Six Ways to Wait Out the Rain on a Family Trip

by  Paul Eisenberg | Aug 30, 2011

When rainy weather ruins a day or more of your family vacation, it seems to me that the blogosphere ought to offer better suggestions than taking the kids to a museum, mall, or movie. Not that those are illogical ways to kill time - especially since they sort of make you feel like you’re doing something - but they’re lacking in their ability to promote some measure of togetherness.

Under any circumstances I’m not wild about dragging my kids through museums (scandalous to admit, I know, but I’m betting many of you agree with me), and I’ll also be the first to say that not all of my own rainy day ideas are gold. That’s why I’ve given more than two-thirds of the real estate herein to other experts who have some good twists on what to do when a hurricane, earthquake, or garden-variety thunderstorm keeps you indoors during your family vacation.

Bring better games: Packing a board game for a family trip has that same defeatist feeling as bringing along rain boots or umbrellas – you just don’t want to admit to yourself that they’ll be needed. But if you’re going to prepare, you might as well bring games your kids will actually want to play. “When I was a kid we camped a lot and in the mountains it always rains in the afternoon,” says dietician Monika Woolsey, founder of the inCYST Institute for Hormone Health. “So it was just routine to get to our destination and get the tent set up before it rained, play Monopoly or Battleship or something for an hour while it rained, then get on with dinner.”

Play outdoor games inside: If it begins to rain soon after you roll up to your hotel and you somehow failed to pack fun games or an arsenal of Nerf products, mother of two Catherine Holecko, the family fitness guide at, suggests that you can simply wad up some newspaper to stand in for a sponge ball and use a trash basket in lieu of a basketball hoop. Setting up a makeshift indoor bowling alley is an option, too. While these are activities you could just as easily come up with at home, the novelty of turning the hotel room into an indoor recreation complex will probably pack more appeal for the kiddies. Plus, that lamp on the night table already had a crack in it, didn’t it?

Make the grandparents happy: A rained-out vacation day doesn’t change the fact that your parents would be thrilled to get a postcard from your kids, which is why among a batch of Labor Day trip tips from family travel expert and author Jeff Siegel I was happy to see the advice to go low-tech and “have the kids write letters to their grandparents recounting your adventures,” even if those adventures involve hotel-room basketball with makeshift equipment.

Cook like you’re on vacation: Installing the brood in a vacation rental for the week typically means you’re planning to prepare several family meals there rain or shine, but if it rains, says as long as you’ve got the kitchen, “get ingredients for a fabulous gourmet meal, and then spend all day making it.” Adapting this idea, you don’t necessarily have to make the meal gourmet, just make it one the kids can help you prepare. To that end, you might want to pack a cookbook with kid-friendly recipes or print out a few easy ones that you and the kids can work on together until the sun comes out.

Collect shells like you mean it: Beach vacations are the ones most susceptible to ruin when it rains, but if you’ve ever walked a beach when it’s overcast or drizzling, you may already know what a simple pleasure it is to harvest the sand for shells, especially if you and your family have the beach to yourselves. And if you do, my big idea is to stop off at an office supply store before you go and pick up some tiny plastic, resealable boxes, or even structured pencil cases for holding each of your kid’s pretty rocks and shells. These inexpensive cases will also preserve your kids’ finds far better than sand pails, sandwich bags, or the pockets of your shorts.

Pitch a tent at the hotel: Why would you pack a tent for a family vacation that doesn’t involve camping? I learned the answer to that one last weekend while my family and I were waiting out Hurricane Irene at my in-laws' house in New Jersey. One of the promised activities for the week was backyard camping, and when that was deemed too wet and risky, we set up a large family tent in a den barely big enough to contain it. But if you’ve ever experienced the joy your kids derive from pretend indoor camping at home, you’ll realize you could do a lot worse than bring that tent along with you on vacation, just in case. As with the makeshift indoor sports idea, a tent pitched on the hotel room floor is novel enough that it’ll likely be a highpoint of those inevitable school essays your kids will be writing on how they passed the time during their family vacation.

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