Today marks 3 months since I first arrived tired and nervous at the international airport in Bangkok. Now three months, three countries, and many adventures later I’m proud to say that I have yet to use a single disposable water bottle. YES!! This was the only plan all along, to experience South East Asia without leaving a trail of bottles, and other plastics behind. Although I’ve been successful up to this day, it hasn’t been easy. After all, that’s why most people drink bottled water, they’re cheap, convenient, and they’re everywhere. But I wasn’t going for convenience when it came to my water supply, I was going for waste reduction.
Here’s how we’ve managed to pull it off.
Filling up at the guesthouse/hotel/hostel/homestay/etc. Fortunately most of the guesthouses or hotels we’ve stayed at have had filtered water for us to drink. At some of the guesthouses the water was only for staff or kitchen use but by asking nicely we’ve been able to use it. This has by far been the most convenient when traveling. You can fill up anytime you’re there and before you leave to go exploring for the day.
Filling up at restaurants. Many of the little family-run restaurants in Thailand and Laos have free water for customers. Whenever we eat at these places, which is sometimes quite often, we fill up our bottles. Good, inexpensive vegetarian food and zero waste water = Win Win!
Filtered water machines. I was so happy to “discover” these in Chiang Mai. They’re really easy to use, the water tastes great, and they’re super cheap.They’re usually in residential areas, but I always keep an eye out.
Ask ask ask! Yes, there have been times when we are thirsty, our bottles are empty, and it seems as though the only safe water supply to quench our growing thirst is inside a disposable bottle; but up to this day that hasn’t been true. By asking around we’ve been able to get zero waste potable water and mostly for free. Fernando has been amazing with this, he’s the extrovert of the two of us and doesn’t get shy when it comes to asking people for a water refill whether it’s with words or signs. We’ve asked at coffee shops, restaurants, people’s homes, businesses, and hotels.
Volunteering. At all 4 of the projects we’re volunteered with they have had zero waste filtered water for us to use. The entire time we’ve been there we didn’t have to worry about our water supply. It not only made me happy because I wasn’t using disposable bottles, but because no one else was either!
Keeping an eye out for water coolers. We’ve filled up our bottles at the Post Office, the train station, the Thai Consulate, the doctor’s office, and even at the Buddhist monastery. We have our bottles everywhere we go, and everywhere we go I keep an eye out for a zero waste water supply. Fernando says I have a sort of radar for it.
Offering to pay. Although the majority of the people we have asked for water have been happy to give it to us for free (and don’t let us pay), some haven’t, and that’s when we ask them to sell us water. This hasn’t happened many times but by wording it differently some people have felt more inclined to let us refill our bottles in exchange for a few coins. This happened in Koh Lanta, I saw they had a 5 gallon jug at the little market, I asked the man if I could have some water, that I would pay, but he seemed confused and pointed to the many bottles he had for sale in the refrigerators. I told him why I didn’t want them but that I would be happy to pay to refill from his 5 gallon jug and showed him the coins. In the end he seemed to be fine with it and we were all very happy.
Filter. I carry a Life Straw filter with me, but up to this day I’ve only had to use it one time while camping. I know other travelers use their filters much more but we haven’t had the need to.
Refusing free bottles. Since most people drink bottled water, many hotel rooms or bus tickets include a bottle for each of us. Even though it’s free, it’s still waste, so we kindly refuse, point to our reusable bottle and explain that disposable bottles create too much plastic waste.
Coconut Water. And finally, there’s almost always coconut water straight from the source available. I’ve probably only had about 5 coconuts while I’ve been here, but it’s not for a lack of supply. It’s a fresh, delicious, plastic-free option!
And there you have it, that’s how two people have traveled in under-developed and developing nations for 3 months without using disposable bottles.
Plastic water bottles are convenient, but more than that they are an unnecessary source of pollution in most parts of the world. They litter our streets, canyons, waterways, and ocean, killing and entangling wildlife. I hope to see the day when instead of refrigerators filled with bottled water, I see water refill stations on every corner and people filling up with their reusable bottles!
One thing I’d like to improve on is to tell restaurant and hotel owners how much we appreciate them offering plastic free water to their customers. And to the ones that don’t, tell them they should. After all, they are businesses and customer opinions matter a lot. I think it’s just as important to spread the message as it is to practice environmentally friendly actions.
All the best,