You’ve heard the rumors and seen it in the movies – always drink bottled water when you’re traveling. Everyone who has traveled overseas is advised “don’t drink the water”, but are there other tips for staying healthy, while still enjoying the food and drink that new adventures have to offer?
Turns out, you really shouldn’t drink tap water in foreign lands. I made that mistake in India, when I was at a restaurant with the locals, and was too shy to ask whether the pitcher of water on the table had been filtered. Apparently it wasn’t. I learned how to use Indian toilets like a pro. Since then I’ve been to lots of developing countries without getting sick.
Note that these tips are based on decades of international travel experience, not scientific research, so when in doubt consult the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Beware of “hidden” water
Obviously when you come across a pitcher of water, ask whether it’s been filtered. Drink only bottled water or water that’s been filtered (you can buy water bottles with filters in them at camping stores). You could also purify your own but I don’t have experience with that. This goes for brushing your teeth as well.
Other things to avoid because they may be contaminated with “hidden” unfiltered water would be salads (as the lettuce is often rinsed with tap water). Juice might be diluted with tap water, and any form of ice could be suspect. Usually coffee or tea is fine since it’s been boiled.
Eat cooked foods
Unless you’re a vegetarian or have a specific food allergy, there’s no need to fear meat or any cooked food, even if you can’t easily identify it. Always take at least a little to be polite if you are eating at someone’s home. And don’t be afraid to ask questions – I’ve found that people enjoy talking about their food traditions, as long as you are asking from a place of genuine curiosity.
Wash your hands frequently
This might seem obvious, but I’ve noticed North Americans do not wash as thoroughly when traveling. Hand sanitizer works in a pinch, but too much can actually cause digestive problems. Nothing replaces soap and water – even unfiltered water. Be sure to wash thoroughly – not just fingertips, but up and over your wrists.
In summary: If you wash your hands, eat cooked foods, and avoid drinking unfiltered water, you should have no problem eating adventurously on your next trip!
Wendy Hammond is a lover of food and travel, is a member of Slow Food USA, and an occasional contributor to The Cruise Web.