Buy jugs of water, not bottles A liter of bottled water often cost just about the same as two liters; two liters cost roughly the same as four; and four liters is, as odd as it may seem, often more expensive than a twenty liter jug. Giving this, it is truly an economically idiotic move [...]
Buy jugs of water, not bottles
A liter of bottled water often cost just about the same as two liters; two liters cost roughly the same as four; and four liters is, as odd as it may seem, often more expensive than a twenty liter jug. Giving this, it is truly an economically idiotic move to buy bottled drinking water by the liter. When traveling, save money by purchasing water in twenty liter jugs.
Water is one of the prime necessities of life. It is one of the few basics that all travelers need to obtain every day. The world is full of water — in fact, it is 70% H2O — but only 2.5% of this is fresh water, and only the very slimmest portion of this is drinkable. Therefore the traveler is at the mercy of municipalities, companies, businesses, and the long arm of politics to obtain drinking water wherever they go. In 2011, this is not difficult to do: to get water, you just go to a supermarket and buy it in a bottle.
Over the last decade many countries in the world have made a drastic shift towards using, almost exclusively, bottled water. Drinkable municipal water is a luxury of the past. In a rough estimate based on my travels and observations, I would say that 30% of the people on the globe are currently living off of bottled water, and this is a number that will continue to rise. These twenty liter jugs of water will soon become a normal fixture in almost every home on the planet within the next ten years, as it already is in Mexico, Central America, Turkey, the Middle East . . . on and on and on.
I cringe when I see trucks full of 20 liter jugs of water moving through the streets doing deliveries, I squirm when I see the stacks of these jugs in grocery stores, because this is a sure sign that the government of the place that I am in has given up trying to provide clean drinking water to its people — it is a sign that the companies are now in full control of proliferating another basic necessity for survival.
But what can I do?
I buy bottled water by the 20 liter jug like everybody else. It is good that these jugs of water sell cheap, and most people in the world can easily afford them. 10 pesos — or 80 cents — is what I paid for twenty liter jugs of water in Puerto Angel; in Zipolite, I paid between 11 and 13 pesos; in Oaxaca City, I pay 16 — or $1.50. One 20 liter jug lasts my family of three around five days — and it is my impression that we consume vastly more water than the average person.
How to buy water by the twenty liter jug
There are often many places to buy these jugs from: supermarkets, convenient stores, and, very often, towns have wate trucks that drive around making home deliveries. Make sure the option you choose is near to where you are staying, as this will be the place where you continue exchanging these jugs for more water.
To buy these twenty liter jugs of water, you often need to leave a deposit. In actuality, you only buy the water, the jug that it comes in is rented out by the place you get it from. This deposit is usually around four or five dollars, and you get it back when you finally return the jug. You are also generally given a ticket when paying this deposit that you must retain and then return to the store with the jug in order to get your money back.
When you empty the contents of one jug you can easily return it to the store you got it from and exchange it for a full one — this time you only pay for the water. You can continue doing these exchanges endlessly, but make sure you show the empty jug to an employee in the store before exchanging it for a full one — as if they don’t see you returning a jug they may try to charge you a deposit again.
How to use a 5 gallon jug of water
Update, January 18, 2009: In the comments that ensued from this entry, some readers expressed concerns as to whether a person of average strength could manipulate and use a 20 liter/5 gallon jug of water. To show that it is possible, I took the below photo of my 56 year old mother in law successfully taking water from a 20 liter jug.
Readers, please don’t make this any more complicated that it needs to be. This is a tip to save you money.
In the above photo, my mother in law had to lift up the jug as it was half empty, but she began using it when it was full. Here’s how:
A link to a video appeared in the comments that shows some weeny girl trying to put one of these 20 liter jugs on top of a holder/ dispenser and needed to lift the full and open jug up to shoulder height, flip it upside down, and put it in place — which can be a difficult maneuver for just about anyone to do.
Watch video of weenie girl and water jug
But, in the case of a traveler using these 5 gallon water jugs, this series of actions is inapplicable — as travelers do not tend to carry around these holders/ dispensers with them. You will never need to do what this girl does in the video.
Keep the jug on the ground.
To use a 5 gallon jug of water, keep it on the ground — these things are a little heavy when full. Just grab the open jug by the neck and tilt it over towards the receptacle you want to pour water in, pour, and then return it to its proper upright position. While the jug is still full and heavy, it should never fully leave the ground — just tilt and pour.
When these jugs become empty enough that you can no longer get any water from it by tilting, then you need to lift it up — as my mother in law is doing in the above photo — but by this time it is, obviously, vastly lighter and easier to manipulate.
Or, if you do not wish to maneuver one of these water jugs manually, there are little plastic pumps that can be purchased cheaply (see photo at top of article) that are made to fit right on top. With one of these pumps, all you need to do is operate the handle and water pours out from the spigot. This is probably the most common domestic way of extracting water from 20 liter jugs — the chest high holders that are shown in the above video are generally only used in hotels and other businesses.
Jugs of bottled water conclusion
If one liter and 20 liters of water cost the same price, I am going to go for the larger quantity — hands down, this makes sense to me. I am truly baffled as I travel the world and see other travelers laying waste to hundreds upon hundreds of small bottles of water and, in the process, raising their cost of travel, literally, by hundreds of dollars. Though I suppose convenience — hey, who wants to carry a heavy 20 liter jug around the streets? — often usurps cost/ quantity ratios.
Even if a traveler just stays in a place for two or three days and only consumes half of a 20 liter jug of water, they are still saving themselves a good deal of money. Even if you don’t need 20 liters of water there is nothing that says you can’t just dump the excess when you are finished — $1 for ten liters of water is, relatively, still a good deal.
On a global scale, it is truly beyond me why bottled water has taken precedence over water filters. I suppose businesses found that they can make a lot of money by controlling a population’s access to drinking water than by providing the power for people to clean their water themselves.
I often recommend filtering tap water to make it drinkable as a travel strategy, as this is perhaps the absolute cheapest way to go, but paying $1 for a week’s supply of water is not going to break any traveler’s budget. Filtering a day’s supply of water for yourself usually takes around twenty minutes start to finish, and I would gladly pay 15 cents a day to not have to do this chore. Where I can, I choose to buy water by the twenty liter jug.
Obtaining water in this way has become the rule for so many people on the planet, and all travelers well knows that if they can hone in on the living strategies of the locals they can find ways to travel cheaper. This is perhaps the golden rule of travel: live like the locals to live cheaper. In this current era of human existence, the locals are buying 20 liter jugs of water.
Find more Vagabond Journey travel tips.
About the Author: VBJ
I am the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. I’ve been traveling the world since 1999, through 90 countries. I am the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China and have written for The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. VBJ has written 3679 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.
VBJ is currently in: Papa Bay, Hawaii
January 15, 2011, 1:21 am
Will have to disagree with you here Wade, at least in partial terms.
If stationary for a month, in an apartment for so, then sure a gallon container is a lot better just for environmental reasons alone.
If staying in a hotel/guesthouse for 2 weeks then be prepared for battle moving container of water into your room. Never mind that many of these containers require deposits and transportation to ones accommodation. That aside, the hostel owner is the biggest problem.
Likewise with filtration systems. They do not remove heavy metals nor modern day chemicals. Yes, there are plenty of bottle water horror stories out there too. But, in a developing country I would not use one.
See more here http://www.thelongestwayhome.com/blog/how-to-live-overseas/water-6-years-of-travel-thats-a-lot-of-bottles-maybe/
I think the only approach to this is for countries to improve their recycle policies.
January 15, 2011, 2:23 am
I think long-term traveler finally become aware of the dent in a budget caused by purchasing water. I lived on about five dollars per day for 4-5 years. My solution was often, just to drink the water and not worry, but then again, I have big huevos. I still drink the water sometimes when I am lazy, generally the only thing that stops me is the taste 88 countries and I am alive.
Buying is a math problem, and generally only about 1 in 20 people can do the math in their head, the other 19 refuse to use a calculator because they would appear cheap or stupid.
This budget thing is only go to work on 1 in 20 readers…hehehe Optimal buying strategies is the goal, Dave is sort of correct, and Wade is correct, obviously I am going to buy one bag of water if needed. Actually, I cannot remember the last time I purchased a liter bottle of water, normally I buy bags, or sachets or your five gallon types. (Get the hotel to purchase, you will save on deposit.)
The hard rule of thumb for me is, if the poor locals are drinking from filtered or pure water, then so am I. If I was on a strict budget, and I was a wimp, I would always boil water.
I have been truly annoyed at all the NGO’s for years that have created these dirt filter boxes to filter water, in Nepal they have them in bulk size. I asked,
“Where do you test the water?”
No answer, and no answer and no answer, as far as I am concerned, if you tell me to not drink the water, you better at the same time show the lab report.
I got on a kick about 12 months ago, I called with Skype to a water testing lab in the USA. I was going to do a worldwide experiment. I was going to test both the bottled water, the tap, and get a general sample of water around the planet. I would send samples to the USA, and try to get other travelers to join in, this sounded good to me.
The United Nations has this goal of pure water, I could hop on their well intended noise.
The man said to me,
“Andy, 80 percent of all harmful things die within the first 24-48 hours in a bottle, by the time the sample bottles arrived, most problems would be killed.”
If you remember in Dominican Republic in Sosua, and many places on the planet, water is stored outside, truly a simple way to make pure enough to drink. Bottom line, taking a few bottles, fill them with water, putting it on a shelf for three days, then running it through your dirty socks is probably as safe as bottle water.
Or you can buy a 60 dollar ultraviolet cleaner and pretend it worked.
January 16, 2011, 2:37 am
This had nothing at all to do with this specific post. However, it had occurred to me that I have not once read anything regarding what happens when you become injured/sick to the point that you can not treat yourself…yourself. What if you drink some poorly filtered water and become infected with something more than Montezuma’s revenge? Or what if you miss a step and break your femur? I have never read anywhere that you factor travel insurance into your costs. You find yourself in a very precarious financial position when your luck runs out and you are not insured. I am not an insurance salesman, lol. I am quite simply, concerned for your safety! Has this been lurking in the back of your mind for a while, or do you have a system in place perhaps involving other family members in case such an event transpires. Just wondering…
January 16, 2011, 5:39 am
There are plenty of water borne issues that can lay you on your back. I know as I’ve had most of them.
The problem starts with people who can’t stand a bad stomach for more than 2-3 days without whimpering to a doctor. Sorry, to be crude but long-term travelers need to grow immune to 360 degree toilet decorating.
Constant plane hopping to new destinations can result in this, as it wears your body down and you are being subjected to new strains of all the bad things that make the toilet your worst friend.
That said, I will disagree again with Wade, and possibly Andy about travel insurance. At least in Asia and West Africa. Come down with something seriously heavy, lets say a stroke. And without a travel partner right next to you, and you could well find yourself going broke in a night.
Malaria is not serious in these places if you are a smart traveler. But if you get smacked with an appendix problem, or hemorrhage and are without insurance, you will have to cough up a lot of cold hard cash v quickly to get treated properly, and quickly.
Either way getting seriously sick and being alone in any country is bad news. A partner is your best help there. Otherwise you can be in world of trouble is you are staying in the wrong part of town where nobody knows you name.
If Wade really is carrying around $5,000 in his back pocket he’s doing well!
- January 16, 2011, 5:39 am
January 16, 2011, 5:09 am
If I understand right, and I know I do… hehehe
President Obama said,
“We now have universal Health Insurance.”
Wade says he keeps 5000 dollars backup, this will pay for about any problem except long-term cancer. Generally, the ability to replace the 5000 on a regular basis is needed.
I just purchased 30 half liter sachets here in Kpalime, Togo for 50 cents USD. Funny, that is French for bag, and in Ghana, they also call them Sachets.
January 17, 2011, 6:57 pm
I think the reason most people go for a 1 or 2 liter bottle is simply convenience. Even in my hometown where the water is perfectly safe, tens of thousands of locals consume bottled water (and miss out on the fluoride protecting their teeth).
A thoughtful, practical, aware traveller could easily adopt your method, but unfortunately that’s not all travellers these days. In the hostel scene, backpackers don’t blink an eye at the cost of a night drinking endless bottles of Corona, Lao Lao or Heineken, what’s a dollar or two for a bottle of water?
For the budget conscious or environmentally aware, the 20 liter jug is a great idea, although many people do struggle with the challenge of putting a new jug on a dispenser or even filling a drinking bottle.
Declaration – I write about travel safety issues at WorldNomads.com (a travel insurer – more on that later) and have looked at water security in many destinations.
You will never find totally pure water. All water contains microbes and bacteria. The mix of microbes and bacteria changes from place to place. Which is where traveller’s diarrhoea comes from – it’s just your system coming to terms with the new mix of nasties. As long as the water fits under certain thresholds (which is what municipal water treatment is about) it will never cause serious illness. The bacteria are relatively benign and any upset will be mild. It rarely lasts more than a week,
So what many people suspect is “unclean” water is probably just a new mix of mild bacteria. The resulting “360 degree decoration” is inconvenient, but not serious. If it lasts more than 2 weeks – see a doctor because it’s either something else or you are at risk of dehydrating.
Just a couple of notes on purifying water:
Freezing the water does nothing.
Boiling water kills bacteria, but as the bacteria cells die they release a toxin which can be as bad/worse than the bacteria. Water must be boiled and filtered to be “pure”.
Filtering systems are many and varied, the UV ‘pen’ the carbon filter hand pump etc.
For a simpler method, Dr Thomas Dietz from Emergency and Wilderness Medicine recommends putting 4 drops of Betadine to a litre of water, and leaving it for 30 minutes. It doesn’t do anything for the taste, but it’s purified.
However, none of this removes pesticides from the water. And bottled water won’t help either. In India, 65% of locally-produced bottled water is simply pumped straight from the local source without any treatment. In 2003 the New Delhi Centre for Science and Environment tested 30 Indian brands and found ALL had unacceptable levels of pesticides. That’s probably true of the 20 liter jugs too although the research doesn’t specify.
There is a filter that will remove pesticide residue, but it’s about the size of a swimming pool filter assembly – not really for travelling.
As for travel insurance, Wade I note your perspective, and respect that decision, but I don’t think that’s right for everyone.
Many people have a limited time on the road and want to make the best of it, they don’t want a week or two lying low while they recover, they’d prefer to get some attention which puts them right as soon as possible – and get on with the trip.
Unless you’re a doctor, can you be sure you have ‘just’ traveller’s diarrhoea? Do you know how to diagnose Giardiasis, or Hepatitis A… all of which have similar symptoms?
Here are some true travel claims from Worldnomads.com customers:
Gastro? No, it was a ruptured cyst!
Tummy upset? No, it was intestinal worms!
3 weeks of pain.
Lost 15 kilograms!
Having travel insurance gives you access to an assistance line, where you can be put in touch with the nearest doctor or directed to a clinic. They can also tell you which hospital/clinic in your vicinity is recommended.
It’s true you have to pay up front and be reimbursed, but if you’re on a really tight budget wouldn’t you prefer to get that money back? Some travel insurance companies (such as ours) will let you claim online when you’re travelling, so you don’t have to wait till you get home from your trip to be paid back.
It is also possible to get a travel insurance policy that will cover you for trip interruption – if you get sick from the water and can’t go on the tour you’ve pre-booked you can be reimbursed. Not every insurance policy offers this, so choose carefully.
WorldNomads.com travel insurance offers plenty of benefits. A couple of days with TD is an inconvenience, but in most developing countries the greatest threat to your health is a traffic accident. Medical evacuation to your home country can cost $150,000 and up. Medical costs vary greatly by country, so whilst you might get treatment in a local hospital for USD$30, that same treatment may be $300 or $3000 in another country. We have dealt with million dollar hospital bills.
In the worst case, even repatriation of your remains can cost $30,000. Not a bill you want to leave with your family.
As I said, I write about travel safety issues, where’s safe, where’s trouble, and that information is freely available to WorldNomads. As pointed out by Wade, the best travel insurance policy is a good travel companion. One that supports you throughout your journey.
January 18, 2011, 2:19 am
I think Phil’s points are very valid.
“In the worst case, even repatriation of your remains can cost $30,000. Not a bill you want to leave with your family.”
Not really a great legacy to leave behind. Many people think an embassy will help them out here. I can tell you know they won’t.
Great info from Phil also on the hazards of water and some real stories of people getting sick when traveling.
I think that those on short term travel trips or RTW need travel insurance. They are generally partying like crazy, climbing, diving and taking more chances than longer term travelers or perpetual travelers.
That said, a partner can help you out if they are from the same place you are from.
- January 18, 2011, 2:19 am
January 23, 2011, 10:45 pm
Yeah, I use bottled water for taste and to avoid metals, crap, etc. The 19 liter refills here in China cost 6 RMB >$US 1; while a 1.5 liter bottle costs 3 – 4 RMB. Locals don’t drink the tap water, either. (But nothing bets New Zealand tap water; safe and delicious).
Heavy, yes. I buy it from a shop 400 meters away and lug it up 6 flights of stairs, every week or so; I like to think that’s it’s exercise I need (but usually beer follows the task …).
But when traveling fully, not hanging out somewhere, then I use the 1.5 – 3 liter choices for ease of use/transportation (but must have spend a fortune over the years).
Insurance. Depends on the individual. I don’t use it and have been pretty lucky, rarely sick except: Malaria – East Timor, 2000; Dysentery – Pakistan, 1990; Altitude sickness – Tibet, 1994.
But I suppose one day, I will need to afford a coffin …
the candy trail … across the planet, since 1988
September 7, 2012, 1:32 pm
Wade , u created an up rising here!!!!!!.
can i say something too ???
Water… i drink a lot… i use iodine droplets, and boiled water…. and bottles… thanks for the tip that a 20L bottle is so cheap!!!!!!
i work in Switzerland…. they have the cleanest water in Europe… i drink it out of the streams up in the mountains, even when there are cows around.. YET the Swiss drink bottled water at 3-9SFr per litre, cos they like bubbled water…. stupid people!!!!
here is my view on travel insurance….. UK insurers and probably most others say in the small print that, one is NOT insured if u go to countries that are on the foreign and commonwwealth office ‘unsafe’ list….. they will always make an excuse not to pay up… ‘unsafe’ countries are more fun than others…. Pakistan, east timor are def not listed as safe …BUT probably safer than u can imagine, or indeed safer than walking the streets of London after sun down…….
i was bitten by a dog in India…. i was treated a lot faster than A&E (ER) in the UK…had 6 injections and paid 40$…. a lot less than the ammount u have to pay first on any claim……
@Dave…. if one are in need of a coffin…. thats not really gonna be ur problem is it… cos if u r dead , u r dead…. they cant send u the bill.. and really if one is dead who gives a shit if u r cremated of coffinized or left in a ditch……
September 7, 2012, 2:01 pm
ooops .. meant to say The candy trail… not Dave
- September 7, 2012, 2:01 pm
- September 7, 2012, 1:32 pm
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