Planning the perfect vacation is a tricky task any time of the year. But that’s especially true during the winter, when you have hectic holiday traffic, cold weather, and potentially dangerous travel conditions to contend with. Anytime you plan a vacation, whether it’s a brief weekend getaway or a longer trip, it’s important to research your destination thoroughly. And choosing the right destination gets a little more complicated when you’re planning on traveling during the coldest months of the year. After all, nobody wants their vacation delayed or canceled because there’s too much ice for the plane to get in or out of the airport.
And you aren’t necessarily in the clear if you opt to drive instead of fly. Rookie mistakes can derail a winter road trip, too. But choose the right destination, and you can avoid some of the potential pitfalls of a winter vacation gone wrong. To make that happen, avoid these locales.
1. Regions that are too unexpectedly cold or rainy
It may make sense to escape a snowy winter at home by traveling somewhere warmer, but make sure you aren’t running away from the snow and going straight for a destination in the midst of its rainy season. You should research the weather in any destination you’re considering well in advance. Rob McElwee reports for Al Jazeera that winters in the Mediterranean, for instance, are more severe than you might imagine.”Storms in the Mediterranean can, at their worst, resemble hurricanes in all but name,” McElwee notes.
The Mediterranean is a shallow sea and loses heat quickly during the winter. So, even if you’re planning a trip to a region that’s warm in the summer or even the autumn, you may encounter some pretty unpleasant weather if you visit in the winter. McElwee adds, “Winter in the Mediterranean can whip up violent storms that extend from the European to African coast; create very rough seas, gale force winds, thunder, and rain that last for days.”
2. Cities with unpredictable weather
Another kind of destination you may want to avoid during the coldest months of the year? Cities that are notorious for their unpredictable weather. You can plan for winter weather if you know what to expect, but that’s a lot harder to do if you can’t nail down a rough forecast, let alone a basic packing list. Fortunately for those vacationing in the United States, we can tell you exactly which destinations to avoid.
Nate Silver and Reuben Fischer-Baum at FiveThirtyEight analyzed the data, and determined cities “in the Great Plains and Upper Midwest dominate the most unpredictable list.” At the top of that list are destinations including Rapid City, S.D.; Great Falls, Mont.; Houghton, Mich.; Sioux Falls, S.D.; Fargo, N.D.; and Duluth, Minn. These landlocked destinations aren’t particularly populous, so may not be on your vacation wishlist. More populous metro areas with unpredictable weather include Kansas City; Mo.; Oklahoma City; Minneapolis; Cincinnati; and Indianapolis.
3. Destinations that you can only get to by flying through one of the worst airports
If you’re planning a quick weekend trip in the middle of winter, you may be wise to avoid destinations you can only access by flying through an airport that’s notorious for terrible delays. We’ve all had a flight delayed or even canceled, but the kind of delay that’s a minor inconvenience in the context of a longer vacation can completely ruin a trip you’ve managed to squeeze into a long weekend.
Sarah L. Stewart reports for Travel + Leisure data from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics reveals which airports you should avoid if you’re hoping to avoid delay the next time you fly (winter or not). Chicago’s Midway International Airport is the worst airport for delays, followed by Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport. Next on the list is the Denver International Airport, and then Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport.
4. Cities that tend to shut down in the winter
We’re all for visiting a great destination during the off-season. That’s a great way to avoid some of the crowds and experience a destination a little more like a local would. But do your research carefully. You don’t want to visit your dream destination, either domestic or international, if none of the establishments you’d want to see will be open. A variety of destinations that may be popular in the summer can shut down in the winter, particularly if the tourism industry revolves around local or family-owned businesses.
The destinations you’ll need to be especially careful of include areas where most tourism occurs in the summer. Small towns in coastal New England, for instance, may offer sailing and whale-watching in the summer, but it’s possible those businesses close once the weather gets cold and the summer crowds dissipate.
5. Ski hotspots that won’t have enough snow during the month you plan to visit
Making the trek to a ski resort is a great choice of winter vacation. But you need to do your research to make sure you’re visiting when there will be enough snow for you take advantage of everything the slopes have to offer. As Kelly Bastone reports for Outside, some mountains get plenty of snowfall early in the season, while others don’t get significant snowfall until March or April — well after you might plan on visiting.
Bastone’s recommendation for skiing or snowboarding enthusiasts hoping to book a winter getaway? “Get a sense for each hill’s idiosyncrasies by visiting onthesnow.com, which publishes historical snowfall data for resorts across the world.” That way, you can see when each resort tends to get the most snow each winter, and you can book your trip accordingly.
6. Regions that have extremely short days in the winter
If you favor destinations near the polar circles instead of beach-side getaways, you may want to save that travel until spring. That’s because for regions near or inside the polar circles, you’ll probably be exploring your destination in the dark. People who live in those regions adapt to the lack of sunlight, the cold temperatures, and the large amounts of snow that occur when you get only a few hours of dim light each day. According to the Fox News Weather Center, some world capitals you may want to skip in the winter are Reykjavik, Helsinki, Oslo, Tallinn, and Stockholm.
Of course, northern cities in Sweden, Denmark, and Finland can be great destinations in the winter if you were planning on relaxing, or if finally seeing the Northern Lights has been on your bucket list for years. But you should do your research on the activities that will be available to you in the city you’re considering. Tourism slows down and plenty of people get depressed when it’s dark 24/7. So, if you were planning on enjoying more summer-centric activities, you’ll definitely want to save the Nordic vacation for the summer.