For Christmas and New Year’s 2019/2020, I traveled to Copenhagen, Denmark, to spend time with my in-laws. For my first vegan winter, there was a lot of prep needed, especially in the clothing department! I hope that sharing my experience will help others who are not acquainted with cold seasons to prep and stay nourished, warm and comfortable during their own winter travels too, whilst reducing costs, waste, and animal cruelty.
Packing things from home
Knowing that I was going to have access to a kitchen during our 2-week stay, and that eating out regularly in a tax-heavy place like Denmark was going to send me home stone broke, I packed small quantities of items for home cooking.
For herbs and spices, I took a week-long pill box and filled each compartment to the brim with things I already bought from bulk stores in Malaysia: onion and garlic powders, cumin, dried thyme and basil, warming spices like cayeene and curry powder. I brought an additional small container for smoked paprika.
I forgot to take a photo with all the spices inside the pill boxes, so here it is empty for reference. If you have access to a Daiso shop, I got mine from there.
In other small containers, I packed things for breakfast like maca powder, chia seeds, cocoa powder for hot chocolate, and a large container of nuts that also sustained us on long days out.
Doing all this saved us from spending lots of money on all these items at the supermarket, and contributing to a lot of unnecessary plastic waste.
However, it made sense to buy rolled oats in Denmark as it’s half the price to buy it there, compared to bringing half a kilo of it from Malaysia that was grown in a Nordic country anyway!
As always, I made my own energy bars to eat on the long plane ride. They were great snacks to have on hand in Copenhagen too, together with the nuts.
In this photo is also brunkager (Danish Christmas cookies), vegan by default, available in supermarkets everywhere. We ate enough to last us next Christmas.
For health supplements, I brought with me Esberitox, Berocca, Vitamin C powder, and Oil of Oregano. These helped us maintain strong immunity while the winter illnesses like cold and flu were making their rounds!
In Denmark, it’s extremely accessible and affordable to get fresh organic produce during all four seasons.
Winter veggies that were plentiful, wholesome and delicious to use in roasts and soups included: beetroot, carrots, savoy cabbage, celeriac, leek, potatoes, and a new one for me: the nutty, buttery Jerusalem artichoke.
To our luck, a supermarket chain called NETTO had launched their own range of plant-based products just a few months prior. Called SPIR, which translates to ‘sprout’ in Danish, this range was unbelievably diverse and affordable, and provided amazing topping options for the common smørrebrød (open-faced sandwich) meals eaten in Denmark. Featuring items like cream cheese, cold cuts, pâté, yoghurt, and full-on Pizza Margherita, SPIR is a godsend who value budget and convenience.
This was the biggest challenge of all. I can tell you that finding a sub-zero jacket that was waterproof, windproof, not made of down, wool, fur or leather, AND second-hand, was a battle that was lost even before it began. I spent FIVE MONTHS on Carousell scrolling through the never-ending stream of preloved jackets. Not finding something I needed there, my friend Melissa Tan suggested that I try and source for a jacket to borrow or be gifted by The Beli Nothing Project, a Malaysian community that gives away things they no longer need, or loan items to others instead of encouraging one-off buys. When I sent out a request, several BNP-ers came back offering to gift or loan jackets that unfortunately were either containing animal product, or didn’t look like it would protect me sufficiently from cold, wet, windy Scandinavian weather.
It was within my RM500 budget. It ticked all the boxes. It was perfect. BUT it was tough to cope with the fact that I was supporting fast fashion. This is the first clothing item I’ve bought brand new in two years. And having been featured in a news article a month before, for my eco-friendly clothes shopping habits, I felt hugely embarrassed. A friend did comfort me in explaining that all the trouble I went through before getting this jacket meant that it was a very conscious decision, and therefore not a typical outcome of fast fashion. And having family in Denmark, I would be able to use this jacket for future occasions to come.
This experience defined what my allowances and boundaries as a vegan are, and this may not necessarily apply to everyone. A winter coat is a proper investment, and borrowing a friend’s down coat for a once-in-a-lifetime trip could also be a sensible choice that doesn’t support further waste nor cruelty. It really boils down to making decisions you’d personally be comfortable with.
I brought with me some preloved Uniqlo Heattech tops and bottoms, found at some clothes swaps and also on Carousell. They were amazing at providing additional warmth underneath jumpers and sweaters. Heattech leggings were thin enough to wear underneath skinny jeans. Inevitably the legs still got a little cold. But as long as my feet, neck and the rest of my body was warm this wasn’t a trouble.
Any tops made of synthetic fleece were extremely helpful, whenever indoor heating wasn’t strong enough to warm up a lean kid from the tropics.
Hat, scarf and gloves
My scarf was made of a thin yet very warm fleece-like material; I found it at Cash Converters and it was the only scarf I needed for the whole trip.
I brought with me a hat THAT I LEFT ON THE PLANE BACK HOME UGH. Sorry. Still miffed about that. The beanie was bought during my kungfu student days in China. It contained 3M Thinsulate and it worked like a dream. The gloves are a funny story. I actually brought with me a pair of winter mitts, also from student days, and I lost one of them during a day out in Copenhagen (notice a trend here?). The day after, I bought these Thinsulate gloves at the supermarket. Then the day after, I walked into a thrift shop I visited on that day out to buy a scarf I was eyeing, and LO AND BEHOLD my missing mitt was there sitting like blooming royalty on the cashier table. I gave these Thinsulate gloves to my mom-in-law who needed a new pair. So it all worked out great. Except for the hat. Ugh. Twat.
Shoes and socks
I brought with me some preloved Rockfish wellies which I surprisingly did not need to use at all throughout our holiday – apparently it was raining every day right before our visit, and when we came by the rain stopped! For winter boots, I started with the same procedure as I did with the coat – a comb through Carousell. Compared to the coat hunt, it was sliiiggghtly easier to find second-hand non-leather waterproof options for foot protection. Whenever any item listing I was interested in did not have a clear labelling or description of what it was made of, I sent a message to the owner to check if they knew. I was fortunate to find a pair of Fila boots that I liked where, despite no labelling at all, one picture was taken close enough for me to observe a fabric-like texture beneath the suede-like upper. I could tell that the fur lining was synthetic too. Including shipping, it was a very decent buy at RM58 (USD $14). I was planning to purchase a waterproof shoe spray. Thankfully, my shoes revealed themselves to be already water resistant on damp days.
I learned the hard way on this trip that normal thick cotton socks that I use for running are not the same as WARM SOCKS. The alternative to woolen socks are those also made of cotton, but spun in a way that the lining creates a layer of air for insulation. My four pairs of running socks stayed in my luggage bag and didn’t see the light of day (or lack thereof in winter). My family took me out and got me two pairs of cheap warm cotton socks. Bless their… cotton socks.
FACE AND BODY CARE
I knew that if I didn’t bring moisturization, I would have come back as crisp as a crouton. Keeping lip balm in my pocket, from Kuala Lumpur take-off to Kuala Lumpur touch-down, is the reason my lips can still be used to form words today. I brought with me an all-natural beeswax-free balm from Malaysian brand Wunderbath, and a homemade shea-based lip balm that my sister made for me too. For face and hands, I brought a hand-blended treatment oil that was a gift from a Neal’s Yard event. If I didn’t have this, I would have brought a bottle of pure argan oil.
For additional body moisturization, I brought some gorgeously-scented ginger body butter from The Body Shop.
The place we stayed at had duvets and pillows made of down. I found out that it’s normal for almost all homes in Denmark to have such items. For practicality’s sake, I was alright to make this compromise. Would I recommend anyone to bring their own alternative bedding materials for winter travels? If you can source for something that is hopefully lighter and less bulky, and don’t see it as a trouble to include it in your luggage, by all means do so.
A few presents were brought from Malaysia to my Danish family and one of the things I insisted on NOT doing was buying wrapping paper. At the same time the gifts were ideally to be a tad more presentable than the usual newspaper option. I dug around my home and found massive sheets of baking paper that I had no more use for, and a lump of knotted-up twine that I used once before for an event. Both were packed into check-in luggage. Then the day before Christmas, on a soggy half-hour walk home in Copenhagen from the train station, I picked up fallen leaves and twigs of all shapes, colours and sizes. I was lucky that on our street, a couple of live Christmas trees must have been brought into some houses because there were a few broken branches lying around too.
All washed thoroughly, left to dry on the radiator, and included in the wrapping that added a beautiful rustic touch to the presents with little or no use of sticky tape. It was a fun little upcycling project and I’m glad I got to make use of things that would have most likely been eventually thrown out anyway. Thanks to Melissa again for this wonderful suggestion!