Can bad weather spoil your trip? It’s a question I’ve wrestled with for a long time. In fact, I wrote about it a few years ago in a post where I came out on the “no” side. It can certainly change your trip to Europe, I wrote, but it doesn’t prevent you from having a good time. These days I’m tending more toward the “yes” side.
That’s not a hard “yes”, to be sure. Just about any trip can turn out to be a great experience if you stay flexible and go with the flow. But bad weather can sometimes give you a very different impression of a city or country, one that stays with you for a long time.
Two years ago, I took a Viking river cruise that started in Paris and ended in Prague. Paris was sunny and bright — though I don’t think any weather could make it a bad place to be. But when we got to Prague, it started to rain. And it kept raining through most of the five days I spent in the city. It didn’t stop me from seeing the city or doing some great things. But some days I just did what I could find indoors, and frankly, there wasn’t that much. Nowadays. when I think of Prague, it’s as a dark place, cast in gloom.
I had a similar experience with Vienna. On my first visit, in the early winter of 2013, I arrived expecting some chilly weather. But hopping out of bed on the first morning, I looked out the window to see snow falling. A cold front had swept in, and for the rest of the week I spent a lot of time ducking into stores and museums in an attempt to stay warm.
I returned to Vienna last spring on another Viking cruise. This time I was determined to experience the city as it should be, in mild, balmy weather. But the weather gods frowned on me again: a day that started out chilly turned downright frigid within an hour, and stayed that way. My most vivid recollection of that morning is shivering on streetcorners while we toured the old city centre. When the tour was over, I headed straight to the famous Café Landtmann to thaw out with some coffee and strudel.
Bad weather can put its stamp on a tropical holiday too, of course. I’ve never been caught in a hurricane like some unlucky vacationers. But I’ve been in tropical destinations where the rain clouds swept in and just took over. I have memories of lying in my room in Kuching, Malaysia day after day, waiting for it to stop raining so I could walk to the waterfront for a couple of hours of respite before it started again.
Then there was my long-ago visit to Arenal, Costa Rica, for some birdwatching. The trip went well — until the rains began. Then, you ventured out only when it cleared for a few minutes. On one of those forays, I was caught in an open field when a torrential downpour started. By the time I wrestled my raincoat out of the bag, I was soaked — and so was everything in the bag. The next day I looked through my telephoto lens and saw … nothing but fog. It was useless. A day later my companions and I headed north to Nicaragua, just to see the sun shine.
So, can bad weather spoil your trip? I can’t say it made these trips bad experiences. In fact, I enjoyed every one of them — though there were some days I’d rather forget. But the bad weather certainly cast a different light on these destinations, and often not one that really reflected their true characters. When all your photos have grey skies looming overhead, it’s hard to conjure up sunny memories. More critically, the weather can prevent you from doing the one thing you came to do, like taking a boat trip or a cable car ride.
So these days when I plan a trip, I pay a little closer attention to the weather forecasts. This week I came across a great offer on an air fare to Costa Rica on Copa Airlines. But it’s for late September, and according to the Costa Rica tourism website, that’s the height of the rainy season in some areas. Remembering my experience in Arenal, I decided to pass. I’d rather pay an extra $200 in dry season and watch birds in the sun.
Finally, some constructive advice on what to do when bad weather throws a pall over your holiday. The first option is to adjust your schedule. If you’ve booked a tour and the forecast says heavy rain, consider moving it to a better day. And if the bad weather just won’t let up, start looking for indoor activities: this might be the time to see those museums you’ve been walking by.
If that doesn’t appeal to you, and if your hotel reservations aren’t too binding, consider moving to another location. Bad weather rarely covers an entire country: it could be sunny and bright an hour or two away from where you are. So get on the train, or rent a car and take a road trip. You might not get to do all the things you’d planned, but you’ll see another part of the country, and have some experiences you didn’t expect.
Oh, and one last piece of advice: always bring some warm clothes. And an umbrella.