How To Use Thermodynamics And Light To Get What You Want When Traveling (And Everywhere Else)

August 5, 2011 by  

Philippines bags of waterMost of us are pretty far removed from nature, relying heavily on technology, chemicals, and anecdotal information to solve our most common problems when traveling. It’s often the case when we’re presented with routine travel annoyances like mosquitoes that we turn to the store, dishing out cash for the latest remedies for ancient ills. Nature on the other hand has given us a brilliant set of physical laws that you can hack to save money and time when you, say, bump up against a hot sleepless night in Morocco.

Deter Flies With Bags Of Water

The first time I noticed plastic bags hanging from the thatched roofs of small kitchens in Boracay, the Philippines, I was perplexed. Even more so after I was given the explanation that these bags filled with water keep flies away. It works since the bags of water refract light and magnify the movement around them, giving the flies a false sense of motion (and potential things swatting at them) keeping the pests away.

Kill Bed Bugs With A Hot Car

Bed bugs are hopefully a problem you’ll never run into while staying at hotel or hostel but if you do happen to wake up with their itchy bites, you’ll want to kill any stowaways that might have hopped a ride on you backpack. Notoriously hardy, bed bugs can’t survive temperatures higher than 45 Celsius (115 F) for more than a few hours. Cars left in direct sunlight during the summer months can easily reach temperatures over 48C (120 F) even if the weather is much cooler outside. Leave your packed luggage in the back seat or trunk if you have any suspicions upon returning home.

national park san francisco

Have A Wet Blanket So You’re Not One In The Morning

Soaking a blanket in cold water, then ringing out the excess, is a method of keeping cool at night attributed to the ancient Egyptians (and aptly called the “Egyptian Method”). Seems this trick, which helps cool you by drawing heat away from your body through evaporation, is still in use in modern Egypt. I was recommended several times while I was there by locals to spritz a bit of water on my blanket, sheets, or pillow to avoid tossing and turning due to the heat.

blankets in egyptGet What You Want By Not Losing Your Cool

Despite the contemporary notion that keeping your cool ices getting your way, current research from Stanford suggests that slightly raising your temper might help you win more arguments. Getting what you want with airline representatives, overzealous touts, and hard bargainers can often be as easy becoming (or pretending to) be slightly agitated. The key term being slightly; otherwise you flip your advantage – a page out of the Art Of War that’s still relevant today.

Add Those Conspicuously Missing Dollar Signs

Ink may just be stains on paper our eyes detect using visible light but how those stains are drawn have a huge impact on our wallets. Exactly why adding dollar signs to the prices on menus makes us spend less isn’t quite known but I suspect it might have to do with making costs more “real” in our minds. We don’t associate the number “7” with “7 dollars” (or whatever your home currency). Try writing things out $7 or $7.00 on your next trip and see how your simple travel budget fares.

dollar signs

Extend Battery Life By Beating The Heat

The batteries that power your gadgets produce heat as a byproduct of the chemical processes that give your iPhone and other electronics energy to function far from an outlet. Keeping those batteries cool can extend each charge since heat works against efficiency but this is especially true if you travel with a laptop. Setting your laptop directly on your warm thighs shaves precious minutes off each charge. A case between your body and computer is one of 8 ways to extend batteries on each charge.

oludeniz turkey

Other Ways To Bend Light To Shape Your Traveling World

Light and temperature are two fundamental aspects of our universe we’re so accustomed to we often neglect their presence – and uses. Considering light is vital to taking better photos, critical to the picture editing process and traveling against the weather can often help you save on airfare. Hot weather’s appetite suppressing effects can be simulated by consuming spicy foods for busy travel days where dinner might be a late one and capsaicin can help you burn calories on the road.

Some people focus their cooling efforts on their feet (plentiful blood vessels and relatively large surface area) which is an efficient way to make use of a tiny room fan or a few ice cubes when a fresh breeze is scarce. There are of course many other ways to manipulate thermodynamics and light to make the world work for you and I’d love to hear some of your best tricks. Feel free to drop your hottest advice (sorry for that pun) in the comments below!

[dollar signs photo by: Zabowski]

Comments - 18 Responses   (Need a pic to show with your comment? Go get a gravatar!)

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail.

Sorted by rating: (Click arrows up or down to to vote anonymously.)

  1. this was immensely useful. i never knew about that fly trick. way to trick those stupid flies haha. and the subliminal (or not) message we get when adding dollar signs is a pretty clever trick to use every day, traveling or not. kudos.

  2. Hi Anil, appreciate your bed bug tips, I certainly gonna try that out if next time I encounter bed bugs again. Great tips dude… thanks for sharing :)

  3. Leo says:

    Rather than the wet blanket (which I’m definitely going to try) I’ve found it useful in tropical climates where I don’t have an air conditioned room to take a cold shower (often not optional in these kinds of situations anyway) right before bed. I find that if I go right to sleep while I’m still cool I can sleep through the night. Only downside is I wake up sweaty. Does the wet blanket trick help reduce that?

    Another tropical climate trick I learned from the Thai people and I suspect they make good use of in places like India and Mexico is having hot food and beverage like soup while outside in the heat. This is counterintuitive but I’ve found it makes me much more amenable to the outside heat on those long walking days and I sweat much less. I think it has to do with bringing the body temperature close to the surroundings and therefore hastening adaptation.

    • Leo says:

      PS I forgot to mention in addition to hot food and beverage like soups, teas, and coffee, that spicy foods and stews also add to this effect significantly. Try it!

      • Anil P. says:

        The cold shower will help though may cause sweating due to condensation on your skin. When your skin is sufficiently cooled due to anxiety or a cold shower, it can create this effect. Something like having sweaty palms; which is really just water condensation when your circulation drops to the extremities.

        The wet blanket helps a bit with that effect, although if it’s quite hot outside, it may not last through a long sleep. Once the blanket has dried at least.

        I too have found hot beverages has a cooling effect. The spices may also help to dilate your blood vessels (curry, garlic, etc.) as the body tries to cool itself; dissipating heat. On top of that, people tend to drink much more water when eating hot and spicy foods, increasing that feeling :)

        I’ve read quite about this in the past – and it turns out that drinking cold things or eating hot ones don’t change your body temperature more than a tenth of a degree (C) or so, and just for a few minutes. The body is extremely efficient at maintaining constant body temperature and in many cases it’s a mental thing.

  4. Great tips as usual! And about the bed bugs, well, so far I was lucky enough to be bed bug free and I definitely wish I’ll never have to use this tip again! :)

    • Anil P. says:

      Even the thought of it makes my skin crawl. Little bugs that suck your blood at night…creepy but glad we haven’t encountered them!

  5. That bedbug tip is inspired. Haven’t ever encountered them, but they way I travel it’s bound to happen at some point. Will file that tip away for sure.

    • Anil P. says:

      I’ve had a recent close call which got bed bugs on my mind…thankfully no bites but seems like we should add “yet”. A growing problem from what I’ve been hearing. Still creeps me out!

  6. We spend so much time talking about NOT leaving living beings in hot cars, that it never occurred to me that it might (in rare circumstances) be a good idea!

  7. Sailor says:

    I like the tip on wet blanket! Where we live now we could try it out to keep the cool.

  8. Audrey says:

    Love the tip about the bed bugs – would have never thought that! Fascinating about the dollar signs, too.

    Another tip to add is how to purify water by putting it in bottles on the roof. The strength of the sun will kill the bacteria inside. We saw this in Central America – it was a project from a few NGOs to get cleaner water into villages. Now, the water probably tastes like plastic…so it’s not perfect.

    • Anil P. says:

      That is fascinating, strangely I would have thought the heat would have the opposite effect on the bacteria (allowing them to multiply even faster); though now that I think about boiling water…makes sense :)

      Guess it’s all about the comfortable temperature for each organism – thanks for the tip!