New York Winter on a Tropical RTW

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We left home with a vague plan to backpack our way around Asia for as many years as possible, with two kids and a tight budget. Well, plans change, life happens and the universe sometimes points you in directions you never anticipated.

We never expected to take a cruise, ever, let alone a bargain trans-Atlantic cruise on a brand new ship that would deposit us in New York city in the middle of the polar vortex of January 2014.

But that is what happened. Our tropical family and our tropical wardrobes had to toughen up to take on the ice and snow of the USA. We had to do some upgrading in a few departments.

Getting Ready for The USA

1. Wardrobe Upgrades

warm clothing for new york in winter
Boo wrapped up warm. A ski suit, jacket and salopettes, a hat, buff and gloves. He needed them. It was incredibly cold.

We travel with two large adult backpacks and two tiny children’s backpacks all stuffed to bursting with Asia gear. Shorts, sarongs and T shirts are our normal travel wear. None of us had proper shoes, we normally have a small collection of flip flops and Crocs along with Chef’s running shoes and my hiking shoes. The warmest items of clothing in those bags was my jeans, a couple of warm hats, a Buff and 2 adult fleeces. We needed to beef up our polar protection and do it as cheaply as possible.

Before our trip to the USA we had some time in the UK, luckily during the January Sales. We managed to find everything we needed and it didn’t break the bank.

Alyson’s Upgrades

A cheap pair of fake leather boots from Primark, under $10. They did the job and lasted as far as Florida before a heel fell off.

A warm coat with a furry hood. This was half price in a sale. That furry hood was So good!

A second pair of jeans. A charity shop find, under $20 and unworn.

2 pairs of  long tube socks, about $6.

Cheap fleece gloves $3

A cardigan from a designer outlet store $25

 Boots snow died
The boots bit the dust in Florida but served me well, I certainly got $15 of value out of them. Bye bye boots! My husband’s Amish beard was to amuse the kids, we have fun with facial hair.

Chef’s Upgrades

A jacket to wear over his fleece to make it more windproof $20 in a sale.

Cheap fleece gloves $3

2 pairs of long, thick socks $15

A designer outlet sale pair of jeans

Leather shoes, half price in a sale

The Kids’ Upgrades

Both needed warmer shoes, for Boo trainers, for D fake leather baseball boots. Both were inexpensive.

1 pair of long wool socks each, a gift.

wooly gloves $2/pair.

wooly hats $2 each.

A new ski jacket , cut price in a sale 

We were given an old ski suit, salopetts and a jacket. The salopetts were fantastic, they allowed Boo to wear his normal shorts and still be toasty warm.

Jeans for D $20.

Gap outlet hooded fleece and long sleeved warm tops $30.

kids in new york central park in winter dressed for the cold
Central Park in the snow. The warmest clothes we could find for the kids.

We got by just fine with just those few extra warm layers. We walked around New York and explored Central Park in the snow with everyone warm enough even at those ridiculous temperatures. Some of the purchases we saw as disposable, at those prices we never expected them to last, but some are still with us and going strong. It was difficult to cram all the extra gear into our packs, we ended up wearing or carrying the big coats to travel, but we did OK.

We had enough, the message that I wanted to get across here is that you don’t need as much as you may think, you don’t need custom designed cold weather gear, a few extra layers is enough, even for fairly prolonged walking in those temperatures.

2. Insurance Upgrades

New York city by ship
Arriving in an icy cold New York City by ship.

Travel insurance for the United States is more expensive than for the rest of the world. We never planned on going, so we didn’t buy it when we left home.

We found that the best way to cut insurance costs was to buy insurance month by month, we topped up our cover for the time we were in the US and returned to rest of the world cover when we left.

US travel insurance came in at around 20% more than our basic insurance but it’s a country that I would never even think about visiting without full coverage. I was once asked for $800 for my son to see a GP in Florida. Yes, you read that right.

There’s a link to the insurance we use at the foot of the page.

3. Visas

Myrtle beach USA sunset
A little further south we started to thaw out. Sunset at Myrtle beach

Much as I hate organising visas, it has to be done. For the USA you actually need a sort-of visa to not get a visa, in a way. Under the visa waiver programme, citizens of 37 countries ( including Australia and the UK) need travel authorisation, an ESTA, to stay for up to 90 days and it’s a simple matter of applying online. ESTA stands for Electronic System for Travel Authorization and approval to travel is often instant, you just need to make a note of your application number. There is a small charge.

4. Accommodation on Arrival

Times Square Winter Snow
We found a great deal just a few minutes walk from Times Square

New York City is the most expensive place we’ve stayed so far. We spent weeks researching where to stay and looking out for a good deal. deciding that the best place to stay in New York City would be Manhattan.

We finally took a room for 4  at just under $150/night. It was nice, included a substantial breakfast, and good wi-fi and was just off Times Square, a great base from which to explore New York City.

Complimentary cups of coffee 24 hours a day made a perfect hand warmer to take out into the snow.

You can check out Holiday Inn Express Times Square here, see if you can get the same great deal.

5. Car Hire

Winter road trip USA
Despite the snow, the roads were fine.

We didn’t need a car for NYC but our plan was to continue our visit to the States with a massive USA road trip.

We found a good deal online and locked in a price without having to formally book the car.

The cheapest place to pick up and drop off hire cars is normally at airports, so on our 4th day in New York, Chef took a bus to the airport and came back with our Toyota Rav 4.

She was a great car and did us well from frozen Niagara Falls to sunny Florida.

6. A Whole New Game Plan

Disney Florida Funnel Cake
The USA was a big change after six months in Asia, but lots of fun!

Travelling around the USA and travelling around Asia call for totally different approaches. Costs are higher and you need to find a fresh set of tactics to score the best deals. We can help you out with some tips for USA travel in these posts.

Planning a USA Road Trip and What’s the Most Expensive Part of a USA Road Trip. We also have plenty of posts about the highlights of our trip, we had a great time in the USA, it’s a fascinating and diverse country, we hope you do too.

If you'd like to hire a car during your stay, use this car rental comparison tool to find the best deal!

We also suggest you take a look at this company to get a quote for all kinds of the more tricky adventure or extended travel insurance.

Try Stayz / VRBO for an alternative way to find rentals on homes/apartments/condos in any country!

About the author
Alyson Long
Alyson Long is a British medical scientist who jumped ship to chase dreams. A former Chief Biomedical Scientist at London's West Middlesex Hospital she started in website creation and travel writing in 2011. Alyson is a full-time blogger and travel writer, a published author, and owns several websites. World Travel Family is the biggest. A lifetime of wanderlust and over 6 years of full-time travel, plus a separate 12 month gap year, has given Alyson and the family some travel expert smarts to share with you on this world travel site. Today Alyson still travels extensively to update this site and continue her mission to visit every country, but she's often at home on her farm in Australia.

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  2. It’s interesting to see the adaptations that have to be made when plans change. We probably missed each other by only a few days in New York, we were there until Jan 5th. I had been following you in Asia but I sort of lost track over winter and it was a surprise to suddenly see that you guys had popped up right where we had been! I had actually written a few of my thoughts about the challenges of cold weather travel with kids after I got home, but planning for a short trip while you’re living at your home base is quite different from changing plans on the fly while on a long term trip!


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