Travelling During Blizzards in the US

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Winters in the US. Photo by Indira Pranabudi.

The notion of studying abroad for a lot of people is associated with cold, winter months. Though the first snowfall may be fun to experience, harsh winter blizzards can be a big disruption to day-to-day-life. In this article, contributor Steffen Hadi shares his experience traveling during a blizzard.

It turns out that winter in January and February in the US can get pretty rough. Yeah, blizzards often happen during this period and people would usually refrain from traveling. I, on the other hand, traveled to New Orleans when the famous blizzard over the East Coast in January 2016 occurred. Yeah I know, I learned the lesson the hard way. But let me share my experience surviving the blizzard in a 48-hour land trip from New Orleans to Philly!

For the past few years, winter in the US usually starts around the second week of December (this is when you get your first snow). Then, it grows colder and colder until around the last week of January or first week of February. This is when blizzards start to happen in some East Coast cities. With this in mind, it’s really important to check the weather forecast! Usually, the news will start talking about any possibility of blizzards since December.

Why is knowing about blizzards in advance such an important thing? Because the freezing temperatures will often force you to stay indoors, and most markets and public spaces close during this time. People tend to stock all the house needs in advance and avoid traveling during this time.

For me and my friends, we had a great plan to escape the blizzard by traveling to a warmer city. Our choice fell to New Orleans because, at the same time, there would be some small Mardi Gras celebrations in the city.

Steffen and friends in New Orleans. Photo by author.
Steffen and friends in New Orleans. Photo by author.

During and after blizzards, airport and road closures will usually follow due to the thick snow and icy asphalt. This usually causes chaos for flight schedules; flights may be delayed or even worse canceled.

For my trip to New Orleans, I bought the cheapest package, travel to New Orleans with Delta Airlines and back to Philly with United Airlines. We had a lot of fun in New Orleans; it was cold but warmer than Philly. We laughed off the news about blizzard and mocked our friends who were trapped in Philly. We saw the Mardi Gras celebrations, joined the bar hopping, and got wasted. Then, on Sunday morning I got an email saying that my flight to Philly was canceled. Despite being hungover, I informed my friends about this. Some of them decided to extend their stay until more flights are available, and some decided to buy new flights. I wanted to buy the new flights but no ticket was available. Then, came a bold idea: using a bus to travel to Philly, to which I agreed. Later I discovered that it was totally a mistake.

A harrowing adventure. Photo by author.
A harrowing adventure. Photo by author.

My two cents about traveling during and after blizzards is anything but land transportation. You can extend your stay or buy a new flight ticket but do not even think to use land transportation. Why? Because few days after the blizzard there would be many road closures, and the high rate of accidents is high due to icy roads.

Most people would choose to extend their stay if their flight tickets are guaranteed, meaning that the airlines will give them a flight replacement. This is the most feasible option because if you wish to purchase a new ticket, you will compete with a thousand others and the ticket price is not cheap either.

But what if your only option is to travel by land? At least keep your mobile phone turned on. If you travel by bus, you need to check every schedule available, any road closure, and any alternative transportation choices. This applies especially for a long distance travel for which there is no direct transportation method.

In my case, I took Megabus and Greyhound (both of which are intercity bus services). I had to travel from New Orleans to Atlanta, then to Richmond, then finally to Philly. It is a 2,000 km journey through 9 US states which normally takes around 18 hours. In my case, due to road closures, I had to spend 48 hours instead. I departed on Sunday and arrived on Tuesday morning. There was a long delay in Atlanta and Richmond due to road closures. I slept in the bus and bus station, brushed my teeth in dirty public toilets, and ate at the diners along the way. We thought traveling by bus would be the fastest way to get into Philly, but in the end, we had to skip classes on Monday and arrived later than some of our friends who chose to stay.

If you are in the same situation, keep calm and keep looking for alternatives. You can look for available flights or train tickets nearby so that you do not need to wait for the delay. Or, the simplest way is you can choose to relax and consider it as an unforgettable experience for you.

For me, that experience was not all that bad. I could see the real American life through my journey as my bus passed a very rural area in the US. I could witness how Americans interact with each other in the bus, in rural areas, and the way they handled the stress.

So, what’s the moral of the story? There are four different seasons and 365 dayn a year, so choose your schedule wisely. If you are studying in the US, travel during summer break or spring break. If you are working, take leave during summer or autumn. If you have to travel during the winter, keep your eyes open for the weather forecast. But better stay at home, chill, or stay with your family right?

Well, now is not the time to worry anyway. It is summer now, so enjoy while it lasts!

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Steffen Hadi
Steffen Hadi studied LL.M. in University of Pennsylvania Law School and Wharton Business and Law Certificate of the Wharton School at the same university. He was the Class President of Penn Law LL.M. Class 2016, Penn Law Students Representative in University of Pennsylvania’s council, and international associate editor in Penn Law Journal of International Law. Steffen also interned at a prominent international law firm in Philadelphia. Aside from LL.M. Steffen also holds a Sarjana Hukum (LL.B. equivalent) from Parahyangan Catholic University. Steffen has been practicing law as a corporate lawyer in Jakarta and Singapore. Presently, he is a senior associate in a prominent law firm in Indonesia and independently assisting few legal issues for start-ups. In his spare time, Steffen is a movie freak, loyal runner, and outdoor trekker.