You know the feeling. You wake up in your comfortable hotel bed, stroll over to your floor-to-ceiling window, pull back the plush curtains… and can’t see fifty feet beyond your hotel because of the thick sheet of pouring rain.
Personally, I have experienced more than my fair share of rainy travel days due my strict work schedule. Oftentimes I’m forced to choose between visiting somewhere during the rainy season and not visiting at all. I’ve experienced all sorts of rain-related disasters, from having to wait two days for a boat to wading through a flooded hotel room when the balcony drain pipe became plugged. I’ve also experienced some rain-related positives, like when a sudden deluge left me trapped in a café in Ulaanbaatar and I was forced to sample another pastry… and then another… and then another…
Let’s be real, though. I know you’ve invested too much time, money and energy in your holiday to let bad weather ruin your vacation. Instead of retreating back to bed, ordering room service and spending the day watching old movies in a language you don’t understand (tempting as it may be), follow my recommendations to get out there, get exploring and make the most of every day you’re away from home, rain or shine.
How to Survive a Rainy Vacation Day
Visit the biggest and best attractions
Many travelers will put off visiting popular attractions until the weather is more pleasant. This is especially noticeable at outdoor or open-air locations. In 2012, London’s most famous tourist attractions, including the London Zoo and the Royal Botanic Gardens saw visitor numbers decrease by up to 20% on rainy summer days. Travelers who toughed it out and went anyways were treated to shorter queues, smaller crowds and more personalized attention from local staff. I once met a friend for lunch on Istanbul’s Istiklal Caddesi, a famous pedestrian street, and was shocked by how empty the rainy street became. It normally sees almost three million visitors every day, but the crowd dissipate almost immediately at the first sign that it might be more than a sprinkle.
Buy a museum pass
Many cities have special passes that provide discounted access to multiple museums, meaning you can condense all of your planned museum visits into one or two rainy days and save money in the process. Head to the nearest tourist information office to inquire about the local version of these programs. For example, Budapest has its Budapest Card, which gives cardholders free public transportation and discounted entrance to the famous House of Terror Museum, Great Synagogue and National Gallery. As well, if the rain lets up, cardholders have access to two free walking tours (one in Buda, one in Pest). In Berlin, it’s the Berlin Welcome Card that offers discounts at the Alte Nationalgalerie, the Alte Museum and the Hamburger Bahnhof Museum of Contemporary Art. Before you go, read this guide to making the most of any art museum.
Hop on, hop off
Double-decker buses that make a circuit around the city’s most popular tourist attractions are one of the best ways to get your bearings in a new city. When the top floor happens to be enclosed, these buses are also a fantastic way to see a rainy city from street level without getting soaked. Leipzig, Shanghai, Manchester and Christchurch are just some of the cities with enclosed or partially-enclosed double-decker tour buses.
Look for cozy cafés
Immerse yourself in the local culture by ducking inside a café and sampling authentic regional drinks and snacks. If it’s raining in Istanbul, try visiting a local tea house for a cup of Turkish coffee and a savory filled pastry (called a börek). If you’re in Tokyo, look for a dessert café serving towering bowls of colorful shaved ice (known as kakigori). It’s polite to leave your umbrella in the basket by the door to avoid dangerous drips across the floor and furniture.
Sign up for a class
Mark Twain once wrote, “One must travel, to learn.” A rainy day presents the perfect opportunity to learn about your destination by signing up for a local course. In Grasse, you can spend a day learning about the art of perfumery and leave with your own customized scent. Cooking classes are all the rage in Bangkok, where May Kaidee shares authentic vegan and vegetarian Thai recipes. Although my Indonesian farm cooking class was open-air, it was fully covered and we stayed completely dry when the rain started to fall. Most classes are offered in English, and many send you away with instructions to help you pursue your new hobby when you get home.
Stock up on cheap rain gear
If you forgot to pack your high-tech rain jacket and lightweight, retractable umbrella, have no fear. In much of the world, local people rely on inexpensive rain gear purchased from the nearest market. Around the Caribbean and in Southeast Asia, you can easily buy a pair of flip-flop sandals, a plastic poncho and a basic umbrella for less than $10 total. In busy European tourist areas enterprising street vendors may also pop up with essential rain gear; make sure you have exact change on hand because they are unlikely to be able to break a hundred-euro bill! It always helps to know the local words for “umbrella” and “poncho”, but you can usually get the same idea across through a combination of pantomime and pointing at your soaking-wet clothing.
Treat yourself to a spa day
When a rainy day makes your stress levels rise, relaxing at a local spa can help you get back in the holiday spirit. Some spa treatments are particularly useful for travelers: firm foot massages might hurt at first but will ultimately soothe your aching feet, and a vigorous body scrub can help heal peeling, post-sunburn skin. If you’re in Baden-Baden, Germany, head to the Caracalla Therme to sweat it out in an indoor sauna or relax in a steaming-hot outdoor pool while the rain pours down from above.
You don’t have to holiday in Chile’s Atacama Desert (parts of which haven’t seen rain in more than five hundred years!) just to stay dry. Instead, choose to either embrace the rain – preferably in a chic new €5 plastic poncho – or to avoid it altogether by opting for a sheltered activity.