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How to Clean Drinking Water for Travel

To travel cheaply I know that I need a way to process my own drinking water for free. Spending one to three US dollars per day for bottled water in many parts of the world for years on end would certainly take the heart out of my already strained travel funds. ——————— Wade from www.VagabondJourney.com [...]

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To travel cheaply I know that I need a way to process my own drinking water for free. Spending one to three US dollars per day for bottled water in many parts of the world for years on end would certainly take the heart out of my already strained travel funds.

Wade from www.VagabondJourney.com
Sosua, Dominican Republic — February 8, 2009
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Water filter for travel

Water filter for travel

So I rarely ever piddle away my bean money on bottled water. In countries where the local people drink the tap water, I do so too (within reason, this is not always the best recourse). But in many places in the world it is convention to boil water or to live off of bottled water from 5 galleon jugs delivered to homes and businesses. When in countries where I suspect the tap water to be potentially hazardous, I choose to process my drinking water myself rather than buying hundreds of bottles. I would rather spend ten minutes each morning pumping water than spending money or getting sick.

How to make drinking water video

It is my impression that there are four common ways of making water drinkable when traveling.

  1. Boil it — This way is easy if you have access to a stove and a pot or electricity and a water boiler.
  2. Purifying tablets — These are easy, you just drop them into the water, shake it up, and ten minutes later drink it.
  3. An ultraviolet light pen — These seem easy enough, you just stick it in the water and ultraviolet light supposedly makes bacteria and viruses mutate and die.
  4. A water filter — A pump style filter can be used to shoot dirty water through a carbon filter and clean it.

Every traveler has their preference. I use a pump style filter. My reasons for this are as follows.

  • They do not need electricity or use batteries, this means that I can use it anywhere at anytime. If I boil water I need to depend on having a stove, electricity, or fire. If I use an ultraviolet light pen I need to have batteries for it and worry about it breaking (or if it even works at all).
  • A filter can be used to treat tap water as well as stream or river water.
  • It is hardy and relatively light weight. I have only broken one on a single occasion, and it was fixable.
  • They do not require heat resistant receiving containers. I can pump water into any type of bottle. If I boil water I either need to wait for it to cool or have a bottle that can receive hot liquid.
  • The technology behind the pump filters is fairly simple, it is just a hand pump and a carbon filter.
  • The filters last a long time, especially if you only use them it to clean pre-filtered tap water.
  • It is evident when the filter is no good, as it will be slimy and disgusting looking.
  • They seem to work, I have been using these for ten years

Cut a notch into the intake tube to prevent it from sticking to the inside of the bottle you are pumping the water from

The more you do on your own, the cheaper traveling will be. The more basic necessities you can provide for yourself, the less you need to rely on outside sources to travel. The less you rely on outside sources to provide you with what you need, the cheaper it is to travel the world. I need water to survive — everybody does — so I need a way to obtain it for myself, for very little money. To do this I use a pump style, hiking water filter. If nothing else, long term travel on a tight budget is a perpetual exercise in self sufficiency. Travel gear should be collected on the premise that each piece should make you a little more self sufficient — allow you to travel a little better, a little farther, and a little cheaper. I estimate that I have made thousands of liters of water with these filters over the past 10 years of travel, all for a combined total cost of around $150.

Cheap travel means cleaning your own drinking water

More tips on using a water filter for travel Shop for water cleaning travel gear on Amazon

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Filed under: Travel Gear, Travel Tips

About the Author:

I am the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. I’ve been traveling the world since 1999, through 91 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. has written 3722 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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VBJ is currently in: New York City

6 comments… add one

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  • Mike Crosby February 9, 2010, 1:14 am

    Thanks Wade. What a great tool. I was wondering, what is some of the slimier water you’ve run through your filter? And if you do filter really slimy water, do you run it through the filter a few times? And do you clean the filter, or can you back flush it? Cool tip on what you do to the end of the hose too.

    Thanks again. Curious to what the locals have to say about the earthquake.

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    • Wade | Vagabond Journey.com February 9, 2010, 11:24 pm

      Hello Mike,

      I have ran some pretty murky water through the filter. There is an additional screen to attach to the intake hose when filtering wild water. I pretty much only use it for tap water though, so it saves the filters for a long time.

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  • g February 9, 2010, 11:21 am

    Hello Wade. I think you overlooked the most obvious solution. Buy the big 5 gallon refillable jugs. Those really get your cost down and work out well if you stay in a place for a month or more. That’s always my strategy. Just about finished with my next wikivagabond article.

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    • Wade | Vagabond Journey.com February 9, 2010, 11:29 pm

      Good suggestion, G,

      This is a good strategy, much better than buying individual bottles. This is actually what many of the local people here do.

      Look forward to the biweekly Wiki Vagabond entry. I have been trying to figure out the last issue with it you brought up, and should smooth it out soon.



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  • Bob L February 10, 2010, 6:05 pm

    Funny thing about bottled water…. Travelling in the US is a good example. I travel sometimes quickly on a bike, and need to get lots of water to drink quickly, no time to stop and chat and I REALLY can’t afford to get sick. If water bubblers are available and are likely safe, I get my water there or at the sink in my hotels, or watever. If I have to buy it, I buy gallon jugs. A gallon jug often costs less than the half liter bottles, sometimes as little as one third the price. Yet you see people buying 4 half liter bottles just for themselves, rather than buying the gallon. If the gallon jugs are $.50 and the half liters are $1.50, or 4 at $6 then it is about ~$12/gallon Then they are spending 24 times the price. I have also seen people buy bottled water at hotels for their room, as if the bottled water was somehow better than the tap in their room. In the US? I just don’t get it.

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  • Wade | Vagabond Journey.com February 14, 2010, 6:10 pm

    Good strategy, Bob, it is amazing how many people will pay more money to not have to pour water from one vessel to another.

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