I always thought I was one of those people who was just prone to heat exhaustion. My mom got sick from heat often when we were kids, so I figured it was genetic. There was no “beating the heat” for me.
In high school, I spent a full day outside in the sun when our school band went to Disney World. I got so sick that night that the chaperones wanted to bring me to the hospital. (They probably should have.) I was throwing up everywhere, I had a crazy fever, and I was shaking all over. They put me in an ice bath to cool me down, and I spent the rest of the trip in our air conditioned hotel room. I decided I wasn’t a “heat” person and avoided going anywhere that didn’t have reliable air conditioning from then on.
The Learning Experience
When my cousin was stationed in South Korea, we decided I should visit him when he had some leave. I was a teacher at the time, so while I had plenty of vacation, it was only during the summer. And that’s when I looked at Korea’s average summer temperature: 90+ degrees with high humidity. How was I going to survive?
My cousin explained what he had learned in the army: the trick to not getting sick in the heat is to drink LOTS of water. Constantly. This tip sounded like too simple a solution to actually work, but because I didn’t want to miss out on seeing a new country, I decided I’d give it a try.
When I finally got to Korea in August, the weather was exactly as promised– the forecast called for temperatures in the mid-90s with at least 80% humidity every day. And just about EVERYTHING we wanted to do was outdoors.
We started out in a big indoor mall by our hotel that had an aquarium and a kimchi museum in it. Underground, air conditioned– so far so good.
Then it was time to see a nearby outdoor temple. I was nervous. I bought a bottle of water on my way out the door and braced myself for the wave of heat I’d have to wade through for the next couple of hours.
I don’t normally keep myself regularly hydrated, so I was not prepared for just how much water I’d have to drink. Or how often I’d have to go to the bathroom. And if staying outside for that short a time was this annoying, how was the rest of the trip going to go?
The annoyance seemed to be worth it, though– while I knew it was hot (very hot) and I was sweating like crazy, I wasn’t feeling light headed or sick at all. Could the solution to this problem really be as simple as a bottle of water?
I was going to find out. The next day, we decided to explore one of the outdoor palaces. (I say “outdoor” because the buildings all had roofs, but very few had walls.)
We spent the entire afternoon exploring the buildings, ponds, and gardens on the palace grounds. And I didn’t feel sick or dizzy the entire time we were out. I had found the miracle cure.
This miracle didn’t come without its setbacks, though. I felt like I was buying a new bottle of water every hour and needing to find a restroom just as often. (The second half is probably true. As for the number of bottles of water, I was going through at least 6 good sized bottles a day.) I walked around feeling bloated and overly full due to the sheer volume of liquid I was consistently putting into my stomach. But I was spending as much time as I wanted in heat that normally would have made me sick. I’d call that a win.
This plan was working wonders in places that had plenty of concession stands to buy water and plenty of easily-accessible bathrooms. It didn’t work out so well when one or the other of these conditions wasn’t the case.
My first issue came when we decided to visit the Bukchon Hanok Village. It’s a neighborhood that has modern versions of old style hanok houses. We didn’t realize how residential this area was going to be– they have experiences throughout the neighborhood where you can learn about ancient customs, but they’re run right out of the homes of the people who live there. We also made the mistake of visiting this neighborhood on the day that most of the families take off. We could see a few of the residences, but most of the experiences (and even some of the homes) were closed.
Any time we were out and about in the city, I had relied on running into a 7-Eleven to get my next bottle of water. In this residential area, there were no convenience stores to be found. I got dizzy. I turned bright red. I stopped sweating. And so we cut our tour of the neighborhood short and made our way to the closest convenience store (which wasn’t that close). We made a single stop in an art shop, which was the only building with air conditioning we could find. Close call.
My second issue came after a day at Seoul Zoo. The zoo had plenty of water to buy and plenty of bathrooms to use, so my whole day there went smoothly. After the zoo, though, we got off the beaten path a bit and ended up at a traditional Korean barbecue restaurant. I would have been fine if they had a regular toilet, but I wasn’t prepared for what they had instead. You can read all about my ordeal here.
I spent more time in hot weather on my trip to Korea than I had in my entire life up until this point. And all it took was some simple advice: drink water.
What I Learned: How to Beat the Heat When Traveling
I’ve gotten smarter about the tricks I use to beat the heat when I travel. I’ve even survived a night in the Sahara. 🙂 Here are the tips I follow:
Drink water. Lots and lots and lots of water. If you follow no other advice, at least follow this piece. You can avoid most heat-related issues by keeping yourself regularly hydrated. I spent a ton of money and created a lot of plastic waste drinking bottled water in Korea. For every other trip, I’ve brought my own bottle and filled it up with tap water. Just be careful– some people are sensitive to the tap water in other countries. (I learned this the hard way in Morocco.)
To make it easier to carry your water bottle, I suggest getting a water bottle holder to sling over your shoulder. This one’s my favorite. It fits any Nalgene or other 32-ounce water bottle of similar shape, and the extra pocket is nice. That’s actually where my fiance hid my engagement ring when he took me to the Chicago Botanic Garden to propose. 🙂
Wear a hat. A hat will keep the sun from beating directly on your head and making you hotter. Just make sure it’s made of a breathable fabric or has lots of tiny holes. It may not be the most stylish hat in the world, but I like this one for its wide brim and the flap in the back that keeps your neck covered.
Stay away from added heat sources. Grilling outdoors? Bonfire on the beach? Fun, but don’t get too close. I didn’t think I’d need to give this advice, but the husband of a good friend of mine learned this one the hard way…
Know where the nearest bathroom is at all times. I was visiting the bathroom at least once an hour when I was drinking as much water as I needed to on the hottest days. Have a plan in place for dealing with emergencies.
Wear light, loose-fitting clothing. If there’s a breeze, you’re going to want to feel it. 🙂
Avoid coffee and alcohol. Caffeine and alcohol dehydrate you. Do you really want to have to drink more water than you’re already drinking?
Don’t over-exert yourself. Take your time when you’re performing physical activities outdoors. When you’re sweating like a pig just being outside, try not to do anything that’s going to make you sweat even more.
Take breaks in air conditioning when possible. Quick stops to convenience stores can cool you off and give you a chance to buy another bottle of water. 🙂
Wet yourself down with cool water. You’ll cool off with the temperature of the water and as the water evaporates.
Do you have any other tips to keep cool when it’s hot? Any heat horror stories? Let us know in the comments!