As readers of my Real Travel column in National Geographic Traveler already know, I’m not much of a fan of cold-weather travel spots. Since I started traveling around the world, I’ve always been drawn to the hot and steamy places.
So as the temperatures here on the East Coast of the U.S. pushed past the 100-degree Fahrenheit mark (I’m currently in Brooklyn, N.Y. for a couple of months), I didn’t break a sweat. Because the time I’ve spent exploring the world’s hot spots have taught me a thing or two about how other cultures deal with hot and humid climates. Along with my memories of tropical places, I’ve brought back these tips for beating the heat.
1. Carry an umbrella, even when it isn’t raining
The umbrella, used for shade, is a crucial accessory in places where the sun beats down ferociously. And in places that have rainy seasons, from the Caribbean to Bali, it’s a must-have item–you can use it to protect yourself from an unexpected downpour.
Mine is foldable, made of a lavender-colored nylon, and has an inner liner of reflective UV material that keeps me extra-protected from damaging solar rays. I got it for about $12 in a Hong Kong department store called Wing On, but you can find similar umbrellas on sale almost anywhere in the world (I’ve spotted them in New York’s Chinatown, too.)
2. Carry a Fan
Pull one out of your pocket on a sweaty subway ride for some heat relief. They are not only cool, they are cool looking, too! I was in Tokyo a few weeks ago where shops and businesses have turned their a/c way way down, at the government’s request, to save electricity. To stay cool, Tokyo citizens are turning to old technologies, like these gorgeous paper folding fans, on sale at Takashimaya department store (Japan’s Saks Fifth Avenue). And guess what: they’re for men.
3. Drink the right stuff
Year-round residents of tropical places know better than to guzzle ice water. Room temperature, or even warmer drinks are the best way to slake thirst. In China, lukewarm watery tea is the hot-weather beverage of choice. From my time in the Caribbean and Southeast, I’ve developed a taste for coconut water in the shell, so I’m thrilled to find there’s a coconut-water fad happening this summer in the U.S., with three different brands on sale in my local grocery. (Right now my fave is Zico). The packaged stuff not as good as the real thing, but it sure is great to not have to worry about carrying my machete around.
I’m also really happy with the lemongrass tea I brought back with me from a trip to Bangkok last month–I brew it hot and let it cool to room temp before drinking…so refreshing.
Speaking of Thailand, you might consider adding salt to your lemonade, as the Thais like to do. It’s surprisingly refreshing, and also a smart thing to do, since it helps replace the salt you lose through all that sweating.
4. White is the New Black
I remember well the first trips I made to Trinidad, wearing my New York summer uniform–a black sundress. Instead of being applauded for my minimalist chic, people would come up to me and tsk tsk: “Girl, what happened? Somebody die?”
Black–or any dark color–just won’t do in the tropics. Not only is it a heat magnet, at night it is a mosquito trap. Thanks to my travels, I’ve changed my color palette to whites–linens and cottons, the lighter the better. And yes, they do show dirt more easily than patterns and colors–but in steamy tropical weather, you’re going to be changing (and washing) your clothes everyday anyway. Plus, nothing looks more breezy and cool than a white shirt, dress–or, in this Pakistan pic (below,) a salwar kameez– that has been sun-dried on the line!
5. Take it Slow
The most important thing I learned from traveling in the Caribbean is how to wait. And breathe. And let life’s small irritations glide off my back. People in hot climes tend to take life more slowly, and for good reason. The alternatives–rushing, getting stressed, complaining, throwing tantrums–are energy-using, and heat producing. By keeping your cool, you’ll stay cooler. And that’s not a bad habit to continue even when the temperature slides back to the temperate zone.
For more of Daisann McLane’s Real Travels, follower her on Twitter @Daisann_McLane