Information for Travellers
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Cold Weather and Winter Travel Advice
Are you travelling to a chilly place? Cold weather can be much more than merely uncomfortable. It can kill under the right circumstances, and it makes a lot of sense to make yourself familiar with how to stay safe in the cold before you go.
First, though, it’s worth mentioning that there’s one big advantage to visiting a cold place. There are fewer nasty diseases to catch and, if you injure yourself, there’s less risk of infection, simply because of the low temperatures. In contrast, the tropics are full of awful diseases and a tiny scratch or wound soon turns nasty in a hot, humid place.
How to you stay safe and healthy in cold weather? Here’s some sensible winter travel advice.
Staying healthy and well in very cold weather
- Eating regularly helps keep your energy levels up, and hot food helps keep you warm
- It’s better to wear several light layers of warm clothing than one big woolly, since the heat is trapped between the layers
- The more you lounge around, the colder you’ll get – stay active
- If your mobility is reduced or you’re not in 100% condition, you really need to be in an environment that’s at least 18C. Younger, fitter and healthier people stand the cold better
- Take great care on icy surfaces. A few winters ago thousands of British people broke limbs and injured themselves in other ways because of a severe snowfall followed by freezing temperatures, which transformed the pavements and roads into ice rinks. Boots or shoes with a good grip are an essential part of your safety kit
- Remember black ice if often invisible. Just because it looks safe, it doesn’t mean it is safe
- If it’s sunny, wear good quality sunglasses to avoid snow blindness
- Protect your skin from sunburn – just because it’s cold, it doesn’t mean the sun can’t wreak havoc with your skin. Snow-burn is just as painful and can even crack your skin and make it bleed
Staying safe from frostbite
In very cold places you might get frostbite, and it’s insidious stuff. If you feel your nose, ears, fingers or toes going numb it’s a sign you’re heading for trouble. If you can’t feel them at all you’re already in trouble, and you need to get somewhere warm as quickly as possible.
If you ignore it, you could easily end up losing fingers, toes, the tip of your nose or ears as your flesh actually dies and goes black, a condition called necrosis. And there’s absolutely nothing the medical profession can do about it – the damaged areas, it the damage is bad enough, will probably have to be removed.
Hypothermia is another insidious condition, something that can creep up on you slowly until it’s suddenly too late. When your core body temperature drops low enough, you’ll experience any or all of these symptoms:
- Initially, you’ll shiver with cold. This is a clear warning sign. If you leave it too long you’ll stop shivering, which is really dangerous and an indication you’re descending into hypothermia
- Poor body co-ordination and clumsiness
- Slurred speech or mumbling
- Confusion – some victims even end up taking all their clothes off in the final stages of hypothermia, which obviously makes no sense at all
- Changes in your normal behaviour – you might become bad tempered or moody, or even inappropriately amused by the deadly situation you’re in
- Sleepiness and low energy – a real danger sign since falling asleep when you’re freezing cold means you’ll probably die
What to do if you feel yourself going beyond cold into hypothermia? It’s vital to get somewhere warm as fast as possible.
High altitude places also put you at risk of altitude sickness, also called acute mountain sickness. Here’s a link to our page about altitude sickness, how to avoid it and what to do if you suffer it.
Safe travel in a cold climate
Sometimes the travelling itself is the issue. It can be very challenging indeed to make progress when there’s several feet of snow on the ground or the weather’s so bad you can’t see your hand in front of your face. Here are some sensible tips.
- Always check the short and long term local forecast before you make any plans
- Never decide you can cope in bad weather, especially when the locals are sensibly staying indoors
- Remember that the higher the altitude, the colder it is… even in good weather
- If you’re climbing or walking in the mountains, dress for the conditions at the summit rather than those at the foot of the mountain
- Always take the time to prepare yourself properly: emergency rations, torch, a satellite phone if you’re going somewhere really remote, warm headwear, gloves, extra socks and, of course, fresh water. It’s important to remember not to drink cold water or try to eat snow. It’ll only cool your core body temperature down even more