You don’t have to scale a mountain to encounter the effects of altitude. In fact, plenty of bucket-list travel destinations, including Bogota, Machu Picchu, and La Paz, are located well above sea level where the air is thin and catching your breath can be a struggle. The effects of being at a high altitude can range from shortness of breath to dizziness, and worse in more extreme circumstances. That said, a little advance knowledge on how to stay fit and safe when vacationing above 8,000 feet is essential. Here are seven tips for visiting a high-altitude destination.
1. Research your destination.
If you’re trekking in Tibet or hiking in Nepal, you likely won’t need a reminder to research the physical effects that high altitude can have on your body. However, although urban destinations like Bogota and La Paz might not present you with the dramatic ascents and descents that climbing alpine trails will, you should still read up on the effects you might encounter when flying into a city that sits over 8,000 feet.
2. Get fit in advance.
Although being super-fit won’t prevent altitude sickness altogether, it helps to prepare your body in advance of any trip to a high-altitude destination. Yes, even athletes can be impacted by high altitude, but it’s smart to travel healthy with at least some aerobic capability under your belt.
3. Stay hydrated.
High altitudes cause dehydration, which can lead to acute sickness. So, in the week before your trip, begin to consume more water every day and keep it going once you arrive. In fact, drinking more than four liters a day isn’t excessive.
4. Watch your alcohol intake.
While we’re not saying you can’t enjoy a drink here and there, alcohol dehydrates the body, so it’s important to be careful of your intake when at a high altitude. When you arrive at your destination, it can take two or three days to acclimatize. That said, try and hold off on sampling the local tipple until then. It’s also a good idea to avoid caffeine, meaning you should plan on skipping your daily cup of coffee, too.
5. Keep eating.
You might have to forego the alcohol, but at least you can eat more. At high altitudes, not only will your body burn more calories, but you’ll need the extra energy that comes with snacking on complex carbs and other slow-burning energy foods to keep you going.
6. Take it easy.
During the first three days of your trip, make sure to take things slow, as your body needs time to acclimatize to the new altitude. Even short strolls can leave you out of breath, so wait a few days before attempting that hike along the Inca trail.
7. Visit your doctor beforehand.
Medications that prevent altitude sickness can be prescribed from your doctor. Acetazolamide (or Diamox) is the main drug used for treating the effects of high altitude in advance, but paracetamol and ibuprofen can also be helpful for tempering headaches that might arise. If conventional medicine isn’t your thing, you can try alternative remedies like ginger tea for nausea, lavender oil for calming anxiety, and, if you can find them, coca leaves, which are chewed or consumed in tea to soothe headaches and breathlessness.
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