Not all tap water is created equal. It’s a sad but true fact. Residents of countries with water quality different from our own have adapted to the contents of their drinking water, but Americans traveling abroad in certain parts of the world would do well to carry along some method of water filtration and/or purification.
Believe it or not, I studied abroad in Mexico when I was in college. Since I was going to stay with a host family for about four months, I slowly waded (no pun intended) into drinking their tap water instead of always going for the bottled stuff. There was certainly some unpleasantness along the way, but my body eventually adjusted. However, not every traveler exploring abroad will have that amount of time to acclimate, so here’s what you need to know to stay safe and enjoy your trip.
Contaminants and Water-Borne Illnesses
If you travel to Central America, the Middle East, parts of Asia, or parts of Africa, your body will likely not be receptive to the drinking water. Water in these parts of the world may contain:
- bacteria, such as E. coli, salmonella, or cholera
- protozoa, like giardia or cryptosporidium
- viruses, such as hepatitis A, polio, and rotavirus
- chemical pollutants
Needless to say, all of these things can do a number on your gastrointestinal tract, with complaints ranging from diarrhea to bacterial infections. Drinking filtered and purified water is a must.
Bottled Water Is Your Friend
Seek out bottled water in sealed, tamper-proof containers whenever possible. And don’t forget to use this water for brushing your teeth, soaking eye contacts, and so on. Even small amounts of contaminated water can harm your system. Avoid drinks served with ice cubes as the cubes can carry pollutants and pathogens.
Filters and Tablets and Ultraviolet Light
Now that you know what could be in the water and that your best bet is bottled water, it’s time to talk purification. Suppose you’re traveling somewhere that doesn’t have a reliable resource for bottled water. You have a few options: you can boil water, filter it, use a purification tablet, or use a SteriPEN. REI, the outdoor outfitter, outlines many purification options. Filters come in a variety of types designed to weed out pathogens, so choose what will suit your needs best. Usually, filtering done in tandem with boiling or the use of a purification tablet will cover all of your bases. The SteriPEN is ideal for those who travel abroad often and to places unlikely to have water suited to their systems; it kills bacteria, viruses, and protozoa with ultraviolet light.
Remember that if you’re staying in a reputable hotel in a major city, their tap water is likely to be clean enough for you to drink. If it isn’t, they’ll likely provide a kettle for boiling the tap water for drinking. However, if you’re traveling in the wilderness or staying in small city or town, find some bottled water and grab your filter.