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Traveler Warning! Don't Drink the Water!

Our first thought about international travel is personal security. Is it really safe for us to travel there? Will I wind up chained to a tree in the jungle and held for ransom?

At some point during the trip planning we think, ¨What about the water? Will I get sick if I drink it?¨

Where I live in Colombia, South America all the cities and most of the villages have safe drinking water. According to the government.

It may taste funny, and look a little cloudy, but the government says it is safe to drink. I don’t believe it. Even if the off-flavor I am smelling and tasting is chlorine I still don’t trust the water.

According to wikipedia ¨chlorine is a highly efficient disinfectant, and is added to public water supplies to kill disease-causing pathogens, such as bacteria, viruses, and protozoans, that commonly grow in water supply reservoirs, on the walls of water mains and in storage tanks.¨

But no matter how well intentioned, chlorine can be a major problem for our digestive system since it kills all bacteria, good and bad in the intestinal tract. Without beneficial bacteria the stomach is not able to digest the food or ward off bad bacteria.

The unease is compounded if we are spending long blocks of time sitting confined for hours on an airplane or bus or in a car. Without exercise, especially walking, and without the good bacteria, the food just sits in the gut and rots. The result can be constipation, diarrhea or vomiting, any of which can ruin the vacation.

Typically we avoid this problem by buying bottled water thinking we are drinking safe, clean water. Sometimes that is true but not always.

In fact, buying water in single use plastic bottles is absolutely the worst way to do it. It is wrong on so many levels.

1. Supporting an evil industry. For example, Nestle is just one of dozens of international bottlers. They have wells all over the world and bottle billions of gallons of water each year.

In just one region of the northern United States they have 7 wells in the Muskegon River aquifer in Michigan. Residents claim these wells are pumping billions of gallons of water and draining the aquifer. Water levels in lakes and rivers are falling, wetlands are drying up and wildlife is suffering.

Nestle doesn’t pay for any of this environmental damage. They hardly even pay for the water. At just one of their wells, White Pine Springs Well in Osceola County, Nestle is pumping out 400 gallons per minute, over 2,000,000 gallons per year. Imagine how many 16-ounce bottles of water this amounts too? Nestle pays the Michigan Department of Natural Resources just $400 per year.

2. Only a fraction of single-use plastic bottles get recycled. In the USA alone 35,000,000 plastic bottles are thrown away each year. Discarded bottles are littering the landscape, forming new islands in the oceans, clogging waterways and filling up landfills.

3. These discarded bottles are manufactured from oil. Worldwide, discarded plastic bottles contain enough oil to power 1,000,000 cars for a year!

4. Bottled water is often no safer than tap water. In many cases bottled water really is just tap water. Not spring water, not filtered water, not treated water. You can find anything from arsenic to chemical residues to disease pathogens in bottled water.

Disease causing chemicals in the plastic bottle and in the water can be made even more deadly depending on age of the bottled water, temperature in storage, temperature during use, and exposure to ultraviolet rays.

5. Bottled water is expensive to consumers, even more expensive than gasoline. One friend reluctantly admitted to me that he has been buying bottled water daily because he cannot stand the taste of the water at work. He is spending $600 annually doing it.

Ginny Springs, near Gainesville, Florida, another site Nestle wants to pump billions of gallons of water.

Since tap water may not be safe, and bottled water is a disaster, what can we do? The answer is to filter our own water.

There are lots of ways to filter water but the one I find the most reliable and most user friendly is the Life Straw Go. It is a filter bottle you carry with you no matter where your adventure takes you. You can refill it on the go and enjoy safe, clean water without risk of sickness or disease.

To keep my hands free while I am traveling I use a Fanny Pack that can also be a place for carrying my passport, camera, cell phone and other items I want to have convenient and safe. I can carry it as a fanny pack, belt pack or shoulder bag.


Now you can enjoy safe, clean drinking water in any country or any adventure in the world.


Andy Lee is a retired American writer living in Pereira, Colombia. He is the administrator of the Facebook group Living In Colombia South America and the author of Five Hundred Miles to the Sea.


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