Advice for travelling in cold climates:
Travel tips from Dr Ruth Handford

When travelling to a cold environment, think carefully about what equipment and clothing to take. There may be advice from your travel operator about the types of footwear and clothing you may need.

Get the right clothing

Essentially, layers are the most sensible thing to pack, particularly investing in thermal, close fitting undergarments and ‘wicking’ tops which will keep you warm and prevent you getting sweaty and damp. Lightweight fleeces are vital, as they keep you warm and will dry easily if they become wet. Avoid cotton next to the skin, as it quickly becomes damp and retains moisture, which can make you very cold, very quickly.

Good quality gloves, as well as silk liner gloves, is a good idea for warmth and waterproofing. You will need a couple of hats, as well as a neck gaiter or snood to keep you ears and neck warm. Fleece is a good option here too.

Don’t forget plenty of socks and good, comfortable, warm, waterproof footwear – the most important thing of all.

Sun protection

You will also need sunglasses and sun cream – the sun can be harsh and damaging, even in cold environments, and especially at altitude.

The effects of altitude

Altitude sickness, more commonly known as acute mountain sickness, can occur rapidly if arriving in areas of high altitude suddenly. It is strongly advised to take at least 3-5 days to gradually gain altitude and acclimatise to the thinner air. Symptoms typically appear after about 6-12 hours at altitudes over 2500m, and can include nausea, fatigue, breathlessness, headache and loss of appetite.

The best way to prevent acute mountain sickness is to take time to acclimatise – build this in to your trip. Avoid alcohol, eat little and often, get plenty of rest and avoid exercising. If you develop any symptoms, you must not go any higher in altitude until they have settled, and then take it very slowly. Always seek medical advice if you think you may have acute mountain sickness.

Medical conditions and colder climates

Some medical conditions are made worse by cold weather – things like poor circulation can cause chilblains or the hands and feet. The best prevention for this is keeping extremities warm. Some arthritic conditions can also be worse in cold weather. Equally, some medication does not travel well in the cold. Insulin in particular needs to be kept at a steady temperature, and if it freezes, it can no longer be used.

You will burn off more calories in cold weather, so ensure you eat regularly and have warm drinks often.


About Dr Ruth Handford

Dr Ruth Handford is a GP with over 10 years' experience of working in both hospital and primary care. She is particularly interested in caring for the elderly in the community, child health, and family planning. Ruth lives and works in a rural community, and is kept very busy by her job and young family.

Important Information: These travel tips are intended to provide general information for those travelling to a cold climate and do not replace a visit to your doctor if you have existing medical conditions. If you are planning a holiday you should consult your doctor to ensure that you are fit to travel and discuss any specific health requirements you may have.


Travel Insurance for medical conditions

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office recommend that you have travel insurance in place every time you travel abroad. Make sure that your travel insurance covers any medical conditions you may have. is proud to be able to provide cover for all types of medical conditions.