The sun: such a wondrous, life-giving, and – let's not forget – dangerous entity. Its power demands respect, particularly after you've been burned to a crisp from water reflection alone while thinking you were safely hidden in the shade during an all-day boat tour in New Zealand. Trust me, you only need to experience sizzling hot, blistering armpits once to develop a healthy respect for the sun.

Whether you get burned despite your best efforts, or because you were asking for it, the question of what to do for the remainder of your beach vacation suddenly becomes all-consuming. Because I know this singular scenario all too well, I have compiled the following suggestions.

Smokin! Sometimes you feel the burn despite your best efforts. Image by Apostrophe Productions / Photolibrary / Getty Images.

Smokin! Sometimes you feel the burn despite your best efforts. Image by Apostrophe Productions / Photolibrary / Getty Images

Umbrella-protected reading

No duh, right? But there's reading and then there's single-celled, vacation reading. Take care to choose the latter. Acceptable subjects include: humor; adventure; teenage wizards; travel memoirs written by self-deprecating klutzes so that you feel better about your doofus self; sci-fi lite; and libido-driven vampires. Politics, history (particularly concerning tragic events) or anything that causes more then one synapse to fire at a time is forbidden.


Bar = good.

Open, covered bar = better.

Open, covered, swim-up bar = nirvana!

Just be sure to stay hydrated. Few things fill up the Misery Bingo Card faster than a sunburn-punctuated hangover.

This gentleman will regret not swimming the extra few yards to the covered, swim-up bar. Image by Heath Korvola / The Image Bank / Getty Images

Protected swimming

There are still several options for enjoying a day in the water after you've burned yourself like a cheap meatloaf. The no-brainer option is a covered swimming pool at a hotel, but some destinations have alternatives like spas, water parks, and even cool water tubs. (It should go without saying, but DO NOT get into a hot tub while sunburned!) Then there are the natural protected options, like swimming in the caves and cenotes of Mexico. Lastly, one can always (gingerly) wriggle into a full-body wetsuit and snorkel/scuba the day away.


Seaside destinations often have aquariums within striking distance. The quality of these attractions vary wildly – those featuring the more lovable, intelligent members of the aquatic mammal community can be downright depressing – but a well-executed aquarium is a beautiful thing, with the added advantage of getting an eyeful of the local marine life.


Ah! Sweet, air-conditioned, windowless museums. Not an ultraviolet ray in sight. This, of course, is the exact opposite of your carefully laid sand and ocean breeze-scented vacation goals, but a retreat of this nature while your skin is still hot enough to heat water for tea is a nice, temporary reprieve.


Unless you've booked yourself into a fortified resort compound miles from anything interesting, chances are there's some manner of eating adventure to indulge in nearby. Buy the biggest, floppiest sunhat you can find for protection and investigate the market, food district, main pedestrian street (or, more likely, the streets parallel to the main pedestrian street) for local delicacies and weirdness.


Crowded beaches can be great places to people-watch - but please don't be creepy. Image by Jim Champion / CC BY-SA 2.0

OK, in a beach environment this has the potential to get creepy in a hurry (don't be creepy, brah!), but a beach with a mix of international visitors can be quite the cultural spectacle. If you have a sunburn co-sufferer, 'Name That Nationality' is a reliably amusing people-watching pastime that can be played from a safe distance, ideally from the stools of a well-stocked cocktail bar.


Physical games are mostly out. 'Sunburn Twister' rapidly loses its initial appeal and don't even think about volleyball. Equally, card games can lead to being involuntarily exposed to the sun while chasing windblown cards down the beach after every gentle breeze. However, a genial game of chess will pass the time nicely. After a few drinks, you may want to switch to checkers. Once you're good and buzzed, few games are more hilarious, and brief, than Jenga.

Form a sunburn activity group

Remember: an umbrella is your best friend. Image M Hooper / CC BY 2.0

You're almost definitely not alone in your sunburn suffering. There's a certain comfort in sharing your pain with others, so get all the sunburned victims from the hotel/hostel together and organize tournaments like the 'Shade Olympics' or the 'Thirsty Games'. Alternatively, embrace that wretched sunburn and light up your Instagram and Facebook feeds with creative, staged, sunburn-themed photos - eg, toasting bread on your stomach or giving other people sunburn with the heat of your sunburn.

Personally research sunburn remedies

For you productive/proactive types, rather than sitting idly and suffering, you may want to consider your setback as a challenge and concoct sunburn remedies, either by combining known treatments for faster recovery or breaking new ground. What happens when you bathe in a mixture of water, olive oil and mango yogurt? Only one way to find out! At the very least, you'll have additional goofball material for your social media feeds.

Find an agreeable, fetching individual to liberally apply aloe lotion to your damaged bod

As above.

Bond with the sullen, sun-averse goth teenagers over handheld, violent video games

There are a couple in every hotel. Check the darkest corner of the lobby.

Tweet sunburn haiku

Sunburn lesson learned
Vacation interrupted
Yes, I'm a doofus

Sleep it off

Ideally done after engaging in the eating, drinking and aloe application suggestions above.

Leif Pettersen is a Lonely Planet author, freelance travel writer and polyglot. He’s visited 51 countries (so far) and can be found @leifpettersen.

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