Updated: Mar 6
About Winter Holidays
All about winter holidays
Thinking about taking a holiday in a cold destination? Personally, given the choice, I would always choose a warm destination over a cold one. Having always lived in the UK and hating our long, rainy, chilly winters, I would jump at the chance to visit a warm country, particularly if holidaying between October - March. However, I have previously been persuaded to travel to cold countries and have actually really enjoyed it. It all comes down to preparation.
Can I take this opportunity to bust a myth that drives me insane multiple times a year when I hear it. You can not catch the common cold by being cold or out in cold weather, or breathing cold air!! The common cold, is a virus. If anything, the cold can help protect you from viruses and bacteria as they are usually killed off at lower temperatures. However, when you feel cold it can help to exacerbate any cold symptoms you have if you are already fighting the virus - which is probably where this myth originated from. Likewise, you will not catch pneumonia from being out in the cold (you can’t actually catch pneumonia anyway (it is something that develops as a result of a previous acquired bacterial or viral infection).
However, travelling to cold countries does have its own hazards, but so does travelling to warm climates. As long as you prepare correctly, it doesn’t have to stop you. So what do you need to consider before travelling to a sub-zero country?
What to pack.
1. Multiple lighter layers are always preferable to thicker, heavy clothing. Believe it or not, is it easy to overheat, particularly when going in and out of shops etc. Lighter layers are easier to remove and to help regulate your body temperature. It is not a good idea to allow yourself to sweat when in a cold environment.
2. Base layers, thermal leggings and tops are fantastic at keeping in your body heat.
3. Warm middle layers that are snug but not tight are perfect.
4. Your outer layer; coat, jacket, etc, are more about keeping the elements out, rather than keeping the warmth in. Consider this when buying your coat.
5. Gloves are incredibly important. You can buy high quality gloves that even allow you to continue using your mobile phone too, so no need to risk frost bite for your selfies. (Obviously finger-print security will not work)
6. Heat pads and warmers are great. You can carry these in your bag or pocket and activate it if you feel the cold is starting to penetrate your gloves. Some heat pads claim to offer up to 10hours of heat.
7. Footwear must be sturdy, warm, waterproof with good grip. Preferably going as high as your ankles or more to help prevent melted snow/ice creeping in from above.
8. Warm socks. Wool is a fantastic insulator and it is definitely worth paying a bit extra for good quality socks.
9. Sunglasses. The snow is incredibly bright when reflecting the sun, so don’t forget to protect your eyes.
10. Sun cream - yes really. SPF 30 or above with at least a 4 star UVA rating to prevent sunburn.
11. Heat escapes easily from your head, buy a warm hat that preferably covers your ears also.
Once you’ve organised your suitcase (and don’t forget your travel first aid kit), consider what other hazards you may face depending on your destination.
1. Thinking of hiring a car? To explore or even just for the airport transfers. Car hire companies in colder destinations usually automatically change the tyres from summer to winter treads. However, it may be worth informing them you will be using it to travel to a ski destination for example. They will often provide extras such as snow chains if they know you are leaving the city environment.
2. Check the local forecast, particularly for the days you intend to travel.
3. If exploring on foot, dress appropriately for the weather at the highest point, rather than the lower starting altitude.
4. Consider the effects of being in a higher altitude. I was personally shocked how much alcohol seemed to have so much more of an effect on me when drinking at higher altitudes in the ski complex.
5. Be prepared if venturing outside, particularly in more remote locations. Check the weather conditions and if the locals are staying home, consider doing the same. Pack decent hiking bags with medical supplies, GPS, a satellite phone (you may not get mobile signal), torch, whistle, compass, additional warm clothing including socks, matches, food rations and plenty of fresh water. Tell someone where you are going. If possible provide the hotel reception (if you’re staying in one) with a map of your planned route.
6. Check avalanche risks if heading to the mountains
7. Have emergency numbers with you and remember mobile phone battery life does not last as long in the cold
Wondering what specific health risks you may face when travelling to a cold place?
Frostbite is not fun and happens when the skin and underlying tissues begin to freeze. Areas most at risk are your hands, feet, nose and ears There are usually three stages to frost bite - Initially the affected area will feel as though you have pins and needles, they may potentially throb, tingle or just become white in colour and go numb. It is important to go inside and gently warm up the effected area. Do not be tempted to wrap your cold fingers around a hot mug, immerse in hot water, or put them too close to the fire, the nerves will not be working properly and you may not feel yourself burning.
The second stage is when the affected area starts to feel frozen and hard. When you return the warmth and the area begins to thaw, the skin may be very red, swollen, itchy and even blister which can be very painful. It is possible to avoid any lasting damage at this stage, but seeking medical attention is advised.
If you are still outside by the third stage, you are now in trouble. The skin turns a blotchy white or blue colour and is hard and cold to the touch. Tendons, muscles and nerves are likely affected. As the skin begins to warm, it dies and it will initially turn into deep black scabs (necrosis) and may have to be surgically removed. Obviously it goes without saying that you need to find medical help!
Longer term, you are at risk of reduced sensitivity/numbness or persistent pain.
Commonly appearing on fingers and toes, but also possible to your face and legs. They present a few hours after being out in the cold and appear as small, itchy red patches that feel itchy or burning. Caused by tiny blood vessels in the affected area becoming smaller and restricting blood flow, and then warming up too quickly. They may also cause swelling to the affected area. Normally clearing up on their own but it may take up to 3 weeks to resolve. Take paracetamol and ibuprofen for the pain, avoid further exposure to the cold/damp. Seek medical attention if you develop any signs of skin infections, such as a red hot area, pus coming from the skin, or fever symptoms. Diabetic people often have reduced sensation and blood flow to their feet, so they must seek urgent medical attention if they suspect chilblains or frostbite.
This is when your body temperature plummets to below 35C, this is a medical emergency and needs urgent treatment. Signs to look out for are;
⁃ Slurred speech
⁃ Pale, cold skin and potentially a blue tinge around the mouth
⁃ Slow breathing
⁃ Confusion or excessive tiredness
If you are concerned someone you are with may be suffering from hypothermia, seek urgent medical attention, and whilst waiting for help;
⁃ Move the person indoors or in shelter if possible
⁃ Remove any wet clothing, wrap in blankets or other warm dry item, cover their heads
⁃ Encourage them to drink warm fluids. Not alcohol!!
⁃ Sugar food like sweets and chocolate will also help
⁃ Try and keep them awake by talking to them, until help arrives and do not leave them.
1. Eat small and regular meals. Warm food and drinks will help to keep you warm.
2. Don’t scrimp on calories, fat/carb content = warmth
3. Make sure you’re fit. The cold is not the place to visit if you’re not feeling 100%
4. Keep moving.
5. Look out for black ice. Often very difficult to see, but it can have you on your ass before you know it.
6. Be aware when drinking alcohol, it puts you at a higher risk of hypothermia, dehydration etc
7. If hiking in rural areas, be aware of local wildlife
8. Check travel insurance covers winter sports if you intend to do them
9. Check you are have the right vaccinations.
10. Be aware that young children, the elderly, pregnant woman and those with pre-existing health conditions are more at risk in the cold.
Visiting a cold country can be an extraordinary experience, and the beauty of the frozen landscapes is incredible. The vast majority of people travel to these cold climates without any concerns, but do take some precautions to ensure you have a safe journey.
Finally, don’t eat yellow snow!
My pizza is burnt, my beer is frozen and my girlfriend is pregnant..
... I can’t pull anything out in time!!