Minimising Water Usage when Travelling

Here are some tips on using less water when travelling, by bike or with backpack. I learnt them from other travellers, and myself through necessity.

Ration Sweat

Ration sweat, so you don’t need to drink as much. In hot places, don’t cycle in midday sun. Instead, sleep, read, or write, under shelter from the sun. Start cycling as soon as it gets light, and also in the evening, and you should have enough time to get in the distance you want. In Central America, I think I need to drink about 1 litre an hour, except around midday, maybe 1130 to 1500, when 2 litres an hour is about right if cycling.

Washing Up

Avoid frying - this makes washing up tractable. To cook vegetables, add them to the boiling rice or pasta you are making. This also saves time cooking.

To wash a pan with only a few millilitres of water, first scrape it out with your spoon as well as you can. Then add very little water. Rub with fingers, or a scrubber if you have one. Remove debris with fingers. Repeat maybe once or twice. At his stage the pan will be mostly clean, but there will probably still be some bits of food stuck on from cooking. Now make a cup of tea in the pan. The boiling water will remove what’s stuck, and sterilise the pan. The tea will cover any slight taste from the food. You had to drinking something anyway, so this uses the drinking water for cleaning too. Use a lid if available to minimise water loss as steam.

Water Bottles

When you need some water for washing hands, or small quantities for washing other things, there is a technique for dispensing it.

Using a normal bottle of water with a screwtop, do not remove the lid. Unscrew it just enough to allow drips of water out when you squeeze the bottle. If you then hold the bottle between your legs, you have a tap with controllable flow under which you can wash your hands. Better, especially if you have a large bottle, is to put it sideways on some raised platform. Turn the lid as a tap and wash hands under it.


Paper is much lighter than water. Many things you would use water for at home can be done with tissue paper instead. For example, cleaning some things to a good enough standard. When brushing teeth, it can be used to remove toothpaste foam from the face.


This one is actually about using lots of water, but it’s fun. :-) If you are living on a beach and feel the need for the luxury of a fresh water shower:

  1. Carry large bottle of water to the beach.
  2. Get naked.
  3. Get someone to pour it over you.

I leaned this one when I was arriving at a hippie beach in Tenerife, and the first person I saw was a girl doing this in the moonlight. She didn’t mind, and invited me for dinner with them.