Always have a travel backup plan ready in case your itinerary melts away

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By Christopher Elliott

If you don’t have a travel backup plan for your next vacation, you need to read this. Seriously. Itineraries go sideways all the time.

I ought to know.

I love to ski. I grew up in Europe, where a few weeks on the slopes is every child’s birthright. So this year, I planned a big itinerary through Colorado and Utah. I wanted to share my love of the sport with my kids, ages 11, 13 and 15.

But I picked the wrong year. It’s been an exceptionally dry, warm winter. No matter where we visited — Wolf Creek, Crested Butte, Park City — the snow was uniformly so-so. I watched our big plans melt away. Literally.

Having a travel backup plan in your back pocket

My experience offers you a valuable vacation strategy. As you make your spring break plans, remember this: two itineraries are better than one. Take it from someone who made just one and lived to regret it.

Yes, visit that Florida beach, but be prepared for rain and cold weather (sure, it happens in the Sunshine State in early spring) and check the museums and theme parks, which are not dependent on the weather. Having a backup plan in your back pocket could save you a little time and hassle if things go sideways.

And they just might.

Make sure to have a travel backup plan
Erysse and Iden Elliott at The Burg, a mineral pool in Pagosa Springs, Colo.

Try an immersive experience

Southern Colorado had a dreadful January for snow. People I met were apologizing for the lack of it, to the point where I had a ready comeback.

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“Don’t worry,” I said. “It’s not like it’s something you can control.” I wish it were, though. At Wolf Creek Ski Area, only half of the slopes were open. Skiers scoffed at the “packed powder” euphemism used in the weather reports. “Scrapey,” they complained.

What do you do when you’re off the slopes? You adapt.

For us, that meant spending a lot of quality time in nearby Pagosa Springs, Colo., home of the world’s deepest geothermal hot spring. We’d never been to a hot spring resort, and the idea of soaking in a 109-degree pool while it’s below freezing outside held a limited appeal to the kids. But we tried it anyway at the Springs Resort & Spa, and they seemed to like it, at least in the sense of, “I can’t believe I just did that.”

Talk about an immersive experience.

Always have a travel backup plan
Aren Elliott trudges through the snow along a Nordic trail in Crested Butte, Colo.

Adapt to the conditions

A few weeks later, in Crested Butte, Colo., the same lack of snow kept us from spending much time on the slopes (although we had one fun morning of skiing after a few flurries). Our alternative: snowshoeing around town and exploring the historic downtown. The Crested Butte Mountain Heritage Museum in the center of town offers insights into this region and the part it played in the development of Colorado. The museum has a vintage gondola from the early days of skiing and an impressive display of mountain biking memorabilia.

Since my kids are homeschooled, our museum visit doubled as a lesson — but please don’t tell them. (Here’s everything that you need to know about travel and money.)

If you’re in Crested Butte during a normal ski season, you might not realize that under all that snow, there’s a hiking town. Not all of the trails are accessible in the winter, but to make up for it, they have hundreds of miles of Nordic ski trails. Since my daughter was nursing a knee injury, we stuck with snowshoes. It was a great plan “B” that, on second thought, probably should have been part of our plan “A.” (Related: Road trippers should take an extra-long test drive in 2018.)

Always have a travel backup plan
Iden Elliott looks for a little snow at Park City, Utah.

Don’t follow the crowds

In Park City, Utah, our snowless streak continued. Mother Nature teased us with a brief, but intense, snow deposit on the day we visited, but then the skies cleared and left us with those same “scrapey” conditions we first encountered in Colorado. Of course, none of this was within Park City’s control, which didn’t stop anyone there from apologizing.

There’s an alternate that should actually be at the top of your list. It’s the Utah Olympic Park, which hosted several events during the Salt Lake City Olympics back in 2002. For sheer thrills, you need to try the Winter Bobsled Experience, billed as a “highly physical and extreme” experience. That’s not hyperbole.

This is a real Olympic run where you’re subjected to up to five times the force of gravity. I know because a friend pushed me onto one of the bobsleds (and at the back of the sled, where the Gs are the most extreme) and then asked me what I thought. I couldn’t answer because my top teeth were lodged in my lower jaw. But the people in the front of the bobsled could still walk away after the run and they highly recommended it. Olympic Park offers several less strenuous activities, including several obstacle courses and a museum.

Have your travel backup plan ready

Switching itineraries at the last minute requires some quick thinking. There’s a better way. Just in case your carefully planned itinerary melts away, have a travel backup plan ready. That little piece of vacation wisdom applies not only to ski resorts, but to your trip to the beach, your Thanksgiving trip to Grandma’s and your next getaway to the islands. Come to think if it, that advice applies more broadly to anything you plan in life.

Have a travel backup plan — just in case.

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that empowers consumers to solve their problems and helps those who can't. He's the author of numerous books on consumer advocacy and writes three nationally syndicated columns. He also publishes the Elliott Report, a news site for consumers, and Elliott Confidential, a critically acclaimed newsletter about customer service. If you have a consumer problem you can't solve, contact him directly through his advocacy website. You can also follow him on X, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or sign up for his daily newsletter. He is based in Panamá City.

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