How to Travel During a Heat Wave

Jul 13, 2019

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Europe recently faced one of the worst heat waves in history this past June. The record-breaking temps in countries like Germany, Poland, France, Spain, and the Czech Republic caused deaths, fires and lots of discomfort for locals and tourists alike.

While temperatures were unusually high so early on in the summer, many countries in Europe continue to face extreme heat in the later summer months of July and August. Popular tourist destinations in Southeast Asia, the Middle East, Central America and Africa can also see high temperatures during the summer months — even destinations in US spots like Arizona and Florida see temps above 100° Fahrenheit.

(Photo by SERGEI SUPINSKY / AFP / Getty Images)
Some Ukrainians using the local fountains to cool off during the most recent heat wave. (Photo by SERGEI SUPINSKY / AFP / Getty Images)

But life must go on (and so must summer vacations), so if you’re traveling and a heat wave is predicted, here are some tips to ensure you’ll have a safe and enjoyable trip — while staying as cool as possible.

Pack correctly.

Plan to pack:

  • Sunscreen of varying factors.
  • A handheld fan (you’ll even resemble a local if you whip yours out in Spain).
  • Lightweight, comfortable clothing.
  • Wet wipes (for freshening up after a sweaty outdoor tour).

Confirm that your accommodation has air conditioning.

Air conditioning may not have been on your mind last February when you booked that summer beach rental or studio city apartment on Airbnb. Go back and check to see if air conditioning is available at your hotel (and no, not all hotels have it, especially in certain European countries) or rental, and if you’re really concerned, check with the host or hotel to confirm that it is, indeed, included and functioning properly. If not, see if canceling and finding another, fresher option is available.

Dress for success.

Save your black skinny jeans for a fall trip, and instead plan to wear lightweight clothing. Black absorbs heat, so opt for lighter colors instead. If you’re visiting a country where shorts or tank tops are taboo, consider light cotton and linen tops and baggy pants that don’t cling. Scarves and long sleeves are handy if you happen to enter somewhere with intense air conditioning, or to cover shoulders before entering a temple or church. Bring or wear comfortable walking shoes — ones that won’t pinch or rub if your feet swell or sweat in the heat.

Splurge on a skip-the-line tour.

(Photo by ALBERTO PIZZOLI / AFP / Getty Images)
Tourists waiting in line to get into the Colosseum. (Photo by ALBERTO PIZZOLI / AFP / Getty Images)

It’s no wonder skip-the-line attractions and tours are among the most popular in the world, according to TripAdvisor. No one wants to get sweaty, sunburned — or worse — heat stroke while waiting in line to see the Colosseum or Eiffel Tower. So consider shelling out just a little bit more for a skip-the-line tour of that must-see attraction. While you’ll still sweat plenty during the tour, at least you won’t get stuck waiting for hours in line in the hot sun.

Organize your day to avoid midday heat.

The hottest hours of the day in some countries may not be what you think. In fact, 3 – 6 p.m. in countries like Spain, Italy and Portugal are often the toastiest parts of the day in the summer months. Plan to rest during these hours or check out air-conditioned attractions like museums. Then, save the early morning and evening to do outdoor activities.

It stays light out until close to 10 p.m. in some of the aforementioned countries. Nordic spots may see almost 24 hours of daylight in the summer, so consider checking out attractions even later on in the evening if it’s hot.

You can still consider a night tour even if the sun sets earlier in your destination. Many countries in Southeast Asia offer evening street food tours, and nightlife tours are popular in spots like Colombia once the sun goes down.

Do as the locals do.

(Photo by Mustafa Yalcin / Anadolu Agency / Getty Images)
Cooling off in front of the Eiffel Tower. (Photo by Mustafa Yalcin / Anadolu Agency / Getty Images)

There’s a reason the siesta is so popular in Spain, and the answer is easy: It’s too hot to do anything else.

Sicilians actually eat granita, their version of ice cream, for breakfast instead of hot coffee to stay cool. During this past June heat wave, many Parisians were spotted dipping into fountains. You’ll notice locals gather on whatever side of the street is shady in cities in many European countries, where walking is the norm as opposed to driving, and people walk with sun umbrellas or handheld fans.

While I don’t advise you bring your speedo and goggles and head straight to the nearest European fountain, notice how the residents are dealing with heat and mimic them. After all, who doesn’t want ice cream for breakfast?

Get to the airport early.

This may seem shocking, but not all airports in the world are air-conditioned, especially in emerging countries. While it may seem counterproductive to spend more time in an unconditioned airport, having to rush will be even worse. The last thing you want to do is start or end your trip sweaty and stressed out, especially on a crowded bus or subway. So arrive early, wear layers for varying temperature changes and make sure to have that handheld fan in your carry-on.

Hydrate (and not with alcohol).

Remember to drink lots of water, especially after a long-haul flight or in countries with low humidity. While it may seem tempting to have that fourth beer (you’re on vacation, after all), consider alternating boozy cocktails with water. Being hospitalized for dehydration on your trip is much worse than the horror of ordering a sparkling water instead of a margarita at that rooftop bar.

Do your research before your trip.

(Photo by Kirsty O
Grab some ice cream with a view! (Photo by Kirsty O’Connor/PA Images / Getty Images)

If you know a heat wave is coming, or are simply visiting a country you know will be hot and sunny, research some attractions ahead of time where you can plan to cool off. These can include, but aren’t limited to, ice cream parlors, museums, churches, restaurants/bars with air conditioning, shady parks, local pools and nearby beaches.

Budget for private transport.

If you’ve ever been on a crowded bus in Europe during the summer months, you’ll immediately understand why allocating a little bit of your budget towards taxi or ride-hailing services will keep you cool, calm and collected.

Many countries don’t have the same concept of personal space as the United States does, and you may be pressed up against other people when taking public transportation, which can be pretty uncomfortable in serious heat — especially if there’s no air conditioning.

So, set aside a budget to take taxis and ride-hailing services, especially for airport trips where you’ll be lugging along baggage. It will be money well spent when you catch sight of those crowded, unbearably hot buses from your comfortable, air-conditioned Uber.

Featured photo by DENIS LOVROVIC / AFP / Getty Images.

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