Traveling to a heat wave zone: Here’s what tourists need to know

Scorching hot temperatures have been breaking records and wreaking havoc across some of the world’s most popular tourism destinations.

Is it time to rethink travel plans? Are refunds available? Are there ways to cope?

Here are some answers to many of the key questions travelers may be asking when potentially dangerous conditions are likely to affect their vacation.

Which regions are affected?

A number of destinations across the United States, Europe and Asia have been significantly impacted by soaring global temperatures.

In the US, temperatures in Death Valley, which runs along part of central California’s border with Nevada and is known as “the hottest place on Earth,” reached 128 Fahrenheit (53.3 Celsius) on Sunday, according to the National Weather Service.

Travelers in Texas and Florida have also been faced with especially hot weather in recent weeks, while temperatures in Phoenix jumped to 114 F at the weekend. Tuesday marked the 19th-consecutive day a reading of 110 F or more was recorded in the capital of Arizona.

In Europe, health warnings have been issued by officials in countries such as Italy and France due to the extreme weather.

Italy’s health ministry has issued red weather alerts, which signal a potential health threat for those exposed to the heat, in at least 23 cities as temperatures on Tuesday reached 112 F (44 C) in Sardinia and 104 F (40 C) in Rome.

Several tourists have collapsed due to heat stroke, including a British citizen who passed out near the ancient Roman Colosseum on Tuesday.

The heat has also been intensifying in Spain, where an extreme warning has been issued in popular holiday spot Mallorca as temperatures are predicted to reach up to 109 F (43 C) .

Wildfires have been burning in La Palma, located in the Canary Islands, which has seen up to 4,000 people evacuated from their homes.

Last week, the Greek Culture Ministry went as far as to shut the Acropolis in Athens from midday local time until 5 p.m. as a result of the heat, and authorities have suggested that temperatures could top 111.2 F (44 C) by the end of the week.

China recorded its highest temperature ever on Sunday, as the extreme weather led to the heat soaring to nearly 126 F (52 C) in northwestern Xinjiang province.

How bad is it?

Global temperature records have been continually broken in recent weeks as the hottest days ever are logged, and this seems likely to continue as the heat intensifies in numerous countries around the world.

According to preliminary figures from the World Meteorological Organization, June saw the warmest global average temperature on record, and this has continued into July.

“The extreme weather – an increasingly frequent occurrence in our warming climate – is having a major impact on human health, ecosystems, economies, agriculture, energy and water supplies,” said WMO Secretary-General Professor Petteri Taalas.

“This underlines the increasing urgency of cutting greenhouse gas emissions as quickly and as deeply as possible.”

While there’s no denying that summers are hot in cities such as Phoenix, Arizona, current temperatures appear to be higher than usual, and the heat waves are certainly becoming more intense.

In 2022, the hottest day recorded in Phoenix was July 15, when temperatures soared to around 114 F. However, current predictions suggest that this will be exceeded as the city marks 19 days of temperatures of around 110 F or more.

Meanwhile, temperatures are predicted to reach close to 120 F (48.9 C) in either Sicily or Sardinia in the coming days, which would smash Europe’s hottest-ever logged temperature, thought to be 119.8 F (48.8 C), which was recorded near Syracuse on the coast of Sicily in August 2021.

Is it safe to travel to a heat wave zone?

If you’re planning to visit one of the affected destinations, whether for leisure or business, it’s very unlikely you’ll be able to stick to your original travel plans.

In areas with scorching temperatures, travelers may struggle to sightsee at their usual pace and may need to adapt or scrap itineraries. This will be even more important for people with chronic health conditions or in high-risk categories, such as older people and young children.

Anyone visiting an area at risk of floods, wildfire or typhoons could potentially find tourist destinations closed or even being evacuated. It’s important to pay very close attention to local government safety advice and heed recommendations.

While many vacations will be possible so long as advice is followed and precautions are taken, in certain circumstances it may be advisable to cancel or reschedule your trips.

What can I do to cope with the heat?

Try to get out and about first thing in the morning – the temperatures start building at around 11 a.m. Although conventional wisdom suggests that midday is the hottest time of the day, in reality, the heat keeps building until early evening – and temperatures in the afternoon are far more suffocating than in the morning.

Wash hands and wrists – and ideally face and arms – with cool water as often as possible (in Europe, fountains should make this easy). Take cool showers when you can, and try to air-dry if possible. Italian authorities are advising residents to spend at least three hours a day in an air-conditioned environment – so if you’re sightseeing, find a cool museum, gallery or restaurant to take refuge in.

Wear loose, light clothing made of lightweight materials. Don’t forget sunscreen – and reapply it regularly. And use a fan – yes, even a handheld one can make a huge difference in how you feel.

Drink more water than usual, the CDC advises, and don’t wait until you feel thirsty to drink.

When it’s time to eat, prioritize water-filled foods – raw vegetables and salads, or fruits such as watermelon or grapes.

If you’re asthmatic, or have other chronic health conditions that can be worsened by heat or humidity, it’s worth seeking medical advice about how best to tackle your trip.

Check whether the place you’re staying has air conditioning – if you fall into a high risk category, that will be crucial.

Finally, make sure you have travel insurance that covers medical expenses. That way, if you need treatment for heat-related illnesses, you’ll be covered. If you’re in a high-risk category and your doctor advises you not to travel, you should be able to cancel on insurance, too.

What are the health risks?

Health risks are potentially very severe, although some people will just experience discomfort.

Extreme heat can cause a number of medical issues that can be serious or even lead to death. Nearly 62,000 people are reported to have died heat-related deaths during 2022’s Europe-wide heat wave. In the US, more than 700 people die from extreme heat annually, according to the CDC.

Heat stroke and heat exhaustion are the biggest risks. If you see any of the symptoms below, the CDC advises seeking immediate medical attention.

Heat stroke symptoms include a body temperature over 103 Fahrenheit (39.4 Celsius), hot and red skin without sweating, headaches and dizziness, upset stomachs and passing out. Sufferers should cool with fanning and cool water on the skin rather than take in more fluids, according to the CDC.

Heat exhaustion is marked by heavy sweating, muscle cramps, exhaustion and pale skin. Sufferers can also have headaches, dizziness, upset stomachs and can faint. The CDC outlines (pdf) steps to take to treat heat-related illness symptoms while you await medical attention.

Those with chronic health conditions, as well as older people, young children and infants are at higher risk.

Anyone with asthma or other breathing difficulties should be aware that it’s not just wildfires that can worsen their condition. Humidity – as seen in much of Europe, particularly Italy – can have the same effect.

Is transport affected?

Pretty much all transport can be affected by extreme temperatures and in surprising ways. A heat wave can lead to passengers being bumped off their scheduled flight because the plane has become too heavy to take off.

Train tracks and even roads can buckle in extreme heat – in 2022, preventative measures in London included painting rail tracks white and wrapping a bridge in foil. Highways may be blocked off in areas that are prone to flash flooding or at risk of wildfires. Pipe bursts can also increase in dry, hot weather due to ground shifts, leading to yet more unexpected diversions.

Even if your journey on public transport proceeds on schedule, you could be in for a very sticky trip if the buses or trains in your destination don’t have air conditioning – or it breaks down. If you have to hit the road, make sure you have plenty of water and appropriate snacks and be prepared for things not going according to plan.

Can I get a refund if I cancel?

As with most meteorological events, heat waves are not typically covered by travel insurance companies and so no compensation will be offered if you cancel your trip because of rising temperatures.

The situation would change if an official advisory was issued warning against travel, but that’s highly unlikely and many insurance policies do not cover natural catastrophes. There may be some provision for people with pre-existing medical conditions exacerbated by heat.

That said, if the heat causes cancelation of flights or delays, some level of assistance may be offered. Likewise airlines may offer refunds or rescheduling/rerouting options.

Depending on who it’s been booked with and what payments have been made, some hotel stays may be cancelable without incurring any charges. It’s worth checking terms and conditions.

Do Europeans have AC?

When it’s scorching outside, the cooling blast of air conditioning is a much-welcomed source of relief. But while in the US it’s normal for many homes, hotels, restaurants and public buildings to be equipped with aircon, in Europe it’s less common.

A 2018 study from the International Energy Agency found less than 10% of households in Europe have AC, compared to 90% in the US. So if you’re staying in an Airbnb, don’t expect an aircon unit unless it’s specified in the listing. European buildings are also often older than their US counterparts, and were built to to keep heat in, leading to uncomfortable conditions in soaring temperatures.

European hotels are more likely to have cooling systems, but it still depends on the size of the property. Expect AC in larger hotels in cities, but it’s less likely in a small beachside bolthole.

Public transport is also hit and miss. Unsurprisingly, underground lines are often some of the hottest spots in a heat wave – although some have aircon. It’s worth planning ahead – travel app Citymapper, for example, allows users to specify public transport routes with air conditioning.

Aircon is usually found in European cinemas – certainly larger multiplexes. With two of the biggest movies of the year released at the height of 2023 summer heat wave – “Barbie” and “Oppenheimer” – this could be a good option for heat relief.

How long will it last?

If you’re hoping to travel in August and banking on the weather cooling off by then, it’s worth keeping a close eye on updates. At present, there doesn’t seem to be any guarantee the global heat wave will wane any time soon.

The latest update from the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) states there “is no immediate respite in sight” in Europe.”

The same update said “a further continuation into August is possible.”

In the southwestern United States, what the National Weather Service Weather Prediction Center terms the “threatening heat” will continue until at least July 28, with high temperatures also hitting the south-central and Southeast of the US.

Julia Buckley, Tamara Hardingham-Gill, Barry Neild, Maureen O’Hare and Francesca Street contributed to this story.

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