Tuesday Travel Tools: USB Water Purifier

This post is the first of a new, ongoing series: Tuesday Travel Tools. Every Tuesday, I’ll share an affordable gadget that aids your travels (and your life) in some major way, whether that’s saving you money, adding comfort or convenience, and/or helping you be a more sustainable, ecological, ethical traveler.

The Steri-Pen Ultra checks the box on all 3 of my top travel tool criteria: it saves money, adds comfort and convenience, and increases sustainability.

What is the Steri-Pen?

The Steri-Pen is a portable, USB-powered rechargeable water sterilizer. This little device runs less than $100, fits in any purse (or bag or backpack), and purifies a liter of water in a minute and a half.

The Steri-Pen has been tested and certified by the Water Quality Association to US EPA Microbiological Water Purification Standards.

Why get the Steri-Pen?

River of trash
Stop contributing to this: a literal river of trash in Chiapas

Let’s start with price.

Yes, the Steri-Pen will set you back a bit less than $100 when you make your initial investment. But how many $1 bottles of water (usually half-liter or 3/4 liter) do you drink each day on a trip to a hot location? You should be consuming about 2 liters of water a day if you’re not working out (give or take depending on your size and gender), so let’s conservatively guess you’re buying 3 or 4 bottles of water a day. You’ll have paid for the Steri-Pen within 30 days of travel, and probably a lot sooner if you consider teeth-brushing water or you really like to get your hydration on.

You get up to 50 treatments per charge, and the Steri-Pen has a sterilization lifetime equivalent to 15,000 liters.

Next, comfort.

How many times have you just NOT felt like going to the store to get bottled water? Especially late at night, when you’re hungover, or if you, unfortunately, happen to be sick? With the Steri-Pen, you just need a bottle (or cup, or any container), and some water from the tap. Voila! No excuse for dehydration.

Finally (and I’d argue: MOST IMPORTANTLY), the sustainability.

Plastic bottles are horrible for the environment and so senseless and easily avoidable. Every plastic bottle of water you drink IS adding to the world’s landfills, IS contributing to pollution, and IS a vote against a healthy environment. Don’t be that guy.

Why I love the Steri-Pen

Credit: https://www.pexels.com/photo/assorted-plastic-bottles-802221/
No need for these anymore

Aside from the core reasons mentioned above, the Steri-Pen is personally travel-tested and approved by me. I have used the Steri-Pen Ultra on every single trip (outside of the US, where you can drink the tap), and it has paid for itself more than 10 times over.

The Steri-Pen saved my little group a TON of money (and time wasted looking for water when it was sold out at several stores) in Cuba, helped me be a more plastic-avoidant traveler in Nicaragua, and saved my hydration when I was home alone, sick, and ran out of purified water at my house in Mexico.

I’m pretty tech-deficient, and I appreciate how incredibly easy-to-use the Steri-Pen is. You just turn it on, stick it in water, and swirl until the face turns “Smiley”. Voila! It’s as easy at that.

Downsides of the Steri-Pen

My least favorite aspect of the Steri-Pen is that it does NOT change the taste of the water. So if you’re in a place where the water tastes and smells like rotten eggs… you’re just gonna have to plug your nose and get through it. (note: if you can’t handle icky-smelling/tasting water, I’ve got a few other purification options for you at the bottom of this post)

There’s definite workarounds to solving this issue, like carrying water flavoring with you, or drinking the water in tea to mask the flavor. But it’s something to keep in mind.

Also: If you’re in a place where the water has particles of who-knows-what, the Steri-Pen also, obviously, does not take care of those. You may want to run the water through a strainer or some kind of physical purifier as well. As of today, though, I’ve never traveled to a place where this is an issue.

Other options

the Berkey bottle purifies AND improves the taste!

If you’ve decided the Steri-Pen Ultra specifically isn’t for you, but you’d like to consider a portable sterilization device, here are a few others that have been recommended by friends and experts (though I have not personally used or tested them):

Steri-Pen Adventurer

The Adventurer option is smaller, cheaper than the Steri-Pen Ultra, and doubles as a flashlight. Unlike the Steri-Pen Ultra, this version is not USB rechargeable, and instead uses batteries for power (which would be preferable if you are backcountry camping or someplace with very unreliable electricity service).

Countertop filtration

If you’re living in a place that doesn’t have drinkable tap water, taking a minute and a half to purify a liter of water is a bit of a drag (or maybe that’s just me – I’m impatient AF). I currently use the Pureit system at home, which doesn’t require electricity, but there are tons of options.


I first heard of Berkey from LeefromAmerica, and they’re top-shelf when it comes to water purification. Birkey not only purifies your water, but also makes it taste better. They’ve got options for travelers and other on-the-go purifiers, like this self-contained purifier/water bottle, as well as larger countertop home units and even shower water filters that don’t use chlorine to purify.


If you’re impatient like me and not into swirling a little purifier around for a minute and a half or you don’t have an easy-to-use container handy, the Lifestraw could be a better alternative for you. You can buy a Lifestraw by itself (it purifies as you suck water and is one of the least expensive and most highly rated water purification options on the market), or a Lifestraw water bottle, which is a purifier and water bottle in one.

Pin it for Later: Top Tuesday Travel Tools – The USB Water Purifier

Top Travel Tools: the Portable Water Purifier can be charged via USB, purifies a liter of water in a minute and a half, and costs less than $100

Looking for more ways to be sustainable while traveling? Check out this post.

Do you use a water purifier when you travel? Why or why not?


A short vacation in Thailand turned into a life abroad with a canceled ticket home. Nearly a decade later and after living in Bangkok, Rio de Janeiro, Puebla, and Puerto Vallarta, Steph is on to her next adventure and living back in beautiful, cosmopolitan Mexico City. She is living, traveling, and working (both as an expat therapist and an international health insurance representative) around the world to find the beautiful, inspirational, and interesting while sharing it with you!

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