After a bad streak of three run-ins with bed bugs within just a few months, I decided to assemble is a collection of things I learned about how to deal with these little suckers. They are masters of survival but human has found some ways to deal with them.
One thing worth mentioning before we start: So far when I had to deal with bed bugs the places it happened at (hotels, hostels, guesthouses) have been very sorry about what happened. They did not doubt my story even a smidgen and offered me a new room on a different floor right away.
Note: I first published this post in February 2016 and have updated it in November 2017 with new advice and links.
Where you might meet bed bugs
Some good news first: according to Medicinenet bed bugs can be pretty much anywhere:
“In addition to hotels, bedbugs have been found in movie theaters, office buildings, laundries, shelters, in transportation vehicles, and other locations with high-occupant turnover where people may congregate.”
The University of Minnesota gave me a list of things to do to check an accommodation for bed bug infestation. Now, I am not gonna start pulling the sheets off the bed (Do I really want to see the mattress of my 0* hotel? Nope!). However, they recommend two things I can agree with:
- never ever put your clothes or your luggage on the bed or the valet; put your luggage far away from the bed, on the floor or in the bathroom if possible, and
- don’t leave your dirty laundry sitting outside; put your dirty clothes in your luggage, ideally in a sealed bag.
I would add a third one: don’t use your own sleeping bag/blanket if you don’t have to; if you’re moving from place to place you’ll just take the bed bugs with you, infecting one place after the other.
How to get rid of bed bugs
Kevin, the group’s driver during my African Trails trek from Gibraltar to Cape Town advised me when I had my first bed bug case (in the open air dorm of a beach hostel in Ghana) to spread all my belongings in the scorching sun for a few hours. Bed bugs hate direct heat and will either die in it or vacate your property. I guess following the same theory, EHow reckons you can kill them by hot ironing the bed or even using a hairdryer. The sun method worked a treat for me. Not sure about the iron since the buggers can simply move away from the heat. Tipsbulletin warns to never ever use pesticide foggers like bug bombs as they just push the problem to the next person but don’t actually kill any bed bugs.
Tipsbulletin had a few more tips on how to prevent and kill bugs with silica gel (the stuff that comes with your newly-bought IT and backpacks), aromatic oils, and even dryer sheets. Amazon offered me bed bug interceptors for the legs of my bed to catch any bugs trying to climb in. And the University of Florida even told me how to make DIY bed bug interceptors from household items.
What to do about bed bug bites
Though some sources say you can easily mistake bed bug bites with a rash, Healthline is a bit more specific about the symptoms, even providing a photograph of what could have been me: a group of medium-sized red bites/spots, in the face, on the arms, on the back,… For me, it always takes a few hours to a day for the symptoms to appear. I can attest to “Bed bug bites are often very itchy. You may experience a burning sensation on the skin several days after you’ve been bitten. You won’t feel the bugs bite you because they excrete a tiny amount of anesthesia into your body before they bite.”
Wikihow, fortunately, delivers a list of things to help against the itching: you can lather the skin with soap and let it soak for a few minutes; other easily available products to treat the bites are baking soda (to be used with water like a paste) or lemon juice; and of course, antihistamine always does the trick when home remedies don’t work.
Now, I know there is no way to avoid bed bugs. I read the reviews before I book anywhere and never book places with bad hygiene reviews. Still, it happened to me, in developed Europe (Siena, Italy, and Nice, France), in Ghana, and in Southeast Asia (Hanoi, Vietnam). But with these tips, I hope I can reduce the chance of carrying the monsters with me and break the cycle. Until one day, bed bugs (are they good for anything at all?) will be no more. A traveler’s allowed to dream…
Extra: Dealing with Sand Fleas!
Check out Karen from WanderlustingK’s tips & tricks on dealing with bedbugs and meet a brand new creepy crawler that is the stuff of every traveler’s nightmares: sand fleas! – Prevent & Kill Bed Bugs & Sand Fleas While Traveling