Tuesday, May 4, 2010

1 Travel Tip Tuesday: Water Safety

Boston has just emerged from a three-day water emergency. On Saturday evening some sort of crucial pipe burst that forced the city to get its tap water from back up reserves described by officials as equivalent to "untreated pond water". Yuck. The entire greater Boston area was under a boil-water order--except for Cambridge. Those smarties at Harvard and MIT decided long ago to figure out their own fresh water source, so they were untouched by the chaos unfolding around them.

And let me tell you...people have been FREAKING out! Sure it's been inconvenient but the stories on the evening news are incredible: people waiting hours in line to get rationed water bottles from the National Guard, price gouging for gallons of spring water on Newbury Street, mob scenes at grocery stores getting so unruly that police details are called in. Did no one realize the crucial part of the boil-water order was that you can...BOIL your own water?!

Shortly after the crisis began, one of my friends posted to her Facebook wall: "How to deal with a multi-day ordinance to boil all water? Pretend I'm in India!" Great idea! Thus inspired this week's travel tips regarding traveling in countries with non-potable tap water:
  • If you have access to a kitchen, boil your water. Just put it in a pot or tea kettle and make sure it's fully boiling for at least one minute. Drink hot or cool in the fridge. Voila!
  • Buy bottled water--from reputable sources. We've heard reported stories of local vendors refilling used water bottles with tap water, so make sure there is a seal of some sort on the cap when you buy it. If we are unsure of the street vendors, we might stock up at a pharmacy instead. On a budget and eco-friendly but non-safety related note, we like to buy large water bottles to keep in our hotel room and use them to refill a small water bottle to carry around with us.
  • Travel with water purification tablets to disinfect your water on the go.
  • Eat off dry plates and cutlery. If you receive a freshly-washed, wet fork with your meal, dry it off thoroughly on a napkin before you put it in your mouth. 
  • Avoid ice. Sorry, dealing with a warm Coke is better than a stomach virus.
  • Substitute beer for water. Alcohol is a natural disinfectant, so it's bound to kill any accidental water-born germs in your body too, right? Not sure on the accuracy of the science behind that, but you can at least be confident that your beverage will be bacteria-free.
What do you do to stay healthy when traveling in countries with non-potable tap water?

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