Once in a while on a camping trip you don't get the weather you wanted.
You wished for sunshine and soft breezes, but you got a bone-chilling drizzle that just won't stop. The sky reveals nothing but a low gray scud that keeps spitting on your party, and all the dreams you had of relaxing outside under the awning with fruity drinks, riding your bicycle, swimming in the lake, or browsing the historic downtown nearby, have been carried off on the north wind.
I've been in this situation many times. Last September Tothie and I were camped in Silver City, New Mexico, and the normally pleasant high desert weather turned surly on us. First thunderstorms rumbled in unexpectedly and dropped a load pea-sized hail on the Airstream (while we were away, which is a bad thing because we'd left the awning out). Fortunately no damage.
Then the skies got grayer and darker, the air got colder, the ground grew muddy, and we found ourselves with very few options for entertainment.
Some people naturally take to this circumstance, celebrating the fact that they've got nowhere to go, no obligations, and can finally finish that book they've been reading without the nagging sense that they should be out somewhere doing something else, while the steady patter of rain makes a comforting background sound on the roof.
I can do that too, but after 12 hours or so the novelty of being "trapped" in the Airstream begins to wear off and I start looking for a change of scene. At this point the Airstream starts to shrink. (It is a well-documented fact that an Airstream becomes 40% smaller when it's raining.)
By the next day the romanticism has faded and I'm left with shoes by the door that will never dry, the smell of wet dog and damp socks, and a fierce desire to hitch up and tow anywhere that has a ray of sunshine to brighten the LED-lit interior of the Airstream. In short, I have entered what Douglas Adams famously called, "the long dark teatime of the soul."
This sort of weather always seems harder to take when we're in a small town where everything closes up at 5 p.m. There's no option to go walk around the mall for a bit of exercise or mental stimulation, no open movie theater, no lights of the big city to raise one's spirits, not even a good restaurant or coffee shop open on Sunday night.
Fortunately, a well-stocked Airstream can make all the difference. Here's what we bring to battle the occasional shift in weather expectations:
1. Movies on DVD.
I wrote in another blog about the inferiority of campground wifi, which makes watching streaming video services unrealistic in most places. You might be able to stream something via your cellular hotspot, but I wouldn't count on it, which is why I always carry a stock of reliable old movies on DVD, for a rainy day.
Starting with 2023 Airstream is discontinuing DVD players as standard equipment, but they are leaving the necessary power and HDMI connectors in the cabinet so that you can install your own. Given that the Sony DVD player they were installing costs about $35 at Wal-Mart, it's not a big deal to put one in—just in case.
2. Comfort foods.
Among other things, we like popcorn, chocolate chip cookies, pickles, and tea (not all together!) when we're staying inside and watching movies. What foods make you feel at home on a rainy day? If it's something long-lasting like canned tomato soup, why not make sure the Airstream always has some on board?
You can even bake cookies in the Airstream, even if you don't have an oven. If your Airstream has a convection microwave, check out Tothie's guide to baking cookies.
What music makes you feel at home? Or, what music makes you feel like you've gone somewhere? Again, if you don't have good Internet service where you are, services like Pandora may not work, so plan ahead and have a playlist stored on a device. For us, a little light jazz in the background can help restore the Airstream to its normal size.
4. Books, magazines, crossword puzzles, games, etc.
These things work if you're a reader, puzzler, or player—but be realistic with yourself. Quite often I see people packing piles of games but they rarely play them.
We all remember playing games from our childhood, and that nostalgia sometimes leads us to what I call "aspirational packing", which means filling the Airstream with stuff we'd like to think we'll use, but really won't. Marshmallow sticks, hammocks, and frisbees often fall into this category as well.
Instead, use that storage space for you. Skip the giant historical tome that you're forcing yourself to read, if you're really not going to enjoy it. Bring what you love, whether it's knitting needles or sleazy paperback novels. My firm belief: You don't have to impress anyone when it's raining all day.
5. The right clothes.
For me, there are two types of clothing for this sort of event. First, you need comfort clothes: sweatpants, pajamas, a scarf, fuzzy socks, or whatever makes you feel comfortable when you're going to be lounging indoors all day.
Second, you need gear to face the outdoors. There will be some reason you need to go outside. Maybe the dog needs a walk, or you have to go pull the gray water dump valve. Maybe you just are too pent up and need a good long walk. For this, you want proper clothing so you'll be comfortable.
I have always packed my Airstream with a bin of extreme weather clothing, and it never comes out. The bin holds long underwear, a really good rain hat, gloves, winter hat, warm socks, and boots that can withstand mud and puddles. I rarely need the contents of this bin, but when I do, I am always grateful it's there. I've pulled the bin out on freezing winter nights in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park (CA), at high mountain campsites in Colorado in the springtime, and during summer thunderstorms in many places.
And if the weather refuses to clear up, put on your gear, pack up the campsite, and move on. You've got wheels, after all.
That's what we finally did after three days of rain in Silver City last September. Even though it is a place we love, there was no point in sitting in the Airstream for a third day of rain, when just 100 miles away we could be in the low desert sunshine. Staying flexible is one of the big advantages of traveling this way.