Well, I probably only have myself to blame. A few days ago I opened the front door to get the paper at dawn and I noticed something. There was a breeze, but it wasn’t chilly and a few birds were chirping. It was still only February, but it felt…..springlike! Maybe it was time to pack up the winter coats and prepare to welcome a new season!
Well, that sort of thinking is never a good idea, is it? Today I’m looking out the window as the snow blows sideways across the backyard, wishing I was somewhere warm right now. It’s pretty rare to get snowfall this late in the season here in the south of British Columbia, but it happens often enough that it’s foolish to get complacent. My husband still teases me about the year we had a warm spell at the end of February. I got so excited I dug up one of my garden beds and planted a few rows of spinach, only to have them buried under a foot of snow the next week. But at least I know that spring is coming to BC much sooner than it will to the rest of Canada!
My dislike of cold weather has had a pretty significant effect on my travel choices over the years. I’m really not a winter person, so I’ve always tended to visit places when the weather is good; avoiding cold weather as much as possible. When I traveled around the world I was able to avoid winter for an entire year, starting in Europe in September, moving down through the Middle East and Asia and ending up in Australia and New Zealand for their summer before coming home in spring.
I’ve mostly stuck with this fair weather policy when traveling with kids, but recently we went on our first cold weather family trip to New York. We were hoping to get lucky and hit a patch of mild weather, but instead we got hit by a winter storm our third day there. To my surprise, though, it wasn’t really all that bad. With a bit of planning and adjusting, we were able to have a great family trip in spite of the snowy weather. However, traveling in winter does bring a few unique challenges for families. So what did I learn from our first foray into winter travel with kids?
1) Don’t skimp on clothing
This may seem fairly obvious. When it’s cold, you need to dress for the weather. But clothes really can make or break the trip. Here on the west coast, for example, it makes sense to concentrate my clothing budget on getting the kids good rain gear, since we get about ten times as many rainy days as snowy ones each winter. I often buy the bargain snow gear since I know they won’t be using it much. But last spring, I staked out the end of season sales and picked up the best coats, mittens and boots that I could afford knowing that we’d be going on a winter trip the next year. I also invested in good thermals for the whole family. So even with the temperatures way below freezing and the wind blowing in New York we were able to stay out all day and still feel comfortable.
2) Wear layers
This one is sort of tied to the last. Often when you travel you’re moving in and out of restaurants, museums and galleries. It’s important to be able to shed layers of clothing when needed. It’s also a lot easier to pack several light layers than one big one. For example, I brought a fairly light down coat that could be packed into a very small stuff sack. When paired up with a warm base layer and a sweater it was warm enough to keep me comfortable outside, but I wasn’t stuck carrying a heavy coat with me in the museums. Instead of snow pants we dressed the kids in long underwear and track pants with a fleece lining. It was adequate for playing in the snow for a little while and they weren’t stuck swishing around in hot bulky pants when inside.
3) Stay put
When traveling with kids, I always prefer to stay in one hotel for the entire trip, but this is even more important in winter. It may be tempting to move from one property to another to get a better deal, collect loyalty points or move to a more convenient neighbourhood, but you need to remember that switching hotels leaves you effectively homeless from 11 am to 3 or 4 pm. We did have to move on the second night of our trip and we really missed not having access to our luggage and a warm retreat for that second day. Fortunately the weather was fairly pleasant that day and it worked out fine, but it’s always a good idea to minimize hotel moves when traveling in cold weather with kids.
4) Chose a central location
Location is another factor that becomes even more important in winter. If the kids are beginning to get chilled and you need to warm up and regroup, you don’t want to have to haul everyone out to the suburbs to get back to your room. For New York our hotel was ideally located in Times Square a few steps from a subway entrance. We were never more than a short subway ride away from our temporary home and we were even able to walk to a lot of the places we wanted to see. In summer you may be able to get away with being a little further out, but in winter it’s worth it to stay somewhere central.
5) Be prepared for delays
Travel delays can happen any time. Planes have mechanical issues, security alerts happen, even volcanic eruptions can disrupt your trip. But winter weather can wreak havoc on your carefully made plans. We were lucky to only have a 6 hour delay flying home from JFK (many people were stuck at the airport for days) but often you really are just at the mercy of the weather. Fortunately, there are ways to move the odds in your favour. Keep a close eye on flight delays and cancellations and leave for the airport earlier than you normally would. Morning flights are safer since they give you more options when problems occur. Try to avoid connections in northern cities. (for example, chose a flight that connects in Los Angeles rather than Denver) Pack lots of extra snacks for the kids since it can be hard to get meals when you’re delayed. Our flight kept getting moved back in short increments and the gates kept changing, so it was impossible to go somewhere to order a meal, and we were stuck munching newstand snacks for the entire time we were delayed. Make sure your electronics are fully charged before you go to the airport since there can be competition for plugs, especially in older airports.
6) Enjoy the beauty of winter
I had been hoping that we’d be able to avoid snow storms when we went to New York, but when it hit, I couldn’t believe how pretty the city was in a blanket of fresh snow. The storm started in the evening and I remember walking through Times Square with big fat snowflakes floating down amongst the neon signs. The next day we marveled at how beautiful Central Park looked as my kids joined the city kids in making the first footprints in the snow. Traveling in winter allows you to see familiar places in a whole new light. Just today we watched the snow fall at home and my kids talked about how their Daddy joined another tourist in helping push out a car that was spinning it’s wheels in the snow on Park Avenue that morning after the snow. There’s something about a winter storm that brings people together for just a little while.
Here are a few of the pictures my husband took of Central Park in the snow.
So don’t limit your winter travel to places with sun and sand. Cold weather travel with kids can be a bit of a challenge, but it has it’s own set of rewards.