While all the glossy travel brochures would have you believe the sun never stops shining on vacation, sadly it's not the marketers that decide the weather.
Whether it's persistent drizzle in London, a torrential downpour in Bangkok or the ever-unpredictable weather of the Pacific Northwest, there's a good chance you're going to get rained on at some point during your trip.
Here's what to do about it.
Lightweight Rain Jacket
A lightweight rain jacket is one of the most useful items of travel clothing you can carry, and I take one on every trip. The better ones fold up into themselves via a built-in pocket, meaning they take up little space and can be stuffed into a spare corner of your bag.
Look for a jacket with a hood, ideally one that can be tucked into a pouch when not required. Try to find one that is double-lined, which helps dramatically with waterproofing.
Ideally the inner layer should be breathable, especially if you're travelling to tropical countries – just because it's raining doesn't mean it's cold, and you can get very hot and sweaty otherwise.
When it comes to fit, buy a jacket that's a little longer and looser than you need. You're not going to be making a fashion statement walking in the rain anyway, so having something that covers your backside and can have several layers of clothing underneath is best.
Dozens of companies make travel rain jackets – well-known ones include Colombia, Marmot and Ex Officio.
You'll generally get more use out of a light rain jacket than a poncho, but there are a few situations where a poncho makes sense. They tend to fold up even smaller than a jacket , and cover much more of you when the heavens really decide to open.
Because they're so loose-fitting, you can usually wear them over the top of your daypack or handbag – ideal when you've got a bag full of electronics, especially if it's not completely waterproof.
The better ones come with a hood and can be reused a few times, although don't expect the same kind of durability as a jacket.
Disposable ponchos only cost a few dollars, or you can pick up longer-lasting ones in the $30-$60 range.
As well as a rain jacket, I've often traveled with a small travel umbrella as well. They take up even less room than a jacket and can, at a pinch, keep two people (or you and your daypack) somewhat dry. Due to their smaller size and flimsier nature, though, they don't cope well with heavy rain or strong winds.
I've generally found that travel umbrellas break in one of a couple of places after a while: the extendable handle and locking mechanism, or the fold-up part of the spines.
It doesn't really seem to matter how much they cost, they still wear out within a few weeks or months, so don't get too hung up on buying a particular model. Designs don't differ much, either, although it's worth looking for one where the carry bag stays attached when the umbrella's in use -- it's one less thing to lose.
If you're more concerned about your hair than anything else when it rains, the Hood To Go travel hood is an interesting option. Essentially a rain jacket without most of the jacket, the hood folds up into almost nothing when not in use.
Worn like a vest and designed (unsurprisingly) to fit under an existing coat or jacket, it'll keep your hair looking good -- while the rest of you gets quietly soaked. Still, if the rain isn't too heavy, something like this has its place. There's even a "Wind" edition, with ties to keep everything firmly under control even in a howling gale. Handy.
Read more about the Hood To Go