$7 Bottles of Water: Refreshing Or In Bad Taste?

expensive bottle of waterHave you ever been desperate enough to pay $7 for a bottle of water in a hotel room? I drink tap water in any country where it’s safe and stockpile store-bought water in countries like Mexico, where it isn’t, so I never really get caught needing to pay extortionate prices for bottled water or anything else from hotel minibars.

Last week, I stayed at the Marriott Fallsview Hotel in Niagara Falls, Ontario, and, although I enjoyed my stay, I couldn’t help but wonder – who pays the $6.95 they charge for the bottles of Aquafina water they place in the room?

It wouldn’t be priced as such if no one were buying it, right?
Someone at Marriott who sits in a nice office with plush furniture must have decided that $6.95 – not $4.95 or $5.95 – was the optimal price for this item at this location.

Clearly people on expense accounts or the ultra rich might not balk at the price. And I’m not a “skip lunch because there are children starving in Africa” kind of guy, but with 40% of the world’s population living on less than $2 per day, I don’t think I could bring myself to engage in this sort of little extravagance – definitely not in a city where millions of gallons of water are literally gushing over Niagara Falls.

Liquids Surrendered At Airport Security: Is There An Afterlife?

water bottlesEver looked at the mountain of liquids (or, in my case, that luscious, unopened jar of dulce de leche, and countless yogurts) accumulated at airport security and wondered where they end up? Yeah, me too. I’ve always hoped they go to charity and the water bottles recycled, because I have a bit of an idealist streak beneath my jaded exterior.

Our friend Andy Bender over at Forbes helped get to the bottom of this tricky question, and the answers are somewhat surprising. Rather than being palmed by greasy-haired or hungry TSA agents (cause for immediate termination), large airports divvy up the booty by category and dispose of it accordingly, although smaller volume airports may just lump it as trash.

If you lie awake nights pondering the fate of your spendy conditioner or lotion, here’s the breakdown:

  • Liquids are sorted by type (sunscreen, shampoo, alcohol, contact lens solution, etc.) and emptied into hazmat barrels, which are then collected by waste management companies. They’re disposed of according to environmental regulations (Forbes reports that “water-based solutions are sent to a waste water treatment facility or waste energy recovery facility aka trash-to-stream plant.”
  • Alcohol ends up being treated at fuel-blending facilities because it’s flammable.
  • Large quantities of bottles are “chipped” and recycled, but not smaller volumes, which go to the landfill.

For more information on current regulations taking liquids in carry-on, click here. And here’s a tip: by carrying a refillable water bottle, you help reduce the 1.5 million barrels of oil required for U.S. plastic water bottle production each year.

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[Photo credit: Flickr user stevendepolo]

Knocked up abroad: pregnant travel in the first trimester

pregnant travelFor more on pregnant travel, see parts 1 and 2 of Knocked up abroad: pregnancy in a foreign country here and here.

There’s no question that having a baby changes you: your body, your lifestyle, even your shoe size. One thing I hoped not to change altogether was traveling, as long as it was reasonably safe and comfortable for me and the baby. From the beginning of my pregnancy in Istanbul, my doctor has okayed travel, as long as I get up to stretch frequently on flights and try not to overdo it. Most doctors (and mothers) agree that the second trimester is the most comfortable time for pregnant travel but the first trimester can be a good time as well (while you can still squeeze into pre-maternity clothes and walk without waddling) with a little extra precaution and a little more babying (of the mother, of course).


The first trimester of pregnancy is a tricky time for many women: the risk of miscarriage is highest up to 10 weeks, morning sickness is common, and hormones are running wild. It’s too early to tell anyone outside family or close friends and without a visible belly, it’s impossible for strangers to tell as well. At later points in your pregnancy, a baby bump acts as the international symbol for pregnancy and can make it much easier to express your condition when traveling abroad. If you travel in the early months before showing, you may want to learn the local language words for “I’m pregnant” to avoid a Bridget Jones-esque “mit kinder” scene if you need extra help while traveling.


Over this past December, my husband and I were looking for a good trip to take over the holidays, when I was around 10 weeks pregnant. Our location in Istanbul changes the list of short-haul destinations considerably from what we would have considered from New York, and we debated between a warm-weather beach destination (husband) or a snowy and “Christmassy” European city (me). We ruled out Egypt (not warm enough and not Christmassy), New Zealand (even less convenient to get to than from New York), and Sri Lanka (not enough time to plan properly and some risks of disease I couldn’t be vaccinated against). In the end, we chose…Russia.
Going to Russia in winter while pregnant may seem crazy to some, but for me it made sense: Moscow and St. Petersburg are a few hours from Istanbul by direct flight, my husband speaks fluent Russian in case of any problems, and there was no risk of malaria or eating any food that had spoiled in the sun. While it was cold and snowing during our trip and I couldn’t take advantage of some of Russia’s cold-weather remedies like vodka and saunas, a week in Moscow and St. Petersburg was a perfect mix of exotic and comfortable.

Nearly every cafe had a variety of non-alcoholic and caffeine-free beverages for me to choose from, I even had non-alcoholic sangria, mojitos, and mulled wine in addition to fresh juices and herbal teas. Both cities are beautiful to explore in the snow, with plenty of museums and cafes to warm up in, and the New Year holiday displays made it festive.

If you are planning a trip to a foreign country while pregnant, it makes sense to keep in mind the following guidelines. Always discuss plans with your doctor before booking and err on the side of caution when choosing a destination.

Check airline restrictions – Most airlines allow pregnant women to fly internationally up to 28 weeks, after which you must provide a doctor’s note issued within a week or so of departure. 35 weeks (earlier for women carrying multiples) is the cutoff for nearly all airlines to prevent women from giving birth on board. Most US domestic carriers will allow pregnant women to fly up to the final month; hilariously, Continental will not let women board if “physical signs of labor are present” though they don’t specify what.

Consider travel insurance – If your medical insurance doesn’t cover you overseas, you may want to look into supplementary medical travel insurance, but be sure it covers pregnancy as many policies do not. Additionally, if you are traveling to a country where English is not spoken, you may want to research the name of a clinic or doctor in case of emergency as well.

Be prepared for jet lag – Before pregnancy, I had little issues with jet lag, trying to get on local time as soon as possible. I discovered when flying back from the US to Turkey that it hits you much harder as a pregnant traveler, especially as you can’t use sleeping pills or alcohol to help you sleep. Factor this into your schedule and give yourself plenty of time to acclimate and adjust to time changes.

Realize your limits have changed – On a usual trip, I’d be up early to walk around a city all day, have a late lunch (or maybe just a big afternoon beer) followed by more museums and exploration, and still be up for checking out the local nightlife. Once pregnant, I required more sleep and three solid meals a day (plus maybe some snacks, I am eating for two!), tired after walking short distances, and was ready to call it a night long before last call. If you have an itinerary, pare it down to the must-sees and double the time to see everything; better to take it easy and enjoy your trip than feel exhausted and sick.

Look for destinations that don’t require vaccinations – One of the first tests your doctor will give you after confirming pregnancy will be for immunizations to hepatitis and rubella. If you haven’t had the vaccines, they will have to wait until after the baby is born as they are not safe for pregnant women. I have not had the hepatitis vaccine yet, and thus have a greater risk of contracting it, which rules out much of Africa and southeast Asia for travel, but also means I must avoid raw vegetables including salad in Istanbul. Most other medications and vaccines commonly given to travelers before going to an area prone to Malaria, Typhoid or Yellow Fever are not advised for pregnant women. But there’s still a big world out there, check the CDC for destination-specific information.

Be extra aware of food and water safety – Pregnant women are more susceptible to food poisoning the average person, as the immune system is suppressed so it doesn’t reject the fetus. This is the reason most pregnant women are told to avoid sushi and food that is not prepared in sanitized conditions. Even adventurous eaters should play it safe while pregnant and drink bottled water when in doubt. I recently had an opportunity to visit Mumbai, India but after consulting with a few friends who had lived there, I worried I’d spend the trip inside my hotel room eating pre-packaged food. Again,

check the CDC and use the same common sense you’d use anytime while traveling: stick with food that is freshly prepared in restaurants full of people.


Stay tuned for more on pregnancy travel, including Turkish superstitions and customs, travelling in the second trimester, where to do pre-baby shopping, and more on having a baby in a foreign country. Check here for further updates.

[Photo courtesy Mike Barish from the Istanbul tram]

Top five ways to conserve water when you travel

It’s not always easy to be eco-conscious when you travel, especially when it comes to conserving natural resources like water. Over one billion people don’t have access to clean water, says thewaterproject.org, a non-profit that works to bring relief to global communities suffering from this issue (to donate, click here). Yet, the often-necessary evil of purchasing bottled water in developing nations has made for an environmental nightmare, as anyone who’s ever seen entire beaches littered with discarded plastic containers can attest.

As travelers, we’re fortunate to have the money and resources to obtain clean water, but there are things we can do on the road to conserve this precious resource, as well as minimize the amount of plastic we use. Even better, most of the below tips are just as easily put into action at home. For more ideas on indoor and outdoor water conservation, click here.

1. Turn off sink when brushing your teeth, and washing dishes, your face, or shaving (legs, too, ladies, if you’re in a place with abysmal water pressure). Also be sure to fully turn off taps. Leaking faucet? Unless you carry spare washers with you, it may be tough to resolve this one, depending upon where you are, what type of place you’re staying in, and language barriers. Use your judgement on whether or not it’s worth alerting staff or your host.

[Photo credit: Flickr user Stacy Lynn Baum]2. Turn off the shower while you’re soaping up, shampooing, or shaving/shorten your shower.

3. If your water has been festering in a plastic bottle on a hot bus all day and you can’t bring yourself to drink it, don’t just pour it onto the ground or down the drain. Find a smart place to empty it: a tree, a vegetable garden, give it to a thirsty animal.

4. Pack lightweight, quick-drying, dark-colored clothing that can be washed in the sink, eliminating the need for washing machines. Allow them to soak for awhile (bring a flat sink-stopper with you, or stuff a piece of clothing in the drain, in a pinch). Drain, wring out, and refill sink with clean water, rather than using running water to wash and rinse.

5. If you need to hit a laundromat (even if you’re dropping it off), wait until you’ve got a full load, if possible. If you’re DIY, select the appropriate machine setting to ensure the right water level, and wash your clothes on cold–it will get them just as clean, and conserves energy.

It can be tough to postpone laundering when you’re backpacking, especially in hot, humid climates. I usually sink-wash to get by until the entire contents of my pack are ready for a trip to the laundromat. Yes, it’s kind of gross, but if you can’t handle slightly funky threads, you probably shouldn’t be a backpacker.

Tip: Bring your own water bottle (or reuse a plastic bottle several times). Not only does this save money, but you’re sparing the earth. thewaterproject.org, reports that it takes 1.5 million barrels of oil to meet the demand for U.S. bottled water production, alone. Plastic bottles take thousands of years to degrade, clogging landfills, or releasing toxic fumes if incinerated.

If you’re traveling in a country or region where it’s not safe to drink tap water, and you’ll be staying put for a couple of days, or you need to stock up (for a long bus trip, say), buy a gallon jug(s) and refill your own bottle as needed, rather than purchasing multiple units of smaller bottles. Be sure to pack some purifying tablets to keep it clean (they’re not a bad thing to use in suspect areas, anyway, since bottled water can be contaminated). If you need to purify your own water, there are pros and cons to the various types of filtration systems. An outdoor store like REI is a good place to ask for feedback and advice, as well as purchase BPA-free water bottles

Sigg makes excellent, eco-friendly water bottles from lined aluminum. They’re practically indestructable (mine has seen four continents and a lot of abuse since I got it four years ago, and it’s still in top shape), come in various sizes, have cool designs, and the caps are replaceable/have interchangeable styles.

[Photo credits: shower, Flickr user privatenobby; bottles, Flickr use procsilas]

5 signs you’ve been traveling in a developing country

There’s culture shock, and there’s reverse culture shock. And sometimes, there are simply the habits you pick up while on the road for a while. Once home, these habits are hard to break at first, and you find yourself doing funny things like using a cup of water to try to flush your toilet. Here are five signs that you’ve been traveling in a developing country for a while:

1. You throw your toilet paper in the garbage instead of the toilet. If you’ve traveled to Thailand, you know that most flush toilets can’t handle paper. If you traveled to China, you know that most toilets aren’t even flush toilets. In a lot of the world, toilets can’t handle paper, and if you’ve spent a lot of time in any of those countries you probably toss your paper into the garbage automatically. Now that you’re home, you toss your paper into the nearest trash can in the bathroom at your parents’ house without thinking. Whoops.

2. You brush your teeth with bottled water. It’s almost unbelievable, after extended months abroad, that tap water in the US comes out free of parasites and bacteria. It’s such a simple act, filling up a glass of tap water, but feels so utterly foreign after months of keeping your mouth glued shut in the shower to ensure that no nasty creatures make it past your lips. Yep, water back home is free and easy to get. Bottoms up!3. You keep your shower at a lukewarm trickle. Water pressure is a glorious things, especially for those of you who have long, thick hair. But showering day after day under a light stream of lukewarm water makes your skin all pansy and soft, doesn’t it? The sheer force of an American shower is enough to blast you away, but add the scalding water to it and you’ve got a recipe for some serious burn. At least you feel thoroughly disinfected afterward.

4. It feels weird and unsanitary to sit on the toilet seat, and you wish you could pop a squat. Some folks never convert to the squat toilet, but for those whose Achilles finally adjust, the squatting position can be life-altering. Without going into detail, let’s just say that it’s anatomically preferable to the sitting position. Then again, being able to relax with a newspaper again is priceless….

5. You’re afraid to drive your car, but when you do you’re amazed at how polite the other drivers are. It’s okay. The roads back home are not only paved, but the pavement is smoooooooth. Everyone is required to take a driving course before getting their licenses, and understand how to merge rather than cut you off. Relax and enjoy the open road. It’s one of the best things about travel in the States.

Photo credit: StrudelMonkey, Flickr