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When Bad Weather Happens to Good Trips

“Weather’s here, wish you were beautiful.”

It’s the classic wisecrack vacation postcard, and it’s pretty much no more than a weather pun.

But it brings to light a common travel problem: There’s nothing that can ruin a great trip like bad weather.

Let me say that I believe that I don’t believe one kind of weather is necessarily “good” or “bad.” I truly believe there’s no such thing as bad weather. To say “comfortable” or “uncomfortable” weather I can live with — anything in the extreme (heat, cold, wet, hours at work, hangovers, whining) is rarely fun.

In many ways, a place is its weather. When you think of Seattle, what comes to mind? If it’s not coffee and grunge music, it’s the steady, light rain. And I’d argue that cafe culture and grunge could only have come from the wet Northwest.

How many songs, poems and novels have been written about summer in the city in New York (or about escaping said summer in the city)? Would bossa nova have come into being without the sea breezes of Ipanema? Would Impressionism even exist without the dramatic colors and weather of France?

The list goes on:

London? Fog.
Chicago? Wind.
Southeast Asia? Humidity.
Moscow? Big hats in terrible cold.
The Middle East? Desert heat.

You get the point.

So how does one enjoy all the various and sundry weather the planet has to offer? And how not to let so-called bad weather ruin a good trip?

Take It All In

Oliver Rosenbladt shows a touch of the poet when he wrote this of a bad weather episode from his travels:

“I was backpacking around Europe between high school and college, and I’d made my way to Florence in early August, at a time when [the city] is hit by a lot of late summer thunderstorms … big humdingers, raindrops like marbles, etc. As in most other Mediterranean countries, Florence shuts down for a few hours in the afternoon, and this was the precise time that the thunderstorm hit, so you couldn’t really take refuge in a store. I put my gear down in a doorway/alcove in a little alley right across from the Duomo, the large church in central Florence, and proceeded to write postcards for the duration of the storm. The doorway was fairly shallow, so while my gear and postcards stayed dry, my feet did not. I still remember this storm … Florence sits in a very shallow valley, and thunder rolls around in that valley like the silver ball in a roulette wheel.

Which brings us to our second suggestion:

Write Home

While you are traveling, friends, family and coworkers are schlepping off to work, doing their laundry, eating the same breakfast morning after morning, buying the same sandwich at lunch and often wondering just how good you have it on vacation.

Whether you’re the type to share, tease, show off or torture folks back home, you can use a rainy afternoon to get in touch with them — whether that means scribbling out some old-fashioned postcards as Oliver did or uploading your best photos of the trip so far to your Facebook or Instagram account.

On a related note, a day with less-than-ideal weather is the perfect time to pick up some souvenirs for all those long-suffering friends and relatives (and for yourself, of course!).


Lack of sleep is one of the realities of most folks’ lives in the 21st century, and a rainy morning on vacation is the perfect time to catch up on 40, 80, 160 or more winks.

Find Water

There’s nothing that can conjure more beauty from bad weather than can water. Oceans, rivers, brooks, streams and lakes can come to life when wind and water touch upon them from above.

Go Where the Crowds Aren’t

A reader writes: “The best Disney World trip I ever took was during a period of three days of steady, light rain. Everyone else stayed inside, and we had the park almost to ourselves.”

At the best amusement parks, lines leading up to the attractions are often covered, so you don’t even have that much exposure to the weather.

Note that this isn’t the case everywhere; on a rainy day, crowds at museums, aquariums and other indoor attractions can be oppressive.

Another contrarian move to try is to walk instead of drive. Most of us know from personal experience heading to work that rush hour on a rainy day is much worse, and even more dangerous. There are simply more cars on the roads on a rainy day, as folks who might walk to the corner store a few blocks away will certainly drive. It’s also harder to find a cab when it’s raining — so pack your umbrella and hit the sidewalk.

Think “Opening Hour”

If it’s a weekend and you’re planning on seeing an indoor attraction, try to arrive right when it opens. On a rainy weekend morning, most tourists and locals might stay under the blankets. If you get going early and show up at attractions right at opening, you beat the crowds that will inevitably congregate at these places of shelter.


This almost goes without saying: If you have some rain gear, warm clothes, maybe some boots and a hat, you’ll be much happier if the weather turns for the worse. To paraphrase an old cliche, there’s no bad weather, only bad clothing.


Depending on where you are, you may be able to escape the local weather without going far, thanks to the vagaries of microclimates. senior editor Sarah Schlichter once found herself in a spring snowstorm at Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah, with inhospitable temperatures in the low 20s. She left the park and drove just 40 minutes to nearby Kodachrome Basin State Park, where the sun was shining and temperatures were in the upper 50s. She spent a happy afternoon hiking.

What About the Kids?

Kids are tricky — an adult’s idea of rainy day fun might be utter torture for a kid. Why not let them decide? It could be that going to a movie is actually more fun, or that climbing Big Ben beats trudging around the Parliament any day.

Think back on what you did as a kid on rainy days; instead of feeling trapped by the weather, you can share with your kids what it was like to grow up in ancient history, way back when there was no Cartoon Network.

Also remember that some kids don’t care about bad weather. Next time you go to the beach on a cold, overcast day, take a look at how many kids are in the water anyway. Your wet mess is your kid’s watery paradise.

A couple of other suggestions:

– Use room service. For some kids, nothing beats breakfast delivered in front of the TV.

– Do “nighttime” things during the day; rent or go to a movie, eat big long meals, etc. Kids love a change-up in routine.

When Bad Weather Turns Evil

What if you’re truly socked in by an extended storm? That is going to take some imagination, and you’ll have to tap into yours.

But remember that bad weather can make good things happen. To wit: A traveler acquaintance of mine was camping on a beach in Baja Mexico, lulled to sleep by the sound of the waves. In the middle of the night, the sound grew and woke him from his slumber, so he opened the front of the tent slightly to have a look outside. As he peered into the darkness, a surging tide finally reached the high ground on which he had placed his tent (and where everyone else had placed theirs), and filled his tent completely with eight inches of surf.

He leapt out of his tent as everyone in the area was yelling, turning on vehicle headlights and trying to salvage their gear. He threw all his stuff in his car and took off, followed by everyone else in the campsite. He found a hiding place to park his car down the road and slept the rest of the night in the car.

Some of the campers ended up at the same place for breakfast the next morning, and word spread that many of them had been robbed in the night, one tent after another, right down the beach. His was the first site that hadn’t been robbed in the line — the thieves were forced to flee at the same time he had, and the wave had swamped him just as he was about to be robbed.

Ignore All of the Above If…

Of course, if you’re part of a newlywed or amorous traveling couple, you don’t need my or anyone else’s advice.

What’s your favorite thing to do when you hit a patch of ugly weather on vacation? Post your tips in the comments!

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