How to keep cool in a heatwave: tips from a frequent traveler
With heat records breaking worldwide in the midst of the climate crisis, it’s harder than ever to stay cool on the road, especially in places where air conditioning is sparse and buildings aren’t designed for frequent and prolonged hot weather. But beyond loose clothing in natural fibres and drinking a lot, how else can you keep cool while still enjoying your trip?
A close up of a hand holding a cone with three scoops of ice cream, with the Rome Pantheon in background.
Ice cream also helps (c) Uğur Keskin/Getty Images
Travel early in the day, and siesta, siesta, siesta
No matter if you’re flying, taking the train, hopping on a bus, or on a road trip: travel early. It’s a bit tricky if you’re jetlagged and already needing to reset your body clock, especially if you’ve headed east, but the mornings are the coolest times to travel, and any disruption from the hot weather will be minimised.
You’ll also have more space in the schedule to catch up with any delays, rather than getting stuck somewhere you don’t want to be. (If that happens, though, try to make the most of it and explore wherever you end up.) And think about breaking the day in two with a proper siesta, where you head back to your (hopefully nice and cool) hotel room, have a snooze, a shower, and then make the most of the rest of your day. It’s important that your body can cool off for at least a couple of hours a day.
Close-up of a bearcat sleeping on a branch, one paw dangling off the side.
A nap can’t hurt either (c) tomava/Shutterstock
Bring a fan, a battery pack… and a mini spritz bottle
My number one tip for anyone, especially on planes these days, is to buy a USB fan that plugs into your external battery pack. My favourite is the Arctic Breeze Mobile — it’s got a bendy neck and the blades are rigid for a decent balance of noise and air movement. It’s also a lifesaver in stuffy hotel rooms.
In summertime I also bring a mini-spritz bottle to fill with water. It’s much more economical and environmental than those spray cans of Evian water. Spray your face and let the fan dry it to really cool off.
And if you’re taking a road trip? Have a serious think about whether you can pack a small desk fan from home, or even invest in one if you happen to be on the ground overseas for a while. Hotels usually won’t have enough to go round, and if you can just pop it in the back of the car as you motor from place to place it’s a godsend at night.
The back of a woman walking down a street in Bangkok lined with stalls and tuk tuks. She is wearing a grey tshirt and floppy cream-coloured hat.
Accessories can make the world of difference (c) Artur Debat/Getty Images
Pick a plane with air vents
Look, I started the #WeWantAirVents movement on Twitter, and I know how hard it is to find them. As a rule, the older and smaller a plane is, the more likely it is to still have one of those overhead nozzles that will blow cool air onto your head.
So, if you have a choice in the summer, pick a smaller plane like an Airbus A220 or A320, or a Boeing 737, or a comfortable regional jet like an Embraer E170, E175, E190 or E195. Planes aren’t guaranteed, and there will doubtless be exceptions, but I certainly like to be able to have cool air blowing on me when it’s hot.
Pack a handkerchief… and a shirt
One of the things I love most about Japan is that everyone carries their own handkerchief. This is great for mopping your brow rather than bothering with tissues that will get stuck to your forehead and disintegrate. It can be used to dry your hands in a public loo as well, and is also handy if it gets really hot. Either just wet it and drape it over your head and neck, or even wet it and pop it into the freezer to really get nice and cool.
Four soccer shirts on hangers with Greek surnames emblazoned the back
An extra shirt will always come in handy Neil Setchfield/Lonely Planet
If you can, stick a spare shirt into your bag for the day. There’s nothing quite so pleasant when you’re feeling sticky and gross as being able to swap out the shirt you’re wearing closest to your skin for a dry one.
Always bring a bottle… of water
We all know that drinking alcohol in a heatwave is a bad idea and drinking water is a good idea. But, especially when going through security, you can’t bring a big filled bottle with you, and it’s crazy expensive on the plane. If I know it’s going to be hot, I’ll bring a big empty bottle in my carry on and then fill it post-security.
Don’t expect free water, or for bottles to be widely available
I always find it weird in Germany that water is sometimes not served free with meals or drinks. I recall a very hot summer’s day in Hamburg when visiting a beer bar with some friends, and I absolutely needed a large glass of water. Nope, it was buy the five euro half-litre bottle or nothing.
A large ornate stone fountain and pond on a sunny day in Barcelona.
You may need to plan ahead to keep your water levels up (c) Cezary Wojtkowski/Shutterstock
And even living in France it’s always weird to me how few shops here have a fridge with bottles of water compared with other countries. So, be prepared: fill your bottle when you leave in the morning and whenever you can.
Pick a hotel with AC, but try and ensure it has an actual unit
Ah, the joys of trying to figure out whether a European hotel is lying when it says it has air conditioning. Those useless tiny vents in the wall that blow stuffy air out? Not air conditioning, although they’re legally allowed to be called that. And there’s usually no useful way to open a window enough to help either.
The trick: check out room pictures and online reviews to see if there’s an actual unit visible. You’ll need to make sure you’re looking at the right room category, but there’s a point at which you’ll probably be happy to be able to just wallow in cool air for a bit.
Bonus tip: choose a low floor room on the north or east side of the hotel (in the northern hemisphere; south or east in the southern) so that you get morning sun or none at all. And draw those blackout blinds before you leave for the day!
A man pours water over himself after a sauna. He is in blue swimming shorts and standing in a wood cabin.
Showers are a great way to cool down in the heat (c) James Bedford/Lonely Planet
Shower multiple times a day, including at the airport
You know that feeling when you shower in lukewarm or cool water, and you feel the water warming up as it sluices down your body? That’s a really good way to cool off.
An increasing number of airports now have showers even without getting into a lounge, but honestly, in summer time having the chance to knock back a couple of litres of water and sit down in a nice cool spot can be worth the lounge entry price. Don’t feel the need to dry your hair completely, either: it’s a good way to wick heat away from the body, so consider wetting it during the day as well to deal with the heat.