Bed Bugs; I’m sorry, but I have to raise this subject. It may seem like a trivial point but it can seriously affect both your travels, and things back home after your trip. These pests are not easy to deal with from both a host’s perspective and guests; but they need to be dealt with immediately.
This is not a definitive guide and I’ve put some links at the bottom of the page with more information on how to spot them, how to treat yourself if infected, and how to prevent them spreading.
I’ve had to deal with these bloodsuckers a few times and so I know exactly how it feels if you’ve been caught out, please understand my frustration, and my willpower to not curse in every sentence when writing this article.
Bed bugs are one of the traveller’s worst pets to keep and you may not even know you’re harbouring these fugitives. They measure around 4-5mm and hide in the crevices of beds and bags and upon reaching sexual maturity; they can produce up to 200 eggs at a time. They tend to hide in wooden bed frames as there is more grip and usually more holes for them to burrow their way into for the next unsuspecting victim, they have also been known to hide in the seams of mattresses so if you’re entering a possible den of these, do check these areas for any possible signs (listed below).
Unfortunately, unless a prior inspection is done as soon as you arrive at your accommodation, the first signs of an infestation will be during your sleep as they tend to come out at night to feed. The most obvious sign will be bites on your skin, usually in groups of 3 either a line following a vein or in a triangle and most commonly on the arms, legs and shoulders as they are more usually exposed at night. In some cases, symptoms may not appear until some days after the bites have occurred so if you’re moving around a lot it can be hard to pinpoint where you got them from and you can be unknowingly spreading them yourself, so as soon as you know, you need to treat them instantaneously.
Sometimes the bed can also show instant signs of an incursion, it’s best to check along any seams of the mattress and under the mattress itself including along the bed frame and any joints where the bed has been constructed. You might even notice bloodstains and dark spots on the bed sheets. Essentially, this is what you’re looking for…
Now as I’ve lived and worked in hostels before I’ve heard a range of solutions for what to do when encountering a bed bug infestation including spraying vinegar and freezing your fabrics. Unfortunately these aren’t effective (the vinegar spray does not work at all) and freezing only sends them into hibernation. The only way to kill them is with heat and short of setting all your belongings on fire, the dryer is the next best option.
The first thing to do is to remove everything from your bag, put them in plastic bags and separate them from everything else. Wash absolutely everything, including bag and shoes, with hot water in the washing machine and then dry on the highest possible heat for at least 30 minutes. When everything is done, go over every item with a fine toothcomb and ensure things are pest free, including in the seams of your backpack and in every single pocket, you really don’t want to have to do this all over again. Inspect everything that can’t be washed, like your electronics for any traces of eggs or bugs.
For things can’t be washed and dried, use rubbing alcohol to clean them but best to do a spot test first, in an out of sight spot, to make sure there’s no damage.
Let’s say you’ve just got home and you’ve recently found you’ve been bitten. You really don’t want to let these pests infect your home as well, so what do you do? Well if you have an outside area, garden, garage etc. you will want to quarantine the luggage away from any fabrics that can be infected. Keep all your clothes in plastic bags and as above, wash and dry them on high heat. If you don’t have an outside area, such as if you live in an apartment, the bathtub is actually a good place to unload as bed bugs are easy to see on white surfaces and they don’t like climbing on smooth surfaces. Be sure to keep your suitcase or bag sealed in a large plastic bag if you can’t get it disinfected right away.
As I stated at the beginning of this, I have dealt with bed bugs and honestly, once you learn to combat them, they won’t ruin your trip, believe me. They are a nuisance but with correct handling and prevention, they can and will be eradicated from your belongings. If you’re in a shady hostel or hotel that doesn’t know how to deal with them, move; but be sure to tell the new accommodation so they can help you, they may even give you a private room to combat any spread. Just don’t let it ruin your trip; embrace it, shrug it off as an experience and be sure you know how to prevent them spreading in the future.
“Good night, sleep tight; don’t let the bed bugs bite”