Winter Travel: How To Pack Light When Clothes Are Heavy

February 12, 2018

Winter Travel- How To Pack Light When Clothes Are Heavy… It can be done! Save this for your next cold weather trip!

It wasn’t until I began packing for a New Year’s Eve celebration in the Windy City that I realized how much more challenging packing during the winter would be than during the summer. My carry-on suitcase that typically fits nine bathing suits and four pairs of flip flops was now overflowing with one turtleneck sweater and half of a parka. Um, not gonna cut it.

Unless I wanted to be trailing around Chicago under-dressed and ill-prepared, I had to figure out how to roll, squish, squeeze and zip up a winter-approved wardrobe in one tiny suitcase. Here are my tricks for staying warm resourcefully whether you’re gearing up for a trip to Toronto or a destination in Denver.

Stick To Neutrals

Since sweaters don’t need to be washed as often (you’re not sweating in them like you are a tank top on a 90 degree day, at least that’s my logic), you can get by with fewer tops.

Stick to neutral colors and use your accessories [see next item] to change up your look. Since you’ll most likely be in and out of museums, shops, and restaurants, chose warm cardigans and a light (but breatheable) long sleeve t-shirt so you can layer, and un-layer, as necessary.  I made do with a few long sleeved black thermals that I put under sweaters.

Functional Accessories

Scarves are a traveler’s best friend -especially if they double as a purse and keep you warm. Larger scarves- like blanket scarves double as a makeshift blanket, a temporary hood or even a pillow, scarves lend themselves to any scenario. During my time in Scotland and Dublin for Christmas, this scarf was thrown on the bed at night and doubled as a head scarf after washing my hair at the hostel.  Choose a bright color to compliment your neutral wardrobe and, let’s be honest, the drab winter time could use a pop of magenta.

I often throw in a vest to add an extra layer of warmth to wear both on the plane and when out and about. And despite the misleading temperatures, don’t forget to pack bring your sunscreen (this travel sized moisturizing sunscreen is perfect for a carryon). Protect your body from the frigidness, but also the damaging rays that can still peek through those snow clouds!

Shoes For The Elements

Shoes should be all about functionality. There ain’t nothin’ cute about slipping on unshoveled sidewalks and taking a knee while mid-way across the street. Leave your finest fashion booties at home and find a pair with good traction and an appropriate material for warmth and durability.  I brought my Tory Burch boots with me to Paris and they were all I wore for two weeks- but I had one bag!

It helps if there are limited laces so you can get through security as quickly, and gracefully, as possible. Remember to pay attention to what’s underneath, too. Heavy socks are ideal, especially wool ones that won’t soak up moisture. (These SmartWool boot socks are not cheap but they last for years) I also like to bring my light weight sneakers to slip in a workout if I can find a gym nearby. Wear your boots on the plane to save space and tuck your other shoes into a plastic bag to keep your clothes dry and dirt-free.

All Hail The Leggings

As if you needed reminding that black leggings are the savior of any trip. Not only do they pack well, but the take up limited space and match everything.  You can get ultra-thin merino wool leggings to wear under your jeans and an extra warm layer- which can double as pajama bottoms in a pinch.

Take it one step further and make sure your leggings are fleece-lined and have enough substance to keep you warm- and they can be worn without additional layers for versatile packing. On a really chilly day, you can still wear them under jeans for another coat of warmth- but know they are probably too thick for skinny jeans with a layer of fleece!

Tetris Packing

Stuff undergarments into your shoes. Roll pants tightly and tuck socks into open crevices. Wear your bulkiest items and be realistic with what you bring. If you don’t have a fancy event lined up, you really don’t need three different shoe options.  Believe it or not-even a fashionista can survive 2 weeks abroad with just 1-2 pairs of practical shoes.

Other than the earrings I wear on a daily basis, I don’t bother to pack any unnecessary jewelry. Make sure you pack your heaviest items (sneakers, thick sweaters, etc.) towards the bottom of your suitcase where the wheels are, it’ll help prevent it from tipping over when upright!

Do Laundry In Your Sink

I spent two weeks traveling solo in Dublin, Edinburgh and London with only one backpack and one small rolling suitcase that would serve as a carryon.  How did I make do?  I packed items that would dry quickly and could be washed in my hotel room in the sink.

You can pick up travel packs of laundry detergent or you can pack your own in a reusable bottle.  If I was in a pinch to dry something, I utilized the blow dryer in my room.  This worked wonders for socks, underwear and the aforementioned bottom layers.  A great thing about winter is that you typically won’t be too sweaty- so laundry is minimal.

Surprising Supplies

Although you might be dreaming of fluffy flakes and snow covered trees, Mother Nature is not always so kind. It just so happens that I was greeted on New Year’s Day in Chicago with a downpour. Make sure you pack a tiny umbrella to not only protect you from the rain, but to keep you dry in case temperatures reach freezing later on.

Finally, bring Vaseline, and this is not just the Chapstick addict in me condoning this. Brisk winds and low temperatures can dry out anything exposed to the cool air. Use it to keep lips moist and on dry, cracked hands (I’ve even used it to protect the skin around my eyes when needed).

Other Favorite Winter Travel Products

1) Winter Touch Screen Gloves   2) Packing Cubes   3) PRO Packing Folder   4) Backpack Duffel Bag   5) Carry-On Luggage Strap   6) Compact Umbrella   7) Packable Jacket   8) Travel Space Bags  9) Travel Space Bags


13 comments so far.

13 responses to “Winter Travel: How To Pack Light When Clothes Are Heavy”

  1. Jed says:

    Well, I don’t really have a go-to winter item, since “Winter” here in So Cal is the one week in January when it rolls over from “shorts weather” to “pants weather.” I AM really hoping that one of these days I’ll get to wear that sweet turtleneck I purchased a few years ago and haven’t worn out of the house yet… I suppose I’m able to pull off a scarf every now and then 🙂

    • Juliette Kopp says:

      Scarves are always the perfect accessory! Somehow, even in the summer too!

  2. Jean Andrews says:

    Leggings are my favorite. They take up a lot less space than a regular pants and you can wash them on the hotel bathroom easily.

  3. L.T. says:

    It was very nice to read a post with some good common sense advise. I’ve seen some written by what had to be young girls who were more worried over fashion than being comfortable with the right items to wear which results in a much better time. I always seem to over pack no matter how hard I try not to. After over packing to Germany, my husband and I decided to take time out and do laundry if need be. Most hotels in the U.S. have washers/dryers to use now and can be done in the down time.

    • Juliette Kopp says:

      Being comfortable definitely trumps freezing my bum off! Excellent idea about utilizing a hotel’s resources!

    • Rosemary says:

      When we go to France, we take just enough clothes knowing we can find a laundromat to do laundry. This was my husband’s idea and I didn’t like it initially. Now I appreciate it as I can keep my luggage to one suitcase. When we were in Nimes a few years ago, we found a laundromat around the corner from out hotel. The only downside about using laundromats in France is the price. Drying is a little expensive and time-consuming.

  4. My go-to winter item is a woolen hat. No matter how well dressed you are but with cold ears and cold head, you’ll be chilled all over. You loose most heat via the head,so i’ll always pack my hat for winter travel.

  5. Marissa says:

    Hi great article! Some good advice for my upcoming trip to Chicago in december! I’m coming from the desert, new mexico, and I’m REALLY gonna to try not to overpack like I’m going camping instead of to the city 🙂

    • Juliette Kopp says:

      Oh boy, I spent last New Years in Chicago and while it was BEAUTIFUL, it was certainly chilly! Stay warm, and enjoy! The Lincoln Zoo and a show at The Second City were two of my favorite parts!…besides the pizza, of course.

  6. Kittie says:

    Thank you for this! I’m prepping for a trip to Chicago and this is a perfect reminder of packing for warmth.

  7. Rosemary says:

    I am going to New York City next week for three nights. I am not a leggings wearer, but I need to find something comfortable to wear on the plane. Any tips? Thanks.

  8. tammy says:

    Great post! thanks for sharing


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