Safe Water Abroad

“Water, water everywhere … Nor any drop to drink.” This is quote from Samuel Taylor Coleridge about a ship caught in the doldrums, surrounded by saltwater but none to drink. Water can be plentiful but not necessarily safe to drink. When traveling internationally or even hiking in the great outdoors, you need water but safe water. Here are some things to consider:

Bottled water is usually available for purchase in most places but can be quite expensive. Check the seal on the bottle to make sure you didn’t buy a tap-water-refill.

You need to be cautious when locals tell you a water-well or facet is good water because it may be safe for them, but not for you. Research your area of travel beforehand to determine the safety of the tap water. Google: “Is the tap water safe in _____________ .”

Brushing your teeth is a no-brainer at home but internationally use your brain. If water is not safe to drink, it is not safe to use in brushing your teeth. Many people have gotten sick from brushing their teeth with bad water. I have a habit of putting a little dab of toothpaste on my toothbrush, so I don’t have to rinse as much. Rinse your toothbrush with your clean water.

By the way, if you are in a location with unsafe water, keep your mouth shut when you shower.

What about ice? Ice made from bad water will make you sick. I have had more trouble with locals about the ice than anything. Sometimes the ice company has filtered water but not always.

Cooked food, coffee, and hot tea made with unfiltered water should be fine since it is boiled. Water should be brought to a full boil for one minute for it to be safe and a full boil for three minutes for high altitudes. Raw unpeeled fruit and vegetables washed with contaminated water can make you sick; an additional rinse with clean water will help.

Carry a least one water bottle. You can use a reusable stainless steel bottle, BPA-free plastic bottle, or even a couple of empty Dasani/Aquafina type bottles. You may stay at a place that has filtered water so you could refill your bottles rather than buying bottled water.

Hint: You cannot carry a filled water bottle through a TSA security checkpoint, but you can carry an empty bottle. After you go through security you can refill your bottle and save the expense of buying expensive airport bottled water.

Water filter products are a great item to have. Technology for water filtration is great. Some that I am more familiar with are the LifeStraw filters, LifeStraw Go Water Bottles, GRAYL Geopress Water Purifer, Sawyer Mini Water Filtration System (screws on a Dasani/Aquafina bottle), and the Berkey Sport Filtered Water Bottle. The ones I have used are the Sawyer filter and the Berkey Bottle.

I never travel internationally without a Sawyer filter in my carry-on because they are so small (about 5 inches long) yet effective. The Sawyer comes with an optional straw so you can drink water from any receptacle or stream but one caution, the threads may not fit an international water bottle—I carry a bottle from a US brand.

When it comes to water filters, you do not need be a water specialist, but you need to know a little technical information to help protect yourself. There are water filters and there are water filters! You need one that filters out harmful pathogens. The one that protects you from harmful pathogens should have 0.1-micron filter membranes that filter out most pathogens to the point of 99.99999%. Note: There are many water filters available that filter out lead and chlorine but not pathogens, be sure it filters out 99.99999% of pathogens such as E.coli, Giardia, Vibrio cholera, and Salmonella.

Dirty dishes can make you sick. I became sick with a stomach bug from a small amount of water left in a plate. The plate was put in front of me and I saw the half-teaspoon of water—ugh oh! It was in Haiti, and they had washed the plates then stacked them right-side up together. The trapped water and the hot climate made a great incubator for the bad microbes to grow. I threw caution to the wind and the next day it hit me!

Disclaimer: I am not a health inspector or a microbiologist just a traveler. I think a dish is safer if it has been air-dried. So, the plate that made me sick, if it had been washed, dried, and turned upside-down, and further air-dried; it may have been safe.

If you find yourself in a similar situation, wipe the plate with an antibacterial hand wipe or rinse with clean water. I always carry some of the wipes that are packaged in the small individual size. They are great to have and handy to carry. You can put a few in your pocket/bag and they can be used for utensil, hand, and wound cleaning; even toilet use.

You need to keep hydrated but stay safe out there—don’t drink the contaminated water.

Enjoy the Journey,
Harry L. Whitt