The golden rule of drinking water abroad is “when in doubt – don’t.” Don’t drink any tap water that you have not specifically confirmed is safe for human consumption. Pollution and waterborne diseases mean that unless tap water has been purified, it could lead to discomfort at the very least.
The good news is that even if the tap water is non-potable (unsafe to drink), you have a variety of options while traveling abroad including boiling your water, bringing a water purification system, and switching to bottled water for the duration.
Think about your plans for drinking water abroad before you travel because to get the recommended eight glasses per day, you’ll need to be ready from the start!
The United Kingdom is very lucky to have clean, safe water on demand. Many of the countries you visit during your gap year may not be so lucky. High-risk areas for non-potable or unsafe tap water include India, Africa, Central and South America, Russia and its former satellite nations and Asia and Southeast Asia.
Non-potable water is water that has not been treated to remove pollution, waterborne diseases, infectious agents, excess minerals and more. Without this treatment, no authority can approve it as safe to drink.
Remember, when in doubt, don’t drink the water. Also, don’t; use tap water for making ice, don’t drink anything served with ice cubes, don’t mix powdered drinks or medicine with tap water, don’t eat raw fruit or vegetables that may have been rinsed with tap water and finally use bottled water to brush your teeth with.
Boiling water serves to purify water because it kills off any disease-causing bacteria, viruses or parasites.
Before boiling, make sure there is no visible dirt or foreign objects in your water and then bring it to a rolling boil for at least five minutes. Using a pot or kettle are the most efficient options for boiling.
Remember that the container in which you will be storing the boiled water should be sterilised as well.
Water Purification Systems
Most commercial water purification systems are meant to be installed directly into a tank of water or a tap, but there are options for traveling.
- The SteriPen can purify 16 oz of water in less than a minute.
- The Miox Travel Water Purifier can purify up to four liters of water at a time.
- The Katadyn Water Bottle can purify from any fresh water source in the world.
- Micropur Purification Tablets require only 30 minutes to neutralise cryptosporidium, bacteria, and viruses.
- Potable Aqua tablets have been used by militaries around the world for over 50 years.
- In a pinch, iodine will purify water though it will also leave a residual taste that most find unpleasant.
Perhaps the easiest way to identify drinking water abroad is to simply opt for bottled water, yet this option also requires careful selection. Before purchasing bottled water try and find a labeled brand you recognise and make sure that the bottle you purchase is sealed, a good idea is to select fizzy water to be sure that it has not simply come from a tap. If you can not find any bottled water to meet your standards, natural fruit juice is a great alternative.
Finding safe drinking water abroad can be tricky. If you are opting for bottled water, consider purchasing multiple bottles at once to ensure that you have enough when needed. If you are hoping to use a water purification system, keep it in your daypack at all times. If you plan to boil water, check that you have all of the supplies you will need. Regardless of the method you choose, strive to drink at least 8 glasses of water per day to stay hydrated, and even more, if you are particularly active or in a hot climate.
Prepare a Medical Kit – Just In Case
A medical kit is a traveller’s best friend. Even if you are in tip top shape before you leave home, you never know what wrong turn will have you reaching for your kit as you travel. Don’t forget to include:
- Medical and immunisation certificates
- Prescription medicine and glasses or contact lenses
- Insurance papers and claims forms, including contact numbers
- Hand sanitizer and wipes
- Pain relievers
- Wound and blister ointments
- Cough medicine
- Anti-diarrhoeal medicine
- Plasters and gauze
- Motion-sickness medication
- Digital thermometer
- Toilet paper
If You Do Fall Ill
Sometimes, even if you follow every instruction to the letter, an unlucky traveler will still fall ill. If you fall ill while abroad, remember to record your symptoms and when they first started, it’s also a good idea to check with other travelers about their health. If you know if anyone else is ill you can try and determine what it is, ask yourself, could it be food poisoning? Or is a virus being passed around?
It is important that you remember to take your temperature at regular intervals and ask to be taken to/visited by an English speaking nurse or doctor. You will need to notify your supervisor or group leader and if you are in any doubt about your health call emergency services.
In the Event of Illness
If, even after your careful planning and preventative measures, you are still taken ill while abroad, do not panic. Instead:
- Record your symptoms and when they first started.
- Check with other travelers about their health. (Could it be food poisoning? Is a virus being passed around?)
- Take your temperature at regular intervals.
- Break into your medical kit.
- Notify your family and friends.
- Ask to be taken to/visited by an English speaking nurse or doctor.
- If in doubt, call emergency services.
An illness or disease is one souvenir from your holiday that you will want to avoid. With the proper preparations and preventative measures, this may be possible. However, illnesses and diseases may strike at any time so make sure you have planned for this eventually and never be afraid to ask for help at the local hospital or clinic. Happy Holidays 🙂
While it doesn’t quite rank alongside buying a bikini or a new pair of board shorts, investigating the jabs and immunisations you will need for your travels is every bit as important.
Just imagine the fun you’ll miss if you are inside with the chills, or even worse, transported to the hospital! Before you begin your travels, set aside time to visit your GP or local travel clinic and discuss the medical preparations you will need to stay healthy during the adventure of a lifetime.
Travelling can put you in close contact with all sorts of disgusting diseases. Discuss your travel plans with your GP, and see what jabs or medication you might need. You might want to ask your GP about:
Cholera – while a travel certificate is no longer needed in most countries, it is smart to inquire about the oral vaccine.
Diphtheria – while you probably had an immunisation against diphtheria during childhood, investigate if you need a booster.
Hepatitis A – spread via food, water, and feces, it is important to maintain scrupulous sanitary standards to head off a “hep A” infection. Vaccination is available.
Hepatitis B – this infection of the liver is caught when exposed to contaminated blood. Immunisation is available, but may not be offered if your GP feels that you will not likely be in contact with a source.
Japanese encephalitis – there is a vaccine against this fairly rare disease, but it will probably only be discussed with travelers hoping to visit rural Japanese villages during the monsoon season.
Malaria – transmitted via mosquito bite, malaria is a nightmare for all travelers. Antimalarial drugs will differ according to the region you will be visiting. Prescribed as a course of tablets, this treatment should be started two weeks before traveling, during travel, and up to six weeks after returning home.
Meningitis – while a vaccine may fight against some strains, there is not a vaccine available for every identified variation.
Polio – while it is likely you received a jab as a child, investigate if you would benefit from a booster.
Typhoid – caught from contaminated food, drink or water, this disease is crippling and a vaccination is recommended to most travelers. Boosters may be required every few years.
Yellow Fever – also transmitted via mosquito bite, yellow fever can turn a dream trip into a nightmare. An international certificate is required to prove vaccination in many parts of the world, and certification lasts for ten years.
Remember always buy travel insurance you never know!
Here are a few companies we use on the go