Traveling during a heatwave: tips and precautions

It is expected to be another scorching summer, with extreme and prolonged heat waves expected in many parts of the United States and Europe.

The sweltering conditions could impact millions of travelers and devastate holidays in some of the world's most popular tourist destinations. Numerous heat-related deaths among tourists were reported in Greece and Saudi Arabia in June following extreme temperatures in the Middle East and Aegean regions. Even those who have booked trips to traditionally cooler locations may not be spared from the summer heat due to the increasing unpredictability of weather patterns.

Here are some tips on how to handle high temperatures when traveling in a hot area.

If a heatwave is expected in your destination, check government websites before traveling to give yourself plenty of time to plan and adapt. During extreme temperatures, governments often issue heat advisories warning people to stay indoors during peak heat hours and provide resources to help residents and visitors stay cool. In the United States, the National Integrated Heat Health Information System has a website with information and tools to help prevent illness and death during excessive heat.

Tourist attractions also provide important updates on site conditions, including any scheduled closures, as a precaution against high temperatures. Some cities grappling with intense heat, such as Los Angeles, Miami, Athens and Melbourne, have assigned chief heat officers to prepare for heat waves and lead emergency responses.

It may seem obvious, but being outdoors for extended periods of time when the sun is at its peak can put many at risk of heat exhaustion. Even if the temperature is not exceptionally high, excessive dry heat or humidity can make the environment feel warmer than it is.

Travel consultants are adapting itineraries, placing sightseeing visits in the cooler hours of the morning and evening, and pre-booking tickets for their clients so they don't have to wait in long lines.

“We tend to do activities and tours in the morning, then stop for lunch, and by mid-to-late afternoon come back to the hotel to sit by the pool or go to the beach,” said Gary Portuesi, a co-managing partner of Authentic Explorations, a New York-based travel company specializing in Europe.

Mid-day excursions are also not recommended. On June 5, Dr. Michael Mosley, a British medical journalist, died during an afternoon hike in a 104-degree heat wave on the Greek island of Symi. Four more tourists, including an American, recently died in Greece due to continuing rising temperatures.

“I would always recommend hiking with a certified local guide and under no circumstances alone,” said Franziska Basso, Milan-based travel consultant for Dreamsteam Exclusive Travel. «Naturally avoid the hottest hours of the day. Go hiking very early in the morning. And always stick to the official hiking trails.”

In some European cities, including Paris and London, air conditioning isn't a given, so check whether it's available before booking a hotel, restaurant or transportation to ensure you have somewhere cool to find relief from the scorching heat. Visiting a museum or other indoor sightseeing is another good option, but expect crowds at peak times.

Dehydration and heat stroke are among the most common causes of hospitalization during heat waves and can be prevented by keeping hydrated and limiting alcohol consumption. During meals, consider eating foods like melons, cucumbers, and celery as they can help support hydration throughout the day. Always carry a bottle of water with you and consider an umbrella and portable fan to keep you cool and shaded when outdoors.

While your itinerary may be packed with activities and tours, the heat can test your stamina, so consider following the European siesta ritual by breaking up the day with a short nap.

“I'm telling my clients to adjust their itineraries and take advantage of the siesta after lunch and then move their tours later in the day when it's cooler,” said Sarah Johnson, owner of Paper Ink & Passports Travel , a luxury travel agency. company based in Pennsylvania. “There's a reason they've been doing it in Spain and Italy for generations. Walking around in the midday heat and waiting in line might actually hurt some people.

The National Weather Service recommends lightweight, loose-fitting, light-colored clothing for outdoor use because it reflects heat and sunlight. Hats and sunscreen are also recommended to protect your face and scalp from harmful UV rays.

Just because it's hot doesn't mean it will be dry. Heatwaves can bring torrential rain, so be prepared.

“My biggest advice to travelers is to be prepared: for hot or cold, dry or humid weather because you never know,” said Laurel Brunvoll, owner of Unforgettable Trips, a travel agency based in Maryland. “Pack layers.”

Even after taking all the right precautions, traveling during a heatwave can be miserable, so it's worth making flexible reservations and purchasing “cancel for any reason” travel insurance to have the option to postpone your trip to a cooler period.

Sensible Weather, a Los Angeles-based start-up that provides weather assurance for vacations and outdoor experiences, recently added high heat protection to its coverage. Travelers who book through a Sensible partner in the United States will be able to add a daily protection that will allow them to request a refund of a reservation if the temperature exceeds a threshold that is usually set between 90 and 100 degrees.

“Our customers can still go on vacation, but if it's too hot for a few hours of the day and it becomes uncomfortable to go outside, you can stay in the air conditioning and we'll refund you,” said Nick Cavanaugh, founder of the company, which was developing the product while caught in a heat wave in Barcelona last year. Those who take advantage of the tourist packages are reimbursed the average daily rate for the entire trip for each day that the heat threshold is exceeded.

For more travel tips, visit our collection of Trip 101 tips and tricks.

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