Helpline Question of the Month: How Do You Deal with Persistent Bad Weather?
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You've arrived in Europe, and the weather is crummy. Or, according to the forecast, it will be at your next stop. What should you do? Andre in the Netherlands decided to go directly to his fellow travelers for their experience-based recommendations.
Puddle-jump with Andre through our Travelers Helpline...
"Weather can sometimes be unpredictable in Europe. While some rain is expected in all seasons in most of the continent, sometimes carefully designed itineraries are hit by a sequence of days for which the short-term forecast is really grim. For certain destinations (Cinque Terre, Alps, beach spots) that can be a huge deal. How would/do you deal with imminent persistent bad weather forecast (like 3-7 days ahead) on your way? Would you go out of the way to re-shuffle the itinerary, paying whatever cancellation/refund fees are due and even forfeiting non-refundable services? Or 'weather-out' rain or snow and go-out-no-matter-what-as-long-as-it's-safe?"
— Andre L. in Tilburg, Netherlands
Seattle, WA USA
Maybe I'm a loon, because I live in Seattle and LOVE the weather... but I just don't classify weather as "good" or "bad." It's weather!
For the everyday vicissitudes of rain or drizzle or low gray skies, or even sleet and driving hail, I just get out there and do what I was going to do.
I remember coming to this realization - that All Weather is Good Weather When Traveling - when I was 17 and standing in Piazza San Marco in a light October drizzle, and thinking "my god, this place is so inexpressibly beautiful in the hazy golden fog - and my girlfriend and I are the only tourists here right now - and I would never have seen this if we had waited for summer!"
And yes, although at home I am a miserable, smelly, irritable whiner in the heat - when in Europe in the summer, I just sweat happily and go for it, too.
I can't think of a situation (other than flood/typhoon/volcano) where I would change "baked" travel plans to avoid snow or rain.
As for taking time in pubs or cafes when it's especially soaking or nippy outside - yes - those are great options. I figure that I might be indoors, but hey! I am indoors in Bavaria! Or Wales!
Take a raincoat and don't worry your little brain about it.
San Francisco, California USA
We've been caught unawares in all kinds of weather with the wrong clothing and gear, and sometimes with a small child. We have coped with the same activities you have suggested adapting with what works best at the time. Sometimes it's a bigger headache and energy drain to make changes, so we make the best of it and just nest. Nowadays, we are fortunate that there is more lightweight, versatile travel clothing available like fleece and we have more electronic "toys" to amuse ourselves if we're stuck. I always pack a hooded fleece and unless I'm going to the desert, I always pack a lightweight raincoat which has served as a pillow, bathrobe, blanket. Here's wishing you pleasant weather wherever you go!
Easy. Open your eyes to the beauty and your imagination to the fun in what is before you. Explore a city or landscape in rain or fog or snow, especially snow, and it is like going back to an earlier, more mysterious time. The views, especially, are often better than promotional photos taken in bright sunshine. And do spend extra time in museums. Also, huddle over coffee in the morning or beer or wine in the afternoon and evening with locals in a neighborhood cafe or pub. This is what I do. I have had very few times when rain or snow was a factor for more than an hour or two, but I thoroughly enjoyed those times. Besides, traveling in the spring and early summer, I have never experienced the extremes in weather we face at home.
Austin, TX USA
I was just thinking about this earlier today! I think we're about to find out :) Starting our trip next week in Brugge then Amsterdam, and right now the forecast is all rain. We're packing rain gear as we will spend a week biking (rain or shine). We were planning on spending a day biking in each location so will have to think about other options. We've trudged around Amsterdam and Munich in the rain before. It didn't dampen our good time - just made it more interesting :)
Land of La
I live in LA where weather is nearly non-existent but grew up near the City by The Bay (San Francisco) and know about chill, cold, rain and even snow. I travel most often in winter so I simply make sure I have my capiliene underwear, smart wool socks, portable umbrella, gloves, scarf and raincoat. Other than that I go with the flow. NOTHING can be done about Mother Nature. I've sloshed through the rain in Florence with a temperature of a 101, was certain my feet had frozen standing on the Lincoln Memorial steps during Obama's Inauguration, and driven to Slea Head in a blinding rain. Never deterred. After watching the Royal Family and the thousands who lined the banks of the Thames yesterday to watch the Diamond Jubilee Flotilla pass in an absolute torrential downpour I'm reminded, deal with it!!!
Kira, You are the bomb! Remember the Rickism: There is no such thing as bad weather only inappropriately dressed people.
New York City (formerly Madison)
I remember my first trip to Scotland with my sister. We were traveling by rail and bus. We had had wonderful weather in Edinburgh, Inverness and in Orkney. Then we went to Skye. We didn't know then what I know now, that it's almost always rainy in the west and you just have to deal. But we did not have the proper rain gear. We had lovely trench coats. ; ) So, we endured the weather for several days, but finally looked at each other and said, "It's time to go to England!" And, sure enough we got good weather in the south.
I learned at least two things from that experience. 1. Pack good rain gear! 2. Build a flexible itinerary if at all possible. While it may be harder to dodge the weather on the continent, you still can if you're willing to be flexible. A few years ago, I was in Provence. It was beautiful, but it was getting so hot. (Remember I like my holidays in Scotland!) So, I decided to go to the Alps. It was cooler and beautiful.
I deal with weather the same way when not in Europe.
First, I try as hard as I can not to worry too much about the forecast. I am recently back from Germany and the Czech Republic, and the forecast before I left was for showers every day for the first 10 days of my trip. Actually, we only had sprinkles on 2 of those days, and the rest of the days were sunny and wonderful. Second, if I am in one place for a few days, I try to plan one day that would be better for rainy weather, and shift my days around if necessary. Last, I will enjoy myself no matter what the weather. I remember going up to Eagle's Nest on a trip a couple of years ago on the one rainy day on that trip. I was talking to someone on the bus up and complaining about the weather. He said he thought it would be okay because it would look more mystical and beautiful with the clouds. He was right. I could have seen clouds and drear or I could have seen mystical beauty. Thanks to this guy, I chose to see the mystical beauty. You can't change the weather, and no matter when you plan your trip, you could have "good" or "bad" weather, so it's best to make the best of it! So, I go out no matter.
Sometimes an overcast rainy day actually enhances your visit. In one instance, on the day we visited Burg Eltz, it was cloudy, a very light intermittent rain with plenty of fog/mist in the air. When we came upon the vantage point looking down at the castle, the weather conditions made the sight even more "mysterious", for a lack of a better word. Same with a night we spent walking virtually alone in the rain (with an umbrella of course) through Hall in Tirol. We felt it added to the medieval atmosphere. We are in the category "go-out-no-matter-what-as-long-as-safe".
I think as Andre pointed out, where and the type of vacation you have planned can make a huge difference on how weather affects your trip.
Personally I do not see Europe as a beach or outdoor holiday, but for me personally its museums, churches, historic ruins and buildings, and of course food and wine, none of these are weather dependent. So rain, fog, and in one case visiting London it was sleet and hail, do not really impact my holiday. I have had to buy more clothes though to keep warm, and that included one trip to Paris in August where it was cold, cold, cold! I still loved my trip just had to put on another sweater!
Now, if I had booked a week in a beach side cottage somewhere on the shore, where my primary planned activities were walking about the beaches and country side, sun tanning and swimming, I would be disappointed, and would not cancel but would be looking for optional sightseeing in the area. (In a big city this would not be an issue, but remember, I am talking about a planned beach break.)
This is one reason when I do plan a beach break-type holiday it is not to Europe, I plan if for Hawaii, Mexico, or a Caribbean cruise, where even the bad weather is warmer than I am used to at home!
For Europe I have never had bad weather ruin a holiday, but I have had bad weather, and still had fun!
I would only be upset with bad weather if I vacationed strictly for outdoor activities, such as beaches or hiking. I'd cry softly if I spent a fortune to go to Switzerland and got rained out. I'd do the same if I planned a beach vacation to Croatia. Luckily, I know a thing or two about die wetter, so the only oh crap moment I've had was getting caught in a downpour in Munich. It rained so hard that we had no choice but to return to the hotel to dry off and change clothes, even with ponchos.
Always dreaming of Europe...
The weather has never stopped us. We have travelled during a heat wave in the summer and winter storms in December.
We have had rainy, dark and dreary days in Brittany, and gorgeous sunny days in Normandy, been stranded in London during the Eurostar fiasco in 2009 having to book extra nights while waiting to see if we would get to Brittany for Christmas.
What helped was being flexible, coming up with alternative ways to spend the time, and of course, just being in Europe makes it all tolerable. I have memories of impromptu museum visits when I was supposed to be somewhere else, meeting interesting people while having coffee, etc.
I drink to deal with bad weather ;-) Seriously, unlike all the Pollyannas on this board, weather can make or break a vacation for me. There is nothing worse than being stuck in a hotel room with kids while it storms/rains for days. Fortunately, we've never had a vacation where it is has rained all day, every day. I will try to re-arrange our schedule when possible to accommodate weather.
But sometimes you just have to whine internally. Like this weekend when camping, and thunderstorms hit in the middle of the night and we were stuck trying to sleep in the car (because a tent isn't safe during a thunderstorm). Despite being close to a riverbank, with a picturesque little town in France with quaint cafés within walking distance, we were pretty miserable (and grumpy the next day). Enjoyed the weekend, but would have called it quits and actually gone home early if it hadn't stopped storming after a couple hours.
I like Dinas intial response, a drink or three makes every day a bit sunny but with kids that would be different. I would not like to be stuck in a hotel room with kids and bad weather, and would HATE to be camping in it, (mind you Dina, "tent" is a four letter word to me anyways, you are brave, tenting in June!) In your case I would have loaded kids into the car and gone into that village and into a hotel!
We spent April in Spain and had pretty horrible weather. We started north and worked south. We had daily rain, wind and cold in the north. I kept telling my wife, it will be fine when we get south. Unfortunately, it wasn't. We had a few nice days but mostly really bad. Many people were very apologetic that spring hadn't yet arrived after a very cold winter. I'm reminded of what our Russian guide in St. Petersburg kept saying about corrupt police, museums that don't open on time, traffic, taxes, shortages, etc., "What can be done about it? Nothing."
Like Brad, we also spent April in Europe; in this case, France. And yes, it rained a lot. But the food and wine were as good as always; restaurants, markets, wineries and museums were still open; and we had umbrellas. It also helped that we rented houses a week at a time for most of the trip, so we had room to relax, read, cook, etc.
Pearland, Texas USA
In May of 2011, we were in Salzburg when a downpour caught us. With umbrellas and standing in covered alleys, we survived. Through it all my thought was "I'm in Salzburg, Austria!" It didn't bother me at all.
Ron-in-Rome... now in ATL... moving back to Rome ASAP!!
We live in Copenhagen... so 3-7 days... try 7-8 months! Today, June 5th, the high temperature in CPH was 52 degrees, grey skies, with 20-25 mph winds!
I walked to the store in a long-sleeve shirt, a high-collared Oakley jacket (zipped all the way up) with a cap... and I was looking for gloves. I thought it was bad - but no worse than "usual" - till it started raining on me halfway to the store. Too windy for an umbrella.
Laurel, I think the Danes had the saying long before Rick as they are always talking about the weather here and saying: "There's no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing!" Trust me, I've heard that at least 200 times! All of our Danish friends complain about the weather... there's a "grayness" that lasts for months (or so it seems).
Summer in CPH is just a few weeks away (we hope) - 'Course the joke here is it only lasts 2-3 weeks! Last year the highest temp for the year was in August at 72 degrees. Thank goodness we're back in Rome next week... I'll probably suffer a heat stoke as I'm "cold-conditioned" now.
I think in most places in Europe there's enough to see and do that inclement weather shouldn't really be that much of a factor. In all the time I've lived here, I've only experienced maybe a handful of days where it just poured rain all day. At least in central-western non-coastal, non-mountain Europe, rain tends to be an on and off thing.
But yeah, as others have said, the biggies are beach vacations and alpine trips where you're dependent on nice weather for your activities. In which case, study the historical weather record and then pray.
But in general the weather thing hasn't been much of an issue for me, because as others have said, there's always a bar or cafe somewhere. Some of my best bar finds and most memorable experiences have been ducking into a locals-only bar to get out of a downpour, and hours later having new friends, new memories, and a hangover waiting for me the next day.
Ann Arbor, MI
Well, it can definitely be disappointing.... but a European vacation that is 'ruined' because of the weather, you are either a whiner or not resourceful at all. Would I change my plans to avoid bad weather? Possibly, especially if I am traveling spontaneously with my car and I can change plans on a whim. But, I would still rather be in Europe in bad weather than home with great weather.
Grapevine, TX USA
I can usually deal with the weather and make sure I bring appropriate clothing and umbrella. What I don't like is getting home and looking at pictures that seem so dark and dreary because of gray skies, etc. We wanted to spend some time in a few parks in Paris on our last trip, but it was pouring rain most days and even sleeted one day (at the end of March). Because I live in Texas (hot weather), I don't go to Europe in the summer - I can stay here and swelter, but whenever you travel, you are at the mercy of the weather. I feel lucky if we get at least half of our days in sunshine on a trip. But so far, whatever the weather, we have enjoyed every place we've visited!
san diego, ca
I luckily have not had weather so terrible in Europe that it cancelled my plans. I just came back from a trip to Scandinavia and Russia. Since we knew that the areas we were travelling to were renown for unpredictable weather, we packed for rain, sun, and wind. I found a lot of wool sweaters and London Fog raincoats at the thrift shops. I packed my rubber boots. I tend to pack light so it was a bit frustrating but I had to be safe than sorry.
One thing that helped a lot was having a hotel centrally located, with excellent wifi, and plans flexible enough for us to weather through bad weather in the comfort of our hotel room. And to take breaks there too. We had rain, wind and sun but nothing too much to stop our plans. We happened to be at very good and welcoming restaurants when the rain came pouring down hard.
A fleece sweater is also a life safer in really windy weather, like they have in Scotland when I went ~ 5 years ago.
L.A., CA USA
For me, the weather is merely one more part of the overall experience. If you do your best to pack smart for a variety of conditions that are likely to occur in the area you expect to be in, then you probably won't be caught out entirely when conditions change. Some of my best experiences have happened when the unexpected occurred. I always remind myself - I may be cold (or wet or hungry) now, but I'll be warm and dry and feeling satisfied later. Try to live more in your thoughts and imagination, and less on the surface of your body.
Toronto, Ontario Canada
For us, if it doesn't rain at least once when we are camping or travelling it's just not an adventure. Bad weather is when you stumble upon so many "back doors", see how friendly the locals really are, learn new card games from other lost travelers and discover the quirky local coffee shops. It's a great opportunity to go to the smaller museums you were thinking of skipping, trying one more pastry at a snack bar rather than go outside, or buy a magazine in the local language and try and figure it out while you people watch in a cafe.
Last time I was in Haarlem the skies opened up and it poured rain. We just stood under an awning and enjoyed hot "Frite Met" til we could run to the next shop.
Travelling is the about loving where you are, because you are somewhere else.
Last April in Spain I changed my packing from a Spring layer packlist to a Winter layer pack list (thicker warm layers, knit cap, fleece gloves, warmer socks) because it was looking pretty bad as we got nearer our departure. I was glad I did, even with the added warmth we froze most of the time.
My wife didn't change her packing and ended up wearing her only warm pair of pants almost the entire time (skirt, shorts and capris were almost never worn)... not to mention borrowing my gloves. We did pick up a couple of scarves (one more dressy, one warmer) and some gloves for her on the road - which helped.
Skip or change plans? Not yet. Which is why I never buy insurance. If I plan to go, I'm going. :)
Our independent, volunteer Travelers Helpline contributors are sincere, but not infallible! Follow their advice at your own risk. This thread was gently edited for brevity and clarity. Ask your European travel question on the Travelers Helpline.