Packing for a Winter Vacation

Rachel Off Duty: Packing for a Winter Vacation

As fun as getting ready for a trip can be, packing for a trip 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–or bags–ready for a trip is, in my opinion, the worst. What’s even worse, though? Jetting off to somewhere cold, and making sure you’re bringing everything you need to stay warm.

Rachel Off Duty: Packing for a Winter Vacation

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. 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 that 50–or 44 (looking at you, WOW Air)–pounds and still make sure that you’re packing for the cold weather in style.

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

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 - 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.

Rachel Off Duty: Packing for a Winter Vacation

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.

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

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.

Rachel Off Duty: Packing for a Winter Vacation

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. For me, these shoes from Aureus were a perfect choice because they are easy to slip on and off (helloooo, TSA), warm thanks to the faux fur interior lining, and water resistant (perfect for the unpredictable weather where I was headed).

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

Pack Warm Mid Layers

The recipe for warmth is core outfit + mid layer + outer layer, after all. 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.

Rachel Off Duty: Packing for a Winter Vacation

Plan Your Flight Ensemble While Packing

Here’s where you can cheat the system a little. When planning what to pack for your cold weather vacay, 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.

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

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.

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

What I Wore: 

Sneakers | c/o Aureus • Parka | Patagonia • Denim | Express • Striped Tank | Cotton On • Scarf | Some flea market in Italy :) 


This is the first in a series of posts I plan to be writing about my recent trip to Iceland and Scotland. Please let me know what you want to know about! I'm planning to cover itineraries, hotel reviews, and city guides, but I'm always open to hearing ideas and feedback on what you want to read more of (and less of). You can reach me here

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