The Dreaded Bed Bug: How to Deal with an Infestation While Traveling
I have come to realize that acquiring bed bugs at some point in your travels is just plain inevitable... but it doesn't have to completely ruin your trip! Each backpacking trip I take I manage to get an infestation at least a couple of times. At this point, I am sort of a pro on how to quickly deal with the annoying critters and how to resume making good memories! Here's what to do if you've spotted the dreaded bed bug:
1. Identify signs of bed bugs
Did you wake up with dozens of red bites, perhaps in a cluster or line formation? Did you see a tiny black dot(s) in your bed scurrying about? Instead of hesitating for a few days, and blaming it on a random rash or mosquito bites, take immediate action to nip it in the bud. See photos below for what bites may look like and what the bugs themselves look like, courtesy of my leg and arm that was made into a feast.
1. Immediately wash all belongings
Once you've suspected that you have bed bugs, don't wait! Find the nearest laundromat and request that your belongings be washed and dried on HIGH HEAT. Extreme heat does the trick to kill all bugs & possible eggs that they have hatched! This includes the clothing off your back (I always buy new, cheap clothes to wear while I'm washing everything), underwear, backpacks, shoes, basically anything that can be put in a washer/dryer. For electronics or non-washable items, take a disinfecting wipe and wipe it down well. I once found a bed bug hitching a ride in a little crevice on my camera lens. Take the time to thoroughly check all your belongings, or they will follow you and persist in ruining your life.
Note: If access to a washer/dryer is impossible, I suggest finding a large, black trash bag. Place all of your belongings inside and find a safe spot to let it bake in the sun for several hours. Extreme freezing temperatures also work, but it's harder to come by a massive freezer while on the road...
2. Start inspecting all of your accommodation
This is super important. Make it a routine to thoroughly check your bed/surrounding areas for signs of bed bugs immediately after arrival. These can include:
∙tiny black or dark brown dots from fecal stains on mattress, sheets, pillows, or padding
∙small blood stains from the bites on the mattress or your pajamas
∙shells/exoskeletons of bed bugs that they have shed, usually light brown in color
Check for these signs of beds on the sheets, blankets, and pillows. Remove sheets and bedding to examine the mattress itself as well. Inspect the headboard, bed frame, and immediate area surrounding the bed for hiding places that bed bugs could be located, like small holes in the walls, the corners of bed frames, etc. This whole process takes maybe 10 minutes tops and could save you a big headache later on.
It is important to note that bed bugs do NOT discriminate; they are found anywhere from dingy hostels to upscale hotels. A common myth about bed bugs is that they're only found in unclean rooms or homes but this is not true. As long as you have blood pumping through your veins, bed bugs will be attracted to you and/or take up residence in your accommodation or even worse, home.
3. Treat the bites
Bed bugs can make a massive feast out of you while you sleep and cover your body with dozens of bites in just one night. The more you itch, the worse you will react to the bites, so try your best to leave them alone (much easier said than done). If possible, buy antihistamines at the nearest pharmacy to reduce swelling and itchiness. The bites should stop being itchy within a couple days, and should completely disappear in 2-3 weeks.
4. Dont fret
Bed bugs, while uncomfortable and inconvenient, are *moderately* harmless. They are not known to carry any diseases to humans and they are relatively easy to get rid of while traveling (although markedly harder if you have an infestation in your home). The bites will be itchy and uncomfortable for a few days, but if you follow these tips hopefully the unpleasant experience can be kept at a minimum!