Are you planning a trip to the mountains in the near future? If you have never been to high elevations before, you will definitely need this high elevations coping guide!
We moved to Colorado from NY in 2019, so we experienced quite a change in elevation! I am not going to lie- it was definitely tricky and taxing on our bodies at first!
The higher the elevation, the less oxygen in the air, so it is easy to see why breathing can become difficult. Now imagine bringing everything you own, and new furniture, up a flight of stairs into your new apartment!
At first, you might think, ‘Wow, I am so out of shape!’, but don’t be fooled- it is just your body getting used to the elevation!
When visiting a high elevation destination such as Colorado, it is tempting to want to get up into the mountains ASAP. I know you don’t have all the time in the world on your vacation to wait around for your body to adjust, so hopefully, these tips can help you acclimate faster!
Disclaimer: I am by no means a doctor, and these are just my thoughts from our experience, and things that helped us! Always talk with your doctor before changing any medical routine or medications, and if you have any questions or concerns.
Disclosure: Some of the links below are affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase.
There are a few different types of altitude sickness, some more serious than the other. For the sake of this article, we will discuss the most common (and least dangerous) symptoms of altitude sickness.
While these symptoms are not cause for extreme concern, be mindful of how you are feeling, and contact your doctor if you have any questions or health concerns!
Altitude sickness symptoms tend to set in within the first day or two after you arrive. You may exhibit some of the following symptoms:
- Shortness of breath even with simple activities like walking or going up the stairs
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
- Loss of appetite
- General loss of energy
- Feeling “out of it”
- Diarrhea and vomiting
Unfortunately, we felt most of these symptoms when we first got here. Think of it like feeling sick, without actually being sick. Knowing that it is just the altitude causing these symptoms was very helpful for us- and knowing it won’t last forever.
As always- talk with your doctor if you feel your symptoms are not improving with time, or if you have any concerns.
Dealing with altitude sickness symptoms
By no means am I a doctor, or have any medical experience whatsoever, so take my recommendation with a grain of salt. These are common treatments for altitude sickness symptoms that have been touted by medical experts, and have worked for us! Hopefully, some of these treatments will work for you so you can have a more enjoyable trip, without battling with your altitude sickness symptoms!
Take it slow
The best tip I can give you on this high elevations coping guide is to take it slow! You are on vacation after all, so remember to relax!
At first, you will most likely be feeling more tired than usual, maybe a little dizzy or just generally out of energy. Listen to your body and give yourself the rest you need and deserve! Lay on a hammock, lay in the grass at the local park, take a dip in the hot tub, or read a good book.
For your first couple of days in high elevation, plan some relaxing activities- meaning, don’t go climb a 14er or go skiing on the first day of your visit!
Consider taking a dip in the pool or a mountain hot spring. Maybe relax at a nearby cafe, take a leisurely walk at the park, go fishing, or have a picnic.
Your body needs this time to adjust, and giving yourself some leeway will only help your symptoms improve faster!
Plus, you will not want to go hiking or run a marathon right away- trust me!
Don't go hiking right away
To expand on the previous tip, don’t run to the mountains first thing- even though I know it is tempting!
Plan a more relaxing adventure for the first couple of days until your body adjusts a bit.
If you do decide, for lack of time, to go into the mountains early on in your trip- make sure you are prepared:
When hiking or participating in any other mountain activity, don’t try to “prove” yourself. You won’t be a big tough guy, trust me!
Give yourself plenty of breaks, and plan to spend about double the time it would regularly take you to complete the activity. Even if you feel like you are doing okay, take breaks anyway. You might not feel bad now, but your body still needs to breaks!
Bring plenty of water, snacks, and the appropriate gear. Don’t feel judged for taking a lot of rests- us locals all understand! No judgment, we all went through it too!
Plus, slowing down your time in the mountains will only give you more time to be more present on vacation! Take time to soak in all the beautiful sights, and enjoy the moment!
Drink more water
I cannot stress this one enough: Drink. More. Water! I mean, we all can take this advice, no matter where we are, right?!
At high elevations, you are more likely to become dehydrated. You might also get a headache, which is associated with the dehydration.
Carry a water bottle around with you, wherever you go. We recommend this collapsible water bottle, as it is easy to carry around with you, and folds up when not in use.
Aim to drink two times the amount of water you normally drink, or just as much as you can, reasonably, during the day. Having water with you all the time will remind you to keep drinking.
Even as your body adjusts to the elevation, you will still need to continue drinking more water. Even after living in high elevations for almost a year, I still find myself drinking more water than I had in NY. Maybe it has just become a habit, or maybe I am just more thirsty now. Who knows!
All points aside, drink your water, folks!
Be mindful of alcohol
Okay, guys, this is where it gets real. I will never tell a traveler not to drink alcohol, because, well, we all know that would just not happen!
However, as part of this high elevations coping guide, I must tell you to be careful.
In high elevations, alcohol hits you harder. Especially if you are not used to the elevation, think of one drink as 1.5-2 drinks, depending on your tolerance and size. After a while, your body will get used to it, but at first, it is a shock to the system!
High elevation areas like Colorado have amazing breweries on every street corner, so make sure you indulge! However, just be careful and don’t drive!
On a more positive note, you won’t have to spend as much money on alcohol now!
Mind your salt intake
Because it is so easy to become dehydrated in higher elevations, it is advised to watch your salt intake, for obvious reasons.
Try to avoid eating salty chips, fries, and popcorn, and opt for healthier snacks and meals like fresh fruits and vegetables (yea, we all know this already…). But, in high elevations, it will be even more important to follow these nutrition guidelines!
Plus, if your body is already feeling run down from the lack of oxygen (and just the general fatigue that comes with traveling), you should help your body by eating well. This will hopefully help keep your body healthy and feeling well for all your upcoming activities!
Here are some tips for staying healthy while traveling. I know it’s hard! You don’t need to completely cut out salt and unhealthy foods, but simply be mindful of your food choices.
Mind the sun
Another important tip on our high elevations coping guide is to be mindful of the sun. This is something I never thought about when moving to the higher elevations, and was definitely not prepared for.
The higher elevation, the stronger the sun feels. It is actually a strange feeling- even when the air is cool, the sun can still feel like it is burning your skin, and will burn you.
With this in mind, definitely plan to wear sunscreen every day when in high elevations. Even if you don’t normally burn easily, try to remember to wear it anyway. Wearing a hat can also help protect your head and face from the sun. In reality, we should all be doing this every day anyway, but it is extra important in high elevations!
Even in the winter months, wear your sunscreen. On the coldest days, the sun still can feel like it’s burning you through your jeans! It is nice as it warms you up during the winter, but just know you might get a sunburn!
Here are some tips for how to avoid getting sunburned!
If you are bringing your furry companion to the higher elevations, keep in mind they will need some support as well.
Basically, they will need many of the same things that humans need in high elevations. Make sure they always have a bowl of freshwater nearby. If you are going to the mountains, consider a portable pet water bowl. Offer your pet water more often than usual, as they can get dehydrated in the high elevations too.
Keep in mind your pet might get tired and fatigued just like you do. Don’t push them to go hiking or on a jog until they are adjusted to the elevation.
We have found our dog to get hot much quicker when outside in the sun (he has black fur, but back in NY he could withstand much higher heat). Don’t leave your pet outside too long in the hot sun.
Additionally, your pet might lose their appetite or vomit, just like humans. Keep them comfortable, cool, and encourage rest. As always, if you have any concerns about your pet’s behavior or health, call your vet right away.
Dress in layers
In high elevations, you never know what the weather is going to. It can be 80 degrees one day, and snowing the next! No matter what season it is, I always have an extra jacket or hoody with me or in the car.
In the winter months especially, make sure to bring clothing for all types of weather: even if it is not snowing in the plains, there could be feet of snow up in the mountains. Make sure you have the proper footwear as well.
Especially if you are going hiking, the weather will change throughout the day, and as you keep going up. Weather in the mountains is completely different than in the plains, so make sure you check the weather frequently!
In the spring and fall months, be prepared for the weather to flip on a dime, even in the plains. One minute it can be 80 and sunny, and within 10 minutes the temperature can drop 15 degrees and start raining. Embrace it!
Always wear clothing that is easy to layer as needed, have sunscreen, and maybe an umbrella! You just never know what’s going to happen.
Thank you for reading our high elevations coping guide. A good rule of thumb, if you are having trouble adjusting to the elevations, is to increase no more than 1000 feet per night. This will help your body gradually adjust, and minimize your symptoms.
This might not always be doable, but if you are able to space out your travels, it would be a good idea!
What are some things you have done to help adjust to higher elevations? What concerns or questions do you have? Leave a comment below- we would love to hear from you!