Keeping Cool on a Summer Vacation

Yesterday was Memorial Day in the United States. On this day, we remember service men and women who have given their lives for our country. We often celebrate with parades and speeches. We also remember loved ones who have passed away by visiting cemeteries and placing flowers on their graves.

Memorial Day is also a day that many people plant flowers or finish their spring yard work. Years ago, we used the day off to wax our cars.

I vaguely remember large Memorial Day picnics, but for most of my life, the picnics were small – only immediate family. I was surprised when my sister decided to invite the whole family to her home for a picnic this year.


Although I spent most of the time on her screened-in porch, many of the family members stayed inside in the air-conditioning – not really a picnicky atmosphere. It was nice to get together, but the weather was definitely uncomfortable – the high for the day was 97┬░F.

The weather reinforced my concerns about the trip I am planning for this summer. I’m going to France with my daughter and her husband in the hottest part of the season. I hope we do not experience weather there like we had here yesterday.

Trying to Keep Cool in the Fountain Outside the Louvre Museum, Paris France

As we sat in the heat, I was reminded of the spring trip we made to Paris several years ago, when we experienced unseasonably warm temperatures. The French Open (tennis) was held that week and competitors and spectators suffered with varying degrees of heat exhaustion.

What can you do to avoid the problems that hot summer weather can bring to your vacation?

Choosing your Location

The easiest way to avoid hot weather is to choose a cool location. During our summer in the northern hemisphere, the southern hemisphere is experiencing winter. A trip to southern South America, Australia, or Africa could bring cool or cold weather. Extreme cold temperatures, snow and rain, may not be ideal either, so take care in choosing a far southern location.

The View from our Cabin at the Lake (2007)

Another option would be to go north. Northern states and Canada usually do not experience heat as extreme as southern states. Areas that are higher in elevation (mountains) are also cooler than surrounding valleys. For years, we vacationed in northern Minnesota. Although we experienced plenty of warm summer weather, I don’t think the temperature ever reached the upper 90s.

Choosing to vacation on or near a lake can also insure more comfortable temperatures. Lakes moderate the temperature, keeping the air cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter. Oceans and large bodies of water, such as Lake Michigan, can regulate the temperature for miles from the actual shoreline.

Choosing your Accommodations

Choosing a location near a body of water offers the additional benefit of being able to swim – and therefore, cool off – during the hottest parts of the day. Because of their popularity, though, it can be hard to reserve a room or cabin on a lake, if plans aren’t made a year or more ahead of the trip.

Aquatic Center at Abe Martin Lodge, Brown County, Indiana

Water park hotels are another option and are very popular with children. My nieces and their families were camping this weekend. The campground had a pool and spray park. It looks like they had a blast.

It may be that your vacation plans put you in a city with no water nearby. You might not be able to reserve a room in a hotel with a pool – pools are not plentiful in Europe. In addition, not all hotels and apartments in Europe have air-conditioning, so be sure to check before making your reservation.

Choosing your Activities

Even in a city, you can participate┬áin activities that help you stay cool. Indoor activities are usually the best choice, although air conditioning in older buildings may not be adequate on extremely warm days. Check the weather forecast and plan to visit large museums on the hottest days – these buildings are usually best prepared for extreme weather.

Interior, Santa Maria del Mar, Barcelona

Old stone churches can be great to visit on warm days. The churches are usually dark, and the stone keeps the interiors cool, so churches offer a good break from the heat.

If you’d like to spend time outdoors, look for shady areas. Plan to participate in leisure, rather than exertive activities. Take rest breaks from your activities so you do not become over-heated.

Choosing your Wardrobe

Choosing the right clothing is important for staying cool. Lightweight, light-colored clothing is optimal. If you are traveling in the States, shorts are acceptable for most summer activities. Sun dresses or summer skirts can be worn for dressier activities.

In Europe, however, the recommendations are different. Many Europeans frown on wearing shorts in the cities -they are considered beach wear. In addition, dresses with thin or no straps, showing bare shoulders, may not be acceptable wear for visiting certain buildings.

I’ve purchased a couple skorts (a skirt with shorts attached under it) for my trip this summer. They will feel like I am wearing shorts, but they will look like I am wearing a skirt – combining the best assets of each. I’m still looking for a sundress. If I find one, I will pack a large lightweight scarf to wear over my shoulders for visiting churches or formal locations.

Whether at home or abroad, a hat can be a good addition to your summer wardrobe. It will keep the sun off your face and, if it has a wide brim, can also shade your shoulders. This is the hat I like* – it is cool on my head while providing shade. Like extra socks keep your body warm in the winter, sandals, flip flops, or other shoes with ventilation can help keep your body cool in the summer.

Choosing Food and Beverages
Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate!

Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. This advice is usually given to athletes before a strenuous activity, but it is important for everyone when experiencing strenuous heat. Take a water bottle* with you wherever you go – two or three if you are hiking or will not be able to easily refill the first one. Dehydration can happen quickly, especially in extreme heat.

Many people enjoy a cold beer on a hot day. Although this may sound good, the alcohol in the beer will actually make you feel warmer. Alcohol increases your heart rate, making your body work harder than it otherwise would. Alcohol is also a natural diuretic and will tend to dehydrate you. I know many people enjoy alcohol while on vacation as do I, but too much alcohol on a hot day can lead to disaster.

Fruit at the market in Venice, Italy.
Fruit at the Market in Venice, Italy

Thankfully, seasonal foods that are available in the summer are some of the best options for hot weather. Fruits – especially juicy ones – can help to keep you hydrated. Vegetables are also a good choice. Most meals are fine, but try to avoid greasy and salty foods which make your body work harder. This is good general advice, but especially important in the heat.


Wear sunscreen if you are out in the sun for as little as 15 minutes. If you get burned anyway, treat the sunburn immediately. Seek medical attention, if needed. Sunburn will promote dehydration, so again, drink water.

Most importantly, pay attention to your body while you are traveling. In hot weather, it is important to be aware of your body temperature. Wear cool clothing, ventilated shoes, and a hat. Drink plenty of water to keep your body hydrated. It may help to put water on your face and neck, but be sure to keep these wet areas protected from the sun.

Making good choices can ensure a great vacation, even if the weather is hot.

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