Headed to one of those chilly countries? You'll absolutely want to make sure you have the right kind of boots for your semester.
Whether you're looking forward to a semester of exploring the snow-capped cathedrals, or trekking across city streets without slipping, a good pair of boots should be on the packing list for any one of our volunteers headed to a snowy (European) location. Out of all the things I packed to help me stay warm, I was so glad I didn't skimp on the boots I brought on my semester abroad.
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These tips won't apply to our volunteers going to places like The Dominican Republic or Mexico, but if you spend a semester volunteering in Europe you are going to want to check out these tips for buying warm boots. WE've talked to a whole bunch of ILP alumni to make sure you're getting the best of the best when it comes to tips and recommendations.
First Off, When Will You Be There?
ILP has three semesters open to volunteers and with each semester you will obviously have different types of weather. Fall and Spring semesters are the only ones you'll need to worry about for really warm winter clothes (you'll need some layers for summer semesters, but nothing like the snow gear you'll need for Fall and Spring).
- Fall semester: August- December
- Spring semester: January- April/May
The coldest months in our European countries will usually be during the Spring semester in January and February, but you will want some good warm clothes for the Fall semester once you get into November and December.
For our summer semester volunteers, it will probably be chilly once you arrive, so plan on layering up and wearing warm clothes, but it will only be cold the first month or two, then will quickly warm up to be a warm and humid summer in most countries.
How Warm Should My Boots Be?
You can find tons of different boots that are good for it's-a-little-chilly weather to negative-30-I-can't-feel-my-toes weather.
Once you know what semester and country you are going to volunteer in, do some research and see what averages are for certain months in your country. This will give you you a little better idea of what to expect for your specific city. Keep in mind that you'll often be walking outside, waiting for the bus, etc ... you want to make sure your toes are warm! Trust me.
I'd recommend looking into the temperatures for your city, for each month you'll be there. Once you know the average temperature, you can head into couple of stores and let them know you'll need shoes to keep your toes warm in 2 degree weather, for example.
What To Look For
Above The Ankles
Our volunteers suggest getting boots that go above your ankles and to get ones that are waterproof. That way you can walk through puddles and piles of snow and not worry about anything dripping into your shoe or soaking through. As a fashion note, not many of the locals were wearing those knee-high boots that you sometimes see for heavy winters. Personally, I brought a pair of knee-high boots for my semester in Russia and loved them for all the deep snow, but I also brought a pair of ankle-high ones that I wore most of the time.
About The Size
You might want to purchase your boots a half-size bigger than normal. In the dead of winter in Russia and Ukraine, you will probably want to wear thicker wool socks under your boots. I'd suggest trying on your boots with your thick wool socks to make sure they aren't too tight. And you most definitely want to wear these boots with wool socks to keep your feet extra warm.
On that note, make sure you're breaking in your boots before your semester. Even if you'll be using lots of public transportation (like the bus or the metro) you'll do your fair share of walking. No one wants to end up with blisters, so break in your boots before leaving.
A Note On Tread
Something with tread on the bottom is going to come in handy too. With winter comes icy roads, and you'll be better prepared if your boots don't have a slick bottom. Sometimes, cities don't have the infrastructure to clear the snow, or there is just so much snow that it's not really an option to plow or to shovel all of the city streets. When that happens, the snow gets packed down and turns into an icy pathway that's really easy to slip on.
Where Do I Buy Boots?
Some volunteers will buy their boots in country and others bring some from home. If you're volunteering during the Fall, you'll have a couple of months to shop around before it gets too cold. If you're volunteering during the Spring, we recommend bringing warm boots with you because you'll want them the minute you get off the plane!
Although there are places in country to buy boots, I personally liked bringing some with me so I could shop around for deals and find some I liked without feeling the rush of needing them right away.
Brands To Look For
This isn't a complete list, but you're going to want to go in this direction — some of these brands are pricier, but you're paying for quality. You absolutely don't want to spend a semester walking in boots that aren't warm, and aren't waterproof.
- The North Face
- Stores like Dick's Sporting Goods or REI will also carry a handful of brands.
Can I Get These On Sale?
Buying full price is likely not in your college budget, but there's ways to still get good quality boots for less. I love the websites below because they often offer huge discounts vs buying directly from the brand's store. A big tip is to sign up for the website's newsletter to get a certain percentage off and then combine that with sales going on. You can often get 50-75% off that way.
You can also sign up for a rewards program. REI has a membership (there is a small fee) but you'll get a head's up when new inventory is coming in, and when they are doing sales. You can also get 20% off one item with your membership.
Ready for a semester abroad?