6 plastic-free ways to travel with safe drinking water
These tips can help you stay hydrated and healthy while adventuring—and ditch single-use plastic while you do it.
Staying hydrated when you travel can be a challenge, particularly in places where tap water is unsafe or unavailable. Rather than reaching for a single-use plastic bottle and contributing to the world’s plastic problem, learn some new strategies for safe water consumption wherever you roam.
B.Y.O.F.B. (bring your own filtration bottle)
Travelers looking for an all-in-one approach might consider a self-contained filtration and purification bottle, with a combined filter and vessel that make it easy to clean, carry, and drink water on the go. LifeStraw uses a hollow fiber membrane and an activated carbon capsule to remove bacteria, parasites, and microplastics and to reduce foul odors and tastes. GRAYL takes its commitment to safe water consumption a step further, protecting against viruses as well.
Not all filtration bottles are created equal: Some rely on suction, others require pressure, some protect against a variety of pathogens and others don’t. Filter lifespans vary widely and aren’t available in all destinations, so you may need to pack extras. Carefully read product descriptions and instructions.
Disrupt dangerous DNA
There’s a good chance you’ve already consumed UV-purified water—bottling companies and municipal treatment plants often use this method. Thanks to lightweight, innovative products like Steripen and Larq Bottle, travelers can take similar tech on the road.
At specific intensities, ultraviolet light destroys the DNA of viruses, protozoa, and bacteria. With a touch of a button and a swirl of the wand, the Steripen fills the water with UV rays intended to kill more than 99 percent of bacteria and viruses in a few minutes.
While UV light has the power to purify, it doesn’t filter sediment, heavy metals, and other particulates, so it’s best to use UV devices in combination with a filter.
Personal filtration system
This is a good option if you prefer a filtration system that’s compact enough to travel and flexible enough to let you configure the components according to your needs.
The detachable filter on both the LifeStraw Flex and Sawyer Mini doubles as a straw for sipping directly from the water source and can be used on a hydration pack as well. Both systems use a hollow fiber membrane, but the Flex adds an activated carbon capsule to catch chemicals and heavy metals. The Flex filter requires replacement after about 25 gallons of use—much sooner than the Sawyer, which claims to last for 100,000.
Electrify to purify
Adventurers opting for lightweight convenience might also consider an electrolytic water purifying device. Small in size but big on results, the portable gadget zaps a simple brine solution—easily made on the spot from salt and water—with an electric current to create a disinfectant you can add to your water (up to 20 liters at a time) to destroy almost all pathogens.
Unlike UV devices, this type of disinfectant can perform in turbid water. The device is long-lasting and rechargeable—the Potable Aqua PURE is advertised to purify about 60,000 liters of water before replacement parts are required, and its battery can be charged via USB. If taste or chemical sensitivity are concerns, be aware that disinfectant does leave a chlorine residue in the water.
Keep tabs on chemical treatments
Chlorine tablets can be hazardous to handle and iodine tablets have been linked to health issues. And both leave treated water with an unpleasant odor and taste. One alternative is sodium dichloroisocyanurate (NaDCC): It’s affordable, easy to use, and achieves the same purifying results as chlorine, with fewer risks.
Drop a NaDCC purification tablet—Aquatabs are one example—in non-turbid water to release hypochlorous acid, which reduces most pathogens and renders the water drinkable after about 30 minutes. Keep in mind: This method doesn’t remove particulates or contaminants like pesticides. If you’re treating turbid water, it’s best to filter before dissolving the tablets. Remember to read the instructions for any time adjustments that may be required.
Speak up, set an example
Filtered water may be available for free—if you know where to look. Apps like RefillMyBottle and Tap can pinpoint water refill stations while you’re on the road.
Using water filtration and purification tools has helped Mike and Anne Howard, the husband-and-wife traveling duo HoneyTrek, globetrot continuously for over 2,000 days without breaking their no-plastic-bottles pact.
And sometimes it’s simply a matter of speaking up: The more travelers ask restaurants, hotels, and tour operators to refill their reusable water bottles, the more those services cater to demand—and the less single-use plastic gets used.
- Nat Geo Expeditions