Tips for Traveling to High Altitudes3 min read
We don’t have to tell you that there are a multitude of risks that come along with climbing a 14,000-foot mountain. For one, you’re suspended thousands of feet above the ground. But did you also know that being at such a high altitude can impact your physical health as well, particularly if you’re from an area that’s close to sea level?
To explain why, here’s a quick drop of earth science knowledge: The higher up above sea level you go, the thinner the air gets. And if you go too high too quickly, your body won’t be able to get the oxygen it needs, which can lead to altitude illness and possibly death—two things every traveler hopes to avoid.
Some people from lower altitudes might even begin experiencing mild symptoms such as dizziness, headaches, and nausea at only 6,500 feet. To get an idea of what that means, ski mountains usually range from 4,000 feet to 10,000 feet, while mountain climbers may scale rock faces that go up to 15,000 feet.
But it’s not just mountain climbers and skiers who need to be concerned about high altitudes— you can end up at a much higher elevation without even realizing it, such as if you’re traveling to certain areas in Peru or Tibet.
So how can you prevent altitude illness? Follow these tips:
- Learn about your destination: Many people travel to high altitude destinations and don’t even know it. If you’re not sure what the elevation of your destination is, you can try using a site such as this one to check.
- Acclimate slowly: It may take up to three days for your body to adjust to an elevation higher than what it’s used to. One way to avoid illness is to stay at a place that’s considered to be an intermediate altitude (a place that’s a higher altitude than your home, but not as high as your destination) for a day or two prior to your final destination.
- Watch what you eat and drink: Eating plenty of complex carbohydrates will be important since they allow you to use oxygen more efficiently and maintain your energy. Additionally, avoid caffeine and alcohol since they can dehydrate you and deprive you of oxygen.
- Ascend Gradually: If possible, try not to go directly from a low altitude (anything under 9,000 feet) to a high one in a single day. If mountain climbing, this may require you to spend a couple of extra nights as you ascend the summit.
- Drink more water. The air is drier the higher up you go, so you’ll need even more water than usual to stay well hydrated.
- Visit your doctor: If you’re concerned about the destination you’re traveling to, visit your doctor to discuss your risk factors. He may recommend packing ibuprofen or ginger-tea to help reduce nausea. Or, he may recommend a drug to prevent and treat altitude sickness.
- Take it Easy. Limit yourself to only mild exercise during the first 48 hours of arrival to prevent headaches and other symptoms of altitude illness. Even simple activities such as walking might feel more difficult at first, so be sure to take breaks and rest when you need to.
Photo from Climbing High.