Winter Road Trips: Where to Go, How to Pack, and What to Know for Staying Warm on the Road

Humans aren’t hibernators. Although we love a cozy night inside by a fire, our desire to travel isn’t extinguished, and you can’t let low temperatures stop you from traveling. 

It’s time to bundle up and hit the road. Having a warm place to sleep and a hot shower removes some of the big worries of winter travel. With a little extra preparation, you’ll be ready for skiing, hiking, or sightseeing in any weather.

Where to Go

Hit the road this winter (Photo Credit: @monascherie)

Washington has amazing spots to enjoy winter activities and scenery. If you’re looking for winter sports, read our guide on What to Know for Washington’s Ski Season.

For cute winter towns, check out Leavenworth, head to the San Juan islands, or read up on Our Favorite Destinations in Washington.

One of our favorite road trip routes for winter is the Olympic Peninsula Loop.

What to Wear

Bundle up and the view will be worth it (Photo Credit: @monascherie)

Similar to traveling in the rain, the first step to staying warm and dry in winter weather is appropriate attire. Here are the clothing items you won’t want to forget:

  • Layer #1: Your base layer should be a thin, quick-drying long sleeve that will wick sweat from your skin.
  • Layer #2: This is another thin layer that works to keep you warm. Fleece or a thin wool works best.
  • Layer #3: This is a thicker warming layer to trap heat. This could be a heavier fleece or wool or a puffy zip-up with a hood.
  • Layer #4: This is your windproof/waterproof outer layer. Staying dry will be the best thing for staying warm! If you’re shopping for a new coat, make sure it’s large enough to fit over the other layers.
  • For your feet: Like the layers above, a thin moisture-wicking sock should go under a thicker sock. If your boots are extremely insulated, you might not need to wear two pairs, but pack extra in case one gets wet. If it’s actively snowing or you’re walking through snow, gaiters will help keep snow from getting into your boots.
  • For your hands: Mittens are typically warmer than gloves, but your choice can be determined by the mobility you’ll need for your day’s activities. (Hand and foot warmers can make a big difference, too.)
  • For your head: This winter, a neck gaiter can be dual-purpose! Check out REI’s wool lined neck gaiters to keep your nose, cheeks, and ears warm. A beanie and hood will keep you warm and dry.

What to Pack

Staying warm in the city (Photo Credit: @richardmeharry)

Once you have your #Vanlife essentials packed, you’ll only need a few more items to stay safe and warm wherever you go.

  • Flashlight/lamp: Keep in mind that the sun is setting close to 4pm in Seattle, and rising after 7am. This is great for catching a beautiful sunrise and sunset in the same day, but not so great for visibility. If you plan to be outside to cook dinner or wander to a good stargazing spot, bring additional lighting.
  • Tire chains: All winter rentals come with tire chains, as well as an ice scraper, a squeegee, and hand warmers. Be sure to check local recommendations for driving in inclement weather.
  • Extra snacks and water: In case it takes longer than expected to reach your next stop, make sure to have snacks and water on hand.
  • Extra blankets: Your Cabana bed will be pretty cozy, but if you’re someone who likes to bundle up (or steal all of the blankets in your sleep) bring an extra!
  • Card games/board games: We recommend this any time of year, but it’s especially nice for chilly nights. 
  • A good book: Need inspiration? Check out our winter reading list.
  • Winter gear: Once your safety items are checked off the list, let’s not forget how much fun the snow is! Grab the gear you need for your favorite winter sport or just for romping around in the snow and you’re ready to go.

Tips for the Road

Grand Teton National Park (Photo Credit: @pauldenisenko)

Keep plans loose; some of the best memories are often unplanned. With Cabana, you can change destinations, routes, or activities on a whim. When operating around winter weather, this is especially important. Don’t be afraid to change route, whether it be for safety or to change climate completely.

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