How To Drink Safely On Vacation, Because Tainted Alcohol Is Nothing To Mess With
The whole point of a vacation, for many people, is that it's supposed to be worry-free. But recent reports about tainted alcohol in popular travel destinations are a reminder that being prepared and aware of the risks is an absolute must. If you're worrying about how to drink safely on vacation, the good news is that there is plenty of solid advice available — but most of it requires a tiny bit of preparation.
According to CBS News, 19 people have died in Costa Rica in the last several weeks after drinking what Costa Rican authorities believe was tainted alcohol. The Costa Rican government has since confiscated approximately 30,000 bottles of alcohol that are suspected to contain toxic amounts of methanol. Via CBS News, the brands of these bottles include: Guaro Montano, Guaro Gran Apache, Aguardiente Estrella, Aguardiente Barón Rojo, Aguardiente Timbuka and Molotov Aguardiente. The investigation is still ongoing, CBS reports, and Costa Rican authorities have stated to the network that all information on the deaths is "preliminary."
Watching out for tainted alcohol is just one of many ways you can keep yourself safe while still enjoying your vacation. So if you're in the midst of planning your next vacation, here's what you should take into consideration to make sure you're drinking as safely and enjoyably as possible on your trip:
Do Your Research On The Place You're Visiting
Ideally, you want to know as much as possible about where you're staying before you actually leave for your trip. If you're going to a hotel or resort, consider taking some time to really read into reviews from people who have stayed there before. You can also look for awards or ratings from independent travel forums.
During your research, you'll also find out more about what you can expect in terms of food and drinking in the area. You should consider calling the hotel or resort to find out if they have a nurse or doctor on call. And if you're staying in an AirBnb or a similar housing situation, you should make sure you're taking the time to understand the area you're staying in. For example, find out where the closest grocery stores are, and do similar research into those stores to see if any have been associated with food or alcohol tainting.
Only Drink Cocktails That You Can Watch Being Made
When you're on vacation, make a point of only drinking cocktails or similar beverages from bars that allow you to watch them being made. Similarly, consider ordering drinks with recipes that you know yourself; that way, you'll be able to easily monitor if the drink is being made in the same way you'd make it, or if it includes new types of liquor or various add-ons that you didn't expect.
Bring Drink Test Strips With You
There are various types of test strips available for purchase that allow you to "test" your drink to see if it's tainted with certain ingredients. You can use the SipChip, which tests for certain drugs in your drink (and is explained in the video above). Or this SABRE drink test kit allows you to test for the presence of GHB or Ketamine in your drinks, both of which are often used as date rape drugs.
You can also buy a methanol testing kit, which alerts you to the presence of methanol in your alcohol; unfortunately, most methanol home testing kits are pretty pricey, and many of them are less than easy to transport.
Consider Opting For Canned Or Bottled Drinks
If you buy canned or bottled drinks, you're decreasing the risk of unexpected contamination from a local area. You can also opt to not put ice cubes in your drinks, which will save you the risk of getting sick from contaminated water melting in your drink. (It's always worth checking the warnings around ice and water in a place before you visit; there are plenty of places even within the continental United States which warn you against drinking tap water.)
You can check out this interactive map which tells you where it's safe to drink tap water and where you should opt for bottled water, just to be safe.
Bring Your Own Alcohol
If possible, consider bringing alcohol from home on your vacation. If you're driving, this is a totally easy way for you to ensure that you know what you're drinking and where it came from.
Make A Plan For The Worst Case Scenario
Before you go on vacation, you should take some time to map out what your plan will be if you get sick because of alcohol or for any other reason. Locate the closest hospitals, and talk to someone (whether they're a hotel concierge, or an AirBnb manager) about what type of protocol you should be aware of, should an emergency take place. This includes planning for a language barrier, perhaps, or making sure your cell phone is able to make calls in the area you'll be staying in.
You can check out this information by the U.S. Department of State on dealing with various healthcare issues abroad, including how to get help with a medical emergency and how to find a doctor or hospital in a foreign country.
Check For Travel Advisories Before You Go
Whether you're traveling halfway across the world, or just heading to a new city a few hours away, you'll want to see whether there are any up-to-date travel advisories regarding your destination. This could have to do with the temperature, the current criminal activity, or other influencing factors — and there might even be more than one advisory to watch out for.
The U.S. Department of State has a list of all of the travel advisories currently active for U.S. citizens to consider when going abroad.
Seek Medical Attention ASAP If You Feel Strange
If you're feeling weird after you've had a drink or a meal, don't second-guess yourself. If you're at a hotel or resort, ask to speak to the resident medical professional, or go to a hospital nearby. The same goes for if you're in an AirBnb. Also, if possible, make sure a friend is with you when you seek medical attention. That way, you have someone looking out for your best interests even if you're incapacitated.
Watch Out For Unregulated Alcohol
According to a 2018 report by the International Alliance for Responsible Drinking, 26 countries are battling issues with the "alcohol shadow economy," in which "illicit alcohol accounts for a sizable proportion of total alcohol" available. Simply put, illicit alcohol is alcohol that has not been approved, inspected, or otherwise verified by a government or federal organization. This can often contribute to instances of tainted or poisoned alcohol, the Alliance warns. So before you travel to another country, you should have an idea of how much of an issue there is with contraband, counterfeit, or otherwise unregulated alcohol.
According to the 2018 report by the International Alliance for Responsible Drinking, some countries with high percentages of illicit alcohol include: Mexico, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, South Africa, and more. One solution for this problem is to buy monitored alcohol at the airport, per USA Today.
Avoid Surprisingly Cheap Liquor
If you're in a new place and you're shocked by how cheap a handle of liquor is, then it might be too good to be true. This could be a sign that you're about to purchase illicit or unregulated alcohol, according to Michael Bilello, the senior vice president of communications and marketing for the Wine and Spirits Wholesalers of America. To RollingStone, Bilello said, “If the price seems too cheap to be true, it probably is. Be mindful of cheap, discount products.”
Bilello suggests keeping the four "P's" in mind: place, product, price, and packaging. For place, he suggests only buying alcohol from licensed bars, restaurants, and retailers. For product, he suggests only buying brands you recognize. For price, as mentioned above, he advises that you be wary of anything that seems extremely discounted. And for packaging, he suggests you look out for misspelling or other signs of faulty labelling.
Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate
This one might not exactly be a surprise, but it's still super important to keep in the front of your mind: make sure you hydrate while you travel, especially if you're in a climate you're not used to. It can be hard to keep track of how much water you're drinking when you're on a different schedule than usual, so you could easily get dehydrated without even realizing it.
Also, you should be aware of whether you need to be drinking bottled water or if tap water's just fine. If you need bottled water, make sure you're purchasing enough to drink comfortably. You don't want to feel like you're rationing out water in your hotel room before you go out for the evening.
Keep Altitude & Temperature In Mind
As always, you should keep an eye on the temperature, humidity, and altitude of the place you're visiting. Altitude sickness is no joke; if you're visiting a place that's thousands of feet above sea level, you might end up feeling really sick if you're not careful.
You could also have a much lower alcohol tolerance than you're used to if you're at a higher altitude, according to Gizmodo. This is why you'll want to drink alcohol moderately (or not at all) in the first few days of your visit, in order to give your body time to acclimate to a higher altitude.
Check In With Yourself & Your Friends
While on vacation, you should consistently check in with yourself and take the time to assess how you're feeling each day. This means paying attention to your hydration, and keeping an eye out for any symptoms that could indicate something's up with your body. (Here are some common symptoms of alcohol poisoning, per the Mayo Clinic.)
You can also make sure that you're serving as a buddy for your friends or loved ones on vacation, and that you're sharing your wealth of knowledge about drinking safely with them. Above all, your vacation should be filled with happy memories. Keep in mind that a little bit of research in advance can go a long way, in terms of avoiding stress on days you're supposed to be chilling out. In general, the safer and more prepared you feel while on vacation, the happier you'll be.