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What to Wear…When the Weather Won’t Behave

We’ve had a bit of weather whiplash in DC recently. After a notably mild January and February, spring sprung at a record-breaking early date. On March 1, I took the picture above of a blooming cherry tree near my house. Just a week ago, the temperature flirted with 80 degrees, and the cherry trees all over the city were on the verge of “peak bloom.”

And then winter returned.

The temperature plummeted 40 degrees overnight, taking its first casualties: the magnolia blossoms. Then, this week, the first (and only) major snowstorm of the year hit the Northeast. Although DC only got 2 inches of snow and ice, temperatures have been below freezing long enough to spell certain doom for the cherry blossoms.

Since I live here, adapting to this fickle weather is as simple as pulling my winter coat out of the closet and turning the heat back on. But what do you do if unpredictable weather like this threatens to derail your travel wardrobe?

There are plenty of destinations that offer consistent, reliable weather forecasts; there was zero chance, for instance, that Cambodia would be unexpectedly cold when we were there in August. But a lot of places in the world have the potential to pull a fast one on you, weather-wise. You’ll obviously want to check the weather forecast right before you leave to make sure you’ve packed appropriately. But what if the forecast calls for it to be hot one day and cold the next? And what if, by the end of your two-week vacation, a completely unexpected hot/cold front moves in?

  • If you have to pack for more than one season at once, choose the lightest possible materials for your clothes. Last December, I went to Denver and Los Angeles on the same trip. Since it was cold enough for snow in Denver and warm enough for sandals in LA, I found this to be a special challenge. I eventually pulled it off, albeit with a heavier-than-normal suitcase, largely thanks to one smart purchase: a lightweight, packable down coat. I don’t know how I made it this far in my life without one.

  • If there’s a chance of some chilly days, plan to rely on layering, instead of bringing more or heavier clothes. (I’ve spent a few travel days wearing almost every item I had with me.) Bonus benefit: the middle layers don’t get dirty!

  • If the weather looks really changeable, bring versatile items that could go either hot or cold – for example, a long-sleeve jacket that transforms into a vest, pants that turn into shorts, and shoes that can be worn with or without socks.

  • There are also a few items that I almost always pack, if there’s even a small chance of variable weather: a lightweight jacket, a large scarf, an “alternative season” t-shirt (i.e., a short-sleeve t-shirt even when it’s supposed to be cool). I’ve found these “just in case” items to be useful surprisingly often.

  • If all else fails, you might just have to buy a few essentials while you’re traveling. (I have more than one “emergency purchase” scarf in my closet.)

Whatever happens with the weather, roll with the punches. Folks in DC this week for the Cherry Blossom Festival might have been disappointed, but on the other hand, they got to see the city covered in snow, and that’s pretty special, too.

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