down to -35 to -40 Celsius so we need to know how to dress!
    First, when you are putting on your thermal undershirt, it needs to be your base layer right next to your skin to keep the heat in properly. And yes, merino wool is worth the money! Second, denim is just a bad idea. It is not warm, if you get wet you will freeze to death very quickly, and it isn’t comfortable to wear two pair of jeans!! Get some thermal long underwear, then a pair of fleece or similar pants, then a pair of snow pants or rain pants over top to keep you dry. And always wear a toque!
    Enjoy your travels, stay warm!

    • Lesley says:

      Oh, and rubber boots are not good in the cold but you can get some really great wool liners to wear inside them that will help!

    • Earl says:

      Hey Lesley – I actually do put the thermal layer on first on normal days but I decided not to show me shirtless again for this video :) And the thing is, thermal pants certainly do make sense, but since I don’t generally live in cold places, I try to limit what I carry with me. So, I don’t really want to buy all that winter gear because once I move on to warmer climates, I’ll have all this stuff that I won’t need any more. But for someone who does plan to stay in such conditions for a long period of time, I have no doubt at all that your suggestions would make a huge difference!!

      It also helps that I just don’t spend too much time outside when I’m in Bucharest!

  7. Rachelle says:

    HILARIOUS! And to think, I do the double-sock and quadruple shirts when it gets below 30 degrees. Nice touch on tying the scarf into a knot around your head … I guess the ski mask would look too threatening for someone that’s know to carry bullets in their pocket. ;)

    • Earl says:

      Hey Rachelle – In that case, don’t come to Eastern Europe during winter unless you bring 9 shirts! And yes, the ski mask might have been a little risky. I never know who’s watching me or following me around :)

  8. Kevin says:

    Hi Earl,

    good video, I agree it’s been hellish cold these last few weeks, Im in Antwerp, Belgium right now and this is the coldest Ive known it since I lived in Berlin, which being further east tends to get temperatures like this pretty well every winter.

    Agree with your layering strategy. Fleeces are excellent for keeping warm.

    Another thing you can do is to buy a pair of lined winter jeans, you can get these in the clothing chain C and A, if they have outlets where you are right now. This means having another pair of jeans but they would only be for wearing in the winter, too heavy and warm otherwise. They’re well made and not expensive.

    One other thing I do when it’s really cold is to rub some body oil onto my face and neck eg there is a brand called Frei Oel (I think its a German brand), it helps protect your exposed skin from the cold and also stops it from getting too dry. Often when it’s really cold the air can be really dry and low humidity, so its a good idea.

    Finally, if all else fails – go somewhere warm! I’ve had my fill of these cold ass European winters!

    • Earl says:

      Hey Kevin – Your last suggestion is the one I probably should be following! But I’m going to try and survive the rest of the winter instead. Thanks for the idea about the body oil, I will definitely try that out. And if it continues to reach -20 degrees, I just might have to get those lined jeans as well.

      Good luck with the rest of the winter up there in Belgium…and hopefully the summer will be a good one!

  9. eileen says:

    You are a hardy soul with your double pants wearing. I wore two pairs of pants during my recent foray to Seattle, in the ice storm, and there’s no way it was below about 25 F, but to be fair, I was coming from Santiago, Chile, where it’s the middle of summer. You could do a video for how to dress for Chile this time of year, but it’d be pretty short, and involve a lot of sunscreen.

    Thanks for the entertainment!

  10. Erik says:

    Live in Michigan for a few winters! That would certainly get you ready!!!

  11. Matthew Cheyne says:

    Hi Earl,

    I really do feel for you being stuck there in Romania in the freezing winter. I certainly hope that you don’t get sick again. That’s the last thing you need in that weather. What’s on the horizon after Romania? Hopefully some place nice and work like India or Africa as motivation to keep you going through the cold.

    As for the weather in Australia we haven’t had much of summer, mainly rain and severe thunderstorms in my neck of the woods. It’s due to get warmer during the next week into the high 20s and 30s…above zero that is.

    I really wish you well and the best of luck in the cold of Europe. Hopefully it will all lift fairly soon and you’ll at least get some temperatures closure to zero if not above zero.

    • Earl says:

      Hey Matthew – That’s alright, no need to feel bad for me as I’ve made the decision to try and survive such a winter! As for my upcoming plans, I have nothing concrete at the moment as I need to finish up a couple of projects first. Once I wrap those up, I’ll be pulling out the map and deciding where to go next!

      Sorry to hear about the poor summer in your part of the world. But now I’ll always think that if the temperature does not have a ‘-‘ before it, that’s a pretty good day :)

  12. Sherry Ott says:

    I’m guessing this is just another reason to not travel with skinny jeans. I would have loved to see you put layers of skinny jeans on! :) I’m also assuming that you are wearing everything in your backpack at this point! Stay warm!

    • Earl says:

      Hey Sherry – Yes, that pretty much is everything in my backpack. I might have to start putting on my one pair of shorts as well as every layer helps! And if I had skinny jeans, I would be in big, big trouble indeed. Miraculously, I have two pairs of pants that fit over each other quite well :)

  13. Nicole says:

    What brought you to Bucharest in the winter?

  14. I confess, I’ve never seen snow in my whole life (red face). and the coldest temperature I’ve been through was 2-5 C. Never 0 or below.

    I really wana see snow, is this bad? will I hate it and regret my wishes someday? :D

    I bet the weight of the clothes you put on in that video is actually heavier than the weight of your whole backpack (wardrobe)

    • Earl says:

      Hey Mina – There’s nothing wrong with wanting to see snow! It is beautiful, I will admit that. But after two minutes, I start wishing I was somewhere warm again. That’s impressive that you’ve never been in sub 0 temperatures…consider yourself very lucky :)

      • merits of living in Africa, and traveling only during summers :D I heard (and seen pictures) of one mountain in Egypt (Mount Sinai) where it snows there. Missed it this year but will go next year if I’m in Egypt during December/January.

        I really wanna play with snow :D

        • Earl says:

          Hey Mina – Interesting you bring up Mt Sinai. When I visited a few years ago it did suddenly start to snow there…it only lasted for around 20 minutes and it wasn’t terribly cold outside, so perhaps that is a good option to get your snow fix in :)

  15. Nichole says:

    I don’t think I could handle that much snow/cold, even with five layers of shirts.

  16. Steve C says:

    I guess a well traveled person must experience each end of the temperature scale. Been there, done that for the cold end! Some places are always cold and there’s no choice. Other places have both or sometimes even four distinct seasons where it would be nice to experience them in each time of the year.

    As a Californian, I enjoy snow as a place to visit, not to live. When it gets cold, I’d rather go south to the sun! My idea of enjoying life is with a T-shirt, shorts and flip-flops in a hammock between two palm trees on the beach in the tropics. I’ve lived for short spurts of time where it snows, and have learned that it’s just not my thing. Actually, I “dislike” ice and snow. I suspect that the people who like that climate are those that were born there. It’s home to them, and there’s nothing like home sweet home.

    BTW, I enjoyed your “low tech” Eastern European way to dress to keep warm. Are you going to have a yard sale before you leave for India?

    • Earl says:

      Hey Steve – That’s basically what I was thinking. I consider this just another challenge, to see if I can survive. But usually, I’m just like you and I prefer to be in a place where sandals and shorts are the appropriate clothing. And I’m not sure what I’ll do with my warm clothes. I definitely won’t be carrying them around with me any more as I can’t imagine myself trying to face another winter any time soon!

  17. Larissa says:

    Thanks for this, very informative and will probably employ several of these tactics on my trip to Eastern Europe next week. Double pants=brilliant. Luckily I already do bicep curls every morning (but with much larger weights) so hopefully the extra blood circulation will come in handy. Sounds and looks brutal down there, stay warm!

    • Earl says:

      Hey Larissa – Well, the weights were a joke, I don’t do any curls :) Good luck with your travels next week and remember, if it gets too cold, you can always go with triple pants as well!

  18. Robert says:

    Just don’t fall down outside, Okay? You’ll end up like Ralphie’s little brother, Randy, in the movie, “A Christmas Story.” ha ha… Anyway, your decision to travel Eastern Europe this time of year, eludes me. You are truly an adventurer. I’m leaving the Pacific Northwest (US) at the end of April to travel to Chiang Mai, Thailand. My intention is to use the city as a base camp, and springboard, then to spend some time traveling the region, including India. Any suggestions on destinations, accessible by train or short(er) flights from that local? Keep me posted on your travels back to S.E. Asia. I should be there for most of the year. Keep warm and upright!

    • Earl says:

      Hey Robert – I’m actually spending time in Romania in order to work on some projects with some friends who are also in the region. And I really want to get these projects done so the winter is actually a good time to be there…it forces me to stay inside and work!

      As for suggestions around Chiang Mai, there are an endless number of places to visit. Within Thailand you have the Isan region, northern towns such as Mae Salong and Chiang Rai and even the islands in the south are quite accessible. Flying between Chiang Mai and Bangkok only takes about an hour. And outside of Thailand, near Chiang Mai, you can easily fly to Yangon, Myanmar and take the bus to Laos. Too many places to see up there!

  19. rose says:

    Haha! Rubber boots in -20 weather – yikes!
    In Montreal, -22 is fairly common in winter (I know; I don’t know what I’m still doing here either…). Here are a few basic tips to get through it without losing any toes:
    – First of all, when you put your jeans on over your base layer, put on your socks and make sure you pull them up over the pants first. It’ll make pulling your jeans on a LOT easier :).
    – Underneath your jeans, if you can’t get thermal underwear, you should be wearing a pair of jogging pants (as mentioned above, coton is not ideal, but a pair of flannel pyjama pants is pretty cozy nonetheless).
    -Your socks should Definitely be merino wool, whether it is cold or hot… actually, if you had to invest in only one layer of clothing, make it merino wool. It is the only material that keeps you warm even when it is wet, and it breathes once you get inside and warm up a bit. Also, even if you sweat like crazy, it won’t stink the next day. (well ok, the socks may be an exception… but honestly, merino wool makes for amazing travelling clothes).
    -If you can, invest in a down jacket. I can go out with just a t-shirt under my jacket in -25 weather… and I love feeling like I’m still wrapped up in a comfy sleeping bag, even if I do look like the Michelin man! A down jacket weighs nothing and packs down really nicely. A gore-tex type shell on top of polar fleece is also really helpful, as mentioned in the post above.
    -Kevin’s comments above also mention calories, and these do help a lot… olives, potatoes, anything goes… I’m sure you don’t need too much encouragement on that one ;)

    Looks like you’re back in the US now, thawing out… enjoy!

    • Kevin Post says:

      Amen Rose! Besides, a down jacket makes for a fantastic pillow when condensed in a stuck sack :)

      I think it’s safe to say that you and I could easily write a blog entry about the benefits of merino wool :)

      • rose says:

        Hehe…I think I now own everything but merino underwear… (I do have the long underwear!) VIVA MERINO! :)

        • Earl says:

          Hey Rose – Ha, I guess in Canada you need to be prepared. I imagine that if I were to stick around a cold location for even longer, I would definitely need to rethink my wardrobe and prepare myself a little better!

    • Earl says:

      Hey Rose – Very useful information indeed. I guess I need to look into this merino wool stuff…sounds like it will make quite a difference. And you’re right, I have no problems at all throwing down a few more calories before heading outside :)

  20. Chris Wynter says:

    Brrrrrr… I can’t even imagine those temperatures.

    I was thinking that if you put on the first pair of socks before the second pair of pants, then tuck them into the socks; the second pair of pants should go on easier – in theory!

    • Earl says:

      Hey Chris – That is indeed a useful tip with the socks. From now on I shall be using that method! Thanks for pointing it out to me…I think the cold affected my brain to the point where I wasn’t able to see such a simple solution!

  21. Jessica says:

    Here’s a tip for putting on pants over pants without needing to wrestle with pant legs… After you’ve got your first pair of pants on, put on your first pair of socks – tucking the pant legs inside the socks, like you’re some kind of hard-core bike messenger dude. Then the second pair of pants should slide right on. You can un-tuck the socks after the second pair of pants is on, should you find it uncomfortable. (Not that you’re likely to ever need this information, since I doubt very much you’ll willingly subject yourself to a European winter again after this year…)

    • Earl says:

      Hey Jessica – Seems like I was the only one who didn’t think of that socks-first trick! But I am flying back to Romania in ten days so I’m sure I will have to use it again, and often, before this winter is over…

  22. Scott says:

    You have more juevos than I do. We were scheduled to be in Munich during this time, and cancelled due to weather, and went to NYC instead.
    I’ve lived in Chicago and it can get much colder than -2F. I can remember a night where with the wind chill it was -60, and I went out drinking…
    Cold sucks, and these days, I stay away from it.

    • Earl says:

      Hey Scott – Cold certainly does suck and after this winter, I’m quite certain I’ll go another ten years before trying to battle through another one!

  23. Kevin Post says:

    I’m sure that you know some of this but for those who don’t here are some basics:

    Say no to cotton! Cotton does little to keep you warm and will work against you if you perspire in the least bit due to its hydrophilic properties. A polypropylene or merino wool base layer is crucial to moister management. Most importantly invest in a few good pairs of merino wool socks to keep you warm when it’s cold and cool when it’s warm (I’ll explain another time). Again, cotton socks will give little to no insulation.

    You need three different types of layers to truly keep warm in subzero temps: base layer(s), insulation layer(s) and weather layer (shell layer). The base layer helps with moister management, the dryer you are the warmer you will be. This is one of the most important layers because it will allow your thermal/insulation layer to work at its fullest potential. Insulation layer is self explanatory, it’s designed to insulate the body (not wick moister!). Invest in a polartec fleece or a down jacket because they both have very high warmth to weight ratios (and the down jacket compacts very nicely in one’s backpack). Last layer is your weather layer. This layer is to protect you from the elements such as rain, show and wind. Going with a windstopper piece will bring down the windchill significantly. Also go with a windstopper porlartec fleeced beanie for significant warmth.

    I am a native Floridian that has done climbs in -30˚C temps. Another piece of advice (considering you have good base layers) is to keep your heart rate going and eat more calories than you’d normally eat before leaving the house (or tent if you’re a masochist like me :)). A snickers bar (or something comparable) before going outside can make a huge difference.

    Hope this helps.

    • Earl says:

      Hey Kevin – That certainly does help and I appreciate you taking the time to give such a useful explanation! To be honest, I’m quite clueless about how to stay warm (in case that wasn’t obvious from the video) as this is really the first time I’ve experienced temps below 30F or 40F for more than a couple of days in about a decade. I’m actually back in Florida myself right now for a week but when I get back to Bucharest at the end of the month, I hope to be much better prepared.

  24. Evan says:

    This picture makes me think of Chicago winters. Thousands of miles with the necessity of carrying all 50-70 pounds of gear have found my feet and joints noticing the wear, but still not as much as one would figure from such, thankfully. Maybe a longer to your neck and tighter, clingy, more elastic and woven pull over hat that you personally cut tiny mouth and eye holes for yourself with scissors for the colder times? This will not only personalize where the holes are for you, but also ensure stray threads which will act as cilia like hairs to catch flying snow, after you wash it…and thin wired ear sunglasses make for easy penetration in to the sides of the hat so as to rest on your ears. This type of hat, if you can visualize it after my book of explanation for such herein. Denver and other winters outside made me love these. I brought with me a -30 degree sleeping bag with me and slept outside countless times. Sock and t-shirt mooching lightens the load, but you have a great strategy for your goals! (an extra pair on your hands keeps the digits much warmer than a pair of gloves, actually) When I could stow some of my gear without fear of theft and knew I would return for this gear, I liked having less weight of only two “outfits” (one in the bag to be washed or already clean while wearing the other)…….Sofsole foot inserts are awesome! Discovered those after my long miles of humping, and they are supposed to last two years a pair…so far so good! I also tape ball of feet inserts to these. Hope this assists you keeping the eye on the long haul as for the body, is all. Dry, dry, dry is the key! Good craic!

    • Earl says:

      Hey Evan – I’ve been thinking that my hat needs to be replaced. That would probably make a huge difference and I appreciate your input. I like the idea of creating my own with such a long hat. There’s definitely improvements that I could make to my cold weather tactics but I keep hoping that the next day will be warmer and the insane conditions will be over!

  25. Angelo says:

    Hey Earl,
    A few friends and I headed down to Cappadocia last week and just barely made it through our 1-hour hot air balloon ride in exactly the same temps! Take your time getting back to Istanbul; after one nice weekend, it’s turned pretty cold and snowy again, but nowhere near as cold as Bucharest yet! Seen any frozen solid road kill?

    • Earl says:

      Hey Angelo – I couldn’t believe it when I saw the conditions in Istanbul the other week. It looked just as bad as in Bucharest! Hopefully the hot-air balloon ride was still worth it despite the frigid temps.

      And no frozen solid road kill yet…probably because I don’t spend too much time outside :)

  26. Deniz says:

    I was half expecting you to throw some potatoes in your boots:))

  27. Don’t forget those specialized snow goggles that prevent snow blindness! :)

  28. Lina says:

    -20°C, Belgrade, Serbia. A lot of snow, good ice … oh and strong wind as well lol

    And I’m not sure your boots are enough protection! :D

  29. Jelena says:

    -20°C, Belgrade, Serbia. A lot of snow, good ice … oh and strong wind as well lol

    • Earl says:

      Hey Jelena – I’ve seen the photos from Belgrade and it looks quite rough over there as well! Good luck with surviving! I guess everyone in the region is in this together…

  30. What a walk, I’m glad you survived Earl! It sounded brutal to shuffle through the cold for that long. On the video, just replace “Eastern European” with “Michigan” and you can survive the winters here too ;) I think the best advice is to layer, and make sure your top layer coat is windproof and waterproof. Down jackets keep you warmest. Baselayers made of merino wool (like the Icebreaker line) keep you especially cozy. Good luck staying toasty!

    • Earl says:

      Hey Patricia – Another mention of merino wool…I’m going to check it out right now! And hopefully you’re surviving this year’s winter up there in Michigan…I can’t imagine having to live through these conditions more than once :)

  31. Dayna says:

    Ah you crack us up, as always. For a girl you can add two pairs of leggings under all of that! I definitely go for 5 layers of shirts too! Apparently the snow here in Bulgaria will get worse in a few days too… ahh!

    • Earl says:

      Hey Dayna – You two are as crazy as I am for spending the winter in this region. It does make me feel better knowing that I’m not the only one doing this to myself! Enjoy the next round of snow :)

  32. Have you noticed the difference in snowflakes in various countries?

    I found that the snowflakes were much more easily identifiable in Hungary than in Poland. As in I could actually see the flakes, rather than just see it as snow.

    Funny how in December people said this was the warmest winter they’ve had in a while – And now it’s completely freezing :)

    • Earl says:

      @Earn on the Road: I haven’t noticed any differences, mainly because this is the first place I’ve experienced this much snow in a long, long time!

  33. Giulia says:

    Hehe, I hear ya! I am actually going to post a similar video in the next days. We had -30°C here last week and it’s going to be the same again next week end! (help!!!)

    • Earl says:

      Hey Giulia – I think if it ever hit -30C in Bucharest I would just give up, get on a plane and fly somewhere warmer. That would be my limit! Good luck!!

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