Planning

10 tips to pack your backpack effectively by Those Fancy Gems

I'm sure you already know that we travelled with a backpack and a daypack that did not weigh over 12kg. How did we do it? 

Understanding your airline regulations

Our flight via Air France-KLM had a cabin baggage restriction of a total of 12kg for a cabin-sized bag and an accessory, which was a very decent amount of luggage as most airlines strictly allow only 7-8kg. We decided that we did not want to check in any luggage, as our stuff would be the bare necessities that we have carefully prepared for the trip and we wouldn't want to risk losing them by checking in our bags and arriving to nothing.

Know the type of backpack you want

The type of backpack you want is correlated to whether you have decided on checking in your bags or not. I always feel that less is more, and it certainly helps if you use a smaller bag so that you will have no chance of overpacking.

We shipped in an Osprey Porter 46 from the US, and scored two Eagle Creek backpacks (Digi Hauler and Adventure Weekender) from a local warehouse sale at a steal. These packs are of maximum legal carry-on dimensions and are sure to pass the stringent checks at the airports!

Write down a packing list

This is a tricky one as there would be tonnes of items that would make the first cut. Nonetheless, write them down and review it several times, removing a few items each time. Another tip is to have 2 lists: 'things that go into your luggage' and 'things that would be on your body or in your daypack'. This helps you in knowing exactly what would be going into your backpack. 

Please leave a comment if you are interested in our packing list!

Remove things that you have included "just in case"  

These items should slowly be weeded out of your packing list, or if they have already gone into your bag. How did we define "just in case"? These can be things that you have a high chance of not using, or things that can be purchased when you arrive at your destination, such as toiletries, which can be cheaper than where you are coming from. 

Tip: buy toiletries from cities that do not use the Euro.

Wash your clothes often on the go

One of the criteria we looked at while choosing our hostels or apartments is that there has to be a washing facility. Most hostels and apartments we stayed had a washer, and sometimes even a dryer. You'd need a little planning to get the most out of this facility though. We usually wash our clothes if we are staying at a place for at least 3 nights, so that there is ample time for the clothes to dry before moving to the next city. 

Tip: bring a small bag of washing powder as some hostels do not provide it.

Buy fast-drying socks and underwear

We bought underwear from Exofficio via Amazon. They aren't exactly cheap but let me tell you how amazing these underwear are. They are easy to wash, durable, moisture-wicking which keeps you feeling fresh, and dries tremendously fast. They usually dry by the next morning and we could pack them up and go. We had 3 pairs each and are totally sold.

As for socks, we bought them from Smartwool via Timberland. Wool is a great material for socks as it is moisture-wicking (you still perspire in the cold!), and additionally it dries very fast due to its moisture-wicking properties. Wool socks can also be worn in sunny Singapore, as it actually helps keep you cool instead of the misconception that wool only keeps you warm.

Tip: Consolidate your purchases on Amazon for items that 'ships from and sold by Amazon.com'. If the total is above USD125, shipping to Singapore is free! Just remember that any incoming packages above SGD400 will incur GST of 7%.

Use vacuum bags to save space and stay organized

We bought these awesome vacuum bags from Qoo10 (this is an alternative link as the original seller we purchased from has stopped selling it) that do not require a vacuum cleaner to suck the air out. Moreover, these bags can be reused to store your winter wear upon return, or can be used on your next trip.

Ditch that extra pair of shoes

We did think of bringing an extra pair of shoes as we would be walking a lot, but gave up on the idea as we purchased really good boots for the trip. If in any case your only pair of shoes give up on you (thank god ours didn't), you can always buy another pair wherever you are, and they probably are in season too. This applies to everything else that you want to bring an extra piece for.

Shaomin & Kiat went for Timberland boots, while Shao Hui went for the Palladium Pampa Sport Cuff WN. It is magnificence in a boot, as it is waterproof, comfortable, and did not let her feet hurt a single day for 70 days.

Bring only one really good coat

It is tempting to want to bring more than one coat for a winter vacation as it is the one and only thing people see you wearing in your photos. However, we are thankful that we kept it to only one piece, as coats take up so much space in your bag. While travelling, the coat is out of your bag anyway so it definitely takes away some weight from your bag when you start wearing your coat and other winter accessories.

Tip: It rains and snows often during winter so it is a great idea to have a coat that also functions as a windbreaker/ raincoat.

 

 


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5 reasons why we travelled where we travelled by Those Fancy Gems

Shaomin was feeling stifled by the typical Singaporean life - to wake up, go to work, get home. Being in the workforce for a couple of years, she decided she wants to take a long break to go on a solo trip. Wei Kiat, her other half, does not want to let her go by herself, thinking it would be dangerous for her (you have to see how petite she is to think so, but don’t underestimate her as she has some crazy map reading skills). Where does Shao Hui come into play then? Well, she simply wants to tag along after knowing about the trip, because she recognises her sister, whom she lovingly calls Piggaye, as the best person to travel with. 

Was Shao Hui an extra / third wheel to Shaomin and Wei Kiat? Maybe a bit.. but there can be benefits as well like more photographing opportunities for Shaomin and Wei Kiat like their #followMinandKiatto series. More on that another time.  


 Santorini, Greece 

Santorini, Greece 

1. Knowing where we want to go

Deciding on a central-eastern Europe itinerary came to us almost naturally. 

We knew we wanted to go on a long trip, but only really decided on 10 weeks after checking out the flight tickets.

We also knew we wanted to go to Europe, but not having to spend too much. Central and Eastern Europe countries such as those not using Euros € tend to be much more affordable in the long term, hence we planned around that. 

European countries we visited that are not using Euro €:
Poland - Polish Złoty
Czech Republic - Czech Koruna
Hungary - Hungarian Forint
Romania - Romanian Leu
Serbia - Serbian dinar
Croatia - Croatian Kuna
Bosnia & Herzegovina - Bosnia and Herzegovina convertible mark

European countries we visited that are using Euro € :
Austria
Slovenia
Montenegro
Greece
Slovakia

2. Taking the route less travelled 

We chose the countries also based on how untravelled and underrated they are. Countries like France, Italy, Netherlands and Germany are definitely wonderful destinations to visit once in a lifetime too - the romantic Eiffel tower, the Colosseum, the windmills, the Neuschwanstein castle that looks like it sprung out of a fairytale.

But, we thought, in 5 years time, these places will still be relatively similar to what it is now (really, it’s just our own opinion, don’t hate us for this!). These countries are very developed as compared to the Central-Eastern Europe, which have had a troubled past, and are still trying to catch up with other countries. Since they are still making efforts to improve and develop, it means that things are changing fast, and if we do not visit them now, they will be much different in future. Perhaps even some cultures may be lost, some landscapes changed due to huge steps taken by the respective countries to boost the economy and build better buildings. 

 Dubrovnik, Croatia

Dubrovnik, Croatia

3. Scoring a ticket for less than SGD $1k

Flying into Poland from Singapore was the cheapest as compared to all the other countries. We flew by Air France to Warsaw with a transit in France, and by KLM, code share with Air France, with a transit in Amsterdam back home to Singapore. 

Singapore (SIN) - Paris (CDG)
Paris (CDG) - Warsaw (WAW)

Warsaw (WAW) - Amsterdam (AMS)
Amsterdam (AMS) - Singapore (SIN)

Initially we used Skyscanner to check for the cheapest ticket, and to our surprise, the lowest fare was just SGD $928. As we clicked through the booking site, it directed us to another website which is a third party booking agency. The price seemed too good to be true. So after doing a quick search and reading reviews, we realised that other users found it unreliable. 

Moral of the story: Skyscanner may sieve out the cheapest of fares for you but do take note of where it redirects you for booking. 

We booked our return ticket on www.airfrance.com for just SGD $972. Simple, reliable, and affordable!

4. Taking weather and other plans into consideration when planning the route

The season we were travelling in was Winter, and the higher up North we went, the colder it will be. Since Poland was the chosen destination to start first, and thankfully being the most North we would go, we started off from there, travelling South, downwards. In this way, as Winter goes through, though it should technically get colder, it gets warmer in our route as we get closer to the balkans and the coast. 

We also had to take into consideration where we were going to be on Christmas and New Year’s, as these two holidays are the biggest ones of the year and many shops were going to be closed, thus we aimed to land ourselves in a bigger city on those two holidays.

 Bucharest, Romania

Bucharest, Romania

5. Budgeting each day’s expenses, searching for accommodation

We did a quick search on how much accommodation would cost in each city and made a budget according to that. Our picks are hostelbookers, booking.com and Airbnb. For our meals, we decided on $10 per meal - $30 per day for food. We did not want to limit ourselves too much as part of the travel experience is to eat what the locals eat.

It was rather difficult planning the train and bus routes so we did not manage to budget for that. It is not feasible to buy a Eurail pass as we were planning to go to many smaller cities, which probably isn’t covered by the pass. Additionally, there is a time limitation on the pass. For example, according to eurail.com, a 2 month pass would cost €841 (S$1283) and does not include seat reservations or sleeper supplements. We spent a total of S$1510 on all of our intercity transport for 10 weeks - buses, trains, and flights within Europe (note its not including the international flight). This gave us the flexibility of choosing between train or bus. 


All figures mentioned are for 1 person, unless otherwise stated. 

backpack 70 days in 30 central-eastern europe cities for $7.3k by Those Fancy Gems

Hello!

Before we get down to the knitty gritty, this clip is our trip in a nutshell - 70 days around central-eastern Europe. 


So, it had been quite the roller coaster ride since we did our backpacking trip. 

We flew into Warsaw, Poland, from Singapore on 25 November 2014 and travelled for: 

71 days, 10 weeks, 9740km, 30 cities, 12 countries
with 2 backpacks amounting to 11kg of luggage
Took 16 trains, 9 buses, 7 planes, and had 6 pickups from Air BnB and hostel hosts, 4 ferry rides, 3 funicular rides, 2 cable car/ gondola, hailed 2 taxis
Rode on a donkey, skied, rowed a boat, ice skated, and countless of different cuisines and coffee……. 

All this for approximately, SGD $7.3k. This amount includes all planes, trains, ferries and bus tickets, all entrance fees, all accommodation from hostels and Air BnB, all food and other expenses (which is almost none, as we bought almost nothing - another post on how we did that soon!). 

It is still quite surreal that we were able do this. 

The first question others always ask is - how much did you spend? We will get back to that again in a future post, with a breakdown of all the expenses. But first, what about other questions like - what we ate, or drank, where we lived in, who did we meet, what experiences did we bring back with us? 

Well, I guess it’s hard to explain those things in words in a nutshell. Hope you have enjoyed our video and perhaps it will be able to take you on a whirlwind of fun, just like how it had been for us, and also to inspire you to be brave and start exploring.

Hop on here to know why we travelled where we travelled. 

Those Fancy Gems