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Cold weather doesn't have to mean you get cold feet.


When winter sets in, are you the type to escape to a warmer climate?

Or do you head to the traditional summer destinations, to take in the holiday spirit in another culture while saving some money?

If you're game for saving money, enjoying smaller crowds, and getting a glimpse into a different aspect of a culture, this will be a quick guide on how to pack for winter travel.

1. Layers.

As a Colorado girl, this is something that’s just ingrained in my thoughts, year-round. But when you’re traveling, and don’t have the benefit of your whole closet at your fingertips, planning to layer your wardrobe is really important. In western Europe (France, Germany, Netherlands, Switzerland, Austria, etc), the temperatures may waver between 20-45° F, on any given day.

Here’s what you’ll want to have available to you:

  • Base Layer—something fairly form-fitting. If it’s a really cold day, you’ll want long johns or thermal underwear under your pants (or ladies, fleece-lined tights under that cute skirt). On your torso, a good moisture-wicking layer is important. Wool is a good choice, or you can find a good base layer top at your local sporting goods or outdoor store. It’s helpful if this layer is something you’d be okay wearing on its own (i.e. stay away from the waffle weave).

  • Mid Layer(s)—Long-sleeved shirt and/or sweater on top and jeans or wool trousers on the bottom. (These are what you think of, when you think “warm cozy clothes”). If you’re layering, you don’t necessarily need to have the thickest sweater you own -- think about packability as well as warmth.

  • Outer layer—a waterproof insulated jacket with a hood. Make sure your outer layer is roomy enough to accommodate the layers underneath. Also, make sure your jacket has nice-sized pockets, as another layer to protect your hands (and store your phone).

For my friends in warmer climates, layers are better than one thick coat, because your body heat is trapped between the layers, keeping you nice & warm.

If you’re just sitting outside, you’ll need all the layers you can put on, as well as a hot mug of cocoa. :)

Once you start walking, you’ll warm up a bit, and might choose to unzip your top layer. If you’re on a faster-paced tour, you might want to shed that top layer altogether. If it’s quite packable, you can tuck it into the daypack that you’ll carry with you.

2. Boots

Since you may encounter snow or ice, and possibly melted slush, there are two types of boots I would think about packing on a winter trip. The first is a “duck” boot -- or one that is waterproof. The other type of boot I would suggest is something a little less bulky, but still with some water resistance. And of course, make sure your boots have good traction on the soles to help keep you steady on cobbled streets.

Regardless of your footwear, having good socks is super important. I’m a fan of Smartwool, but as long as you have warm and blister-free feet, you’ll be happy.

3. Accessories

These are so important, both for appearance and practicality.

  • Scarf--check!

  • Beanie/hat--super check!

  • Gloves--check! (make sure you have the ones with special material in the fingertips, so you can still use your phone)

On top of these basics, I recommend carrying a hands-free (messenger bag or daypack) theft-resistant bag by a company like Travelon. Bonus points if it's also water-resistant.

And while it may seem superficial, it doesn’t hurt to choose some pieces that are a little colorful. You’ll probably end up in more than a few photos, and if you’ve got at least a fun red scarf or hat, it helps break up the wintery drab colors. A black coat, black hat and black gloves under a cloudy sky aren’t much fun to look at.

Below, a fellow travel advisor (Eva Jordan-Johnson) illustrates how a pop of color can help offset a dreary day.

A woman in a yellow coat stands inside a red telephone box
Photo courtesy of Jordan Travel Enterprises

So there you have it--a super-quick guide to prepping for winter travel!

One last thing to be aware of in planning: these warmer clothes take up much more space in your luggage and probably weigh much more than tank tops and shorts. Be mindful of your airline’s baggage allowances. Buying a $15 luggage scale is cheaper than paying the overweight bag fee.

You can plan for mix-and-match outfits -- try setting out the things you think you'll want to take, in an empty closet or on a portable hanging rack. You'll be able to spot items that just don't go with anything else (and take them out of the mix).

If you’re able to do laundry onboard your cruise, you can bring less bulk with you. Compressible packing cubes are a great way to reduce the bulk in your bags.

With a little planning and adaptability, you can take advantage of the smaller crowds, lower prices, and abundance of holiday cheer in Europe!

Want to noodle over where you can go this winter?

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