International travelers are often warned to stay away from the tap water when visiting a foreign country. Even if you are traveling in the United States, coming across unsafe drinking water is still a real possibility. Contaminated drinking water can quickly ruin a vacation, causing everything from gastrointestinal distress to bacteria related diseases.

Know the Signs

The best way to prevent illness related to unsafe water is to know the signs of possible contamination.  Some signs of poor quality water are very noticeable by sight and smell.  The first thing to consider is how the water looks.  If it’s cloudy or has an off-color, that could be an indication of high mineral content or excess iron.  A strong chemical smell could indicate chlorine, while a rotten egg scent indicates sulfur. Any of these in high concentration can cause stomach issues and other health problems.

Testing Water Quality

Although there are some prominent signs of unsafe water, there are many dangerous impurities that can go undetected because they are colorless and odorless.  The best way to know what’s in your water is to test it.  While you may think you need to send samples to a laboratory to find out if the water you are about to drink is safe, there are a number of home testing kits that are small enough to slip into your suitcase when you’re on the go.

TestAssured makes a Science Fair Water Testing Kit that comes with four packets of testing materials.  Each pouch contains a vial for the water sample, three testing strips, and easy to read color-coded results charts.  One of these kits will allow you to test a water sample for five of the most common contaminants including chlorine, copper, nitrates, nitrites, and iron. You can also test for pH, hardness, and alkalinity.

Depending on the length of your trip and your destination, you may want to bring along a bacteria test.   The TestAssured Bacteria in Water Test is an easy way to screen water for E-Coli and coliform bacteria.   Simply fill the vial with your water sample, shake, and set it aside for two days.  If the sample turns a purple color, it indicates unsafe levels are present in the sample.

Always Use Caution

If you cannot test the water when your traveling, it is best to avoid drinking tap water.  Bottled water is a safe alternative, but be sure the bottle is properly sealed and has not been opened before you drink it.  It is also best to avoid ice cubes since they were most likely made with tap water.

Keep in mind that water quality when you are traveling goes beyond drinking water.  You will want to use caution and avoid washing your dishes and brushing your teeth with tap water as well.

A simple precaution you can take is to boil water before using it.  Boiling water works to kill dangerous bacteria, viruses, and protozoa.  It is best to let the water boil for at least a full minute.

The next time you’re heading out and don’t want to pack a water filter or bottled water, make sure you pack one of TestAssured’s easy to use home water tests.