Travel Advent Dec. 22: Why I Travel Most in Winter

Beyond the obvious fact that Danish winters are disgustingly rainy and dark and offer none of the fun of white winter snow that other nordic destinations get, I feel winter to be the best time to explore the world. But not the toasty sides of the world. Winter is the best time to visit other disgusting cold places in the world.

I get out most in the winter, almost to the point that I am out of Denmark in the winter more than I am in it. Yes, because the weather is garbage, and now that I’ve been experiencing Danish winter for 2 months without getting out I’m already going crazy. I don’t go to Spain or France or Morocco…I most often go to Poland or Lithuania or some other cold dark place. There are plenty of reasons for why this can be a great time.

  1. Fewer crowds

    As long as you stay away from beachside destinations like Spain or Greece where other Northerners are sheltering away from the cold, pretty much anywhere cold you go will be devoid of international tourists. And if you do find international tourists, they’ll likely be other crazy people like yourself.

    When I went to Kosovo in January of 2019, I froze myself to death. My hotel room was colder than the outside, so I opted to be out more than in when I was exploring the capital Priština. This gave me a great opportunity to meet some other people, ones who made for a unique Priština experience.

    I went on couchsurfing and the only 2 people online were a French wildman backpacker and a Kosovar local just looking to hangout. The three of us met up in the only town square and went out to a bar. There aren’t many bars in the city, so the bar we chanced upon happened to be filled with Kosovar politicians. For the entire evening we got to rub elbows with the upper echelon of Kosovar policy makers, one of whom was the cousin of our local Couchsurfing friend. I got to pick their brains, learn about Kosovo’s plea for independence, and enrich myself in a way I wouldn’t have otherwise.
  2. Stumble Upon Gems

    Since it’s most certainly cold enough to freeze your giblets, you have to plan when and where to take inside breaks, and take them more often. This often leads you in to more free art galleries, artsy movie theaters, concerts, libraries, bars, cafes, and random boutiques than it would if you were exploring in warm weathers.

    When traveling Vienna on the same expedition that eventually wound up in Kosovo, I would spent three days in and out of places I wouldn’t have ventured to in another season. I went ahead and bought the big museum pass, and spent hours seeing every last piece of artwork Vienna had to offer. I took late night yoga classes with a friend, toured as many antique bookshops as possible, went for late night movies at artsy boutique movie theaters, all in between expeditions to enjoy the architecture in the cold.

    In the summer, I would have spent all my time outside enjoying the parks and architecture rather than enjoying the indoor activities — which is pretty special.
  3. Cheaper Accommodation

    Off season travel is also the most affordable, especially in Eastern Europe. You can easily rent yourself an entire apartment for the cost of a hostel bed in a 16 dorm room in Paris. I love being able to socialize with random hostel folks, but I also love my alone time. Other backpackers know, it can be hard to find alone time when couchsurfing or staying in hostels. So the alone time afforded in a $10 apartment or simply spent reading a book for hours in a warm cafe are welcome times for introspection and thought should a travel experience get too hectic or overwhelming. And when you do crave human interaction, you’ll be driven in to a bar or other cultural location to break in with the locals.

I guess where I’m getting at is travel in deep winter can create some really unique human interactions. By couchsurfing or going to bars where everyone is stuck with each other in side, you’re given the chance to focus on them without distraction. Social cohesion is somehow easier when you enter a large public place quite obviously an outsider. Locals haven’t seen one of your kind for a while, and have spent long weeks weathering the cold darkness without much interaction from the outside world. So when they find some form of hope, some word of reminder that there is indeed a world outside of this dark little bubble, they welcome you with open arms in a way that they do not in the summer.

And I’ve always told myself, if I can love a place in the winter then I’ll love it even more in the summer. When is your favorite time to travel?

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