≡ Menu
Vagabond Journey

Water Filters for Travel

To travel the world cheaply, I know that I need to have a strategy for acquiring drinking water for myself, without continuously paying for it. Dropping an additional 2-3 USD a day — everyday — for bottled water is an unnecessary expense — and wanton expenses are to be isolated and stabbed dead by any [...]

To travel the world cheaply, I know that I need to have a strategy for acquiring drinking water for myself, without continuously paying for it. Dropping an additional 2-3 USD a day — everyday — for bottled water is an unnecessary expense — and wanton expenses are to be isolated and stabbed dead by any budget travel strategy.

So I filter my drinking water.

To travel the world cheaply, I know that I must attempt to be as self-dependent as possible. As Andy says, “the more gear I carry with me, the cheaper travel will be.” One way that I cut down on my travel expenses is by purifying my own drinking water with a pump style hiking filter.

I purchased my water filter for $40 in 2001 (actually, my mother bought it for me because she was not confident that I would abstain from drinking the water in S. America) and I have often use this filter — or one like it — on hundreds of occasions all around the world. Filtering my drinking water over the past 8 years has probably saved me close to a thousand dollars that would have otherwise been spent on bottled water.

If $15 can conservatively be called a day of travel in most countries in the world, and I can regularly save myself $2 a day by filtering water, then using a filter everyday for a 6 month trip would provide me with 24 extra days of traveling.

I would rather take 10 minutes every morning of filtering water to ensure that I could have 24 more days of traveling. If you did this for an entire year, then you could rightfully add another month and a half on to your travels.

It is far easier to save travel funds, than it is to make them — I am learning this now the hard way, working away in Maine.

How I use a water filter when traveling


Type of hiker water filter pump that I often travel with

  1. I get one disposable 1.5 liter plastic bottle from another traveler who lives off bottled water (or from anywhere you can get one)
  2. I cut the top off of it so that I can make it fit beneath a standard size faucet
  3. I pour tap water into the plastic bottle
  4. I filter this water through the pump into my water bottle
  5. I pack everything up and carry the empty disposable bottle with me

This process takes 10 minutes a day. From these ten minutes of work I can save myself around $2 everyday. Not bad.

There are many other ways to process drinking water when traveling — boiling, iodine drops, ultraviolet light pens — but I am very partial to filtration pumps. The reasons for this are as follows:

  • The pumps can remove both bacteria and virus’
  • They can be used for both tap and stream/ wild water
  • You do not usually need to use chemicals with them — I do not want to drink water that has been treated with iodine/ chlorine drops for long periods of time
  • They are light weight and heavy duty — mine is 8 years old, though I have used others during this time
  • You can filter a few liters of water in under ten minutes — boiling water usually takes longer than this and then you have to wait for the water to cool down before bottling or drinking
  • Filtering water gets out the crusties in wild water — I do not care if all of the bacteria is supposedly killed in my drinking water, I still do not want to drink river crud
  • I do not need a power source to use a pump style water filter — boiling water takes electric or fire energy and ultraviolet purifiers rely on battery power . . . I trust the continual availability of none of these sources
  • The filters on the pumps last a long time — I only need to replace it once every year or two if I predominantly filter tap water

I like to be as self-dependent as possible in all aspects of living, I like to have everything I need to survive and travel with me whenever possible. I like the knowledge that I can go anywhere at anytime and be prepared. Carrying a water filter means that I do not need to worry about when I will come upon the next store to acquire drinking water from, as I can make any water drinkable in a matter of moments.

By carrying a water filter, I remove a portion of my dependence on an outside infrastructure, and, in the process, make my life a little simpler and routine.

I am not squeamish about drinking tap water in many places, but I always follow a simple rule: If the local people in a town drink the tap water, then I will too; if the local people process their water in some way before consuming it, then I will follow suit and use my filter.

Though it only takes me a few moments to filter out a day’s supply of water, so if there are any questions, I just break out the pump.

Filed under: Travel Gear

Water Bottles:
Stainless Steel Water Bottles for Travel
Klean Kanteen Water Bottles are Petri Dishes for Bacteria

Water Filters for Travel

Filed under: Travel Gear, Travel Preparation

About the Author:

Wade Shepard is the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. He has been traveling the world since 1999, through 88 countries. He is the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China, and contributes to The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3425 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

Support Wade Shepard’s writing on this blog (please help):

Wade Shepard is currently in: Prague, Czech Republic

13 comments… add one

Leave a Comment

  • Donna Hoffman September 4, 2009, 12:27 am

    This is especially useful on outdoor family trips. If it saves you that much alone, then for a family of five that would be a relief.

    Link Reply
  • Tara September 15, 2009, 11:08 pm

    Hi Wade,

    I appreciate your down to earth travel tips. I'm looking at purchasing a water filter before I head to India. The pump system looks bulky. Do you have any experience with a system where you fill up the reservoir and let gravity work for you?

    Thanks!
    Tara

    Link Reply
  • Jasmine Wanders February 6, 2010, 2:53 pm

    I just got an Aquamarina filter for Central America. Not just for saving money, but also because it's so much better for the environment. I think I get over 200 uses from the filter I just bought – that's 200 plastic bottles not littering the planet.

    Link Reply
  • Aurora March 29, 2010, 10:48 pm

    I have been looking for travel size water filters for three years as I travel to India, China, and Taiwan every year and got sick from drinking water there all the time. I tried multi-pure with a pump and got cysts and fever in India. Then, I tried the biodynamized water in india and got fever and other bacteria. I just recently found this travel size water filter developed in Taiwan called i-mini. It does not need electricity and uses a hybrid filter developed from a ceramic candle unit certified by the United Kingdom (BS5750) and a high-compressed carbon filter certified by NSF international (standard No. 42 and 53). The ceramic candle unit is characterized by a fine microporous structure which forms a complete barricade against all particles larger than .2 micron, therefore effectively removing 99.99% of all particles and bacteria. The carbon block is also able to remove over 200 heavy metals and pollutants while keeping beneficial minerals in water. In addition, there is a magnetizer that reformats and energizes water by cutting through water molecule clusters into tiny water molecules. This magnetized water had such as miraculous effects on my health. I have been having some immunity issues after having traveled so much on airplanes and in developing country. This is a god sent gift. A friend of mine is trying to import it to America. If you are interested, let me know how to contact you. Perhaps an order form can be emailed to you with chinese characters translated. It is not cheap but worthwhile. I think it is NT23,800 (NT: Taiwanese Dollars) plus shipping costs from Taiwan to America.

    Link Reply
    • Jill Nagle October 16, 2010, 1:15 pm

      Hi, Aurora —

      I am interested in the water filter you describe! Would you be able to help me get one?

      You can reach me at jillcnagle@yahoo.com.

      Many thanks,

      Jill

      Link Reply
    • jp November 18, 2010, 5:53 pm

      viruses can go down to .05 microns, so i wonder about the efficacy of this unit for my upcoming trip to india. any thoughts?

      thanks, jeanpierreparent@yahoo.com

      ps – thanks vagabondjourney for a great article and forum!

      Link Reply
      • jp November 18, 2010, 5:59 pm

        holy crap i just did the currency conversion… never mind.

        Link Reply
        • Wade | Vagabond Journey.com November 18, 2010, 6:54 pm

          You are suppose to also put in chlorine drops with this type of filter. I usually don’t bother doing this when using municipal water, but do when taking it from other sources. I would recommend using some sort of disinfecting drops as well in India.

          Link Reply
  • Rose June 4, 2010, 2:47 pm

    Will be traveling through West Africa and possibly Central Africa.
    Any particular recommendations for that?
    I’ve read it’s best to use a water purifier, not just a filter (one that includes an iodine filter). And I’ve also heard to use a .1 micron filter but have not found anything that fits in both categories.
    I am assuming that with iodine filter I don’t need .1 micron filter then?

    Purifiers/filters I am looking at: Sweetwater Guardian Plus, PUR Voyageur or PUR Scout.

    Any opinions?

    Cheers!

    Link Reply
    • Wade | Vagabond Journey.com June 4, 2010, 4:31 pm

      Hello Rose,

      The filters that I have used generally come with chlorine drops to add to the water after filtering. I only use them when the water source seems to be really dirty. It is probably a good idea to carry some iodine tabs or chlorine along with the filter when traveling in the more remote parts of Africa.

      Link Reply
  • Chris Arts February 18, 2011, 6:53 pm

    Hi Wade,

    Considering the concept of perpetual travel, do you think it is worthwhile to pay the $200+ for the Katadyn Pocket Water Microfilter (apparently the best and most durable filter on the market – weighs 20 oz). I would assume it would last a lifetime -so maybe cheaper in long run. If that’s overkill, what would you recommend that is reliable and relatively compact and lightweight?

    Great blog, thanks!

    Link Reply
    • Wade | Vagabond Journey.com February 21, 2011, 10:57 am

      $200 is a lot of money — especially for something that can be broken (anything can be broken in travel), get lost, or stolen. I would say just go with the cheaper Katadyn filters. The one I use is in my Travel Gear store if you are interested.

      Link Reply
  • Jeff Wise March 7, 2011, 12:17 pm

    I really like the Berkey sport bottle for travel. They are powerful, lightweight and easy to carry. I even take it to restaurants and fill it with that nasty tap water.

    Link Reply