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How to Survive the Heat of Summer Travel

Alice Twain

How to survive the heat and still be touring your favorite Italy (or elsewhere) locations

2007 is expected to be a Niño year. This means an extra hot and muggy summer, but then summers are often hot and muggy and Italy, as well as many other European countries, is not particularly air conditioning (AC) friendly. Not traveling in the hottest months of summer is an option for many, but some of us are forced by job or school needs to travel only in July and August, despite the heat, the crowds, and the highier prices. So, what to do if you are stuck with a trip to Italy (or pick another country of your choice) in July? There are ways to protect yourselves from the heat when sightseeing outside or when no AC is available.

Pauline wrote notes about keeping your Italian vacation rental cool in the summer by using the shutters that most buildings have. In this article I will give you suggestions for dealing with the heat when outside. Some of my advice may be well-known, in which case I hope you will forgive me; other points may be new.

1. Dress cool.

Try to use clothing made of natural fibers. Artificial fibers, although lightweight, tend to trap the wetness inside, while natural fibers (cotton, linen) let it evaporate more easily. The one exception to the rule is viscose, which is nicely transpirant. Also, use the lightest fabrics you can find. Make sure your clothes are comfortable, avoid all tight clothing and opt for flowing over form-revealing. Swishy gowns and drapey shirts move around with you, allowing cooling and drier air to circulate on your skin, while tight clothing trap the hotter air and moisture close to the skin. Also, use light colors and white, which reflect the sun, over dark and black, which attract it.

2. Protect yourself from the sun.

Sunscreen may protect you from sunburn, but it does not protect you from the hot rays. If you are at a beach and wish to tan, a good sunscreen is perfect, but if you are taking a walk in the city you will need to protect yourself from the sun heat. Long trousers, especially if extremely light and large enough to let air circulate, or a long skirt, will keep you cooler than a pair of shorts that leave too much skin exposed to the direct, hot, sun rays. Also, wear a hat. Especially if you are bald or dark-haired. A white baseball cap may single you out as a tourist, but it will keep your head cooler and your eyes screened from the sun. If you don't want to stand out as much, grab a nice straw hat, a cotton knit or crocheted cap or a classy panama hat.

3. Drink a lot.

In most Italian cities you will easily find small fountains of drinking water. Stop for a free drink as soon as you feel thirsty. Bring a half liter bottle of water to be refilled at the fountains: no need for a thermos bottle, as long as you keep refilling the bottle quite often. Italian tap water is safe, in fact the controls on tap water are more strict than on bottled water. Drinking a lot may cause you also other urgencies. All bars have a restroom you can use for free, although purchasing a drink or a coffee is the polite thing to do, and you will find public restrooms in most towns.

4. Eat light.

Many suggest having your main meal at noon, but in summer the hot weather mixes with digestion to slow you down, especially if you also suffer from low blood pressure (something I am a bit of an expert about). Better to have light meals and a few snacks, especially if you opt for liquid and mineral replenishing ones like fruit or fruit-based gelato (sorbetto). At lunch opt for a big salad and fish secondo, or a nice caprese salad of tomatoes and mozzarella, or rice or pasta salad, or some other light, fresh and cool food. Leave heartier food for dinner, after the sun sets and the temperatures go down.

Cooling down with Gelato

Young Slow Travelers cool down on a hot summer in Rome

5. Stick to the Italian timetable.

In Mediterranean countries, especially in summer, life starts pretty early in the morning, to better use the cooler hours of the day. Midday is time for the meal and to rest in a shady place; life resumes in the late afternoon ending in a pretty late but rich dinner. Have breakfast to your taste, a midmorning snack of fruit and a bit of bread, a late lunch (no earlier than 1pm) and, if possible, return to your lodging for a midday rest. Go back to the streets at 4pm or 5pm and keep going until the sun sets, then stop for dinner and return to your lodging for sleep. If returning to your apartment or hotel is not an option, look for nice churches to visit (they are usually pretty cool inside), check out some museums (they will also be empty at lunch time and usually have AC), look for a nice bar where you can drink something and relax, or find a shady park bench for a picnic.

6. Cool yourself down.

To prevent heat stroke, use the fountains to cool your hands, arms, legs and neck. These are the parts of the body where the blood vessels are close to the skin. When plunging your hands and wrists in cool water you immediately feel refreshed all over, since the very blood will cool down and spread the coolness over your whole body. If you are wearing a hat, wet it and return it to your head; the water evaporating will keep you cool even if the hat feels warm. If you are not wearing a hat, wet your hair. This is particularly nice if you are out walking.

8. Do not drink very icy drinks.

Or, at least, do not overdo them. Although a long drink of icy liquid may feel refreshing, the truth is that if you are already very hot and feeling dizzy due to low blood pressure, a too cold drink may cause the blood pressure to get further unbalanced. Better to drink cool but not extremely cold drinks.

9. I changed my mind: buy icy stuff.

Point 8 does not mean that icy drinks, popsicles and gelato will kill you or something, just that they must be had cum grano salis (with caution) . Buy a popsicle or a glass of a cold, icy drink. Allow the ice to melt slowly in your mouth or use the glass to cool your hands or lower arms. Sip slowly, so that your mouth will be extracting all of the available coolness without shocking your system.

10. Take advantage of the porticoed sidewalks.

Walk as much as possible on the shady side of the street. If there is no shade, pop into a few shops, look around and pretend you are going to buy something (or, buy something!), then leave. I find that bookshops are perfect for this: you can wander around and not get disturbed by the clerks. Spending as little as five minutes out of the sun and in a cooler place will regenerate you.

Volterra, Tuscany, Italy

Sitting in the shade on the piazza in Volterra, Italy

11. Do not queue in the sun.

If you have to stand in a line under the sun, take turns with your travel partners. You don't have to all stand in the line for the whole time: have one person queue while the others stay in a cooler place and take turns until you are at the head of the queue.

12. Trust your body, and if heat is too much, trust Italian doctors.

Heat tires you out. If you suddenly feel very tired, dizzy or weighted down, you may be too hot or have lost too many salts with perspiration. Look for a shady place, drink water and eat a piece fruit or a raw tomato. Bring along a salt integrator, or even a small bottle with orange juice with a pinch of salt added: this will not disturb the juice's taste, but it will add precious salts. If you feel like fainting, or if one of your companions does, look for the most protected place, for a fountain with cool water or a bar or shop where to wet a handcherkief to place on your or your companion's neck. In case the person develops a fever or faints and cannot be roused in a couple of minutes, call 118 for an ambulance.


Written by Alice Twain. Alice is Italian and lives in Milan. Read her blog in Italian: A Typesetter's Day 3.0. See her Slow Travel Member page.

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