I’ve spent a number of months in third world countries, mainly El Salvador where they have a massive water crisis…
…as in the main water plant hasn’t been maintained since the 90s and if the problem isn’t fixed soon more than 1 million people will be without water for 3 months.
In fact, in some of the more poorer villages, many of the people don’t even have running water – or if they do the “higher ups” turn it on for a few hours, then abruptly shut it off for days, even weeks at a time.
And even when the water is on… trust me… you don’t want to drink it.
While this is everyday life for them, what should you do if you vacation in a third world country or a place with lax sanitation standards?
Well, don’t freak out just yet.
Yes, you will have to adopt a few basic principles like not drinking the water – EVER, but you can actually manage with a few basic tips.
Seriously, Don’t Drink The Water
Okay, so you got it – you’re not going to turn on the faucet and drink the water.
But there’s more.
This means when brushing your teeth – you need to use bottled water.
Rinsing your toothbrush? Bottled water.
Taking a shower?
Make sure you don’t accidentally drink any water with your mouth open.
This also means when out in restaurants not getting ice in your drink (a common oversight).
And make it a point to only drink bottled water once you verify the seal has not been broken.
You should hear it pop.
Shady folks sell “bottled water” with a broken seal, which is basically just regular water in a bottle.
My Rookie Mistake
When I was in India, I followed every rule.
At least so I thought.
I only drank bottled water after verifying it was sealed, and was careful to brush my teeth with bottled water (and keep my mouth closed during my morning shower).
But I got massively sick for two days – as I made a common travel rookie mistake.
Since I was staying in a 4 star hotel, and had made it 6 days without getting sick – I thought I was doing everything right.
So for dinner that night, I ordered a mango lassi…
…not taking into account it was made with ICE – yeah the same water I was trying to avoid drinking.
Don’t push it or assume just because you are in a nice hotel it’s okay to loosen your standards.
Not drinking the water – means no ice too.
It doesn’t matter how “nice” your hotel is.
Sorry Ladies – No Cold Veggies and Fruit For You
In the States I prefer to eat healthy and I typically enjoy a salad 5-6 days a week loaded with fresh veggies and good quality meat.
But other countries don’t have the same sanitation standards we do.
And this is especially true in third world countries.
If you love fresh fruits and veggies like tomatoes, cucumbers, and apples – forget it.
Not only are the crops in fields where people literally defecate on them, but even after they are “washed”, it’s with the same water you are trying to avoid drinking in the first place.
A rule that has saved my stomach many trips – if it’s not cooked or can’t be peeled — then don’t eat it.
My personal standards are even a bit more strict – even if it’s peeled, if it’s not cooked, I’m not eating it.
Remember the same spoon you are about to put in your mouth was washed (hopefully) in the water.
And many places use the same communal sinks – to wash their dishes – and some people don’t use soap and think running cold water in a cup to rinse it out is sufficient.
Plastic silverware is your friend. Bring some with you on your trip. Eat with those.
Or, take a moment and wipe your silverware with alcohol wipes.
You don’t need to make a dramatic scene and insult people – but a quick wipe of your eating utensils is an easy way to avoid getting sick.
Enjoy Your Trip!
With basic protocols in place, you can still have an amazing trip.
El Salvador is one of the most beautiful countries I’ve ever seen.
They have many beaches, palm trees, and the most perfect climate ever (if you travel between December – March).
The people are kind and welcoming, and the food is fantastic.
You can eat all kinds of Central American favorites like empanadas, pupusas, and rice soup.
Not to mention the prices are affordable – I paid 25 cents for an ice-cream cone, and 35 cents apiece for a pupusa.
Likewise in India, while I avoided cold vegetables I had the chance to have chickpeas in tomato sauce, buttered chicken, and other delicious treats.
So have fun on your next adventure to a third world country – just don’t drink the water!
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