How to deal with bed bugs

They are every traveler’s (and hotel owner’s) nightmare, they are bigger than you thought and they can survive without blood for an entire year. Eek! Meet your worst travel enemies: bed bugs! In today’s post I will be talking to you about how to avoid these nasty little creatures and what to do when you discover them. 

Last summer I was traveling through Romania when I had my first ever encounter with these bad boys. Somewhere in the outskirts of Transylvania, in a clean hostel, there they were.

There were hundreds of them, creeping through the mattresses at night, looking for a speck of blood or two. And I was their victim, big time!

How I knew it was bed bugs

 

A quick Iphone snapshot of the damage done by bed bugs. Gross, isn’t it?

The first time I thought of bed bugs was when I discovered some really, really itchy red bites on my legs. Being a highly wanted prey for mosquitoes, I thought some bug repellent would be the answer. I was wrong. The day after my bites had tripled and I hadn’t heard a mosquito in days. I was suspicious, but busy enough to avoid the burden of checking under the mattresses.

It was only the day after ,when I woke up with one of them staring at me from my blanket, that I knew for sure something wasn’t right. It was also the first day in my life that I realized these bugs aren’t so tiny you can’t see them with the human eye, as this was a full grown big boy (or girl) checking me out. It was right then and there that I started searching for what to do. This is what I found:

Bed bugs don’t carry diseases

Well, phew! Although I was basically perforated, I didn’t have to worry about any aftermath, as these ‘innocent’ creatures can’t infect you with anything. They do bite an awful lot, so there’s no reason to stop here.

 

It can happen anywhere!

I always thought cheap, dirty hostels had bed bugs. Well, they do, but clean and organized hostels, hotels and B&B’s are also eligible candidates. In other words, you could find bedbugs in a four star hotel, although that’s a situation more unlikely to happen. But there were periods where home and apartment owners were in great panic because their houses got infected. Of course it doesn’t help when hostels or hotels are lazy about their problem, so the amount of bugs can definitely say something about the place you are staying in.

 

Bed bugs like to travel

In some way bedbugs are like us, only creepy and way more sexual. Bed bugs spread quickly. Not only are they fast when it comes to reproduction, they are also world travelers. Backpacks, suitcases, clothing, you name it and they’re there! Making sure your suitcase/ backpack is closed and not on the floor is a must if you want to avoid having unexpected guests.

bed bugs
                                Source: Michael Wunderli

Bed bug bites are mostly confused with spider or mosquito bites

They just itch a whole lot more! Checking for bites regularly can prevent further damage. Also, you don’t want to be scratching your bites, as they tend to scar really fast. Bed bugs tend to bite in a row, so if you find two or more bites in a row, you know what time it is.

My favorite… Bed bugs are like cockroaches, expensive and almost impossible to get rid of . They can survive a year without blood, seek out travel companions and are immune to most spray poisons they sell in the shops. Great, just great!

 

How to deal with bed bugs

Before I freak you out too much, there are of course ways to avoid bed bugs. Most of them work properly, although you can always have some really bad luck. Here’s how to check:

 

Check the hostel/ hotel linen for blood stains.

This is an easy way of checking is there has been any history with bed bugs, but it can also freak you out a little bit if the sheets are older. It could be the problem is already gone, but you can never be too careful! A good option is to take your own linen, although hostels mostly refuse this.

 

Read hostel reviews

Wherever it is that you book your hostel, check their reviews! Sometimes typing in the name of the hostel in a search engine + bed bugs will give you some results. A traveler who encountered bedbugs in a hostel is mostly prepared to leave a remark about this on sites as Tripadvisor. (Also great for finding cockroaches). Be sure to check the recent information travelers have written.

Okay, that’s nice. But I already found them. What do I do now?

Well… Instead of screaming bloody murder, there are a few things you can do:

 

Tell the hostel staff!

By their reaction you can mostly tell if this has been a problem before. When the hostel staff take immediate action, you can at least trust them about discovering the problem for the first time, just like you. If they tell you there’s not such a thing, be careful. Mostly these are the lazy hostel owners, who know they have that particular problem but don’t act fast enough to really get rid of it. Symptom control or not doing anything at all is not how to solve this.

 

Close your luggage!

Keeping your suitcase or backpack closed is very important if you don’t bed bugs to travel with you! Close all luggage items and preferably store them somewhere higher than the floor. Bed bugs do climb, but at least you will not make it easy on them. Keeping your clothing in plastic zipper bags will not only keep your laundry separated, it will also decrease the chance of bringing your new friends home. You can also choose to store your luggage in a bathroom, as the bugs usually don’t seek out tiled and cold places like toilets and bathrooms. By all means, try not to spread them by bringing them to other hostels as well.

 

Wash, heat, dry and kill!

Wash everything you had with you on that particular trip. Clothing is usually a problem because you can’t wash it on a really high temperature. Putting stuff in the fridge for a long time (months) will help as well. Be sure to clean your entire backpack with boiling water (if possible) and put it in the dryer. In my case I washed everything I owned when I got back and I refused to bring my suitcase inside. Actually, I threw it away…

 

In the very unfortunate event that you have brought them home, call pest control.

There are sprays on the market that say they will take care of your pest problem, but searching for them on the internet told me they didn’t work. Having a professional to take a look at it will definitely solve the problem if you act accordingly (which means fast!) Like I said, these bugs are really hard to get rid of and the last thing you want is creating an unlivable situation for yourself, in your own home!

This guide will hopefully help you when experiencing bed bug related incidents, but I want you to know it’s not here to scare you out of traveling at all. Chances are you will meet a couple of bed bugs at least once in your life, and if you are cautious enough, this shouldn’t be a really big problem. All I can say is to enjoy wherever you go and maybe check your linen before you go to sleep, but that’s it. May all your travels be as bug free as possible!

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16 Comments

  • Reply
    Adrian Ann
    February 9, 2015 at 22:46

    I’ve never encountered bed bugs personally but many people I know traveling have. I agree with you 100% that checking hostel reviews is the smartest thing possible. Whenever I hear of people getting them at a specific place, I check their reviews and there is usually a consistent complaint of them. Trust Reviews (at least for BB’s)

  • Reply
    Andrea
    February 11, 2015 at 21:35

    My biggest travel fear! I still don’t know if I had them…I feel like I might have ignored the signs while abroad. The hostel I was staying ended up closing down a month later for infestation. They havent followed me home which is a good thing. Great tips (hopefully I never have to use them!)

  • Reply
    Elena
    February 11, 2015 at 21:56

    I hate them but not as much I hate the mosquitoes and sandflies…At least the bedbugs attack everyone but the mosquitoes smell me from miles away 🙁

  • Reply
    Sean
    February 11, 2015 at 22:29

    Good advice. Although, I had a little laugh at the heading “Check the hostel/ hotel linen for blood stains.” I think finding blood stains are one my “find a new place to stay” moments…

    • Reply
      The Brave Dame
      February 12, 2015 at 08:52

      Haha! I can imagine, Sean. That’s why one needs to check 😉

  • Reply
    Stephen
    February 13, 2015 at 11:53

    Yikes, gross indeed. I’ve got to know, did you leave a hostel review to warn other travelers against staying therE?

    • Reply
      The Brave Dame
      February 13, 2015 at 17:40

      I did, Stephen. Although I felt a little bad about it.

      • Reply
        Stephen
        May 13, 2015 at 05:33

        Hey, don’t feel bad at all! Problems like this are the reasons such website have value.

  • Reply
    Alli
    February 13, 2015 at 14:46

    “I woke up with one of them staring at me” Hahaha. That thought made me laugh. Eeek! I am so afraid of this happening to me one day! But like you say, they don’t carry diseases and all will be well in the end 😉

    • Reply
      The Brave Dame
      February 13, 2015 at 17:41

      @Alli Haha! I must admit that it makes a great story on boring birthday parties 😉

  • Reply
    Roaming Renegades
    February 13, 2015 at 21:12

    We had them in our second hostel in NYC, it was a dump but a last min thing for a few nights and all we could afford. Woke up itching and as you said… knew what time it was! Couldn’t get out of there fast enough! Never knew they could travel though…maybe some of them have blogs! :-p. Great tips btw!

    • Reply
      The Brave Dame
      February 14, 2015 at 10:10

      Haha! That cracked me up! Imagine if they did though…

  • Reply
    Patricia Hanemaaijer
    November 9, 2016 at 18:12

    Rose,wat kan je toch heerlijk schrijven! Ondanks het kippenvel tot aan mijn tenen ook heeeel hard gelachen! Nailed it!
    Xxx (ook van mijn mini-bedbugs)

    • Reply
      The Brave Dame
      November 9, 2016 at 18:18

      Hahaha, dankje! Voor die bugs ben ik toch iets minder bang 😉

  • Reply
    Anonymous
    March 30, 2017 at 12:14

    The train between Hong Kong and Guangzhou is infested.
    After the train ride I had huge bites all over.
    Washed everything in the machine on 90 degrees afterwards.
    Read later on that it is a big problem on trains in China

    • Reply
      The Brave Dame
      March 30, 2017 at 19:44

      Oh wow, that sucks! I’ve heard about bedbugs in public transport before, now there’s proof. Yikes!

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