Record-setting heatwaves have been making headlines this summer and are likely to continue in the coming weeks. That means those with upcoming travel plans should be extra sure to pay attention and take proper precautions.
“Enjoying the sun is all part of going on vacation, especially if you live in a country where good weather is a rare occurrence, but the temperatures some popular tourist destinations are experiencing are extremely dangerous, and many people won’t have dealt with temperatures like this before,” said Navin Khosla, a pharmacist at telehealth and online pharmacy company Now Patient.
Indeed, extreme temperatures pose serious health risks, so it’s always best to prepare for and plan your itinerary around the heat.
“As someone who lives year-round in Phoenix, the biggest mistake people make is underestimating the power of the sun,” said Melissa Yeager, the senior news editor at Lonely Planet. “You may step outside and think, ‘Oh, this isn’t so bad.’ But, the heat can really creep up on you, especially if you are spending a lot of time outdoors and you haven’t prepared.”
HuffPost asked experts to share the biggest mistakes people make when traveling during a heat wave and their advice for staying safe, healthy and happy on vacation.
“Remember to drink a lot of water,” Yeager said. “Start your day with a glass of water. Bring a bottle with you. Try to avoid dehydrating beverages like alcohol. If you do have poolside cocktails, make sure you’re also drinking more water to compensate. If you are doing outdoor activities ― whether it is walking, hiking or biking ― plot out places to refill water along the way.”
Her rule of thumb is to refill once you get halfway through your water. And if there’s no water available on the trail, turn back once you’re halfway through your water supply to ensure you don’t run out.
In addition to drinking lots of water and avoiding dehydrating beverages like alcohol and coffee, you might want to consider extra hydration boosters and electrolytes.
“Water alone might not be enough when facing the extreme temperatures of a heat wave ― you also need to replace the electrolytes that you’re losing,” said Justin Chapman, a travel expert at the tour company Go2Africa. “Without minerals like sodium, potassium and magnesium that deliver hydration to your cells, your body can’t absorb the proper hydration that it needs. The electrolytes can regulate muscle and nerve function, which is why dehydration can lead to muscle weakness, as well as exhaustion and headaches.”
Eschewing Indoor Activities
“There’s a tendency to feel as though you have to be outside when you’re on holiday, but during a heatwave, it’s important to spend a few hours of the day indoors or, failing that, in the shade,” said Huw Owen, co-founder of the vacation-planning marketplace TravelLocal.
Check the weather forecast and advisories and plan your day around that information.
“Midday to late afternoon is usually the hottest, so keep outdoor activities to a minimum during those hours,” Yeager said. “Instead, opt for activities like museums, movies, eating indoors or perhaps even taking a nap.”
Owen recommended using the heat as an opportunity to immerse yourself in cultural activities, like exploring museums and art galleries and taking long lunches and coffee breaks in the shade.
“In Seville, for example, the Andalusian Centre of Contemporary Art is a brilliant place to spend a few hours, as well as the Museum of Fine Arts,” he noted. “Madrid is home to some of Europe’s best art galleries, including the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, where you can see some of Picasso’s most famous works.”
And if you’re feeling hot and exhausted after hiking up to the ruins of the Acropolis in Athens, consider cooling off at the nearby Acropolis Museum, which displays important artifacts and offers further insight into the famous site.
“It’s also been awarded many times for its beautiful architecture and natural lighting inside,” Owen said.
Trying To Do Too Much
“Be gentle on yourself in terms of vacation expectations during a heat wave,” Yeager said. “We get so little vacation time in the U.S. I think people feel pressure to pack everything into one vacation ― especially when you’ve spent so much time and money planning the trip.”
Don’t feel bad if you fail to visit every attraction, especially when that means over-exerting yourself during the hottest hours of the day during a heat wave.
“Embrace the Italian phrase of ‘dolce far niente’ ― the joy of doing nothing,” Yeager urged. “Spending time eating gelato and people-watching in an Italian cafe can be just as rewarding as checking off several landmarks.”
“And a special note for parents: I know there’s a lot of pressure to create a perfect vacation memory for your kids, but just a kind reminder that this is all new to them,” she added. “They are just thrilled to be in a new place and to be spending time with you. So don’t feel bad if instead of making everyone trudge through the heat to check off every landmark, you instead spend the afternoon at the pool or beach.”
Of course, you want to rest and relax on vacation, but if you want to get some sightseeing in, it’s usually best to do it earlier in the morning when the heat isn’t as bad.
“It’s best to do as many Europeans do and recalibrate the day,” Owen said. “The early morning or the evening, through to the early hours, is when the days are at their coolest, so it’s best to save any walking around for these times, if you can, to avoid the heat. It means a shorter night’s sleep, but you top it up in the middle of the day ― as the Spanish do, build a ‘siesta’ into your day. It’s a great way to have more energy to experience the nightlife, and is good for your health too.”
The specific timing can vary from place to place, so do your research to determine the hottest and coolest times of day at your destination and plan your sleep and activities around that.
Choosing The Wrong Clothing Strategy
Dressing in cool and comfortable clothes makes a difference in how you feel throughout the day. Consider layers to easily remove or add items as the temperature changes.
“It might be tempting to wear as little as possible when it’s so hot, but covering up with light fabrics can help you feel much cooler than having a lot of skin exposed to the sun,” Chapman said. “Stick to light-colored, natural fabrics like cotton and linen in hot weather. These are breathable and will keep you cool, unlike synthetic fabrics that will trap heat, along with bacteria and odor, and make you feel hotter.”
Ignoring Your Body’s Signals
“I think the most common mistake that people make when traveling is not being honest with themselves about how they feel,” said Dr. Gregory Katz, a cardiologist and assistant professor at the New York University Grossman School of Medicine. “They’re thinking, ‘I’m traveling, I want to do all this stuff, so I’m going to push through any weird sensations my body is experiencing.’ And as a consequence, they’re ignoring the cues their bodies are sending that something is wrong.”
He recommended paying attention to how you feel throughout the day, especially if you have a chronic condition. Travel inherently disrupts your routine, so you’ll want to ensure you pack any medications you take for things like high blood pressure, diabetes or a heart condition ― and that you continue to take them at consistent times during your trip.
“Be honest with yourself about your overall risk profile,” Katz said. “Do you take medication for chronic conditions? Would you describe your health as not all that good? That puts you in the category where you need to be even more cautious and listen to your body.”
Not Applying ― And Reapplying ― Sunscreen
“Regardless of how long you spend in the sun, it’s important to apply sunscreen throughout the day as you want to protect your skin as much as possible,” Khosla said.
Choose a high-SPF sunscreen, and reapply at least every two hours. Remember, it doesn’t take much time in the sun for your skin to burn.
“Most people presume that your skin can only burn when the sun is at its strongest. However, you can get sunburn even if it’s cloudy or windy, so it’s important to keep this in mind,” Khosla added.
Getting Too Much Direct Sun Exposure
“It’s important to limit the amount of time you’re in direct sun and consider taking shade during mid-day, which is the hottest part of the day,” Khosla said. “Take other steps to prevent your body from overheating, such as using a fan or placing a damp towel over your head and neck.”
Although laying out in the sun is a big part of many people’s vacations, you might want to amend your sunbathing plans during a heat wave.
“After spending months waiting for your holiday and dreaming about laying on a beach, the idea of having to stay inside because it’s too hot can be disappointing,” Chapman said. “But sunbathing has risks, even at lower temperatures, so during a heat wave, it can be dangerous. It’s best to stay out of the sun as much as possible, so try a backward beach day ― head to the beach in the late afternoon, when temperatures are a little lower so you can still get some vitamin D.”