Drinking Tap Water Abroad Can Save Money, But Is it Safe?

So, your next trip abroad is around the corner, and this time you are looking to save money. One decision you have made is to stick to drinking tap water on your trip. No more bottled mineral water for you. That way, you can save some cash.

Yes, sticking to tap water abroad can save you money. But it can also make you seriously ill.

How Can Tap Water Make You Sick?

Contaminated water is among the major sources of diseases worldwide. In many countries, water purification is insufficient. If you drink this water, you can ingest bacteria like E. coli, salmonella, cholera, etc., as well as viruses and protozoa like giardia and cryptosporidium. Abroad, these can cause the infamous travelers’ diarrhea. This can confine you to your hotel room, and restrict you to a bland diet of soups. At worst, it can even lead to hospitalization or medical evacuation.

But Don’t the Locals Drink It?

Well, you have the answer hidden in the question itself. If you feel inspired by the tap water-drinking locals to go ahead and do the same, stop and think: The locals have been doing it for ages and have built up immunity against many of the potential threats. But you are a traveler who has been there for a short period of time. Don’t expect your body to build immunity in just a few days.

In Which Countries Can You Drink Tap Water Without Fear?

Contaminated water is not the only cause of stomach ailments. In many locations, a high quantity of chlorine is added to the water to decontaminate it. While that might work fine for the locals, it could lead to discomfort and even sickness in a foreign traveler. Ideally, you should stick to bottled water while traveling abroad.

Having said that, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention mentions several countries where tap water is safe enough for drinking. Besides the U.S. and Canada, most of the European nations fall under this category. In Asia, you can drink tap water in countries like Japan, Singapore, Israel, Hong Kong, South Korea, and Brunei. The same is the case with Australia and New Zealand.

Apart from these countries, it is advisable to consume only bottled water everywhere else.

How to Avoid Consuming Tap Water

If you are in a tropical country in the summertime, having traveled throughout the day, you may be looking forward to beating the heat with your favorite refreshment on ice. You may think you have nothing to worry about since it isn’t water, but this isn’t the case.

You don’t know the source of the ice. It is likely made from the same frozen tap water you’re trying to avoid. Drinking a beverage “on the rocks” can make you just as sick as the local water.

And it’s not just about drinking tap water. You should also be cautious while rinsing your mouth and bathing, because you might unwillingly end up consuming some of the water. Try to use bottled water for brushing your teeth and shaving, and be very careful to avoid consuming the water while bathing.

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Other Things to Look Out For

If you’re hankering for a soft drink, choose only factory-sealed bottles and cans; never fountain drinks. Fountain drinks are made by combining syrup with local water and carbonating it. They put you at the same risk of illness as tap water. Also, be sure to wipe the mouth of any beverage container thoroughly before drinking from it.

Always buy bottled water from good-sized stores that appear clean and well-managed. Unscrupulous roadside vendors often refill empty bottles with tap water and stick the cap on with glue. If you have bought from them, keep your ears open for the distinctive “pop” sound when you open the cap, and look for a factory seal on the bottle.

You can also safely consume most hot drinks and sealed milk. Boiling the liquid kills most of the disease-causing organisms. But be wary of drinks kept at room temperature.

Apart from water, be mindful of what you eat. Avoid consuming salads and fruits if you are not sure about the water that has been used to wash them. Outside proper restaurants, food sellers in many countries will use tap water to wash food. So, either avoid such food, or use the bottled water that you are carrying to wash it. To stay on the safe side, it’s better to choose fully cooked food or dry snacks.

What if Bottled Water is Not Available?

In certain cases, or in some locations, bottled water might not be easily available. This puts you in a quandary. Yes, you can carry bottled water with you from the airport or from the hotel. But there is a limit to how much you can carry. So, you can consider taking any of the following steps to reduce your chance of illness:

Boil the Water

Boiling is possibly the best option to purify any water. An electric kettle will do the job just fine. There are foldable electric kettles available as well that don’t take up much space and are easy to carry. Above 6,500 feet, boil the water for a little more than three minutes.

Use Chlorine Drops

Chlorine drops also work well to decontaminate water. However, be careful to add only the quantity that is recommended. Too much chlorine can have negative effects on your health.

Carry Iodine Tablets

Iodine tablets are also effective in decontaminating tap water. After adding the tablet, wait for at least half an hour before consuming the water.

Carry a Portable Water Purifier

These devices are very light (around 300 grams) and hence, convenient to carry. Over its lifetime, a portable water purifier can filter around 40 gallons of water. Initially, you will incur a cost of around 40 cents for purifying one liter of water, and the recurring cost will be less than 20 cents per liter. So, you can save on costs while not compromising your health.

Invest in Travel Insurance

Despite taking all the precautions, there’s still a chance you could become sick from accidentally consuming tap water abroad. This could result in medical treatment expenses that can be substantial. To protect yourself from these costs, be sure to invest in travel medical insurance or travel insurance. A proper insurance plan offers essential financial protection against unplanned expenses.

In Conclusion

You need to be vigilant when it comes to what you consume while traveling abroad. Try to drink bottled water whenever you can, but be sure to utilize at least one of the water purification options mentioned if it’s not available. By taking the right steps, you can protect your health and enjoy your vacation, regardless of the destination.

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