What to Expect When Moving to a Higher Elevation

Adjusting to life at a higher altitude

Moving to a place with a higher elevation comes with lots of cool advantages. With mountains nearby, you’ll breathe fresher, crisper air. There’s also beautiful scenery to enjoy and access to more outdoor recreational opportunities. But, because the air is thinner and the atmospheric pressure decreases, your body definitely needs time to adjust. You also may need to change your workout routine, prepare food differently and take extra precautions with pets and vehicles. 

Read on to learn what life is like at higher elevation and how to prepare for it.

View of Colorado mountains, seen after moving to a higher elevation.


Things you should know about living at a higher elevation

Here are some of the most common things to prepare for:

Be aware of altitude sickness

The term “altitude sickness” is sometimes associated with activities like hiking or climbing, but you don’t have to be participating in an activity to experience it. Just like it sounds, altitude sickness is a disorder caused by quickly going to a higher altitude with lower oxygen levels. The body doesn’t have time to adapt to the lower air pressure and oxygen level in the air.

Altitude sickness typically develops at elevations higher than 8,000 feet, but those moving from sea level may notice the atmosphere change at lower altitudes. Keep this in mind if you’re moving to places like Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, or somewhere else with a similar elevation.

You may experience:

  • Fatigue
  • Nausea
  • Weakness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Loss of energy
  • Drowsiness
  • Lack of appetite
  • Dehydration
  • Headaches

When you arrive, allow a few days (or even weeks) to adjust, especially when unpacking or working out. Get more rest to help your body acclimate faster. Avoid or limit alcohol and salt intake, and drink lots of water, especially if you’re active or spending significant time outside.

The side effects associated with altitude sickness are common and range in severity — learn more about it here, and contact your physician with any questions or concerns.

Expectant mothers should be cautious

If you are pregnant and traveling to a higher elevation, remember that your body has to work harder than usual to support you and your growing baby. Make sure you’re aware of the higher elevation’s impact on your health and consult your physician ahead of time to discuss. Learn more about altitude and pregnancy.

Respect the power of the sun

The sun is much more potent at higher elevations than in other places. This means you’re more prone to ultraviolet (UV) radiation exposure and can easily sunburn just walking around outdoors for an hour or two.

According to the skin specialists at Vanguard, every thousand feet of elevation comes with a 6 to 10 percent increase in UV exposure. For those making moves with significant elevation changes, that can be a big deal. For example, going from an elevation of 1,000 feet to 5,000 feet means 30% more UV exposure. So be sure to apply plenty of sunscreen with the appropriate SPF (sun protection factor), use a moisturizing lip balm that contains SPF, and wear sun-protective clothing.

Protect your pets

While taking steps to acclimate yourself to the altitude, you may need to do the same for your furry friends. While experts say it’s not common, some animals can also be sensitive to the effects of high elevation. If your pet is elderly, has pre-existing health issues or if they’re a breed with the potential for breathing issues (i.e. boxers, bulldogs and pugs), check with your vet before traveling.

Expect a temperature difference

While average mountain temperatures aren’t particularly low, your body will feel much colder than it usually does at a lower altitude. That’s because there’s less oxygen in your blood, making it more difficult to stay warm. While that doesn’t mean it’s cold all the time (it’s not, we promise!), it may be a good idea to dress in layers more often.

Prepare for a change in appetite

Your body burns more calories at a higher elevation, so you may find yourself craving more carbohydrates, starches and sugar. Instead of going overboard with pizza, fries or junk food, consider fueling up with healthier foods like whole grains, fruits, whole wheat bread, vegetables and simple starches.

Cooking at high altitude

Foods bake and cook differently at a higher elevation than if prepared at sea level. When cooking at your new home, be mindful of the following:

  • The air pressure is lower, so foods take longer to bake
  • Temperatures and baking times may need increasing
  • Liquids evaporate faster
  • Gases expand more, so dough will rise faster

Experiment and find out what works best!

Driving at high altitude

When driving at a higher elevation, use caution because:

  • The thin air can impact a car’s engine and diminish acceleration and climbing power
  • There is potential for the engine the overheat
  • Tire pressure may fluctuate

Also note that vehicles can experience vapor lock in hot weather. When this happens, gasoline simmers or boils and turn into a vapor, which could cause the engine to lock up or stop running. If this happens, you can normally turn the car off and let it cool.

If you’re considering renting a moving truck and driving it yourself, prepare to spend more on gas with a drive to a higher elevation. The average rental truck gets 10-12 miles per gallon when empty. Expect fuel efficiency to decrease when driving a loaded truck through mountainous areas.

A quick recap of living at high altitude

Now that you know what to expect when moving to a higher altitude, here’s a quick recap of our top acclimation tips:

  • Be aware of altitude sickness
  • Drink plenty of water
  • Avoid or limit alcohol and caffeine intake for the first few days
  • Pace yourself when unpacking and exercising
  • Eat a simple-starch, high-carbohydrate diet
  • Wear plenty of sunscreen
  • Be mindful of the elevation change when cooking
  • Check vehicles frequently to keep them running smoothly

Rise to the challenge of living at a higher elevation

We hope these tips help you and your family acclimate and enjoy life at your new home!

Have you decided how to get there? When it’s time to make the trek to higher ground, consider U-Pack®. With our vast network of service centers, we can move you just about anywhere in the U.S. in less than a week — and we’ll handle the driving! Get a free online quote or call 844-362-5303844-594-3077 to learn more.

If you have questions about moving to a higher elevation or want to share tips we didn’t mention, leave us a comment below.