This past July, Europe suffered one of the most severe heat waves, with temperatures climbing well over 40°C degrees to the highest ever since the start of recordings. What’s more, this not only happened in the south where hot summers are the norm. Countries like Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands and the UK all saw temperatures soar to unprecedented, near-unbearable highs.
Elsewhere, destinations like India, Thailand and many destinations across the US and Canada also saw temperatures above the norm with often prolonged periods of severe heat.
Going forward, we can expect more severe weather events on a more frequent basis. Heat waves are only one aspect of climate change and they are here to stay.
If you travel during a period where heat waves could occur, it is important that you take precautions to stay save.
Below I am listing 13 tips to cope with heat waves or otherwise high temperatures while you are travelling.
Assure your accommodation has air conditioning before you make a booking
Especially when you travel in Europe, you should be aware that air conditioning is not very common everywhere. Especially those countries considered to have a more temperate Western European climate are lacking air conditioning in most public buildings, homes (and thus your Airbnb) and large parts of public transportation.
However, with temperatures now regularly climbing well above the 30°C during the summer in most of these countries you need to make sure your accommodation is offering air condition.
When you travel during summer months, select your destination wisely
When I was a kid, summer holidays meant to travel to southern Europe to benefit from the near-guaranteed warm weather whilst back home (Germany) summer could be fairly unpredictable, meaning rain and low temperatures even in July and August.
Though southern Europe could be quite hot even back then, these days temperatures in southern and southeastern Europe can be easily around 40°C for prolonged periods and definitely well over 30°C in July and August.
With hotter and longer summers, if you really have to travel in July and August, you should prefer destinations with lower summer temperatures.
In Europe, Scandinavia has seen some unusual warm summers recently as well but this means temperatures might have gone up to around 30°C on certain days. Thus definitely not the scorching 40°C seen elsewhere.
Likewise, summer temperatures in Canada have been higher than usual in recent years too. But here to the locations further north are still much more temperate compared to those further south.
You should also avoid cities trips during the hottest time of the year. Cities will always be hotter than the countryside due to their build environment which tends to trap the heat.
Therefore, reserve city trips for cooler seasons and go to the countryside, mountains or the beach in summer.
A good idea could also be anti-cyclic destinations. Go to the southern hemisphere during the summer in the northern hemisphere and vice-versa. There are plenty of destinations that offer nice temperate conditions during the local winter. For example, temperatures in South Africa during July and August are typically around 20°C to 24°C during the day depending on the location (Cape Town tends to be a bit cooler).
Be careful with physical activity
People from cooler climate regions are often quick to call those living in hotter areas lazy. The truth is these ‘lazy’ people do know quite well that you need to manage physical activity when temperatures are high.
When it’s hot, slow down and take more regular rests.
In case you want to exercise, do so indoors. If you really do not have access to a gym or any other opportunity to work out indoors, do your workout in a shady place in the early in the morning or evening when temperatures are less scorching.
You might also change how you exercise and swap jogging for a swim.
Avoid being out and about during the hottest time of the day
Even though temperatures during a heat wave are likely high throughout the whole day with nights often not cooling down significantly either, you should still shift any activities in the cooler times of the day.
Start early. Even if you are usually not an early bird, if you travel during a heat wave (or otherwise in hot destinations) if you plan to wander around outside, than you should move this into the early hours of the day.
Return to your room, the pool or otherwise inside during the hottest time of the day (typically from around mid-day to 4 pm).
Only head back outside once the sun is starting to set in the afternoon.
Look out for cooler places
Cities are the typically the hottest places as they suffer from a phenomenon called the ‘urban heat island’ effect. This is down to the build environment as asphalt and concrete absorb more sun than green surfaces and often heavy traffic in cities also contributes to higher temperatures in the city.
If you happen to be on a city trip during a heat wave, look out for cooler places.
Parks are among the coolest places in the city when it’s hot. Trees provide shade and also release water into the air through their leaves, which has a cooling effect.
The coolest places during a heat wave in a city are typically those indoors (provided there is air conditioning). Therefore if you visit a city during a heat wave, go to the museum, head to a bookstore, go to the movies or to the Spa.
Another option is to escape the city and go to the countryside where temperatures are typically a couple of degrees lower.
Stay in the shade
When you are outside in the heat, limit your exposure to direct sunlight. Stay in the shade as much as possible. For example, walk under trees or on the side of the street where the buildings are blocking the sun.
Since you will not find shaded walkways everywhere, carry an umbrella to protect you from the sun or at least wear a hat.
When it’s hot you need to make sure you drink sufficiently.
Quite importantly, do not wait until you feel thirsty. By that time, your body might already be dehydrated during extreme heat.
Make sure to always carry water or other refreshing fruit drinks when you go outside.
Instead, stay away from sugary drinks as they actually can cause dehydration.
Keep alcohol consumption low
Alcohol tends to dehydrate your body. Therefore, be careful how much alcohol you drink and do not drink during the day.
Adapt your diet
During heat waves, you also need to adjust your diet to help replenish your body with the right nutrients.
Go for food with higher water content (fruits and vegetables like cucumber, lettuce, celery, strawberries and melon) which helps you to stay hydrated.
Definitely avoid large heavy meals with lots of with carbohydrates and protein. Because they require your body to do more digesting, which in turn produces more body heat.
Interestingly, spicy and hot foods can help to cool your body down so look out for that hip Taiwanese restaurant your friends have been raving about.
When you are outside in the heat for a longer period, look for additional options to refresh your body.
Have a water spray bottle with you and every now and then spray some water on your arms and legs.
Some cities allow to use fountains to refresh yourself; however you make sure to check where this is possible. Hopping into the Trevi fountain in Rome will still get you in trouble with local police, including a hefty fine).
Otherwise, go to an public bathroom and run cold water over your wrists.
When it’s hot outside, you need to dress accordingly.
Which actually does not mean wearing as less as possible. Indeed, try not to expose large parts of your skin to the sun as you risk sunburn which impacts your body’s ability to cool itself down.
Avoid dark colours as they absorb more light and thus heat. In addition, don’t wear tight clothes as these are trapping the heat.
Instead, opt for light loose-fitting clothes that allow the air to circulate so your body can breathe. Cotton and linen are ideal as they allow a better circulation of air and absorb sweat.
Do not make the mistake thinking sunscreen is for the beach only. Even walking around in high temperatures with the sun shining all day, you need to make sure your skin is protected from sunburn.
Thus apply sunscreen before heading outside.
Be aware what your body is telling you
Despite all the precautions you can take to get through a heat wave in the best possible way, you should be aware of the symptoms indicating your body is suffering to much from the heat.
Rapid heartbeat, feeling confused or dizzy, pale skin, headache, muscle cramps, fainting or pale skin are some of the indicators telling you your body is not coping well with the heat. If this is happening, you should cool down immediately and if the symptoms continue seek medical help.
Have you travelled during heat waves or when temperatures were high? What did you do to stay save in these conditions? Let me know about your experiences.