Advice From Frequent Winter Travelers

Advice From Frequent Winter Travelers
snowboarding winter travel
Design by Maitane Romagosa for Thrillist
Design by Maitane Romagosa for Thrillist

There’s a reason more people travel in warm weather. Cracking the code to a successful winter trip is no easy feat. There are all kinds of meteorological variables—from sub-zero temperatures to spontaneous blizzards—that can affect travel plans, whether they involve flights or road trips. There’s also the question of how to pack: You put a single winter coat in your suitcase, and it feels like you’ve already exhausted all your space. Plus, you might find yourself catching a bit of a cold along the way.

But traveling during the winter does have some undeniable benefits, like unforgettable ski adventures, shoulder season discounts, fewer crowds, and better PTO availability, not to mention the sheer beauty such snow-capped destinations offer. Wanderlust tends to peak this time of year, and exploring somewhere new is one of the best ways to overcome those pesky winter blues.

To help you plan the perfect cold weather getaway, we reached out to frequent winter travelers—from pro snowboarders to outdoor photographers—for their expert advice on cutting down on the bulk and traveling smarter this season. So whether you’re taking off in the dead of February or embarking on a frosty vacation, here are some winter travel tips for staying warm and healthy on the go.

“Tea or hot water is an easy way to either warm yourself up from the inside by drinking it, or give your body a mini heater if you hold it in your hands. One of my favorite tricks for winter camping is to fill a Nalgene bottle up with hot water and put it in my sleeping bag with me while I sleep. Pairing that with a good, insulated sleeping bag, and even a heated blanket or pad if I’m car camping, has allowed me to actually enjoy sleeping outside in the winter months, rather than just bearing it.

I spend a lot of time on the road in the winter traveling for work, and I always have the bare essentials in my truck in case there’s a highway closure or something happens where I may need to be out for some time. From about October to May, you won’t catch me without a small jet boil to make tea or soup, a large puffy jacket, a sleeping bag and sleeping pad, hand warmers, and a head lamp. It gives me the confidence knowing that I would be okay if something were to happen, which then allows me to spend more time outside.” –Jessa Gilbert, artist and adventurer

“I just completed a 100-day cross-Canada tour. This was the trickiest packing I’ve ever had to do—imagine trying to pack for rain and moderate temperatures in November in Vancouver, cold weather in December in Calgary, Edmonton and Winnipeg (which went out the window because of climate change), then snow in January in Montreal and Ottawa. Plus I had to bring posters, tripods, cameras, and ring lights. So the night before I left, when I realized none of the filming equipment would fit, I went to Golf Town and purchased a golf travel bag to fit all the equipment and some clothes. The looks I got in airports across Canada in the winter were hilarious. Two checked bags, a carry on, a personal item, AND an oversized golf travel bag. I must have looked as ridiculous as I felt.

Staying healthy on the road can be challenging. Fortunately I had enough bags to ensure I brought my vitamins and supplements, but for those traveling lighter, I suggest a pill case. It’s tedious to get it organized but well worth it. A few other tricks is to grab a disinfectant spray and spray down the room. Also do a quick search of the healthy restaurants in the city—eating healthy can be a massive challenge but eating like crap will make you feel like crap! Finally, exercise. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. If you don’t have access to a gym in the city, use the hotel one. Stay active and healthy so your work and travel aren’t derailed.” –Brock McGillis, LGBTQ+ activist and former Ontario Hockey League goaltender

“I love my Dakine snowboard bag. It’s a long roller bag that allows me to fit a ton of stuff in it including snowboards, boots, binding, and goggles. It’s big but it keeps all of my things in one place. The key to dressing warm is layering, so I wear a micro puff that goes under my snowboard jacket.

I’d say keeping my health in check is the harder question for sure. I haven’t been home since November 13, so it’s important to stay true to a health routine. I stay super hydrated and I also take Vitamin C packets and multivitamins. When I start to see something coming on, I try to prevent it with throat sprays, extra vitamin C, and Usana supplements.” –Red Gerard, US Olympic snowboarder & 2018 gold medalist in slopestyle

“Cold weather clothing can be quite bulky. I try to keep in mind that I usually wear the same outfits over and over again, especially during winter adventures. Merino Wool Base Layers like Icebreakers never smell bad, so I only pack one pair of those to save space. Sweaters tend to not get dirty either, so I’m often outfit repeating in the wild. I also like to consider the practicality of an item of clothing rather than the cuteness. Staying warm and dry is more important to me when considering packing space.” –Kyana Sue Powers, outdoor adventure and lifestyle photographer

“We usually like to bundle up in our warmest clothes for winter travel, but given that temperature can fluctuate a lot depending on the environment, usually we bring various layers and different types of clothing. Generally, Logan wears a light Lululemon jogger and Eva will wear Lululemon sweatpants for actual travel, along with two to three upper body layers depending on if the car or airplane is cold. Staying warm is definitely key to keeping healthy so we do our best to stay out of the cold. Ironic for ice skaters!” –Eva Pate and Logan Bye, Team USA ice dancers

“With upcoming time off for Spring Break, many people are getting ready to travel by air with winter sporting gear for the first time. Make sure to get a large bag for your ski and snowboard gear with compartments and wheels. I recommend taking a good set of base layers, a mid-layer, and a light or mid-weight jacket, a helmet, goggles with interchangeable lenses, a hat, and heat boost gloves or mittens. I also highly recommend bringing extra socks for all activities, and don’t forget a swimsuit as most winter locations have hot tubs, which are great after a long day on the hill or outside.

Assume you will be checking two bags if you plan to travel with all of your gear and clothing. Pro tip: Put your custom ski or snowboard boots in your carry-on. They’re not easy to replace. Another option that allows you to save room in your bags while traveling is to rent equipment when you get to your destination. That way you don’t have to worry about paying extra or lugging around heavy bags at the airport or to the Uber.

As for preparing for any health wildcards, ensure that you carry on any medications and pack Emergen-C to keep your immune system boosted when around other tourists. Anti-inflammatory and pain medications are also handy after playing hard on the mountain. Especially if you’re not a seasoned winter sports pro, your body will be sore. Pack an Ace wrap, moleskin, and Arnica gel for little bangs, bruises, and blisters. Lastly, if you are traveling from low altitude to high altitude, make sure to hydrate starting right when you get there mixing in Acli-Mate to your water as needed and take Ibuprofen in both the mornings and evenings.” –Jonah Drescher, former US Ski Team member and manager at Christy Sports

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Jessica Sulima is a staff writer on the Travel team at Thrillist. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.