Last Updated on October 9, 2020 by Anisa
I’m not a winter person. I grew up in Texas so I’m much more of a warm weather person, but I don’t let cold weather stop me from traveling to some amazing winter weather destinations. My bucket list still includes more European Christmas Markets, seeing the Northern Lights, and hiking on a glacier. Maybe even skiing if I can get my courage up!
The key is being prepared with a special packing list that includes winter trip essentials so that the cold doesn’t put a damper on your experience.
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Winter Vacation Packing List Recommendations
It took me several winters of living in New York City to figure out how to handle the cold. Unfortunately, I couldn’t escape to the beach for the whole winter. I got tired of freezing waiting for a taxi!
I needed to find the right gear that would help me survive the winter as I didn’t want the weather getting me down or stopping me from having fun. You will find this information helpful whether you are going to a winter vacation spot in the US or somewhere else around the world.
I did my fair share of real-life testing so I know what works. I wanted to share some of the great winter travel essentials that I have found over the years that helped keep me warm during those NYC winters. Just like it is important to be prepared with a packing list for the beach, you should have a special winter vacation packing list as well.
If you plan on skiing during your winter vacation, check out this ski trip packing list.
If you are traveling with the little ones, don’t forget the winter baby essentials.
#1 Winter Coat
Of course, a winter holiday packing list needs to include a coat! I have bought and tried a lot of different types of winter coats and my favorite is a puffy (down) one. Puffy coats keep me warmer than wool coats. I prefer one that has a hood so that I have the option to put the hood up if it starts raining or snowing.
It’s best to stay away from choosing a plain black coat. Everyone has a plain black coat and it could easily be mistaken for someone else’s when hung on a coat rack or coming out of airport security. I still try to stay with a neutral color like a gray, navy, brown, or tan.
I think the best winter travel jacket goes down to just above your knees. If it’s longer, it can get in the way, plus your boots will be keeping your legs warm. If it’s shorter, it won’t be as warm. You will be wearing it a lot if you are in a cold destination (like Banff in winter) so make sure the style suits you and it is something you like!
#2 Ear Bags
I love my ear bags! Ear bags are essentials for winter travel and for daily life. They are like ear muffs but better. They come in pairs, so you have one for each ear. You fit your ear inside it and then it snaps on.
People have asked me if they hurt and the answer is: no. After you put them on you don’t feel them. They don’t mess up your hair, they fit inside your pocket, and they do keep your ears warm! Russell’s friend says they look a bit like Princess Leia’s hair in Star Wars! ‘Help me Obi-Wan Kenobi, you’re my only hope….’
The only negative is that since they are small, you can lose them if you are not careful. I keep them in my purse or pocket. Luckily, they are pretty cheap so I usually buy a couple of pairs. You also cannot wear the ear bags with big or dangly earrings.
The ear bags come in lots of colors and patterns. I usually go with dark brown so it blends in with my hair. They also come in small, medium, or large. I usually order medium sized but have bought the large when that was all that was available.
#3 Touchscreen Gloves
I wouldn’t include just any pair of gloves on my winter travel packing list. You need to have gloves that keep your hands warm and allow you to use your phone. It’s especially handy (no pun intended!) when you are trying to navigate in a new city! Luckily, you can buy gloves that you can wear and still use your touchscreen phone. I have also seen some people use flip top gloves, but if you get touchscreen gloves that actually work, wouldn’t that be better?
#4 Hand Warmer
I first discovered hand warmers at the Bryant Park Winter Market a few years ago. Holding a hand warmer is like holding a hot coffee (or your favorite warm beverage), even though the warmth is just touching your hands, your whole body feels warmer. You can also put the hand warmer on your neck or any other spot that needs it.
When I first started using hand warmers they only made disposable ones which you can just hold or put inside your gloves. These disposable hand warmers provide warmth for about 10 hours, then you would need to use another hand warmer. Now the best hand warmers you can get can be recharged and are better for the environment. Some (like the one pictured) can also be used as a spare power bank.
#5 Winter Boots
The footwear on your cold weather packing list has got to be boots! The best boots for winter travel are so comfortable that I can walk in them all day. The sole of the boots needs to be rubber just in case it snows. They also need to be waterproof (or at least water resistant).
I like to get boots that are knee-high or at least mid-calf to help stay warm. I also prefer boots that zip, button, or lace up because I find those easier to get on and off.
Sometimes I hate having so many different things to wear to stay warm, so I will just leave my scarf at home. When that happens, sometimes I regret it, because a scarf does help you keep warm. It makes sense to add it to your winter trip packing list because it can also be very stylish and double as a shawl if it’s big enough.
One newer trend with scarfs is pockets. I think this is such a great idea. Pockets make life more convenient. (I love dresses with pockets too). If you want to get a little fancy, you can try an infinity scarf with a hidden pocket like this one. You can hide your valuables inside the hidden pocket. That could be very handy especially if there is a risk of pickpockets where you are going.
I also found a few scarfs with pockets that also had hoods attached like this one, so you would have one less thing (hat) to bring along.
#7 Warm Socks
My feet get cold easily. Even if you are wearing tights, I would still suggest wearing winter socks to keep your feet warm. Just regular boot socks or compression socks are fine, but If you are going somewhere with extremely cold weather, you should upgrade your socks to some that are fleece-lined, thermal or wool.
#8 Tights or Thermal Leggings
I know a lot of people put their dresses away during the winter but you don’t have to if you get the right tights. I swear by the Hue tights (especially the sweater tights), they are high quality and warm. Plus, if it is really cold they are thin enough to be worn under most pants.
For more formal occasions, try their heat temp tights. If you rather, for about the same price, you could get some thermal leggings for winter travel. Hue also makes denim leggings that are lined with fleece.
#9 Thermal shirt
Layers are the key to staying warm when you are somewhere the weather is brutal. The best thermals for cold weather are actually thin. Look for a thermal shirt that can be worn underneath your clothes.
I like ones that are skin color, have a wider collar, and no buttons, that way no one will even notice. You wouldn’t think that such a thin piece of clothing makes such a big difference, but believe me, it does.
#10 Winter Hat
I don’t like to wear a hat because it messes up my hair, but when in extreme weather it is a necessity. If I have to wear one, I want it to be warm and look cute! I actually got my favorite hat at a small shop in Notting Hill in London and I have also found some nice ones in Chinatown in NYC. Amazon also has a great selection, so I am sure you can find one you like to include add to your packing list for your winter trip. I even found this one that you can wear when you have your hair up in a ponytail.
#11 Chap Stick
Dry lips in cold weather is pretty much a given so be sure to take some chapstick along when you travel during the winter months. If it’s tinted and can double as your lipstick, that’s even better, especially when you are trying to pack light for winter travel.
#12 Boot Cuffs
Ok, maybe these aren’t essentials but I’m adding them to the winter items list as a bonus because they are really cute. They are like short legwarmers. I think they would go perfectly with jeans and could add a nice pop of color to your outfit.
How to Pack Light for Winter Travel
Now that you have your warm travel jacket and the rest of your winter gear, you are wondering how you are going to fit it all in your luggage. Winter holiday packing is no easy task, but we have a few suggestions that might help.
- Minimize the other items that you bring: Make sure you follow our general packing tips. Coordinate colors, minimize accessories, shoes etc. It’s even more important for winter travel because the things that you have to bring take up more space.
- Wear your boots and jacket on the plane: This will save a lot of space in your luggage and even help you avoid overweight luggage fees. The plane will be cold so try to wear your bulkiest clothes or layers, but you don’t need to go overboard like this guy though. I keep my winter travel jacket on my lap during the fight, it can double as a blanket.
- Plan to do laundry during your trip: Consider bringing fewer outfits and doing laundry at your destination. Some AirBnbs will have a washing machine. If you find a laundromat or wash and fold place, you will save money compared to having to pay a checked bag fee. Don’t use the laundry service at your hotel, those are always overpriced!
- Use packing cubes or storage bags to save space: I know some people swear by packing cubes. Personally we like to use storage bag like this one where you press the air out so clothes take up less space.
Note: If you are looking for new carry on luggage, consider a wheeled backpack. It makes travel easier when you have the option to roll your bag or wear it as a backpack.
There you have my winter travel tips and recommendations. You can find everything you need on Amazon. Amazon Prime members can get free shipping plus read about the other Prime perks that are useful when you are traveling.
If you are not sure if the weather will be cold enough for you to add these items to your winter city break packing list, you should err on the side of caution. It is probably better that you bring the items and don’t use them, than to be freezing on your vacation.
Now if someone would just invent something that looks cute and will still keep my nose warm, then all my problems would be solved!
What do you add to your packing list for cold weather trips to stay warm?
Grab your free printable winter packing list here.
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