I only have vague memories of summer when I was a child living in New York City, but I remember it being hot. My family eventually moved to California’s temperate Central Coast when I was a tween, effectively escaping the extreme temperatures of the city with a white flag flying high, but I was in for a real treat when I returned to the city years later and experienced NYC summers as an adult.
For a variety of common reasons, I struggled through several summers with neither central air conditioning—it still blows my mind that new buildings in Bushwick now offer this—nor an AC unit. My first AC-less summers were borne out of financial instability; I simply couldn’t afford to buy a unit and pay for an increased electric bill. The next couple of summers I literally couldn’t install a window unit because I lived in a bedroom that had bars in the window. Even when I found myself in a financially stable position, living in a room in which I could have installed an AC unit… I resisted getting one.
Through those AC-less years, I realized that something happens to you when you’ve lived in NYC long enough: You become very, very stubborn. I could have done something to change my AC status before I did, but I willed myself forward, feeling stronger for finding ways to survive a perpetually hot and sweaty lifestyle. And I was pretty damn proud of myself for it.
Finally, I caved during a heat wave and bought myself an AC unit in 2012. I’m not saying that you’ll eventually need an AC in NYC (a lot of people must live without one every summer, and each has developed their own unique tricks for keeping cool), but it sure does make life easier if you can afford it. If you can’t, or simply won’t, here are a few tips for beating the heat that I learned as a human being in Bushwick without an air conditioner over the course of five summers:
Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate
This is the number one summer survival tip of all time. Sweating is your body’s central defense against the heat. Sometimes it doesn’t seem like it helps—like when the humidity is above 80%—but your body doesn’t know this and it will keep sweating regardless.
Pro tip: You might not feel dehydrated but if it’s ridiculously hot, you probably are. Keep drinking that water.
Visit a museum
When I was a kid, my family frequently visited the Met, even more so during the summer. Museums are great because art needs to be kept at a certain cool temperature and you can loiter for hours without anyone taking notice, particularly if it’s a big building. You might have to splurge on Metrocard fare to get to a museum, but I promise it’ll be worth it, especially if the museum’s fee is donation-based.
Pro tip: Bring a sketchbook, book, or journal and visit the less popular, less crowded wings of the museum.
Keep ice packs handy
You can wrap them in a shirt and hold them while watching TV. You can sleep with them. Make sure you have enough to have continual backups being prepared in the freezer for when the ones you’re using melt.
Pro tip: According to science, applying an ice pack can also help relieve itchy bites from that other summer hazard, mosquitoes.
Go to the grocery store
The frozen section is your new best friend when it’s excruciatingly balmy outside. In summers past, the Food Bazaar on Myrtle Ave. was my haven. Finding a store with a huge chilled section is the key, as it needs to be large enough that you can dawdle through a few laps without anyone noticing. The best thing about grocery stores is they’re typically easily accessible and even the tiniest excuse is reason enough to make a run to the store.
Pro tip: Never have a fully stocked kitchen. The more small trips you need to take, the more frequently you can bask among the cold meats.
Befriend someone who has air conditioning
Knowing someone whose room is dry and cool on command is a major win. You might have a very accommodating friend who lets you crash (in which case, bless them) when temps rise above 95°. If all of your friends are in the same warm boat, nobody here will judge you if you use Tinder to find someone with an AC unit.
Pro tip: Make your stay at a friend’s place as pleasant as possible so that they invite you back again. Bring some drinks or snacks with you and clean up after yourself.
I’m definitely not officially condoning cheating the movie theater game and not paying for tickets, but I’m also not saying I never tried it in my AC-less young adulthood. If your Saturday is wide open—and very hot—then going to see multiple movies in one day is a great option. (For the record, please pay for each ticket.)
Pro tip: Getting caught is embarrassing so if you’re going to movie hop, get to know the movie theater really well first.
If you’re staying in, I highly recommend moving as little as humanly possible. Conk out on the couch. Feeling antsy? Talk yourself out of whatever it is you want to do. You really don’t need to move when it’s that hot.
Pro tip: Save up some suspenseful TV series (Stranger Things is a good option for the next few weeks!) for those searing days. A good show can entertain you through hours of sweat.
Literally get in water
Take short, cold showers to bring your temperature down in sweltering heat. Spot an open fire hydrant? Skip through that beautiful NYC water like it’s nobody’s business. Spritz yourself down with water from a spray bottle.
Pro tip: It’s only legal to open a fire hydrant if you get a spray cap—but don’t worry, it’s easy to do and we’ve got info about it here.
Don’t bake. Don’t cook anything complicated
This is common sense but, dear god, do not turn on the oven for any reason. I did this a couple of times and the end results, albeit delicious, never outweighed the pain and suffering of raising the temperature of the entire apartment. Sorry, friend-with-a-summer-birthday, you’re not getting a cake. (I have a summer birthday so I understand.)
Pro tip: Going to a potluck? Pick up some fresh veggies and dip from the aforementioned store. An unoriginal and completely practical summer dish.
If worse comes to worst, sleep on the floor
If it’s a very hot night, you must sleep at home, and you have no air conditioner, I recommend sleeping on the floor. Lay a sheet on your floor, place a fan next to the sheet (if you have more than one fan, place them on either side of the sheet, facing one another), put a bowl of ice water in front of your fan, and lie down on the sheet with all limbs pointing in different directions. It isn’t going to be comfortable and you’re probably not going to sleep much, but you will stay relatively cool, which is the most important thing.
Pro tip: You don’t want skin-on-skin contact. And forget the mattress, pillow, and blankets—even if you have hardwood floors. Insulation is your worst nightmare on scorching summer nights.
Remember at the end of the day: It’s mostly mind over matter. If you must survive without AC, you can.
by Dolor sit Aet
Disagree with our ten top tips for beating the heat? Let us know what your favorite tricks are in the comments section!