Tips for Surviving Winter

Don’t let anyone try to deceive you:  in the winter, Cambridge is cold.

Screen Shot 2015-01-04 at 10.38.50 PM

And I have another piece of bad news:  it’s winter here from about November through March, possibly early April.

(See now why I saved this blog post for after you’d submitted your application?!)

However, having spent the first part of my life in the South and now 10+ years in the Cambridge area, I’m here to attest to the fact that it is possible to survive, and even thrive, here in the winter.

“But HOW?!!” you’re now screaming at your computer screen.  I’m so glad you asked.  Inspired by the recent slushy grossness outside my window, here are my favorite winter survival tips to reassure you (and myself) that Cambridge really is a great place to be, even this time of year: 

1.  Maintain perspective

Mark Twain had several quotes about the New England weather, including, “If you don’t like the weather in New England now, just wait a few minutes.”  While winter does last on and off for a loooooooong time, that does not mean it is frigid every second.  December 25th this year was 55 degrees and sunny.  March 25th may be 22 degrees and snowing.


If you’re someone who finds inspiration from quotes, let me offer one other to help you navigate this season:  “This too shall pass.”  Now, while you’re waiting for it to pass, here are a few other tips:

2. Get the right gear

Admittedly, I didn’t do this my first few winters in Boston; I was perhaps a bit foolhardy, but also trying to survive on a tight budget.  Having now purchased nicer winter gear, I can definitely say it makes a difference, but I also understand it’s not always practical, particularly for those of you who refuse to stay in this frigid climate after one year.  So, I’ve got a few recommendations, but also a few “hacks” to make it cheaper:

  • Long underwear:  it’s not just for your grandma anymore!  Any long underwear, but especially silk, keeps you toasty on those long walks across campus.  (Hack:  a lot of athletic gear that’s tightly fitted can also function as long underwear, so if you own any of that already, you can use it for your extra layer of warmth.)
  • Wool socks:  I always ask for these for holidays, since they’re a bit pricey but keep your toes nice and toasty!
  • Lined boots:  While most sidewalks are cleared pretty soon after snow, there’s always the inevitable trek through a couple of freshly-fallen inches, and taller, lined boots can make that way less painful.  (Hack:  for 3 years, I just owned cheap plastic rainboots, so I lined them with plastic bags and wore 2 pairs of socks.  Kept my feet dry and actually pretty toasty!)
Hint: This is not a lot of snow.
  • Coat with down or down alternative:  Again, these are pretty pricey, so may not be worth investing in if you’re here for the short-term; however, they often go on sale in late February when stores are trying to clear out their winter stock, so if you’re committed to Cambridge, keep an eye out!  Otherwise, check local thrift stores when you arrive; since Boston has many local colleges and universities, lots of students who are moving on to warmer pastures donate or sell back their gently-used coats when they leave, so you can get pretty good prices on good gear!
  • Hats/scarves/gloves/mittens:  All are essential, but you can find cheaper or pricier versions, depending on your preference.  You also don’t need full coverage unless you’re biking or walking long ways, and then you want to look like this:
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That’s not a bank robber…just me being warm.

3. Figure out a transportation plan

Public transportation is really great in and around Cambridge, and using it often allows you to a) not walk long distances in the cold, and b) not have to dig your car out when it looks like this:

There's a car in there, I promise...
There’s a car in there, I promise…

Look into bus routes, T routes, anything to keep your outdoor time to a minimum and your heated time to a maximum.  My 30-minute commute on foot only has to involve 5 minutes total of outdoor time if I use public transportation.  If choosing to bike, see above picture for the appropriate amount of gear; otherwise, you might look like this:

Sad Olaf

4. Find a winter activity you enjoy!

Winter provides a great opportunity for you to try a new hobby, and associating the cold weather with something new and exciting will help keep your spirits high when the temperatures get low.  Fun ones you could try include:

  • Ice skating:  While there’s lots of great places to skate in and around Boston, Harvard offers its own seasonal ice rink, with free admission and $5 skate rentals.  (Check it out at  Just think, by the end of the semester, you may look like this:
Science Center Ice Skating Rink
(Except you might want to wear warmer clothes the first time you skate…)
  • Skiing:  A little more pricey, but HGSE offers fun opportunities for those who are new to the sport or old pros; this year, there’s a ski trip right before J-Term!
  • Snowshoeing:  You know that thing you’ve seen in the movies where it looks like people strapped tennis rackets to their feet?  That’s a real thing!  You probably have to go a little outside of the city to try it, but I hear it’s fun.  (Hint:  Don’t use tennis rackets, though.)
  • Sledding:  Way more fun as a grown-up than a little kid, because you have more momentum!  If you don’t own a sled, no worries:  baking sheets work just fine.  (Just don’t tell your roommates…)
  • Baking:  Ok, so while this is NOT an outdoor activity, it allows you to make yummy treats (which always keep my spirits up) while running the oven (which also makes the house warmer).  Win-win!
Tell me this doesn't make you just a little excited about staying in...
Tell me this doesn’t make you just a little excited about staying in…

5. Find new favorite indoor spots

There’s so much to do in Boston that the cold days can be a motivation to seek out a new spot.  Bonus if that spot is heated and free, and there’s plenty of those!

  • Museums:  The MFA offers free tickets to students with Harvard ID, and other museums offer discounts through HGSE or the local public libraries.
  • Libraries:  On campus and off, Cambridge and Boston are home to a wide variety of beautiful libraries where you can curl up with a good book (or, er, homework assignment), and stay awhile!
Where warmth and intelligence meet
The Reading Room at the Boston Public Library:  Where warmth and intelligence meet!
  • Gyms:  Extra motivation to work out — not only will you NOT be cold, you’ll remember what it’s like to be sweating!  There are several Harvard gyms close to HGSE that you can use to pretend like it’s summer again.  (They even have indoor pools!)
  • Coffee shops:  Pay $2 for 2 hours of heat and warm smells (oh, yeah, and the drink)?  Yes, please!

6.  If all else fails, drink…

HOT CHOCOLATE!  Burdick’s, the home of the best hot chocolate known to humanity, is right across the street from Gutman Library.

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Need I say more?


Sarah Stuntz is a Master’s of Education candidate in the Instructional Leadership strand of the Learning and Teaching program.  As a former English teacher who plans to return to the classroom, Sarah loves learning about how literature and writing connect with adolescent development and social justice.