Drinking adequate amounts of liquids is essential to staying healthy when traveling. Liquids help counteract fatigue, jet lag, altitude, hot and cold environments and other vagaries of travel. A common misconception is that one has to be lost in the Sahara to become dehydrated. In fact, dehydration comes in all degrees of severity and occurs before thirst occurs, gradually affecting mental and physical abilities. Young children are more susceptible to dehydration and some beverages are counterproductive in this age group.
1. Kids should drink bottled water. Children are especially susceptible to waterborne intestinal illness. Tap water everywhere contains some micro-organisms. While our bodies are accustomed to the organisms in tap water at home, those in water elsewhere – even where sanitation is reasonably good – may be sufficiently different to cause mild discomfort for a few days. Such discomforts are often blamed on travel – with the remedy drinking more water. If it is tap water, it worsens discomfort.
2. For children, plain bottled water suffices. Encourage children to drink. Never force them. Sports and energy drinks and electrolyte solutions are rarely necessary for healthy children. Many of these beverages contain caffeine and large amounts of sugar and salt, and are intended for adults. On planes, many parents aggressively push fluids on young children to prevent dehydration. Not necessary. Dehydration in flight is a myth.
Bottled water is merely subterranean spring water or treated tap water, and, unless optimally processed, is no better than tap water. Where sanitation is poor, opt for well-known international brands of bottled water. Local brands may contain organisms and sometimes chemicals (arsenic in southern Asia, for example).
3. Water intoxication, drinking too much water virtually, never affects children. It occurs in competitive athletes who perspire profusely, losing large amounts of water and electrolytes (sodium, potassium, and chloride, for example) and subsequently drink large quantities of water without replacing the electrolytes.
4. Temperature of liquids is not important. Drinking hot drinks in cold weather or cold drinks in hot weather does not affect body temperature. Hot chocolate may give children (and adults) psychological lifts – if they like hot chocolate. Ice cold beverages do not cause illness. For children, when more fluids are indicated, cold beverages are generally more palatable than warm ones.
5. Check ingredients in bottled beverages. Especially overseas. Carbonation acidifies beverages, killing organisms, adding a degree of safety. Carbonated drinks are known as “with gas,” even by waiters who speak no English. There are no known adverse effects from carbonation. Overseas, some bottled water is mineral water, with very high concentrations of calcium, sodium and other minerals which, rarely, may cause problems in children, and best avoided. European spas tout their waters as therapeutic for whatever ails you, claims largely unproven.
6. Ice is OK where sanitation is reasonably good. A cube or two is unlikely to contain sufficient organisms to cause illness. Elsewhere, ice is usually made from tap water, often in difficult-to-clean equipment. However, “No ice, please” does not necessarily mean that you’ll get no ice. Waiters, from habit, add ice. Ask for a fresh drink in a clean glass.
7. Tap water too hot to touch is generally safe. It is “pasteurized,” having remained heated in the heater and pipes sufficiently long to kill virtually all disease-causing organisms. Boiled water is always safe. Boiling for one minute suffices. For overseas travel, carry an electrical coil, a current converter and a socket adapter, available in travelers’ supply catalogues. Note that heat does not remove chemicals and other impurities. Freezing does not kill organisms.
8. There is no foolproof method to recognize safe water. Crystal clear water in lakes, rivers and streams occasionally contains organisms from birds, animals and humans. Water marked for drinking (taps, fountains) in rural national parks and forests is generally safe; it is monitored by authorities. Elsewhere in rural areas, drinking water may contain disease causing organisms and pollutant chemicals. Contamination increases after heavy rains. Children’s habit to place their mouths on public fountains is unlikely to make them ill.
9. Know how to purify water. Convenient easy-to-use filters and chemical drops and tablets are available for travel and camping. Some filters remove most chemical pollutants. See websites and camping supply stores. Follow directions carefully. Know the amount of chemical to use, how long the chemical needs to be in contact with the water, and how long filters are safe to use before they become clogged, for example.
10. Miscellaneous. Avoid fresh fruit drinks from street vendors. Such drinks are usually squeezed in impossible-to-clean equipment and may be diluted with tap water and contain ice. Avoid water in canisters in hotel rooms, even when labeled “safe to drink. ” Such water is refilled from tanks wheeled down the hall, a process subject to lapses in sanitation. A brightly colored ribbon on water taps is a reminder to use bottled water.