My sister called me from her vacation, disgruntled. She had planned a long weekend in Gettysburg with her boyfriend, a history buff who wanted to walk the battlefields. They hadn't counted on heavy rains keeping them indoors.
Between the two of us and Google, we came up with an alternative. She salvaged the weekend by having lunch at an historic inn and finding a local winery (yes, Pennsylvania has some). Add in an overnight stay at a haunted B&B, and she had a trip worth talking about.
Bad weather happens, and even the best meteorologists get their predictions wrong. So what should you do when gray skies threaten your vacation?
Gray Cargill found that being flexible improved her rain-soaked trip to Paris. Instead of moping, Cargill hit the museums, adjusting her vacation to the weather's whims.
"When there was a sunny day, I dropped whatever other plans I had for that day and crammed in all the outdoor activities I could, like walking the Champs Élysées and taking a boat tour of the Seine," said Cargill, author of the blog SoloFriendly (www.solofriendly.com).
Should you find your trip on the brink of a washout, here are a few tips so you still enjoy your time off:
Have a backup plan. Cargill creates a planning document for each trip, where she draws up a list of "A" must-do activities, a B list of things she'll do if she has time, and a "save it for a rainy day" list. "If it rains and being outdoors wouldn't be much fun, I just swap out one," said Cargill.
You don't have to be as organized as Cargill. But having a few indoor alternatives in your back pocket can prevent "what do we do now" malaise.
Reduce the surprise factor. It goes without saying that you should research a destination's weather patterns before you book. It will rain during the rainy season; there may be a hurricane during hurricane season. Local message boards will tell you if a region is having a cold spell or wilting heat. Plan accordingly.
Make friends with locals.When she rented a traditional trullo in Alberobello, a UNESCO World Heritage-listed city in Italy's Apulia region, travel writer Lara Dunston planned bike rides along country roads, hikes, and picnics in olive groves, and daily swims in her pool. Rain left her stranded at the end of a dirt road, without a rental car.
Luckily, her property manager stepped in, with deliveries of farm-fresh produce -- "sundried tomatoes which she hung up in our kitchen, a colossal bag of flour, a big bottle of her own olive oil" -- and cooking lessons. "It reinforced my belief that there is sunshine behind every cloud," said Dunston, author of GranTourismo (http://grantourismotravels.com).
Even without helpful neighbors, you can soak up local flavor, even if you can't go outside. Have breakfast in a diner near the marina in a seaside community, for example, or grab a coffee in a hip downtown neighborhood.
Think about why you're on vacation. What's the real reason you booked your trip? Whether you want to relax, explore a new destination, or create memories with your family, chances are you can accomplish your goal, even if the weather fails to cooperate.
I spent one rainy beach weekend in Spring Lake, New Jersey, playing card games with friends I hadn't seen in years. While we didn't get tan, we cooked elaborate meals, swapped stories, and laughed until our sides hurt -- and I won some money. It didn't matter that the sun didn't show.
Go anyway. Include a rain poncho or small umbrella in your bag, and suck it up.
And that's what my sister did at Gettysburg. On their last day, she braved the chilly wet weather and bundled up so they could see at least a few historic sites. "In the end, we rallied," she said.