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Could you cope with a heatwave while traveling?

A woman retreats to a cool, dark place to recover from heat exhaustion.
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What would happen if there was a heatwave at your vacation destination?

Heatwaves – periods of unusually high temperatures – are becoming more common, with local authorities and meteorologists issuing warnings to residents and visitors in the days before a period of extreme hot weather. You probably know how to deal with most weather conditions that you experience at home. But would you know what to do when the temperatures rise while you are away from home?

Know what weather to expect at your destination

While planning your vacation or business trip, try to find out what weather you can expect during your trip. A resource like the World Meteorological Organization can tell you about expected temperatures and humidity at any given time of year. This will help with deciding what clothes to bring and what activities you might enjoy.

When you attend your travel health appointment at Global Travel Clinics, your travel health professional can let you know if heat is likely to be a problem during your trip.

In the weeks leading up to your visit, keep an eye on the weather forecast, as higher than expected temperatures may mean you have to adjust your planned schedule. It may also mean that some activities and services are not available to you.

Staying cool during a heatwave on vacation

During a heatwave on vacation, reduce your activity levels and stay in cool, shady places. Take plenty of fluids, and focus on staying cool. Avoid activity – even walking – in the hottest part of the day.

Which travelers are particularly vulnerable to heat?

Some people need to take extra care in very hot weather. This includes:

  • babies
  • young children
  • the elderly

Some people find that heat makes their health condition flare up. If you live with a long-term condition and expect to experience higher temperatures than you are used to, talk with your usual healthcare team. They can tell you more about what to expect when the temperature rises and how you can manage your condition safely during a heatwave.

How do you acclimatize to heatwave conditions?

People who are not used to hot weather may find that they need to acclimatize to heat before they can manage normal activity levels. Acclimatizing to heat can take as long as ten days, so make sure you build time into your schedule for this, and do not expect to do high-intensity activities in the first few days of your trip abroad.

What are heat exhaustion and heat stroke?

Heat exhaustion is caused by over-exertion in hot conditions. It can lead to heat stroke, which is very dangerous and can be fatal. Look out for these symptoms of heat exhaustion:

  • dark urine
  • faintness
  • headache
  • heavy sweating
  • muscle cramps
  • nausea
  • raised pulse
  • thirst
  • tiredness

The best way to care for a person with heat exhaustion is to get them to lie down in a cool place. You can loosen their clothing, wet their skin and fan them. Offer fluids as well, as dehydration often happens alongside heat exhaustion. Keep an eye on them, and get medical help if they loose consciousness or seem confused or are in a lot of pain from cramping or headaches, as these are signs of heat stroke.

For advice on managing a medical emergency while traveling, see our travel health article.

Avoid dehydration during a heatwave

You can avoid dehydration by drinking enough water or other fluids. The signs of dehydration are:

  • dizziness and headache
  • tiredness
  • dry eyes, lips and mouth
  • passing urine less than three times a day
  • dark colored urine

Tailored advice on protecting yourself during a heatwave

To cope with confidence in whatever climactic conditions you might meet on your travels, make an appointment with a travel health professional ahead of your trip abroad.