Surviving Winter in Romania

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Winter has done its worst and the mercury is starting to hit positive numbers during the short days here in the remote mountains of Romania. This area is beautiful, harsh, inspiring and difficult and it’s where we choose to be. Why, when we could live anywhere in the world, do we choose to spend winter in Romania where temperatures dip to -25C (-13 F), snow and ice lie thick for months, the water freezes, and outside bathrooms are a necessity?

Winter dress sheepskins Romania
Winter dress in Romania. Romanians know how to keep warm in natural wool and sheepskins.

We’re digital nomads, we have the world at our fingertips, so why here? We’ve just come back from Thailand, on purpose, to spend Christmas and January in Breb Romania. Are we insane? Well possibly, yes, but let me explain why Romania holds our hearts in her icy fist.

Winter in Romania

We Love Romanian Winters!

Nothing in the world beats skiing with your whole family on an amazing day. It’s around -9C here but the sun is shining and everything sparkles.

It’s true, we dig snow. We ski, so how could we not? I love crisp walks in the hills with my husband, trudging and crunching through hard crusted powder enjoying nature’s creation under a high blue sky. The kids love hurtling down the lanes on toboggans with no fear of traffic and catching fat flakes on their noses.

Winter traditions in Romania
Winter traditions in Romania are very interesting! This photo was taken at a traditional festival, just after Christmas.

We love chopping wood, building fires and rustic life in this 100-year-old oak beam cottage. We love our friends and neighbours here. They’re the best of the best, we’re very social and we all pull through winter together.

Community and support are important, when you leave home to travel the world you build new community.

I love seeing horse-drawn sleighs laden with wood, blankets, bells and red tassels glide past my house. That’s magic. I don’t know of anywhere else in the world where we could see history come to life like this.

Romania winter outside bathroom
The outside bathroom in Romania in winter. The water in the pipes would freeze, so this style is much more practical!

On Sundays when Breb villagers dress up in traditional winter costume to walk through snow past wooden houses to church, it’s like living in a movie set. But it’s very real.

But obviously, there’s more to it than that.

The Hardships of Winter in Romania

winter in Romania keeping warm
The locals know how to keep warm in winter. The Christmas festival of tradition in Maramures, Romania.

We’ve had no water at all for about 7 days this month. It’s usually just half a day to a day here and there, but for the last 3 days of January, nothing. Nothing at all.

The taps froze solid when we left for a weekend (for deep, hot baths and a luxury apartment in Cluj Napoca.) and I struggled to defrost them again. The indoor flushing toilet became unusable about 2 weeks ago, I think the cesspit has stopped draining into the frozen ground.

There is no modern heating in the house, wood stoves only. At night indoor temperatures can be, and have been, well below zero. We do have an electric radiator that we’ve occasionally left on through the night, but generally we find we don’t need it.

Once we’re snuggled under duvets we’re not cold at all. OK, the night it was -21C I was a tiny bit chilly, but we forgot to put the radiator on that night. It reminds us of when we were trekking in the Himalayas, some of our best family memories have been sub-zero.

Think about that when you look at your winter heating bill in warmer climates (yes I mean you Britain!), it’s unnecessary.

If you’re reading all the above thinking life must be a struggle, don’t. An unhappy, miserable life is hard, we’re happy. We laugh at what the climate throws us, family bonds grow tighter and we relish the extremes. Not many people get the chance to connect so closely to mother nature of feel her this raw. We consider ourselves privileged. Yes, even when we’re sitting on the outdoor wooden throne in the snow. I’m not kidding, you should try it!

I think in summary you could say, we enjoy a challenge.

Helping You, Helping Me

Winter snow in Romania Breb Maramures
The village that keeps calling us back, in the winter snows of northern Romania.

It may seem a little dull to you to spend winter halfway up a mountain in Romania, but, other than the things I talk about and the sheer beauty of the place, I really love my jobs.

#1 educating and caring for my kids and #2, helping you and me through working online. When we’re on the road full-time, hopping on buses and trains every other day, I don’t have so much time for those two things.

Back in 2012 when we jumped into our new travel lifestyle we wanted to live more as a family, have more fun, have more adventures, reduce financial needs, de-clutter our lives, and give the kids an amazing education.

We’ve checked all those boxes, but in the process discovered that at the bottom of our wanderlust was a need for freedom.

Romania gives us that for a few months a year, breathing space, and these days a lot of my drive comes from helping others find their own freedom. Corny, maybe, but it’s what I do and what I love.

Be it through alternate education, earning online or just travel, I love meeting people with hopes and dreams and giving them confidence and practical advice to see them on their way.

We meet them in real life and through social media and Skype, it keeps me happy and it keeps me busy when I’m done chopping wood and melting snow to make tea.

steffi and family travelling
This lady is one of my favourite people in the world. I’ve been helping her for months now, getting her out into the world, planning, explaining, reassuring, removing anxiety. She’s there now, in Thailand, having obscene amounts of fun with her kids. It’s fantastic and gives me a real buzz. To me this travel is simple, straightforward, everyday life, but I see her friends’ reactions on Facebook and it’s very much “Wow!” It makes me feel that what we do is a little special. You rock Steffi xx

Another lady sent me this message not 10 minutes ago, my 5 am start got brighter when I read these words.

“I just wanted to drop you a message to say how you inspired me via your blog… helping me to live my dream ! I started up a little blog too ….every time I get a friend to follow I get this warm, fuzzy glow inside so big, big thanks”

I’ll share Lucy’s blog when she’s ready, she’s in Thailand.

I’m guess what I’m saying here is job satisfaction, I got it in spades!

 

It’s Cheap

Romania winter skiing
At the top of the hill on a beautiful day. Free to enjoy the blue skies, perfect powder, and lack of other skiers on a weekday.

We estimate that living here, including rent, electricity, good wi-fi, and firewood, costs around $8/day.

Food is our biggest expense on top of that, but a big shop costs around half of our London or Australia grocery bill.

We use little petrol because in winter we stay indoors often and the ski slopes are only 10 minutes up the road on days when blue skies call us out to play.

The car is a big expense, she breaks down and needs maintenance. I’d rather not need a car but for this period of our lives she’s absolutely essential. We’ve done without a car for 3 years, it was fine and environmentally kind, but here, no go.

Skiing costs us about $90/ day for the whole family. We can afford that because we spend less on the things that don’t interest us.

That’s one of the cornerstones of a nomad life, stay somewhere cheap for the long periods

 

We Get to Work Hard

winter in Romania village Maramures
No, not a film set. This is real and we love it.

Life is simpler here. We have no appointments or schedules, the kids are happy in what they’re doing and don’t need constant distractions or activities. We can sleep as long as we like or work through the night, no buses to catch, airports to get to or inconvenient hotel check-ins to negotiate.

Certainly no school run or work schedule. We are home, in our own space and we’ve been killing the work.

Chef has been working like crazy on his website, in between stints of tough physical work chopping wood to help him stay in shape for his international Ironman competitions.

I’ve been teaching him how it’s done, the quick way, and he’s finally showing an interest. This month he’s tripled his traffic and is able to make money through affiliate sales on his blog. I’ve had time and space to grow and make over a lot of the website. We’re in a good place.

Millionaire Lifestyle, Lower Income

wood delivery Romania
Our winter wood arriving before the snows. We chop it, stack it, and keep the stove burning all winter long. Its harder than modern living, yes, but weirdly more enjoyable.

It’s a cliché maybe, but that’s how we feel, we love life and thrive on the contrasts of Everest in February, London in Summer, Thailand in Autumn, and Romania in winter, it keeps life interesting and us thirsting for more adventures. We earn way less than back in the days of paying mortgage and utility bills but the value we get out of life is so much more. We’ve done it, we’re loving it. We hope, that if it’s what you want, you can get there too.

Now, hands up who thinks we’re crazy for loving the cold.

Tell me in the comments.

If you’d like to experience life in our corner of the world, Breb, Romania, check out The Village Hotel or Casa din Vale (we highly recommend both and spend a lot of time at both. Our friends ran a little bar/restaurant- a terrace-at Casa Din Vale- great food, they’re now at Breb Garden Restaurant) You can step back in time too. Also, take a look at our post on Christmas traditions in Romania, these things are special and surprising.

If you'd like to hire a car during your stay, use this car rental comparison tool to find the best deal!

We also suggest you take a look at this company to get a quote for all kinds of the more tricky adventure or extended travel insurance.

Try Stayz / VRBO for an alternative way to find rentals on homes/apartments/condos in any country!

About the author
Alyson Long
Alyson Long is a British medical scientist who jumped ship to chase dreams. A former Chief Biomedical Scientist at London's West Middlesex Hospital she started in website creation and travel writing in 2011. Alyson is a full-time blogger and travel writer, a published author, and owns several websites. World Travel Family is the biggest. A lifetime of wanderlust and over 6 years of full-time travel, plus a separate 12 month gap year, has given Alyson and the family some travel expert smarts to share with you on this world travel site. Today Alyson still travels extensively to update this site and continue her mission to visit every country, but she's often at home on her farm in Australia.

20 thoughts on “Surviving Winter in Romania”

  1. This is such a great write up. Thank you for sharing. I apologize because I’m sure you get asked logistical questions all the time, but I will only have one week to do Cluj- Bucharest in mid December before Christmas with my mom and 14 year old daughter. I want to focus more on the in between countryside rather than the two big cities, on beautiful Christmas sites and decorations(markets too) and at least snow capped mountains(but Im sure the ground will be covered too most of where we are).
    My 3 questions: do you have any standout spots to visit for a scenic Christmas time?
    And would we need to rent a car since only one week or should buses/slow trains be ok to see remote towns.
    And do you have any lesser priced ski location suggestions for a bunch of beginners? THANK YOU!

    Reply
    • We only skied at Cavnic, at least 3-4 hours north of Cluj and you’re not heading that way. Brasov would be a big highlight for me and there is skiing there. The town is in the valley, ski lifts/slopes up the hill. Look at our Brasov post. We spent Christmases in the village so I don’t really know how Christmas looks elsewhere in Romania. But I think Bucharest and the old town of Cluj would be good. There are a number of car hire places near Cluj airport. I’d recommend going with a well-known name company and being certain of your booking. Car hire prices have exploded globally since Covid, so that may be a nasty shock.

      Reply
  2. Looks wonderful! We are coming to Bucharest next week and plan to get up to Brasov for a couple of days. How are the trains in winter? Are they 1) reasonably reliable and 2) warm? I see you do your travelling by car….

    Reply
    • We have taken the trains, yes. The sleeper train from Bucharest to Sighetu Marmatiei. The trains aren’t luxury but they were very, very warm when we travelled. Romanians don’t like opening windows so verging on the stifling. We only know what the sleeper compartments are like sorry, never travelled in a seat carriage. You could also take the bus, buses are pretty good. Roads should be clear, they’re very handy with the snow ploughs. Hiring a car is very cheap there if you take that route. Parking is horrible in Brasov but the train station is quite convenient.

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  3. The last winter was one of the best we had in long time here in Romania because we actually had some snow not only in the mountain regions. Nevertheless, I think Romania’s winter resorts are very good budget friendly alternative for those who like snow and cold weather during the winter season.

    Reply
    • Yes, we had snow on the ground here from October last year. Nothing like that the year before. But now, March, all gone and it’s quite warm. I’m not sure if we’ll be able to ski again or not, there’s still snow on the mountains but I don’t think there’s enough. Will pop up and look next week.

      Reply
  4. Found your blog as I was researching our summer roadtrip through Eastern Europe with Romania being the main attraction. Love what you are doing and you have inspired me to make more concrete plans for our family to do more serious travel! If you are interested in a house swap for a week or two this summer, we live in a nice farmhouse in France with a swimming pool. :0). I will be spending some time checking out your blog as I plan our trip….thanks so much for what you are doing.

    Reply
    • Susan, we very well might take you up on that, shoot me an email, we’ll be heading that way in summer for sure on the annual car tax/MOT trip. I’ll warn you, no luxury here, but an amazing, authentic experience. Cheers πŸ™‚ And good luck with your adventure!

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  5. I’m so happy to found your website here! Greetings from Croatia! I hope you and your family will visit it in future – I see this post from Romania – we have similar customs/costums, but not for Christmas – in Croatia we “dress” up for carnival period.

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  6. This makes me want to check out Romania! How’s the internet speed though? One of the major pains of working on the road is finding great internet speed, which has been a problem for me for the past couple of months in Latin America. Even the speed in Mexico City, where I am currently based, is a quarter or half the speed in Europe/US/Asia.

    Reply
    • Romania has some of the fastest internet in Europe Chrys. It’s superb. We’re half way up a mountain in a tiny village where people have horses and carts and no running water and the phones pick up brilliant 4G. They just put in new internet cables too. They’ve got their priorities right! Internet is also cheap here.

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  7. Lovely! We are in our winter in Portland, Oregon and getting ready for take off in August when we launch to travel the world with our two boys ages 7, 9. My husband is a chef too. He is getting laid off from teaching at Le Cordon Bleu for 13 years and we are using that ‘forced’ break to make this plan come to fruition.

    I started a blog in the fall to document our work in getting ready to travel and some of my musings about the world. I work as a mental health therapist and people in my country are a lot more uncomfortable with the state of the world since our elections. So, I write about that process too. I hope to gain more traffic on my site and have it as a great addition to our journey.

    Thanks for your inspiration!

    Reply
    • Thanks Audrianna and good luck. Come on over to the Facebook Living Differently Group if you’d like a place to talk about it and learn from me, and others. All the best xx

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  8. Love this post, Alyson – we’ve had four weeks under zero and a whole week of -10Β°C, and I really got fed up with icy hands and tingling toes … but we’ve survived. I don’t know how you manage to love the cold … but I agree with Deanne : it looks lovely on photo!
    Talitha

    Reply
    • I’ve discovered that I’m getting old Talitha, I think I have the start of arthritis or something, my fingers and toes are a bit sore when the thermometer hits arctic. So far not a problem but I don’t know if I’ll be doing harsh winters much longer. Now we’re warm they’re back to normal again. And then I look at the old people in the village and marvel at how tough they are. Amazing people.

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  9. We’ve heard so many good things about Romania and we love snow too! Not afraid of a frozen outhouse and chopping wood. Do you store car, household furnishings, ski gear, etc while you are gone the rest of the year?
    Thanks for sharing. It’s inspiring to see someone take a couple months to just work not feel like they need to experience every element of a place.

    Reply
    • We’ve actually been renting this little house year-round Henry. So the pets ( we have bunnies) stay with our landlady in her cowshed, all our clothes, computers etc travel with us, but we can leave things like the kids bikes, sledges, ski clothes, odds and sods, here. We still have very few belongings. This is temporary, so we try not to buy stuff, the house came with furniture, we’ve just bought a few kitchen items, a fridge and washing machine, plus extra bedding. If we were to move base now, say to Thailand, we could fit everything we’d want to move in one big suitcase….except the bunnies. When we travel in Europe we take the car, we drive back and forth to the UK all the time. If we fly out she ( she’s called Sexy) stays in airport parking, which is about $100 for 6 weeks. It’s cheaper than storage!

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  10. Very impressive! It looks beautiful and it’s great that you’re living the life you want. As for myself, I had to use outdoor facilities once in subzero weather (on a winter camping trip in the Cascade mountains when I was a student) and I think I’m still traumatized by the experience! Even zero or minus five like we get here in British Columbia is too much for me. My dream would be for Hawaii and maybe California to split from the US and come join Canada; then I could stay in the country I love and be warm in the winter, too! But I do love looking at your lovely winter photos and hearing about your adventures. The more I hear about Romania, the more I want to visit.

    Reply

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