Traveling makes a man wiser, but less happy.

-- Thomas Jefferson

First, the good news for those Washingtonians languishing in the city during the asphalt-melting month of August: A number of your number are out there vacationing the month away and having a miserable time doing it. Stress, a summer bug, Gary Hart -- these are a few of the reasons.

Now, the bad news: Even though they're having a miserable time, they're miserable amid balmy ocean breezes and poolside bars. So much for sweet revenge.

Georgetown hostess Oatsie Charles, reached at her Newport, R.I., retreat where she annually wishes the month of August away, felt so bad that she couldn't muster the energy to discuss the joys of getting away from Washington. "Can you forgive me?" she croaked. "I'm ill in bed this vacation and I really don't want to talk about it."

Donna Rice didn't want to talk about it either, although she did make a few concessions in Europe -- in Barcelona and on the island of Ibiza -- on a number of talk shows to discuss the recent scandal that devoured her privacy. Basking in the sun as the month began and appearing to have a ball, she had an absolutely awful time, according to manager Tricia Erickson, who accompanied her. "She has no time to enjoy anything now," Erickson said. "She's still trying to survive. She can't go out. Reporters follow her. She pretty much stays in. In the air conditioning."

A number of others with Washington connections admitted that they, too, are planning miserable August sojourns, but asked that their identities not be divulged because they feared possible social embarrassment.

As one went to Europe to see the living past, so one must visit Southern California to observe the future. -- Alison Lurie

A definite trend has emerged this year in vacation planning, and the Reagans seem to have set it: Go late. As in go late and return late. They're leaving for their usual summer haunt, the Rancho del Cielo in Santa Barbara, Calif., today. They won't be returning until Sept. 6, a spokesman said.

Reasons for late departures are many. Some -- like martyrs, but wealthier -- want to see how much suffering they can endure before fleeing. Others -- like politicians -- were waiting until Reagan's last hurrah of summer, last night's Oval Office reaction to the Iran-contra hearings, before they leave Washington. (Are these categories synonymous?) Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W. Va.) is among the latter.

"I think he is waiting until after the president's address to leave," a spokesman said. "A lot of politicians are doing that, you know." Byrd and his family, by the way, will be leaving for their home in West Virginia late this week.

Of course, there is always the vacation vanguard that doesn't follow the time trend. Fawn Hall is this year's standout. She left for Southern California and Hawaii in late July and just recently returned after two weeks.

Holidays are an expensive trial of strength. The only satisfaction comes from survival. -- Jonathan Miller

A station wagon bound for Tourist Attraction U.S.A. and occupied by siblings who draw an imaginary line of death down the middle of the back seat may not be soothing. But it is, in an odd way, actually fun, say many Washingtonians.

Presidential Press Secretary Jim Brady, his wife and young son Scott usually "go to the beach, but this year we're all going to New Orleans," said Sarah Brady. "Jim is going to give a speech to a head injury unit in New Orleans. Afterwards, we're going to rent a car in the Mississippi area, then go to Jim's mother's in Centralia, Illinois. We're leaving the last week in August."

Nevertheless, they aren't really getting away from it all. "Out there," she said, "it will be just as hot as it is here."

Others planning family trips in late August: Sen. Albert Gore (D-Tenn.), who will vacation with his wife Tipper and four children at an undisclosed Tennessee locale; Rep. Richard Gephardt (D-Mo.), who will frolic with his family in Duck, N.C.; Vice President George Bush, who will relax with wife Barbara and assorted family members at his summer place in Kennebunkport, Maine.

There is no place to go, and so we travel. And what for? Just to imagine we could go somewhere else. -- Edward Dahlberg

Karen Akers' voice dropped an octave and began to purr when describing her August trip to Maui, Hawaii. "My plans, oh God, I dream of them," she said. "I've been on the road for weeks."

The singer-actress, her husband and her children left Tuesday for two weeks. They'll be back in town sometime around the 20th, and not a day too soon. Akers remembers, not too fondly, what it has been like spending the last couple of Augusts in Washington. "It's pretty awful," she said. "It drains your body of all energy. But we were very fortunate. We belonged to Mount Vernon College, and I took the boys over there to the pool. You manage."

Others plan to recline by the shore as well. Plato Cacheris, Fawn Hall's lawyer, will soon depart for Crete with his wife Ethel. "I go every year to Greece," he said. "This year I'll be resting and breaking dishes."

Though Cacheris' plans sound glamorous, his itinerary was topped by chef Jean Louis Palladin, part owner of the Watergate-based restaurant named after him. He's spending the entire month in France "looking for new recipes and enjoying life," a spokesman said.

The ant is knowing and wise, but he doesn't know enough to take a vacation. -- Clarence Day

In Washington there are, of course, an overwhelming number of workaholics who would rather seethe than sun. ABC News White House correspondent Sam Donaldson, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), National Gallery Director J. Carter Brown and Supreme Court Associate Justice Sandra Day O'Connor are among those working the month away. And then there are the 1988 presidential candidates, who seem to be able to pump hands even while sleeping.

Sen. Robert Dole (R-Kan.) will hit 30 states this month on the campaign trail. "His main emphasis will be the southern primary states," said a spokesman. "Everyone else may be heading to the beach, but he's going out there and getting on a plane. He'll be relaxing this month with his suitcase."

"Where won't he be?" is the big question regarding the travel of Rep. Jack Kemp (R-N.Y.), according to a spokesman. He'll be seen this month at the Merrimack County Picnic in New Hampshire; in Council Bluffs, Atlantic, Harlan, Oskaloosa, Ottumwa and Cedar Rapids, Iowa; in Chicago; and throughout "all of Texas."

Gore will also see America this month. Where will he be campaigning? "You name it," said a spokesman. "Little Rock, Mobile, Austin, Cedar Rapids, New York, San Francisco -- should I go on?"

There's nothing under heaven so blue, that's fairly worth the traveling to. -- R.L. Stevenson

Staying at home to relax and get things done is a another popular August activity. Book and movie deals beckon. So does misery.

"It's awful here and I have to stay. I'm miserable," said playwright and actor T.J. Edwards. "I'm renovating my house. Tempers are flying. I'm stuck. Every year, I tell myself I have to get out of this city in August, but I never do it."

Former presidential communications adviser Patrick Buchanan and his wife Shelley don't mind the heat. "It doesn't bother me," she said. "We're here working away. Pat's working on a book. The heat? I'm glad to have it."

Edward Nygren, director of the Corcoran Gallery, has a different view. "I just looove Washington in August," he said sarcastically. "The Wyeth show requires my presence here all the time, so I'm going to enjoy the comforts of the air-conditioned Corcoran and bask in the glories of art."

Tricia Erickson, who runs her own modeling and talent agency here and says she has to cast 600 people for an epic-scale TV movie this month, had the same idea. "I don't have any time to leave," she said. "I'll be staying in my air-conditioned office, in my air-conditioned car and in my air-conditioned home."

Leave out thy home, O youth, and seek out alien shores. -- Petronius

Just because most of the good hotels and resorts and condos are already booked doesn't mean you have to sit at home and suffer. There is still time for an impromptu summer fling. Go ahead. Wing it. Let Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) be your guide.

"He still doesn't know his August plans," a spokesman said. "Try back in two weeks."