Itching, chafing, oozing: How to avoid the pitfalls of travel in hot weather

A photograph of the author, Austin Bailey.

By Austin Bailey

December 7, 2018

A close up of a person sweating
Travel can be hot. We tell you how to avoid being uncomfortable. Photo by Jonathan Colon at

In This Article

  • Traveling somewhere balmy this winter? It will be hotter than you expect, and you need to be prepared.
  • Rashes, infections, burns, bites and intestinal troubles could happen to you. Are you ready? We can help.
  • Don't know what to wear in the tropical heat? We've tried tons of wardrobe solutions, and we think you can learn from our mistakes.
  • There's no getting around it, you have to stay hydrated.

Can you take the heat? This is a trick question. The answer is no, you can’t.

If you’re escaping winter by dashing off to a tropical locale anytime soon, you’ve almost surely forgotten the miserable toll of summer temps. Here’s a reminder: terrible things can happen in your armpits (and other places) if you’re not prepared. And sometimes even if you are.

And sure, talking about the discomforts that afflict travelers unprepared for heat and humidity can be embarrassing. But I’ll take an awkward conversation over chafing and bacterial invasion any day. So let’s chat!

Members of the Heifer International communication team routinely travel to sweltering places around the globe, and we’ve learned a lot about how to handle fallout from debilitatingly hot temperatures. Sometimes we learned these things the hard way. Luckily, you can learn from our mistakes. Here are the five things you need to keep in mind.

Snake powder doesn't sound enticing until your armpits are on fire. Prickly heat powder works well, but it's best to avoid rashy armpits in the first place.

Prickly heat is the pits

There are some places on this planet where you simply cannot beat the heat, and you will be soundly defeated if you try. The Philippines, for example, where I suspected I had somehow contracted poison ivy in my armpits, only to learn from a desperate Google search that prickly heat is real condition, and I had it. This uncomfortable affliction happens when so much sweat tries to escape your body at once that your pores simply can’t handle it and get gummed up.

Luckily for me, prickly heat is a common affliction in the Philippines and powder treatments for it were available for purchase all over the place. It worked pretty well, but prevention would have been better. If you’ll be under a hot sun all day, consider skipping the antiperspirant and go with deodorant only. Otherwise, sweat ducts in your armpits are more likely to get clogged, resulting in a miserable itchy rash. So let that sweat flow as nature intended.

Pro tip: carry a cotton bandana with you. It’s handy to wipe away sweat.

Where's your water bottle, Bethany? This gal looks like she could use a drink.

To pee or not to pee, that is the question (this is getting awkward now)

You know you’re going to be out in the field all day, far away from any western-style toilets. And you haven’t really perfected your squatty potty game. Do you withhold all liquids until you get back to your hotel in the hopes of not needing a bathroom? Nope. Don’t do it. Hydration is especially important in the heat, so always carry water with you, and drink up. Take a reusable water bottle on your trip, but remember to fill it with only purified water (not tap) if you’re in a foreign country with an unfamiliar biome. Forgive yourself if you have to buy bottled water, and just try your best to recycle.

And don’t forget a pack of tissues (toilet paper isn’t a thing everywhere, so if you want some, bring your own). A small bottle of hand sanitizer is handy when there are no sinks available for washing up.

This horrific blister is a real thing that could happen to you if you make the wrong footwear choice.

Wicking fabrics are what you need, but it’s easy to mess this up

This blog post is getting progressively more uncomfortable, but it can’t be helped. We’ve reached the point where we have to talk about your underwear. Breathable cotton sounds like a nice idea, but sweaty drawers can cause chafing, plus they feel gross. So follow distance runners’ lead. Synthetic wicking fabrics like nylon are your best bet, and you can never go wrong with a healthy sprinkle of Gold Bond in all crevices.

[Now brace yourself, everyone, as this is the point where I talk about yeast infections. Hot weather boosts your chances of coming down with one, and itchy privates will ruin your adventures. Antimicrobial fabric technology is your friend. And always throw some Monistat or its generic equivalent in your suitcase, just in case.]

Socks are available in all kinds of different wicking fabrics too, but beware. Synthetic wicking fabrics may keep feet dryer, but I find that they’re miserably hot jammed into sturdy walking shoes. Plus, that sweat gets wicked right into your shoes and you spend the rest of the day slipping and sloshing around in them. Another drawback is that socks made of synthetic materials tend to get especially smelly. Natural fibers like cotton are much cooler but can get soggy. Choose wisely here or you’ll be flirting with athlete’s foot and blisters. Different strategies work for different people, but I find that thin wool socks made especially for athletes are a good choice, followed by bamboo. These two options are pretty pricey, though. Cotton socks work perfectly well as long as you’re not hiking too far. Sprinkle some foot powder on and you’ll be in fine shape.


Floppy hats are where it's at when you're out in the sun all day. Photographer Phil Davis wore it best.

Cover yourself

Mosquitoes in warm climates can carry malaria and dengue fever, and the only surefire way to stay healthy is to avoid bug bites in the first place. Shorts and capri pants are a no-go because ankles and the backs of knees are favorite spots for bloodsuckers. Also, bare legs are just not socially acceptable everywhere. You know what are? Pants. Go with pants. A caveat: jeans are a terrible idea in the heat. You’ll cook inside thick denim, and jeans that get wet or sweaty tend to stay that way.

Those dorky nylon cargo travel pants are made for a reason, and the reason is that they are not too hot, they dry super fast and they have handy pockets for those tissues and hand sanitizer we talked about earlier. Rayon and linen are good too, but only for the 40 and over female set? Guess I’ll be cool and looking fly while you young kids swelter in your denim. Wisdom comes with age.

When you’re packing clothes, one thing you may not think of (but you should) is your neck. V-necks and open collars invite sunburn on tender skin. Skip those in favor of a crewneck cotton t-shirt (those dri-fit wicking athletic shirts are miserably hot, akin to wearing a plastic garbage bag. Skip them). Button-down fishing shirts with the breathable mesh strips are extremely practical (lots of pockets!) but tragically unfashionable. It’s all about priorities. What’s the most important thing to you? Just keep in mind that you’ll already be red-faced and sweating profusely, so your game will be off regardless.

You’re not done serving looks quite yet. Top it all off with a hat like the one modelled here by Heifer photographer Phil Davis. Do you look awesome? Maybe not, but this hat combined with a good slathering of sunscreen guarantees your nose won’t blister.


You don't have to talk about it, but you do have to prepare for it.

5. The magic elixir

Any conversation about traveling should always end with the most important consideration, which is always and obviously diarrhea. This topic may be embarrassing to you. I get it. But please follow along because this information is key.

Stress, airplanes, unusual foods, jet lag, extreme heat and unclean water can all land you with the runs, and there’s simply no way to avoid all of these complications when you’re travelling. The great news is that over-the-counter anti-diarrheal medicines work really, really well. The pharmaceutical industry really nailed it on this one, so much so that I’ve considered sending fan mail to the makers of Immodium. Keep some in the pocket of those sweet cargo pants at all times, as much for peace of mind as for emergencies.