Night was falling and my legs were aching as we approached camp. The first day of the trek was nearing its end and I was looking forward to taking a wash in the river, jumping onto my bunk and opening a beer.
However, as we approached camp my stomach began to churn and make ungodly angry gurgling sounds. I dropped my backpack and sped awkwardly ahead trying to make the last 20 or so meters before it was too late.
I overtook my bemused companions and headed straight to the wooden, make-shift toilet cubicle (a shed built around a hole in the ground). I kicked the wooden door behind me just in time…the relief was almost tangible.
I knew what the cause was. Earlier that morning, before leaving town I had made the mistake of buying a citrusy, sugary, icy juice from a street stall which was, of course, made with the untreated town tap water. During the night my sleep was disturbed by dashes to the bathroom but by the morning I was fine and ready to continue with the rest of the trek. I had gotten lucky this time.
Water-borne infections and parasites are but one of the numerous health and safety concerns we need to be mindful of whilst traveling. Those of us from The West are very fortunate to have safe drinking water at home but this is not the case in much of the world.
This lack of experience with bad water can make travelers careless and vulnerable to Delhi Belly or even Cholera.
Safety Tips to Ensure Your Water is Safe to Drink
There are some simple precautions you can take to ensure your water is safe;
- Firstly, be sure to familiarize yourself with the international “drops” rating system which rates water cleanliness from 1- 5. If the water in a given region is below the recommended threshold then avoid it.
- Also, bear in mind that it’s not only drinking water you need to be mindful of and foods such as salad can be a risk as they may have been washed in the local tap water and may, therefore be contaminated. The best practice here is to check with the establishment and press the importance of them answering accurately and honestly.
- For self-purification, a number of methods are available. Boiling water is the classic one but it’s not always practical and purification pills can be expensive, cumbersome and leave a bad taste.
Nowadays though there are a whole range of clever and helpful technical innovations on the market to help make your road life easier and your travels safer and happier.
Recommended Water Purification Systems
Lifestraw makes contaminated water safe to drink thanks to a built-in purification filter. Put simply, the filter acts instantly meaning you can fill up your bottle and drink the water immediately.
- Filters up to 1,000 liters (264 gallons) of water
- Removes 99.9999% of waterborne bacteria
- Removes 99.9% of waterborne protozoan parasites
- Ultralight: weighs only 2oz
- Does NOT use iodine or iodinated resin (so it doesn’t taste terrible)
There are a whole number of Lifestraw models available although we have two favorites;
First up there is the classic Lifestraw which is ideal for hiking, backpacking, and camping. The straw-style filter design lets you turn up to 1,000 liters of contaminated water into safe drinking water. which is ideal for camping, trekking and emergencies as it’s shape and the design (it’s shaped like a straw) means it can be stuck into a stream, pond or puddle from where you can suck the water straight up into your mouth.
LifeStraw Go, uses 2-stage filtration system incorporation carbon capsule in addition to the existing award-winning technology, into a refillable water bottle design so you can access and carry safe drinking water with you on the go. Aside from ensuring your health and well being, this model will also encourage you to stop using plastic water bottles so it’s better for the environment!
A word to the wise here, whilst in Nepal this year I saw a number of trekking stores selling Lifestraws alongside other trekking gear all of which was counterfeit. If you buy one from these kinds of stores you can’t guarantee whether it’s the genuine product but it most probably isn’t. This may mean the filter doesn’t work as well or as long as it should if it even works at all. With a product of this nature, our advice is not to cut costs and to buy it only from reputable dealerships.
Did you know that cities around the world have been using Ultraviolet to kill bacteria and make water safe for over 100 years?! Oh, you did? But did you know that in 2001 SteriPEN put the power of UV light into a handheld device which no traveler should be without?
SteriPEN is a handheld device (kind of like a pen…) which you can dip into a contaminated water to blast it with UV. The water is then safe to drink within seconds. If the technology is too mind blowing for you then simply of SteriPEN as a USB powered magic wand which turns dirty water into clean water. Just remember that this magic wand will need a regular charge from your USB supply.
Most models are reusable for up to 8,000 liters which is over 7 years of safe drinking water. Of course, as with the Lifestraw, it also helps to reduce plastic pollution by keeping thousands of plastic water bottles out of the waste cycle.
Our health is the greatest thing any of us have and should never be taken for granted. That said, we owe it ourselves to use our good health to make the very most of our time here on earth by going out and exploring it as much as possible! Now, thanks to the resources and equipment available to us, there really has never been a better and safer time to do just this.