Getting drinking water while traveling can be a daunting task, especially in places where tap water is unsafe or unavailable. But instead of buying bottled water, exacerbating the world’s plastic pollution problem, there are a few safe water drinking strategies you can use to help you wherever you are.
Take a water filter bottle with you
Travelers looking for a one-stop-shop approach should consider using a portable water filtration and purifying bottle with a combination filter and receptacle that makes it easy to purify, carry and drink water on the go.
The LifeStraw brand uses a hollow fiber membrane and an activated charcoal capsule to remove bacteria, parasites and microplastics, as well as eliminate odor and taste. And the GRAYL brand takes another step towards safe water consumption by building virus protection into its filters.
Not all filter bottles are designed in the same way: some can be drunk by suction, others by pressure; some provide protection against various pathogens, while others do not. Filter life spans vary widely, and these filters are not available everywhere, so it’s worth considering purchasing them in advance. Do not forget to carefully read the description of the purchased product and instructions!
Destruction of dangerous DNA
It’s likely that you’ve already used ultraviolet purified water, as bottled water companies and municipal wastewater treatment plants often use this method. With lightweight innovative products like Steripen and Larq Bottle, travelers can use similar technology on the go.
At a certain intensity, ultraviolet light destroys the DNA of viruses, protozoa and bacteria. At the touch of a button, the Steripen purifier pierces the water with ultraviolet rays that destroy over 99% of bacteria and viruses in a few minutes.
Although ultraviolet light can purify water of unwanted elements, it does not filter sediment, heavy metals and other particles, so it is better to use ultraviolet devices in combination with a filter.
Personal compact portable filter
This is a good option if you prefer a filtration system that is compact enough to take with you and versatile enough to customize to suit your needs.
The removable filter from brands like LifeStraw Flex and Sawyer Mini can be used as a drinking straw directly from the water source or combined with a hydration bag. Both systems use a hollow fiber membrane, but the Flex also has an integrated activated carbon capsule to trap chemicals and heavy metals. However, the Flex filter needs to be replaced after cleaning approximately 25 gallons of water – much sooner than the Sawyer, which has a 100 gallon life.
Purification by electrification
Adventurers looking for lightness and convenience may also consider using an electrolytic water treatment device. Such a device will not take up much space, but will serve you well. This portable gadget electrocutes a saline solution – easily prepared anywhere from salt and water – to create a disinfectant that you can add to water (up to 20 liters at a time) to kill almost all pathogens.
Unlike ultraviolet water purification technology, this type of sanitizing device can handle cloudy water. The device is built to last and is rechargeable – for example, the Potable Aqua PURE can purify around 60 liters of water before it needs to change some elements, and its battery can be charged via USB. If you are concerned about taste or chemical allergies, be aware that this disinfectant leaves elements of chlorine in the water.
Using chlorine tablets to purify water can be unsafe, and the use of iodine tablets has been linked to several health problems. In addition, both of them give the water an unpleasant smell and taste. One alternative is sodium dichloroisocyanurate (NaDCC): it’s affordable, easy to use, and purifies water with the same results as chlorine, but with fewer risks.
NaDCC cleansing tablets (such as the Aquatabs brand) can be used with clear water to release hypochlorous acid, which reduces most pathogens and makes the water drinkable in about 30 minutes. Be aware that this method does not remove particles and contaminants such as pesticides. If you are handling cloudy water, it is best to filter it before dissolving the tablets in it. Don’t forget to read the instructions!
Share and lead by example
Filtered water can be available for free if you know where to look. Apps like RefillMyBottle and Tap can tell you the location of water refill stations that you can use while on the go.
Using water filtration and purification devices will help you travel an unlimited amount of time without resorting to the use of plastic bottles.
And sometimes it’s enough to ask people or institutions you meet to share water on the way. The more travelers ask restaurants and hotels to refill their reusable bottles with fresh water, the less often they are denied – and the less single-use plastic is used.