How to Pack for a Winter Vacation

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As fun as getting ready for a trip can be, packing for a winter vacation is honestly never fun–or easy. From figuring out where to strategically place your shampoo so it doesn’t burst open during the flight, to seeing just how many pairs of shoes you can realistically get away with bringing without exceeding the baggage weight restriction, getting your bag ready for a trip is, in my opinion, the worst.

And making sure you have enough options to stay warm? Yup, that’s a feat itself.

When I started getting ready for my trip to Iceland and Scotland, I immediately took out every single vaguely cold weather-y item of clothing in my closet and laid them out in a massive heap on the floor. My living room was a tornado of turtlenecks and leggings.

RELATED: City Guide to Reykjavik, Iceland

Obviously, the first and most reasonable approach in my opinion was to bring every last scarf and sweater I owned so I could be warm and have “options” for every single moment of every day I’d be gone. Realistic? Of course not. But packing for cold weather is tough, because while you want to bring all of your heaviest coats, layers, and boots along for the ride, you also have to keep in mind the biggest roadblock of all: the weight restriction.

Every airline has different regulations about weight, so it’s best to check what this magic number is in advance, before you even begin packing–in other words, I’m telling you to do exactly what I didn’t. When I was packing, I had the goal of no more than 50 lbs ringing in my head. I packed up all of the things I wanted to bring, went to check some last-minute things on our airline’s website, and discovered that the weight of our checked bag could actually not be more than 44 lbs!

And, since my boyfriend and I were sharing a suitcase, that brought us down to a measly 22 lbs per person for a 2-week winter vacation. Yeah. Goodbye shoes.

I had spent all afternoon packing, and by now, it was past midnight. So, after almost an hour of vetoing clothes that weren’t essential, and arguing over the final number of shoes I was allowed to take with me (Final count? His: 3, Hers: 5. I’m not sorry), we got our bag down to 43.6 lbs–proof that miracles DO exist!–and we were ready to go, but the path to getting here wasn’t as quick and painless as it could’ve been.

While it’s tricky to pack for cold weather and feel like you’re bringing an adequate amount of clothes to make sure you don’t freeze, there are a few ways to go about it that can help.

Here’s how to get the most out of your luggage and pack for a winter vacation more easily!

Packing for a Winter Vacation: 6 Tips

Check The Weight Restrictions First

While most airlines will have a 50 lb (22.6 kg) limit for checked bags, some (Spirit – 40 lbs per bag, WOW Air [RIP] – 44 lbs per bag) might have tighter restrictions. Check your airline’s website before you start packing so you can gauge accordingly, since it’s always easier to add more clothes than it is to part with that sweater you were picturing yourself wearing while roaming through castles in the Scottish Highlands.

And, if you’re taking multiple flights with different airlines like I did, make sure you check them all.


Buy A Lightweight Winter Jacket

Before my trip, I went out and bought this extremely comfy, lightweight parka from Patagonia. It’s synthetic and insulating, and it weighs virtually nothing, so I knew it’d help me keep warm without weighing me down. If you want to add variation to your travel wardrobe without adding much weight, and if you’re in the market for new winter clothes like I was, look for things that are designed to be streamlined and light.

Bring as Few Coats as Possible

In October, Iceland and Scotland were both around 40 – 55 degrees. For this 2-week trip, I packed 3 coats: 1 mockneck trench coat, 1 peacoat, and 1 parka to use for the more outdoorsy/active stretches of our trip (like hiking and exploring lava tunnels). Try to bring as few coats as you can, since they’re likely one of the heaviest things on your packing list. After all, you only need a coat to help get you from point A to point B. Once you’re inside, you’ll be able to show off your real outfit anyway.

Only Pack Shoes that You’ll Really Wear

No matter where I go, this is always the hardest thing to negotiate when it comes to packing. And, when it comes to packing for winter, when shoes are typically on the heavier side, things get even trickier.

Only pack the shoes you’ll really wear. If you’re going to Scotland (or most places in Europe) and expect to be walking around on cobblestone streets, don’t bring heels “just in case” you want to go to the club on a Friday night. This is a vacation, after all, and you’re going to be doing a lot of walking. You need your most comfortable and durable shoes in tow.

I brought a pair of boots, rain boots, booties, hiking shoes, and these comfy sneakers along with me on my vacation. Make sure that all of the shoes you bring are pairs you wouldn’t mind being stuck in for 24 hours.

Pack Warm Mid Layers

When packing for a winter vacation (or to year-round colder destinations in general), the recipe for warmth is core outfit + mid layer + outer layer. While you want to keep the number of coats you bring to a minimum, there’s a little more flexibility when it comes to mid layers, since they’re generally smaller and lighter to pack.

I brought a black cardigan, a gray duster (long) cardigan, and a fleece jacket with me. On days that it was extremely chilly, I doubled up on these mid layers to help keep the cold out.

Plan Your Flight Ensemble While Packing

Here’s where you can cheat the system a little. When planning what to pack for your winter vacation, also be sure to decide early on what you’ll be wearing on the plane.

If you have a heavy pair of boots or a long parka, plan to wear these in transit. This helps free up weight and space in your suitcase.

For my trip, I packed both of my heaviest coats in my carry on during. On the flight home, I wore both of these jackets to free up space in my carry on for souvenirs and other things I purchased throughout the trip.

If it were up to me, I would have easily packed all of my coats, boots, scarves, and just-in-case outfits for every possible scenario.

But, over-packing can often be expensive and annoying (who wants to struggle down cobblestone streets or get on/off the train with 2 giant suitcases and a carry on?). Bring what you need, stick to clothes and shoes that will serve multiple purposes, and plan on mixing and matching in order to create a new look for each day that you’re away.

Is packing for a winter vacation challenging for you? Where are you headed and how cold will it be there? Tell me below!

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Rachel Off Duty: Packing for a Winter Vacation
Rachel Off Duty: Packing for a Winter Vacation

Hey there! I’m Rachel, a travel writer and a full-time advertising / marketing expert. In 2019, I traveled more than 25 times while working 9 to 5, and since then I’ve committed myself to living a more adventurous life, even if it means bringing my laptop along for the ride.

Are you hungry to travel more, but overwhelmed with how to juggle work and play? You’ve come to the right place!

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