Water is essential for life, so it’s reasonable that water safety is a big concern for people when traveling abroad. No one wants to get sick, and there are quite a few minor and not-so-minor ailments you can get from drinking unsafe water. So how do you deal with this when you travel? Where can you drink the water?
You can drink the water in…
For the most part, you can drink the tap water in the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Western Europe, Japan, South Korea, Singapore, and Hong Kong. (This is not an all-encompassing list; it’s possible I’ve missed a few.) The water might taste different from one place to the next because certain countries add things to the water, and certain countries filter out different minerals. But the tap water is still safe.
There are exceptions
There are exceptions to almost every rule out there, and this is no different. For example, some of the Greek islands don’t have fresh water sources, so the water coming out of the tap is not safe for drinking. Situations like this vary so it’s worth doing some research before your trip.
How do you know where it is safe to drink the water?
I like to check with the CDC. Look where it says “for travelers” and select the country you’re going to from the drop-down menu. Once you’re on the country page, expand the “stay healthy and safe” section, and then expand the “eat and drink safely” section. This will you if the country you’re visiting has food and water safety standards similar to the US.
Tips for traveling where it’s not safe to drink the water
Water safety goes beyond simply not drinking the tap water. Here are some tips to help keep yourself healthy:
- Use bottled water to brush your teeth
- Don’t get ice in your drinks unless you know it was made from bottled or purified water
- Keep your mouth closed while showering so you don’t accidentally drink the water
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Water purification products
If you’re going to be camping, traveling to more rural areas, or you don’t want to be constantly buying bottled water in places where it’s not safe to drink the water, there are several products that will help you purify your water. Boiling your water works too, but sometimes even that isn’t an option.
(Note: I have not tested these myself. I’m not the roughing it type, so I haven’t found myself in a situation where I needed to purify my own water. But I’d give any one of these a try if I was going somewhere remote where I couldn’t buy bottled water.)
- LifeStraw Personal Water Filter: This is a light-weight straw that lets you drink water from anywhere, and it filters out nearly all waterborne bacteria and waterborne protozoan parasites (but not waterborne viruses). The reviews are great, it lasts 3-5 years and just stops working when it hits its shelf life so you don’t have to worry about using it for too long.
- SteriPen Traveler: This uses UV to purify your water from bacteria, parasites and viruses. Again, it has great reviews, but you can only use it on clear water, so you would still have to filter murky water in some way. (Reviewers have suggested coffee filters or even a t-shirt.) The SteriPen Water Purification System Pack includes a filtering bottle. SteriPen requires two AA lithium batteries.
- Potable Aqua Water Treatment Tablets: These are iodine tablets that will purify your water. They are only meant for short term or emergency use though, not for an extended period of time. So these are probably more ideal as a back-up. Even though the claim to have a neutral taste, some reviewers say the water tasted bitter. But at least they were safe from bacteria.
It’s important to note that none of these can claim 100% effectiveness, though they do come really close. Read all instructions before using.
Most of all, try not to worry. You want to be cautious when traveling to countries with lower food and water safety standards, but don’t let it make you paranoid. Buy bottled water, and you should be fine from waterborne illnesses. While traveling to places like Western Europe, remember that it is perfectly safe to drink the water coming out of the tap. When in doubt, check the CDC website and ask at your hotel.
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