How To Deal With Bed Bugs While Travelling

How to Deal with Bed Bugs when Travelling

Last updated: April 5, 2019 . Written by Laurence Norah
9 Comments

As a traveller, one thing that is certain is that you are going to be sleeping in many different places. With this comes risk, one of which is to wake up one morning covered in tracks of red bites – the possible mark of bed bug bites!

Of course, your initial thought may be that you’ve been the victim of a highly trained vicious mosquito squadron. But look a little closer – because you may have been the victim of something else entirely, something that is going to get fellow travellers all terribly excitable and probably freak you out too – the fearsomely savage and much feared bed bug.

In today’s post I’m going to share with you some knowledge on bed bugs that I picked up from my time spent working in hospitality, and particularly in a hostel in New Zealand, where a great deal of my time was taken up with activities relating to bed bugs and bed bug management. Which wasn’t on the initial job description.

As a result of that experience I have seen and squished far more bed bugs than any person ought to, and spent tremendous amounts of time peering into tiny cracks looking for the evidence of their presence.

Today I’m going to tell how to know if you’ve been nibbled on by bed bugs, how to look out for signs that you’re not sleeping alone, what to do if you’re bitten by bed bugs, how to get rid of bed bug bites, plus what you can do to deal with the bed bug issue. First though, let’s take a look at some facts about bed bugs.

Bed Bug Facts!

Bed bugs are actually pretty amazing little critters! Here are some quick facts for you:

  • Bed bugs can survive for up to a year without food, particularly when it is cold. They can survive temperatures ranges down to around –32C and up to 45C. When it is cold, they go into a sort of hibernation, and pop out of it when it warms up.
  • In the right conditions it takes one pregnant adult female six months to create an infestation of literally hundreds of thousands of bugs. She is bloody awesome at hiding in the meantime.
  • When it gets warmer, bed bugs reproduce faster. This is why bed bug issues are often commonly associated with warmer countries. In higher temperatures, the reproductive cycle goes from 21 days down to as fast as 8 days.
  • Bed bug sex is not a fun thing for the bed bug female. It involves carapace piercing in order to get the necessary fluids inside her. If I was a bed bug girl, I’d want to go bite someone, too.
  • Bed bugs like other bed bugs. They secrete a pheromone that attracts more bed bugs. Sociable little chaps.
  • Bed bugs are bigger than you might think, particularly in their adult stage, which they reach after five junior stages. And I thought one go at puberty was tough. They grow up to 0.5cm long, easily visible by the naked eye, in their adult stage at least.
  • They are attracted to their victims by carbon dioxide and warmth, amongst other things.
  • Bed bugs love travelling almost as much as you do. They or their eggs will happily hitch a ride in your clothes or on your backpack, and then hop off when they reach somewhere new and exciting with fresh fields of blood filled meat to suck on. This makes eradicating them a bit tricky in a well visited bed!

Which Countries Have Bed Bugs?

The reality is that pretty much every temperate to warm country will have bed bugs. So you’ll find bed bugs in Thailand, bed bugs in Australia, bed bugs in the USA – the list goes on. Basically every continent except Antarctica has bed bugs!

It’s also a worsening problem it seems as we are travelling more and more, and our climate seems to be providing warmer days. These two factors combine to produce the ideal conditions for bed bugs to spread, and for bed bugs to breed!

How to know if you’ve been bitten by bed bugs

People react to bed bug bites, like any other bites, in different ways. You may have been munched upon countless times, and have absolutely nothing to show for it, or you may come up in horrific pustules, blisters, or bumps that look just like mosquito bites. Diagnosis can be tricky! Additionally, for some reason, elderly people barely react at all.

The easiest way to tell though is the classic line pattern that the bed bug leaves behind. This will be a nice straight line of red bumps, that looks like something has methodically chewed you up. And that would be because somethinghasmethodically chewed you up!

Bed bug bite example

Often this will be a line of three bumps, sometimes more, depending on a variety of factors, including whether or not the bug was disturbed during the meal, or if the bug didn’t quite find what it was looking for on the first, second, third.. or.. well, you get the idea.

Bed bug bites can also take a while to appear after you’ve been bitten, sometimes up to a couple of weeks. Which makes working out what bit you and when fairly difficult. Very often, you will discount the bites as nothing more than mozzie bites, and move on with your life.

Bed bugs also tend to bite in areas that aren’t covered, however in tropical areas you’re not likely to be sleeping in much anyway. They also don’t usually target armpits or the back of your knees.

How to spot bed bugs in your hotel room or bed – the warning signs!

There is a bit of a misconception that for a place to have bed bugs, it needs to be dirty, or unkempt, or messy. This sadly isn’t the case – the hostel I worked in for example was absolutely fanatic about cleanliness and bed bug management, and we still had the odd bug.

Of course, if your chosen accommodation doesn’t care too much about basic things like cleanliness or tidiness, then you can be pretty damn sure that they aren’t that bothered about bed bugs either. So the two can be linked, even if one doesn’t cause the other.

So how to tell if you might not be sleeping alone? Here are some ways to spot bed bugs:

  • Bed bugs are fairly shy and retiring creatures. They mostly come out at night. In the day time they like to hide, not too far away from their evening meal. Obvious places to look therefore include in your bed frame, and anywhere near the bed that harbours cracks that they can squeeze into. Curtain rails, skirting boards, door frames – even the heads of screws. You get the idea.
  • Bed bugs secrete a black gooey substance. You might find this on the bed sheets after you have been bitten. You can also look for it on the bed frame. Lots of black goo around a hole or crack indicates the likely presence of our friends. If it is recent, you will be able to easily smear it with your fingers.
  • Bed bugs have a distinctive aroma, which is how they attract other bed bugs. It’s a bit like the smell of a stink bug.
  • Bed bugs have six different sizes, from the super tiny to the fairly large. So there are a variety of body shapes and sizes to look out for.
  • Bed bugs are not excited by heat or excess amounts of carbon dioxide. If you think there are bed bugs in a hole, you could try breathing into it, or blowing a hair dryer into it on a low setting. This may force them out of hiding, or boil them in their shells. Whichever works for you. It may also distribute bed bug eggs all over the room.
  • You may find blood stains on the bed after you’ve been bitten. However, you can get these with any bite, so it’s not a guarantee of bed bugs.

What to do if you think you’ve been bitten by bed bugs

If you think you have been bitten by bed bugs in a hotel or other accommodation, the first thing is not to panic. Whilst the bites can be itchy and annoying, bed bugs are not currently known to carry any actual diseases.

So in that sense, you are better off having been bitten by a bed bug than a mosquito.

Photo CDC/ Harvard University, Dr. Gary Alpert; Dr. Harold Harlan;

You should, of course, mention to your host that you think you have been bitten. There are two main reasons to do this:

  • If the problem is with the place you are currently at, then they need to know so that they can do something about it
  • If you were bitten somewhere else, there is a possibility that you have brought the eggs or bugs with you. They therefore need to keep an eye out for future problems. Be aware that they are unlikely to thank you for this.

When you inform your host, a variety of things will happen. It is very likely that, even if the accommodation believes itself to have bed bugs, it will deny this. Admitting to having bed bugs is akin to admitting you have the plague, due to the bad reputation these critters carry.

So unless you have the dead body to prove your case, don’t expect too much in the way of liability being admitted.

Additionally, as the bites can take so long to come up, the accommodation provider may actually have a point, in that you could have brought a problem into their previously clean environment. This is a great way to make you feel guilty and thus shut you up. After all, who is going to tell their friends that they may be a carrier of bed bugs?

What you should see, if they are at all bothered / professional / caring are some efforts by the accommodation provider to find any problems.

Where I worked, if someone seemed to have an issue, we would take their room apart, literally. Bed frames would be disassembled, and any bugs we found would be squished. We also used a heat gun to sterilise cracks in wood or metal. However, if we found bugs or eggs, this was never disclosed to guests.

How to Treat Bed Bug Bites

Treating bed bug bites is much the same as treating any other bites. The application of topical anti-histamine creams or ingestion of anti histamine is about the best you can do. A bite is a sign of an allergic reaction, and anti-histamine can help.

Try not to scratch the bites – your nails are dirty and this will lead to infection.

If you have reacted particularly badly, then get yourself down to the doctors where they may be able to help out with more powerful creams or pills.

Ultimately though, it’s going to be a waiting game where you’ll just have to wait for the bites to subside.

How to Prevent Bed Bugs

If you are travelling, as previously mentioned, it can be hard to prevent bed bugs as you are not in control of the situation.

However, you can stop yourself from taking bed bugs home, and take preventative measures in your home.

The first thing you’ll want to do when travelling is to get used to inspecting the accommodation you are staying in for bed bugs. If there are signs of bed bugs, you should ask for another room, or consider another property. If the room has bed bugs, it is very likely that some of these bugs might get into your luggage, and that you will take them home with you.

You also can take some preventative measures like spraying your luggage with one of the bed bug sprays mentioned further on in the post. You might also want to invest in a heating device which will heat your luggage up above a temperature which kills bed bugs, thus sanitizing your belongings.

For your home, we would suggest investing in mattress covers for your beds. This stops bed bugs getting into the mattress, which is one of the most common places for them to hide. It also means you don’t need to discard of your mattress if you do get bed bugs, which can be costly if you have a nice mattress. See here for another well reviewed mattress protector.

The main thing to consider is how bed bugs might get into your property. The most common ways are for you to bring them back from a trip in your luggage, or for guests to bring them when they visit. Mattress covers can help in guest rooms, and careful inspection of your guests room after they leave is also a wise idea.

Another common vector for bed bugs is through furniture. We would advise against buying second hand furniture for this reason, as it can be very hard to tell if it is home to bed bugs.

There are a range of other products to help you deal with bed bugs in the home. These include electronic ultrasonic repelling devices, bed bug traps for your bed legs, and diatomaceous earth, which is a non-toxic substance that kills insects.

How to Get Rid of Bed Bugs

The bad news about bed bugs is that in a well visited environment like a hostel or hotel, it is pretty much impossible to eradicate bed bugs.

This is because even if you were able to find and kill every last egg, nymph and adult from the premises, all it takes is one new arrival with a pregnant adult female to turn up, and the problem starts all over again. In a warm climate where the bugs can breed quickly, the problem is only going to be worse.

In such an environment, the best that can be done is to try to manage and stay on top of the problem. Regular inspections of sleeping areas, blocking up inviting cracks and the occasional use of some sort of anti-bed bug chemicals are the best that can be done so that the issue stays small – akin to a few mosquitoes flying in through a window at night, rather than spiralling out of control into a serious infestation.

Speaking of chemicals, another problem arises. The most effective chemicals for properly killing off the whole bed bug lifecycle are also not exactly human friendly. Fumigating a room is actually therefore more hazardous to human health than a few bites is ever going to be – and in fact more people have probably died from reactions to the anti bed bug chemicals than from actual bed bug bites. However, there are some non-toxic options, one of which I have listed below.

Products to help you deal with Bed Bugs

There are some products you can get to help stop that most nightmare of all situations – taking the bed bugs from your travels to your home, as well as other sprays for killing bugs generally.

  • EcoRaider is one of the better natural options for killing bed bugs. This is available from the manufacturer, and also on eBay here. In a study by the US Entomological Society of America, this was the only natural bed-bug killing product that effectively killed both bed bug nymphs and bed bug eggs
  • The other recommended product from the above study is this Bed Bug Spray by Bed Bug Patrol, available on Amazon. This was also successful against bed bugs. It’s also highly rated by commentators, as well as being both organic and non-toxic.
  • This is another well rated natural product available on Amazon
  • Electronic repellers like this work by emitting ultrasonic sounds to deter a range of insects, including bed bugs
  • There are a wealth of other options also available from both Amazon.com and UK.
  • This Travel Sized Luggage Spray by Bed Bug Patrol on Amazon.com is designed to help protect you from bringing the bed bugs back from your travels – possibly the worst outcome of any bed bug encounter!

If you do have a problem in your home, it is likely that you will have to call in professionals to fully clean out your house. They will use all sorts of nasty chemicals, and you will probably have to move out for a while. That is the only way to really sort out the problem once and for all.

And that is that for bed bugs! If you’ve got any comments, questions or experiences to share from your travels, including horrific photos, don’t be afraid to share them below! Otherwise happy travels, and remember, sleep tight.. don’t let the bed bugs bite!

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About the authors

Laurence and Jessica Norah are the British-American travel blogging couple behind photography & adventure travel blog Finding the Universe and luxury / couples travel blog Independent Travel Cats.

We’ve been running this site since 2010. We’re full time professional travel bloggers, and we visit all the places we write about personally. All our content is based on our own first hand travel experiences, and we take all the photos you see on our sites. Read more about us here.

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There are 9 comments on this post

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Does regular bug spray kill them? I’ve gotten bit in Sarajevo and no clue where to find bed bug spray for my luggage.

As far as I know, no it doesn’t. They are tough critters to kill!

I have read all sorts of post about bedbugs and none of them say anything about bedbugs being in your vehicle so my question is if you Go to someone’s house for a couple hours that has bedbugs and then get in your vehicle are you and your vehicle contaminated

Laurence Norah says

It’s hard to answer this. Bedbugs are more likely to be transported on luggage rather than people, so if you don’t take anything into the house, it is unlikely they will jump on you and then into your car and then on into your house. And as there isn’t a source of food in the car, it’s not an attractive place to live for them either. So I would say that the chances are low, but not impossible of course.

Thank you for telling a blog about dealing with bed bug as traveler. It is very much a serious issue. The information provided is very relevant.

Laurence Norah says

Great tips on how to clean a room with suspected bugs – would love some recommendations for those who have been bitten in hotels and are now fearful of bringing them home! I am covered in bed bug bites after backpacking through South America and now am terrified I will introduce them to my own bed and have no idea what to do!

Laurence Norah says

So the only thing that really works is heat – bugs can’t handle temperatures higher than 117F – 122F. So your best option is to wash everything you can (clothes, bag etc..) at a high heat. If you have items you can’t heat to that temperature, the safest option is to throw them out 🙁

Everything You Need to Know About Bedbugs and Travel

Photodisc / Getty Images

Let’s get one thing straight: bedbugs are simply not the scourge most people think they are for budget travelers and backpackers. Bedbugs don’t transmit disease and hostels don’t harbor them any more than hotels do (and outbreaks in either place are very rare). You’re far more likely to get bedbugs in a hotel in New York City than you are on a backpacking trip to Southeast Asia.

Below we’ll lay some myths to rest while helping you learn how to identify bedbugs, showing you which signs you should look out for in your accommodation, cover how you can effectively treat bedbug bites, help you to avoid bedbugs as you travel, and share how to kill them if they decide to travel with you (they’re frustratingly tricky to get rid of).

Myth #1: Your Accommodation Will Have Bedbugs

Let’s start first by saying that hostels have no more bed bug incidents than do other accommodation options. Greg Baumann, vice president of technical services at National Pest Management Association says, "There are no data to support that hostels have a higher incidence of bedbugs (than hotels)." Nonetheless, some people will always fear hostels are bedbug hotbeds. If you’re one of those people, travel with a silk sleeping liner for peace of mind.

In the early 2000s, bedbugs became a hot travel topic when they started turning up in some luxury hotels. They had virtually disappeared from the U.S. lodging scene until a 1972 DDT insecticide ban; the spray once used on cockroaches and other pests turned out to have been an effective way to kill bedbugs, too. After DDT was banned, the number of bedbugs drastically increased. In Europe, the bugs never really left.

Canada’s Pest Control writes of bedbug hotel infestations: "The stigma attached to these parasites is influencing some hotels and other accommodations to ignore infestations or treat them without professional help. Lack of professional treatment comes with great risks, notably the possibility of litigation." Reading between the lines, we can deduce that there’s no way in Hades some hotels will agree that those red bumps on your body are bedbug evidence — and a U.S. desk clerk may not even know what bedbug bites really look like, anyway. The lesson here is to do your research beforehand.

Hostels, on the other hand, have long acknowledged the bugs’ presence in the lodging world, especially outside the United States, and many of them take steps accordingly. Some actively tell you what to look for, and some hostels don’t allow sleeping bags in hostel dorms, partly because yours can carry bedbugs (they like traveling as much as you do). Bedbugs also hitchhike on backpacks, which should tell you how easily they can be spread. If you manage to get bedbugs and don’t realize for a week, you could have transported them to three different hostels and into twenty backpackers’ bags, who have then each traveled to three other hostels.

Many people assume the bugs come with the territory of filthy hostels (another myth — that all hostels are filthy by nature). Bedbugs don’t care about a clean environment, though.

Where some truth may lie in the hostels-always-have-bedbugs myth is that the sheer density of people possible in one hostel dorm room can create a higher possibility of the bugs’ appearance than in a hotel room used by a couple of travelers at a time. If twelve backpackers are sleeping in one room, twelve chances are created for bugs to hop off one backpacker’s stuff and onto yours, or into the hostel dorm furniture.

Again, though, there is no evidence to support the idea that hostels are more prone to infestation than other lodgings; in fact, given the higher likelihood of infestation and bedbug transference in a hostel because of sheer traveler numbers, it’s remarkable that that likelihood does not translate into an actual higher infestation incidence in hostels than hotels.

Myth #2: Bedbugs Transmit Disease

Do bedbugs carry disease? Well, bedbugs do carry 24 known pathogens, but do bedbugs transmit disease? Nope, bedbug bites won’t make you sick (unless, of course, the bites get infected). And while bedbugs do feed on blood, they don’t spread AIDS or other blood-borne illnesses. In other words, if you’re bitten by bedbugs, the only things you need to worry about are not scratching the bites until they bleed and finding a way to control the itching.

Mosquitos, on the other hand, can carry plenty of nasty diseases, like malaria, dengue, and West Nile disease, which they transmit to you via a science fiction-like needle nose. If you’re going to worry about one type of critter while you’re traveling, make it mosquitoes.

That’s not to say bedbugs and bedbug bites aren’t a pain to deal with. They definitely are.

Myth #3: Bedbugs Mean a Place Is Unclean

Bedbugs are gross, no doubt about it. Thinking about creatures crawling around in your bed and drinking your blood is a real shudder inducer. That actually happens all the time, though — the creatures looking for your blood, that is (think mosquitoes). It might be the fact that bedbugs kindascuttlethat make them seem especially awful, and bedbugs are nocturnal — creatures that scuttle at night just seem particularly sneaky, despite having microscopic brains and no personality characteristics to speak of.

The presence of bedbugs in a hostel or hotel don’t mean the place is unsanitary, though. Cockroaches, ants, flies — yeah, they all love old food. Bedbugs likefreshfood. A dirty hostel does not attract bedbugs simply by virtue of its grime — that’s not how these travelers pick their new destinations.

The bedbugs hitchhike into hostels, hotels and, eventually, your own house, by way of your stuff — your clothes, your sleeping bag or your backpack. They grab a ride out the same way.

As Baumann says of unsanitary conditions, "Bedbugs don’t really care about that, and can be in the fanciest of hotels all the way to the other end of the spectrum." He goes on to say that while the whole bedbug infestation, cleanliness-impaired hotel equation is popular, there is no data to support it.

The single connection that could be possibly be made between the bugs and unsanitary habits would be that a bedbug killing recommendation is washing possessions in very hot water. Perhaps that’s how the myth started — but no one, anywhere, ever washes their curtains in boiling water every day in order to keep a clean house. (Do they?)

Now that we’ve covered the myths, let’s get stuck into what to look out for.

What Do Bedbug Bites Look Like?

A bedbug bite looks like a small welt, and it burns and/or itches like crazy.

You can’t feel a bedbug bite while it happens (they take about five minutes to feed), and the bugs are nocturnal. You’ll typically wake in the morning feeling strangely itchy and look down to discover you’re covered in red bites.

One distinguishing feature of bedbugs bites is that they often appear in a row of three. People will joke that when they bite you, they go for breakfast, lunch, and dinner while they’re there! Some bites might be spread out and others can be in clusters, so don’t assume it’s something else if your bites aren’t all in lines of three.

How to Treat a Bedbug Bite

You should wash a bedbug bite with soap and water, apply some ice, and use an antihistamine cream or no-itch cream. Check out Brave Soldier antiseptic cream: it’s the best no-itch, no infection, no-scar wound treatment around.

The most important thing here is not to scratch. These bites are itchy and the more you scratch them, the more likely it is that they’ll become an open wound and get infected.

If a bedbug bite gets infected while you’re traveling (gets very tender, feels hot, and starts oozing yellow, white or greenish goo), you should consider seeing a doctor. If you’re not able to see a doctor and are traveling with antibiotics, consider taking a course if you’re 100% convinced it’s an infection.

What Do Bedbugs Look Like?

Bedbugs are teeny flat critters; grown adults are about the size of an apple seed. Adults are brown until they consume some blood, after which they turn reddish brown. Ah, that rosy after-dinner glow.

Pinhead-sized nymphs, or non-adults, are smaller and are whitish or gold until they feed — just about the color of a mattress, making them very tough to see. (More evidence of clever, sneaky behavior.)

Where Bedbugs Like to Live?

Bedbugs like beds, of course, though "bedbug" is actually a misnomer, since they certainly live anywhere. However, they’re especially likely to like your bed — you, who are their meal ticket, are in bed all night, which is when they come out to eat.

According to the National Pest Management Organization, the bugs can also live in carpets, under wallpaper, behind baseboards, and in small cracks and crevices throughout a room. Baumann comments that the bugs can be found in all furniture, pointing out that someone carrying them in clothing can spend as much time on couches and chairs in the living room as in bed.

The bugs can travel alone, but seeing one is probably the tip of the iceberg. The nocturnal animals are transient and elusive. They can hide in the seams of mattresses or in the heads of screws, which makes them particularly tricky to track down.

They’re so frightening because they’re so hard to find.

How to Spot Bedbugs in Hostels, Hotels and at Home

The odor of a bedbug infestation, though distinct, is too subtle for amateur bug detectives. Bedbugs are said to smell like sweet, rotten raspberries, and it’s also said that an infested room smells like almonds. Most likely, you’ll need a big infestation before you can smell the bugs in a room’s air.

Bedbugs do leave tiny reddish or black streaks on sheets. If you see those upon checking into a hostel or hotel room, consider grabbing your stuff before crawling hitchhikers hop on it, and cruising straight back to the desk to ask for a new room. If need be, just go to a different hostel or hotel — cheaper than getting rid of the pesky travelers if they hitch a ride with you, and far better than being bitten all night. The staff should offer you a refund, of course.

These bugs are great world travelers. They like living in your sleeping bag, backpack, and clothes until they can get to your house and move into the recliner, where they can start raising a big family in a nice neighborhood. A female can lay up to 500 eggs over its lifetime. Take a look at the seams of your backpack or along the zipper to spot them in a likely destination. And if you suspect you might have an infestation, do not take your backpack into your home. You’ll likely have to spend thousands of dollars to get rid of them if that happens.

Let’s look at some of the bugs’ habits before learning about how to kill bedbugs.

How They Travel

The bedbugs hitch rides in baggage, sleep sacks, or sleeping bags. They jump from hotel to hostel to home on humans — someone brought ’em to your lodging, albeit accidentally. And they all want to be exchange bugs and travel to new homes internationally.

You’ll likely notice bites before, and if you see the biters themselves unless you see the telltale streaks on your sheets; the bugs are nocturnal and they hide out unless feeding.

And they’re tough customers. They can live more than a year without eating; taking a vacation in hopes the bugs will then move out won’t work. They can take the temperatures, too; the bugs are okay with boiling to Fahrenheit 113, and freezing will rarely kill them either.

How to Avoid and Kill Bedbugs While Traveling

If you’ve got bites, or you know you’ve spent time in a room harboring the bugs, vacuum your suitcases, backpack, camera bag — leave no seam unsucked. Wash everything you own in the hottest water possible to boil the little biters.

How to Kill Bedbugs at Home

The same rules on how to kill bedbugs while traveling apply at home: vacuum your living space relentlessly, including furniture, changing the bag outside (small bedbugs can wiggle through a stitch hole). Wash or dry clean everything moveable (clothes, bedspreads, throw rugs) in the hottest water. If one happy couple escapes, though, it’s all for nothing.

Baumann points out that people pay plenty trying various home remedies that don’t go so well, and recommends that you bite the bullet and foot the bill for an exterminator, to begin with. It’s easiest, fastest, and most likely cheapest in the long run.

How Exterminating Works

The exterminator will have instructions regarding jobs you should complete prior to his arrival. They’ll be things like don’t open travel bags on home furniture, like beds, and store them away from furniture (like in an outside shed), so any bugs who’ve hitchhiked may not get the chance to move in.

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Dealing With Bed Bugs When You Travel

Fresh from my third encounter with bedbugs in as many days (three out of my last five beds had the critters – a bad ratio by any standards), it seemed an appropriate time to share my tips on dealing with bed bugs when you travel.

Some facts about bed bugs

Most people have heard of bed bugs but few know much more beyond the fact that they’re not something you want. Unfortunately, travel for any extended period of time and you’re likely to meet these biting beasts sooner or later.

What are bed bugs?

It’s not a pretty answer – they are parasites that live off blood (human or animal – they’re not fussy diners). Although their primary residence is beds (hence the name), they will live in other places such as carpets but have been found residing in books and furniture.

Are they only found in dirty places and suffered by unclean people?

As unconcerned about the blood they suck, bed bugs equally don’t have a preference for human cleanliness (dirty or squeaky clean) or bed types. In fact, a few years ago there was a boom in reports about top hotels in cities like London and New York that were riddled with bed bugs. So, simply paying more money or taking a few extra minutes in the shower (or just stepping in the shower!) won’t make a difference.

Can you ‘catch’ them?

Bed bugs aren’t like head lice, or a cold – they can’t be caught. However, they do like to travel. So, if you have them in your accommodation, there is a risk they will hitchhike in your bag or clothes to your next place or follow you home.

Can they infect you?

Current research suggests that apart from a reaction to the bites (or more specifically the secretion of the bug’s saliva when it tucks into you as supper, yum!), you are not otherwise at risk of infection or disease.

Can you get rid of them?

Yes, but not without effort. Heat is one of the best, most natural ways to kill bed bugs, but it’s not as simple as taking your stuff to a beach for the day. You need to hitspecific temperaturesfor certain periods of time depending on the type of infestation (age of the bugs, presence of eggs, etc.), so if you end up with bed bugs, do proper research to ensure you eradicate them properly and permanently.

7 Steps for spotting bed bugs when you travel

Of course, the best option is always going to be avoiding meeting bed bugs in the first place, but that isn’t always an option when you’re moving from one unknown guesthouse, hotel or hostel to another. The good news is that, contrary to popular myth, you can see bed bugs, and even if they are hiding when you check, there are a number of other good indicators to look out for, too.

After having had a scrape with these biters a fair number of times, here’s what I’ve learned about how to spot bed bugs.

1. Look for dander and eggs

Look for what? Dander – the skin of bed bugs that is shed over time. If bed bugs are present, dander may be on top of the sheets or under the sheets, on the mattress. Don’t just rely on sight – run your hand over the sheet/mattress to see if you feel anything crumb-like (gross, but you can wash your hands afterwards).

In a room that has recently been made-up, any dander may have been brushed away so re-check after an hour or two. If your bed seems to be getting gritty for reasons you can’t explain (you already took a shower after the beach), it’s possible bugs are on the move.

2. Check for mattress stains

Another grim fact – bed bugs comprise mainly blood. Consequently, when they get squashed (they’re ultimately no match for a person rolling over on them), they bleed out. This results in red/brown stains that tend to be focused around the mattress seams where the bugs get trapped.

3. Give the mattress and bed a shake

As it is possible to see bed bugs, one of the most obvious ways to bring them out of their hiding place is to give the bed and mattress a shake. The bugs may not oblige, but more than once I’ve seen them scurry when confronted with the bed bug equivalent of an earthquake.

4. Tune into your inner-itch

Ok, not the most scientific method for checking for bed bug presence, but before I’d figured out the other indicators of bed bugs, I woke more than once in the night feeling itchy. I didn’t have a huge number of bites, but my inner-itch instinct told me something wasn’t right.

5. Look for bites

This is a tough one, particularly when you’re in a tropical country with a number of pests vying for your blood including mosquitoes and fleas. All three bite types will leave you with a red welt that itches, so it can be difficult to distinguish between the bites. As well as looking for the other signs of bed bugs, generally I find that, unlike flea or mosquito bites, bed bug bites tend to feel itchy yet tender when scratched, unlike mosquito and flea bites, where relief usually come from scratching (at least at first).

Equally, bed bug bites broadly follow a line and are grouped in threes – commonly referred to as breakfast, lunch and dinner as the bugs feast on your flesh!

6. Look for blood smears

As well as mattress stains, it’s common to see marks on sheets that look like you might have dropped a red/brown marker pen on the bed. Gross warning: this is basically squashed excrement that is mainly comprised of blood. More than once I have seen this as an early indicator of bugs after I’ve sat on the bed for a while.

7. Look for the bugs themselves

They’re pretty fast movers and are human shy (despite biting you) so won’t hang around too quickly, but bed bugs are visible. They are a dark/red colour often best described as mahogany, but I have seen then looking more translucent if they haven’t fed for a while. While size will depend on age, the ones I’ve spotted have been between a quarter to half of a little fingernail in size.

If the above checks don’t show any bed bug signs, you can probably sleep peacefully. However, if you do discover the presence of bed bugs…

What to do when you find bed bugs

1. Isolate your belongings

The most important thing to do when you find bed bugs is to isolate your belongings – you don’t want to take the problem with you. Put all clothes and items that have come into contact with the bed into a plastic bag and seal it. Equally, close up your bag sealing safe all of your non-contaminated items.

As a preventative measure, try not to place your clothes on a bed until you’re confident it is devoid of bugs.

2. Get out of the room

So, it’s a nice hotel in a good location at the price you want? So what. Get out – bed bugs can seriously hinder your fun and are rarely worth the risk. Don’t worry if you’ve already paid – most places will refund your charges if you point out the issue, and if they don’t, persist and complain.

Unfortunately, there may be times when it is the middle of the night and it is not practical to move accommodation. In that case, ask for a change of room, find a hammock if there is one or an alternative place to sleep and get out as soon as you can the next day.

3. Notify the hostel or hotel

There will always be exceptions, but most hotel managers and owners are mortified at the idea of bed bugs and there is nothing more likely to kill custom than a review that utters the ‘B’ word. Sadly for hotel businesses, it is usually people who bring bugs into their establishment and unless you tell them that they have them, they won’t know to act.

Unfortunately, there are some also places that simply don’t care and in that case, feel free to go online and leave an informative review.

4. Get heat treatment

As mentioned above, heat treatment is one of the most effective ways to deal with bed bug. When you’re on the road, the easiest way to do this is to take your clothes to a launderette and subject them to an hour-long stint in the tumble drier at the hottest heat setting. If this is not an option, you can investigate chemical treatments and sprays, but these aren’t so kind on the environment or your clothes.

5. Check and spray your bag

As well as decontaminating your clothes, it’s important to inspect your bag and other belongings. Although it is not ideal, giving your bag a spritz with bug spray is likely to be your best option.

After my brother ended up spending a ridiculous and un-budgeted amount of money on high end hotels after two bed bug incidents on his recent holiday in Italy, I’ve given more thought to the idea of travelling with a portable bug spray. These bottles are large so I’d probably decant and put a copy of the label in my bag/on the bottle. I’ve not tried it but it would definitely give me some peace of mind.

If you try this and it works, let me know.

What NOT to do when you have bed bugs

1. Freak out

Bed begs are unpleasant, they bite, they itch and they can get into your stuff, which is all pretty horrid stuff, but they do not kill you. Freaking out is a natural instinct but try to keep calm and you will be better able to deal with the situation rationally.

2. Take it out on the hostel/hotel owner

As I mentioned above, the presence of bed bugs is often the result of travellers bringing the critters with them, not the property, and it is sadly one of the hazards of running such a business. Most property owners will deal with the problem quickly and effectively when they are alerted to the problem and shouting at them will not help. Sadly, there will be times that the issue isn’t dealt with effectively, but all shouting will do in those circumstances is make you more stressed and angry. A follow-up email to the hotel or complaint or honest review online is likely to be more effective.

3. Throw everything away

When spotted quickly and before bed bugs have had a chance to come into contact with your belongings, you may not need to do anything other than move accommodation. Even if you think there is a risk the bugs have transferred to your belongings, it is possible to treat bedbugs (see above), so don’t react by throwing everything away.

4. Stay put

The longer you stay at an infested location, the more likely you will take bed bugs with you on the rest of your trip or home. Get out as soon as you can and do not go back – there are plenty of places to stay around the world, you don’t need to tolerate bed bugs.

How to minimise your chance of bed bugs

Bed Bug Travel Protection Kit

I’ve just discovered this bed bug travel protection kit on Amazon. I haven’t had a chance to try it yet and it’s kind of expensive (at $50) but it includes bed bug traps so you can tell if you have bugs within an hour and a protection spray. The kit includes chemicals but they’re plane safe, which helps me justify the price. If you’re paranoid (as we can easily become when we feel that inner itch), it might be a good investment. Let me know if you try it.

1. Check reviews

Before you turn up at a new location, check out your intended hostel or hotel online. Reviewers on sites like Hostelworld and Hostelbookers are usually pretty frank, but otherwise searching the name of your accommodation plus bed bugs should provide you with some valuable information.

2. Eye up other guests

Itching, red and blotchy guests might be a sign that bed bugs are present. It’s possible any bites were gained in a previous place so the best way to find out is to (subtly) ask. Try not to freak your fellow travellers out – they may not know what is causing their itch.

3. Try baby oil

I know some travellers swear by baby oil to keep bed bugs away. Rubbed onto the skin before bed time, the theory is that the oiled skin keeps the bugs from getting sufficient traction to bite. Now, I’ve not tested this myself so don’t know if it will work, but at least you will wake up with super soft skin (just make sure you don’t stain the sheets with too much oil, especially if you’re likely to be charged).

Now, suitably itchy and disgusted, feel free to go take a shower…or share your own bed bug horror stories in the comments below.

Want to read more about accommodation? Click below.

Article written by Jo Fitzsimons

Jo Fitzsimons is a freelance travel writer who has visited over 60 countries. www.indianajo.com is the place where she shares destination details, travel itineraries, planning and booking tips and trip tales. Her aim: to help you plan your travel adventure on your terms and to your budget.

Follow @Indiana_Jo on Twitter.

68 Responses

Hi! I’m travelling through panama and costa rica and right before crossing the border i stayed at a place for 1night where I got maybe 50 bed bug bites… I thought that there were just too many mosquitos in that place but after 2days i started to get suspicious and now I know I definitely have bed bugs. Because I didnt know earlier, I didn’t separate my stuff and now maybe everything is infected. I tried to look for a laundry place here but they dont wash with hot water here (i searched for it in 3different towns already). I have no idea what to do now and i will feel super guilty for sleeping in a dorm and infecting others but I cant afford private rooms.. Should I tell my next hostel about the bedbugs? They might not want me in their hostel. I really hope you can give me some advice because i feel very lost

Hi Chaira, that’s such a horrible situation. If it were me, I’d choose the hostel you want to go to next and before booking, email them to explain the situation. Most hostels (and hotels) deal with bed bugs regularly so they probably have a process in place. Ask the hostel if they can help you find a spray/laundry and when you arrive, leave your bag outside so you don’t take the bugs in. Travel early so you have time to deal with the bugs and get your things cleaned so you can finally get into your bunk bed-bug free. If one hostel won’t help, keep emailing until you find one that will. Hope that helps. Let me know how you get on. PS: I’m currently in Costa Rica having crossed the border into Panama. Hope you’re enjoying your travels despite the bed bugs!

Hello—
Last night we were in a hotel room for about an hour. We were in our pajamas sitting on the bed when my husband pulled down the bedding and there was a bed bug! He didn’t move very fast—in fact sat still while he went and got a tissue to catch it in. Did not have our luggage on the bed but on the leather ottoman—off the floor. One sweater did fall on the floor, and had my camera case on the floor.
Showed the manger and they refunded our room and we left. Put SOME of our clothes in a plastic bag and tied it shut, but didn’t do that with everything. Got to another hotel and I ironed what we had on, put out shoes next to the heater for the night, ironed the outsides off our luggage, my purse and camera bag.
My biggest question is-being we were only there an hour, how likely is an infestation? We still have over a week of traveling.
We put the luggage we had in that room on top of another suitcase in our car—could they be in that one now? (Just so you know, the temperature in way below freezing, and we left that other suitcase in the car all night now.)
Yes, I’m freaking out—the last thing I want to do is bring them home.
Any advice??

Hi Kari, it’s hard to say but it sounds like you reacted quickly. I’d recommend unpacking outdoors when you get home then washing and drying all of your clothes in a very hot tumble dryer. Bed bugs are visible so just check your bags and other items closely before taking them inside. Hope that helps!

Went to Tokyo for new year. Few days later noticed a rash on my shoulder. I thought it was a reaction to the detergent as I had the hotel do laundry two days before. On the day I was leaving Japan found someone had posted a review about bed bugs in the hotel 6 days prior. When I got back to the states went to urgent care and the thought it was just a rash but didn’t rule out bed bugs. I left all my stuff in garbage bags on my deck for 3 days went through my suitcase outside and saw nothing. Still left it outside. Until I was forced to bring my stuff in because of a thunder storm. Even though everything was still in trash bags. A few days later started noticing what look like bug bites in a line. Rip my bed room apart and killed something. Called my pest control guy to come do a inspection today, but I can’t sleep, currently doing laundry as I found a blood stain on my pillow. This sucks, I got back on the 8th.

Urgh. I’m sorry you’re having this experience. It really is horrible and if it is bed bugs, they scatter quickly. However, keep in mind they are horrible and annoying but they won’t cause you harm beyond the bites. Pest control is the way to go. Good luck!

Hi everyone. Good news. Area flea spray. I had bed bugs in an an apartment (3 story house)….from my cat who caught a bat and brought it to my bed…yay. I had flea spray for a pets bedding. I had to do something so I tested it out. KILLED INSTANTLY. Do not waste money on an exterminator or fancy bed bug treatments. Flea spray and wash your stuff. TRUE STORY. THE END

Are you sure they were bed bugs? I’ve not heard of bed bugs living on bats….

We had a very bad encounter with bedbugs more than a year ago. I know that the general opinion is that they don’t carry disease, but we’ve been coming down with various symptoms since. Mainly joint pain and other inflammatory symptoms, yet we are negative for tick-transmitted boreliosis and other such infections. We just haven’t been the same since.

Hi GJ, joint and inflammatory symptoms are very typical of so many issue. There have been no links between bed bugs and bad health. Stress can trigger both join and inflammatory problems. I’d speak to your doctor if you’re worried about your health but also trust that they would have found a link if there was one. Wishing you better health.

We are currently in Laos and found our bed full of bedbugs around 20 minutes after check-in. They changed our room, but I found another one in the new bed. Currently 4am and I refuse to go back to be bed. In the morning we are traveling to another destination. As soon as we get there I guess we just best leave our luggage outside, strip, put everything in plastic bags, bring to the laundry. And then wash the backpacks as well.. I feel like non of my clothes is ‘safe’ anymore but I will need to wear something today…

Hi Merel, try not to be paranoid. Taking the precautions you mention is a good idea but you just inspect your clothes. Bed bugs don’t tend to live in clothes you wear so you will shake them off pretty quickly. Good luck with the rest of your trip.

Im in Laos right now and the same thing is happening to me and my boyfriend… This is freaking horrible

Hi Lucia, I’m so sorry you’ve been plagued by bed bugs. Hope some of the tips in this post have helped.

I stayed at a nice hotel last week and when I woke up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom (happens a lot..I’m 7 months pregnant!), I found an engorged bedbug on my sheets. The hotel moved me to a new room, and my belongings were either washed in hot water and dryer on hot, or dryer on hot and then sent to the dry cleaners for more treatment. After I treated my clothes, I got moved to another room just in case I had carried any bugs to the 2nd one. My shoes and the baby blanket I’m knitting are currently in plastic bags in my home freezer. When I got home, I repeated the heat treatment in my home washer/dryer. I was only checked into the infested room for 6 hours before moving, and my luggage was on the desk across the room from the bed. I haven’t gotten any bites since that first night, and haven’t seen any signs of bugs…but I’m feeling super paranoid. As I said, I’m pregnant and setting up my nursery, and am TERRIFIED that I might end up with a home infestation. The hotel said they had the eco lab come and they only found 4 bedbugs in the bed, nowhere else, and that they hadn’t started laying eggs yet. Do you think I’ve done enough to prevent these suckers from taking over my house and making the first months with my baby bedbuggy?

Hi Sarah, that’s a horrible experience and amplified because you’re pregnant and probably not in the market for a fumigation. I’m no expert but if you have been home and not seen any bedbug signs, I think you’re probably ok. But for peace of mind, can you get a pest inspector to come around and check. Just make sure you get a legit one. Good luck with the new baby.

Hi! So i’m staying in a private room in a hostel and last night my friend and I found what looks like a bed bug. We checked our beds and could not find any more. She maybe has 2 bites but they also may be pimples. We had to stay in the room after we noticed them but my question is how to know if my things are ok and bed bug free. I am planning to take all of my clothing to the laundromat to clean and dry before bringing it home. But for things such as postcards, eye contact solution and my water bottle if I don’t see any bed bugs is it safe to bring them back or should I be doing something else? Also I have a leather jacket and leather books that I want to make sure I don’t bring bugs back in but I’m not sure how to clean them. I also had 2 books in my bag but since I was only in the room for 2 nights I’m not sure if I need to worry about these. Thank you so much!

Hi Rachel, my first question is are you sure they were bed bugs? Also, they are visible so if it were me and I was still worried when I got home, I’d put my bag in the garden/outside and take the items in one by one after giving them a proper inspection. They’re not going to get into contact lens solution or your water bottle (unless they’re trying to drown themselves). I don’t want to advise you incorrectly but I think you’ll be fine.

We have been dealing with bed bugs for a long time. We lived at The Courtyard Inn here in Reno, NV. It is a by the month motel that is going to be closed soon for remodeling. Last Summer, the former manager sprayed our room for bed bugs, but since he didn’t spray adjoining rooms, they came back.
On November 1, 2019, a new owner and manager took over. We were moved to Renova Flats, a co-housing place that was remodeled and reopened last Summer. It is owned by the Courtyard people. We washed all our clothes.
As of today, we have been here two weeks, but most of our possessions are back in the old room. Things like a laptop and printer, knic knacks and kitchen supplies. The new manager said they would heat treat before they brought our things to us. I am terrified that they won’t get ALL of these disgusting bugs.

Urgh, That is really unpleasant. It’s good to know that the hotel is dealing with it but it’s not good having the constant worry. Is there another nearby hotel by the month you could move to?

Thank you for writing about this, Jo. I have been traveling since April of 2018. This past year I have stayed in hostels, hotels and nice homes. Every single place has a bed bug infestation. I have spent hundreds of hours and dollars dealing with it. Now I travel with one small shoulder bag that I can clean and one small bag of toiletries. Every time I leave a place I spend hours cleaning everything, so that I do not carry them with me to the nrxt place. I pour alcohol in my shoes because it will kill all five stages of a bed bugs life. A hot dryer does not kill the babies, nor does a freezer. Anything that does not kill them immediately gives them time to have babies which look like a tiny piece of white paper.

Oh no – that is really bad luck and I can understand why it would make you so diligent. I’m travelling at the moment and had a panic moment the other day but I think I’m good. Thanks for the alcohol tip!

Hi ! We really need your help.
We recently in costa rica suffered a bed bug infestation in a fancy hotel that we carried around for 2 weeks. We washed everything but probably not good enough.
Finally after a month, we were entirely covered. My partner had 180 bites (the bugs preferred him) and 50 myself. We were so weak from the sleep deprivement and the bites infections that we ended up in the Hospital. They’confirmed it was bed bugs and told us to wash everything again. We went into a cleaning frenzy, moved hotel, washed EVERYTHING Hot and dried hot. (The bags, the vanity case, the clothes…) I personnally boiled the clothes we had on ourselves, and cooked our shoes 200 degrees for 45 minutes. I sprayed our computer and books with DEET. I checked everything as a paranoid girl and never saw a thing. Never saw an egg, never saw a bug. Nothing. (Spent maybe 5 hours total checking). We had some quiet time, moved hotel again, and today (5days later) the bites are back. It is not from the hotel as I checked. Now the bites happen through the day, as if the bugs were in our clothes. I was even bitten on my leg, through the day, when I was wearing mini shorts. Checked the clothes, nothing. We boiled them again, to be sure. We are getting completely mad, especially as we cannot see any of them, and as people have no cure for us but what we already did. What shall we do ? I read 100 websites already and i am powerless. Do you know if there is another specie of bugs that would bite like bed bugs but be invisible ? How could the bed bugs survive the boiling ? We are so helpless, if you have any idea, please let us know. We thank you dearly

Hi Laura, what a horrible, horrible experience you’re having. I’m so sorry this is happening on your trip 🙁 Coming at this as an outsider, it seems to me that the only ‘evidence’ that you’re being bitten by bed bugs (as opposed to other bugs) is the word of one doctor. You have gone to great lengths to get rid of any bugs and have not seen any bugs recently – they are visible. Personally, I would go and get another doctor’s opinion. Bites can be easy to confuse and doctors can be wrong. Are you covering yourself in high-level DEET – I know this might not be a good idea if you have open wounds but I’m wondering whether they are other bites e.g. mosquitoes. Especially if you’re getting the bites outdoors. I’m not a bed bug expert and I suppose one could hitch a ride with you for the day but as far as I know, they like to live in static place rather than follow you on days out. Visiting a different doctor would be my first next step. After that, I’d see if you can get the advice of a local exterminator. Speak with your hotel – they are likely to have a contact and might be able to come and spray your room with your things in it. I really hope your trip gets better. Good luck and come back and let me know how you get on…

Hello, just got back from traveling..

I am pretty sure I got attached by bedbugs at one of the favorite hostels I stayed at. I had a bad reaction right away to some bites on my wrist. Thought it was a spider because I had the same kind of reaction from a spider not long ago. I checked the bed area but didn’t know the sign to look for. Within the next few days more bites started to appear on other wrist, my thumbs, and behind my knee is a line of bites.
Then I researched it and some of those signs were present in the bed when I looked, I just didn’t know. Their were spots on sheets and i think there was a tiny micro bug, the size of a dirt speck that I squished and it was a dark color on the sheet. At the time didn’t know it could have been a bug, though could have been dirt. I wrote to hostel to tell them and they never responded.

Now I am freaking out a bit. I returned home, left everything in the garage. Bagged it all the next morning.
My question is not what to do with all the clothes and fabrics. I will wash and dry tomorrow with hot water and air.

What about my stuff? My papers, makeup, money, books, souvenirs I bought, plastic stuff, money, charges. Etc.. also now I am paranoid about my stuff being in the car when I returned home, myself sitting in the car, before I could bag stuff up. Possibly contaminating the car.

This morning I saw another micro bug in the bag with all my stuff.. not positive what it was, was so tiny like a dust speck. But worried it was a bedbug.

I read that you can freeze things for 4 days that can’t be washed, so I am doing that now to some things.
I am also wiping down my stuff or rinsing with water before I bring it in, like the make up bathroom stuff etc.. no room to freeze all that.

My husband and I are very sensitive to poisons and stuff like that so poisoning bug spray is not an option for my stuff.

But I heard a horror story from a friend who had a bedbug infestation in her house and she had to burn everything she had.

So now I am overly paranoid i think.. worried about all my things , even the ones i wiped down.

Do you think little micro bugs could still be on my stuff? I know you said you can mostly see them. I’ve never seen a big bug just the two micro ones, at the hostel and today in the plastic bag of stuff- if that’s what they were. And what about a fold up umbrella and stuff like that, could they be hiding in anything?
I know I sound neurotic but I cannot bring this stuff into my husbands family home.. where I am now. And none of the family understand about bed bugs and already think I am super strange for freezing my stuff and not bring anything inside.
So I am trying not to be over the top, but feel like the bugs could be everywhere in all my belongings. Please help ease my mind..

Hi Marie, I’m so sorry you’ve had such a bad experience. First of all, try not to panic. Are you absolutely sure the micro specks are actual bed bugs? They sound too small to me. Take a picture of one and check online. Next, the research suggests that heat is better than freezing. But tumble dryer heat not just a warm room. I’d suggest getting a pest control expert to visit if you’re worried. Otherwise, for peace of mind, how attached are you to the things affected? Would it be cheaper to get a new umbrella/book than a fumigation. At the least, you could pay for an inspection from an expert. Hope that helps…

Nice post. Bed bugs are real nuisance, I found bed bugs on my stuff in my room we checked in the other day, informed the hostel management and they steamed my belongings and my bed. We stayed another 2 nights there after and I woke up with more bites both nights and found another bug on my mattress the morning we were checking out. We went straight to a laundry and put all that we could through a tumble dryer. Spent last night in a New hostel, and have woken up with a few more bites, do you think these could just be a delayed reaction or do we still have a problem….

Hi, it’s hard to say except that sometimes the bites didn’t irritate me at first so you might not have noticed the bites. Steaming wouldn’t usually be hot or long enough to kill the bugs. Check your bag and bed but usually moving location is enough.

Worth reading!! Thanks for sharing these great tips!! I will check for the signs of bed bugs presence during my next vacation and will keep myself safe from them. Thanks!!

I found bed bugs on my stuff in A hostel the other day, informed the hostel and they steamed my belongings and my bed. We stayed another 2 nights there after and I woke up with more bites both nights and found another bug on my mattress the morning we were checking out. We went straight to a laundrette and put all that we could through a tumble dryer. Spent last night in a New hostel, and have woken up with a few more bites, do you think these could just be a delayed reaction or do we still have a problem ?

Urgh. Bed bugs suck (sorry, didn’t mean the pun). I’ve had bites appear a day or so later. Most bed bugs are actually visible so have a good look at your things. It’s also possible you’ve gotten unlucky and have another bed bug hostel. Check your bed, check your bag and try to stay in one place for a little while to make sure they have gone. Good luck!

I camped in a tent in Botswana 2 nights. First night fine. Woke up after second night in same bed bed and bedding and covered in bites. Why didn’t I get them after first night?

Hi Pam, I’ve had this also but never in a tent. I think the reason was the bed bugs were dormant and not very strong so took a while to make their way over to the buffet table i.e. you. Either that or you had some sort of repellent on the first night? I hope it’s all sorted now?

After 5 nights suddenly one evening i founf three itchy buyes on myseld. On inspection i found a dead bed bug (it’s body dry and 2 pieces) in a corner of my hotel room. I immediately changed to another room one level lower. I am scared i might have a bed bug in my bag or suitcase. I read your tip about leaving your bags outside your house. But I live in a small apartment in a building complex so I don’t know where I should keep them. Can I put my entire bags in plastic bags and spray from top first and carefully open the bags inside the plastic bag so that the bugs can’t escape? I have used rubbing alcohol to spray and kill bed bugs in the past. What would you spray them with?

Hi, that sucks! Do you have a bath tub? The dark creatures against the white would be visible and also give you some protection from spreading. The bag and spraying seems like a good idea but don’t poison yourself with fumes! There are specific bed bug killer spray you can buy on Amazon. I’ve not tried it but this one gets good reviews: https://amzn.to/2Qrp2WZ . Good luck.

Hi Jo
I was unfortunately enough to come accross this awful creatures whilst travelling through South America. I was just wondering what is the bed bug spray that you are recommending to use for your backpack? I went to awful lenghts to find a place to wash and dry my stuff on appropriate temperature and also discarded some of my things. I tought i got rid of them as I didn’t have any new bites for about 5 weeks and didn’t notice any bugs in my belongings. Now I have a few new bites and I am freaking out. I am not even sure if they are bed bugs bites as I was in a jungle so it could be something else. I have washed my stuff again but I can not be sure if it was washed at appropriate temperature.

Hi Mon, I have updated the post now with a couple of links for the bed bug spray. I haven’t used it personally but a lot of people on Amazon say it worked. Personally, I would get exterminators in to check – nip it in the bud before it gets out of hand!

Thanks for pointing out that heat treatment is one of the most effective ways to deal with bed bugs. My parents discovered some bed bugs in their bed last night, and they’re unsure what to do to solve the problem. Their both so afraid of bugs that there’s not really much they can do to take care of the infestation. I think it would probably be best if they had a professional come out and get rid of the bugs for good. Thanks for sharing!

If they have an infestation at home, definitely an expert! I wish them luck.

It’s interesting that you note that the cleanliness of a person won’t affect your chances of having bed bugs or not. I’ve actually been very curious to know whether or not I have ever had bed bugs, because there have been times when people would tell me to wash my sheets because of bed bugs and I never noticed bed bugs in my sheets during times that my sheets went months without cleaning. Maybe I haven’t noticed and it’s finally time I get in touch with some exterminators.

Hi Burt, I’d say this isn’t the cleanliness of your person but rather your bed – it may be allowing bugs to feast and breed undetected. Good luck and I’d definitely recommend changing your sheets more often.

Great article! I’ve been getting little red spots on my exposed skin after waking up and I suspect it’s bed bugs. Found your website and will definitely try out some of them soon. Thanks again for the sharing!

Hope you get rid of the bugs!

Hey,
thanks for your article, there are not many who write about the topic what happens if you have them. My friend and I are currently staying at a farmstay for work and travel. We had to live in a separated room first, because they had bed bugs and got rid of them with chemical help. But now we’re in those rooms for over 3 weeks and I did see bites again which look like bed bug bites. I guess they are already in our backpacks and clothes right? And you think washing will help? I don’t want to bring them home but is it likely that I miss some at my backpack or that the washing machine and dryer don’t kill al of them? 🙁 thank you

Hi Dana, I’m always worried that I have a spare bug in my bag. The good news is that they’re usually quite easy to see if your looking for them with a good level of paranoia. I would spray your bag, do a hot wash and tumble dry and check again. When I get home, if I suspect bedbugs, I usually don’t take my bag into the house. I empty it outside, put my clothes into bags and give them a final wash at home. After a few days and usually another bug spray, I bring my bag back in. I hope that helps. Good luck!

My bed bug bites took 6 weeks to heal. At least I can tell my mother that you cannot get disease from them but it seems strange that with them indiscriminately sucking blood from man and beast they are not capable of passing something on! If that kit from Amazon stops you getting bitten even on one night of you life it is definitely worth it.

Six weeks – that’s horrible. I do remember mine lingering for a few weeks which left me wondering whether they were fresh bites or not. I’d be interested to know how you get on with the Amazon kit. Yes, on the one hand it’s good to know that the bugs don’t give you any diseases but it doesn’t make it any more pleasant to have them sleeping with you!

Hi, I found some hitchhikers back in first week November last year so immediately destroyed my bed and didn’t sleep in my room until starting today move back in bought a new bed. Every since I covered my floor with baking soda. Do you think the bugs are gone for Good? I hope so because it was some nasty bugs I brought back.it was probably barely starting so that’s why I vacated the room. Thanks

Oh no – that sucks! My brother’s room mate bought some beasts back from Brazil and they had a mass fumigation. It’s one thing to spot them on your travels, another to bring them home. Most exterminations should get rid of it first time. I had a fumigation (fleas, of all things) in my apartment last year and know how miserable (and itchy) you feel. Keep hope – they are either gone but if not, they will be gone eventually.

After 2 nights in a volunteer house I woke up with 6 bites on an arm, then later that day more appeared, and today I have a cluster on my lower back….that made me think bed bugs! I had already left the house so Im not sure since I didnt see them. I searched my bags and the pillow I brought with me, clothing seams, etc. and found no evidence of bugs. But Im still scared. I kept my purse, shoes and some clothes right next to the bed those 2 nights, not to mention my personal pillow. At my next destination I put everything in plastic bags then washed everything in hot water but there are no dryers here to use. I also wiped down everything I cant wash (electronics). Will that be good enough? Or should I do this all again and use a dryer when I get home? Im worried that though I looked I could miss them if theyre too small or hidden well.

I ten to think that if you’re looking for them, you can spot and kill bed bugs. Do the washing. Keep everything in tied plastic bags and leave your bag outside for a few days when you get home as well as spraying it and you will hopefully be ok. Good luck!

Hi, we checked into a hostel the other day but only read the reviews after. I found that the place is notorious for bed bugs.. We left quickly but we were on the bed for around two hours before we left. We didnt sleep there, it was during the day.. Now I think I see signs of bites on me.. Wondering if it’s possible that the BBs could be hitchhiking on our clothes and luggage after such a short stay during the day or is it just a delayed reaction from bites I received there? Thanks, John

Oh, that horrible feeling that you might be packing bed bugs around with you! I’m sorry you’ve had this experience. The good news is that bed bugs are visible so a thorough inspection of your bag should do the trick. Unfortunately, bedbug bites can hand around for a few days so it can be hard to tell the difference between old and new bites. If possible, stay still for a few days in a place your trust that doesn’t have bugs. Check your bag. Wash your things. And in a few days you should be able to get back on the road with more confidence. I hope that helps.

Hi, I will be traveling in Bali for a month in June. I am worried that I will be inevitably encountering bed bugs, as I was in Bali last year and had problems. I found that some hotel owners there are reluctant to 1) agree that bed bugs are present in their establishment 2) agree that they are a problem for the customer 3) do much about them if you complain. That being said, I’m looking for some home remedies to take with me, as I may be locked into staying at already-booked accommodations and I don’t intend on sleeping on the floor. The baby oil is a great suggestion. Is there anything else you know of that could be sprayed on the bed before sleeping, or any other suggestions? Thanks!
Kate

Hi Kate, it’s one of my enduring fears. In fact, I flew into Asia just a week ago and will also head down to Indonesia. I understand permethrin is a good chemical-based solution, being a general insect repellant. I’ve not personally tried it, but I know some travellers pack it. I travel with very strong DEET (you can read about it in my post about mosquito repellants here: https://indianajo.com/2013/03/what-is-the-best-mosquito-repellent.html) and in the unfortunate event I cross paths with bed bugs on this sting through Asia, I intend to give it a try. However, ultimately, the best solution is to move bed/room/hostel/hotel. It can be tricky getting the management to accept responsibility but in a world of Trip Advisor and review sights, it can be easier to convince them. I stayed in one place and ended up moving room 3 times before I found one that was bed bug free but eventually I got a peaceful night’s sleep and stayed there for the next 4 nights without bites or losing money. Good luck and I hope you manage to avoid the nasty critters!

Currently I’m in Morocco and mt partner and I got absolutely riddled with bites a few days ago after staying in a fancy hotel.
We gave since left that city and hostel, but now I fear that we may be carrying them with us.
I can’t tell if new bites are coming up or if they’re just delayed reactions.

Unsure as what to do.

Hi Emily, sorry for the delay – I’ve been in hospital for a knee op (all’s well, just a bit behind). Oh, what a horrible experience. I mentioned in a previous reply that I once checked into a big brand hotel and stayed put for a few days to regularly check if I saw signs of bugs or more bites. When I didn’t, I moved on, worry-free. Of course, I boil washed and dried my clothes and sprayed my bag too. Sometimes it can be delayed reactions. Usually if you’re carrying them, you’ll continue to see bugs or the horrible bed stains. It doesn’t help if you move from one bed bug place to another, which can happen and will leave you feeling like you’re a carrier. Keep moving until you find a place where you don’t think there is an infestation and then stop for a while. Hope that helps. I’d be interested to hear what happened.

Definitely had bed bugs a few hostels back. Left the room after i noticed and slept in the common room but left my stuff behind! And now, about 3 hostels later (and after doing laundry) more bites are appearing!! I dont know if its a delayed reaction to previous bites (one week prior) or if ive brought the bastards with me (and possibly infested a gew other hostels too…) right now im waiting for the dryer and im going to blast EVERYTHING (Even the clothes originally in the sealed bag(that i didnt bother washing last time)) but i cant find a whole lot of information for dealing with bed bugs on the go… all the information out there is if theyve infested your home, which is why i didn’t deal with things properly several cities back

Urgh, Cam. I feel your pain – bedbugs are the worst, especially when you’re paranoid that you have them with you. I hope the dryer worked. I probably shouldn’t confess this but I did once check into a pretty fancy hotel where I was confident they wouldn’t have bedbugs and stayed for a few nights to be sure I wasn’t the problem (apologies hotel!). When I had no fresh bites and no signs of bed bugs in the bed I checked out. It was expensive, but cheaper than replacing all of my things and allowed me to carry on travelling with peace of mind. Good luck.

I’ve been staying at a friend’s house in Singapore for one month. Two weeks into my stay, I did a 2 night trip to the beach in Malaysia. The itching started about 3 days after I returned. I don’t know if they were already in the house or if I got them in the beach hut. At first, there were a few bites on my leg that I assumed were mosquitoes because I went hiking that morning. Bed bugs never entered my mind but tonight, after a week of progressively more itching (I thought it was a rash that spread) I checked the mattress and saw a live bug crawling around. I killed it quickly so I didn’t look too close, but I’m guessing it was a bed bug. Either way, I’ve been around them for 2 weeks and have been oblivious. I’m leaving for the airport in a few hours, my bags are already packed. I’m at a loss. It’s hard to find washers with hot water in Asia and dryers are no where to be found. On top of that, do I tell my friend she has bed bugs and maybe they were here or maybe I brought them in?

Oh no, Martha! So sorry for the slow reply. Did you get the problem solved? I used to have faith in the fact that an aeroplane takes your baggage so high that the temperature gets cold enough to freeze the bedbugs to death, but apparently that’s not true. If you haven’t already, I definitely tell your friend. I hope everything has worked out, but let me know if not and I’ll happily help you do some research.

Hey, thank’s so much for your tips! Didn’t read them early enough though, and now I’ve got bed bugs. In a small city in Peru, and it’s sunday. I moved rooms yesterday, wasn’t sure about bed bugs, and now I find it irresponsible to move to another hotel, since they will come with me, no? I am sadly a messy person, and all my things were all over the place, so I guess the best would be to throw everything away. But the solution would be to clean-dry-heat all the clothes and use bug spray for all the other things? And then move out? Your thoughts on this would be really appreciated! Totally horrified, Hilde

Oh no, I feel your pain, Hilde, but try not to panic. Finding bed bugs and packing an infestation around are two different things. I’d recommend emptying your bag. Put all material items into the laundry for a hot wash and tumble dry. All non-material items should go in another plastic bag, ideally see-through and tie it (that way you can see if there are sneaky bed bugs hiding). Then, spray your bag with spray. Most bed bugs including their eggs are visible so a careful inspection will tell you. If you feel worried about moving to another place, book into a bigger room and store your bag in a wardrobe and do regular inspections. Chances are, you’ll be fine (apart from the unpleasant experience). But do be careful about leaving your clothes lying around (or putting them on the bed) in a new place. Hope that helps?!

Those nasty little critters are a nightmare to handle! Thanks for sharing your tips on how to get rid of them. And to think that i started looking at hotel guests to see if they have insect bites after reading this lol very smart tip, jo!

Wah ha ha! I know what you mean, Kaye. I’ve eyed up many a hostel guest for bites. I learned that trick from a hostel manager. I saw him give some girls a complete head to toe look-over and he saw that I saw him do it. Later he came over and explained why, which was hilarious, because he knew I thought he was just inappropriately checking them out 🙂

I like your tip about paying close attention to other hotel guests for signs of any visible bites. Never thought of that one!

I suppose it could also mean that if they were bitten in another establishment they have brought bed bugs with them?

Mags Sno, I picket that tip up from a hostel manager. I saw him staring at a girls legs once. When he realised I’d seen him he discretely explained he was checking out her bites, nothing more inappropriate! They were from mosquitos but it was good to see he was on bed-bug alert.

Please comment with your real name using good manners.

Bed Bug Law

How to Deal With Bed Bugs While Traveling

For the adventurer or budget traveler, the possibility of waking up with itchy, red lines of bed bug bites may be disconcerting, but not impossible. Despite bed bugs’ bad reputation of infesting linens in rundown motels and unsanitary hotels, the pesky parasites are extremely resilient and can pop up in perfectly clean establishments if the hotel or motel does not practice good pest prevention and maintenance. When traveling, always do a thorough inspection before and after your stay if you have concerns about bed bugs. So how do you deal with bed bugs while travelling?

Check Yourself Before You Rest Yourself

Before you unpack and turn in for the evening, follow these simple steps to search for signs of bed bugs.

  1. First, you need to know what to look for.Bed bugs are flat, dark brown bugs(similar to a tick or wingless beetle) that can range in size from a few millimeters to a couple of centimeters. Because they are flat, they can squeeze into tiny spaces and go undetected or blend in with their surroundings like a spot of dirt, a stain or wood.
  2. Use a flashlightto inspect the seams, crevices, and cracks around your bed, bed frame, and mattress. Pay careful attention to the mattress seams and don’t forget to remove the sheets first so you can get a good look.Because bed bugs are afraid of light and disturbances, this may cause several to move, making them easier to spot. Even if you don’t see any movement, shine your light closely along any seams and cracks to look for possible bed bugs camouflaging as dirt or wedged into hard to see hiding spots.
  3. Do a sweep of nearby fabrics, curtains, desks, and chairs. Bed bugs like to hide in warm places near food (which is why your bed is the first place to check), but they can live almost anywhere. If there is a bed bug infestation, there could be as little as 30 or even hundreds of bugs hiding throughout the room.
  4. Although the best way to look for bed bugs is by careful inspection, there are two other clues that might tip you off, including an acidic smell similar to a stinkbug, and a black residue left from the bugs’ pheromone secretions. Although these signs aren’t as obvious (or reliable) as your eyes, they can be helpful.

After The Bed Bug Bite

If you discover bed bugs before you turn in for the night, let your host know. Although many hotels and motels may deny they have bed bugs even if you find them, you can bring the issue to their attention. Disinfecting bed bugs takes time and effort, so if your room has them, it may be time to check out (or at least check another room). Even if you haven’t spent the night in an infected room, bed bugs are notorious hitchhikers, so do a thorough sweep of your belongings after you have relocated.

If you don’t realize there are bed bugs until you wake up with a few bites, take the necessary steps to fully disinfect your clothing, bags, personal items, and electronics so you don’t carry eggs and bugs with you to start a new infestation.

In addition to the itchy, irritating red bites bed bugs leave behind, these parasites are known carriers of chagas disease, which is why we recommend that you seek medical attention if you suspect you have been bitten. Some people may also develop a more severe reactions to bed bug bites, so keep an eye on your bites to ensure they are not swelling or becoming inflamed.

To disinfest your personal affects while the bed bugs are still contained to your luggage, place everything into large, plastic bags and seal them tightly. Even the clothing you currently have on will need to be cleaned, so try to avoid contact with hard-to-clean places like cars or other beds and living spaces until you can take care of the situation properly.

Next, take things to the extreme. Bed bugs can’t survive ultra high or low temperatures, so plan to wash everything in extremely hot water and dry items on the highest heat setting for at least one full cycle. Because bed bugs can be difficult to detect to the untrained eye, and eggs and young bugs can hide in tiny crevices, it’s best to do your disinfecting at a laundromat or industrial cleaning facility to avoid leaving a few behind in your home if possible.

For items that are heat sensitive, consider freezing. You can leave dry clean only clothing and items in the freezer for 24 hours and achieve similar results. Of course, any hard to clean items that are easily replaced are worth simply throwing away. Once you’ve finished, do another thorough inspection and keep an eye out for signs that you didn’t get them all. Although we have provided you with some good initial recommendations, if you come in contact with bed bugs we strongly encourage you to speak with a pest professional.

Bed bugs are a serious nuisance and difficult to get rid of once you have them. It’s worth the extra minutes checking your room before you end up with some unwanted guests on the rest of your journey.

If you believe you have been bitten by a bed bug, contact us today for a free consultation. Our lawyers have the skill, knowledge and resources necessary to help you obtain compensation as the result of being bitten by bed bugs.

How to Get Rid of Bed Bugs While Traveling

If you pick up bed bugs when backpacking or traveling, don’t worry. You have time to get rid of them before you get back home. Just take a day out of your trip to do some cleaning and then you can carry on with your travels. When backpacking, everything you have with you is small and relatively easy to clean, and it is much simpler than having to rid an entire house of the pests. It is essential you get rid of bed bugs before you get home while they are still manageable because once they are in your home, they are infinitely harder to get rid of.

Most people don’t realize they may have bed bugsuntil they start experiencing the bites on their legs during the night. These usually show up on the legs, arms, or neck and can be in lines or clusters like the picture on the right. The bites are not dangerous, but show up red and blotchy and may itch. Once you get the bites, you can be certain they are already in your luggage or clothing. You may also notice bloody streaks on your sheets if they are light-colored that can tip you off to the possibility of bed bugs.

I have experienced bed bugs before when I was backpacking with a friend in Costa Rica and we picked them up at the first hostel we stayed at. We had a few more stops before the end of our trip and were worried about spreading them around. Plus, they were a nuisance and our legs were covered in bites and they creeped me out, personally. The experience almost ruined the trip for me as I began scouring the internet for information on these bugs and how to get rid of them before I brought them home. The more horror stories I read online, the more I began to panic, and I couldn’t seem to find any information on how to get rid of these bugs while on the road. Everything was about how to eradicate them from your home, and I hadn’t gotten that far yet. It took a lot of digging to find steps that were relevant to our situation, so I would like to put what worked for me all in one place to help out other backpackers. By following all these steps, I was able to return home bed bug free from my backpacking trip and haven’t seen any since!

What you will need:

1. Plastic bags– large trash bags and large ziplock baggies.
2. Lots of change– This is for the laundromat. I think I ended up using around $10 in change to wash and dry all of my things.
3. Clorox or other wet wipes– one container should do.
4. Steam cleaner (optional)– one that does not use water to clean.
5. A freezer (optional)– large industrial kind that is not used often.

Steps for getting rid of bed bugs while traveling:

  • Bag it up– Plastic bags play a big role here. If you plan to tackle the bed bug problem as soon as you get home, you will need a lot of plastic bags. First, if someone is picking you up from the airport, have them bring large trash bags. You will want to line the car seats with trash bags in case some eggs are on your clothes and encase your luggage in trash bags for the ride so none of the bed bugs escape into the car. A variety of ziplock bags will also be important to seal anything that can’t be washed like electronics, books, or toiletries until you are able to perform deep cleaning on them.
  • Rub-a-dub-dub– The next thing to do is find a laundromat to wash everything in. You will need one that has very large industrial size washers and dryers so you can fit your backpack and more loads into one. Wash everything that you can (clothes, shoes, purses, and luggage) in hot water. This includes the current clothes you have on, so be prepared to switch out the old set with a freshly laundered one. One of bed bugs’ greatest weaknesses is high heat and it is guaranteed to work every time.
  • Dry on high– After washing everything, you will need to dry it on HIGH heat for at least 30 minutes. This is the most important step. If you had some things you could not wash, you can throw them into the dryer and it should do the trick.
  • Inspect– While you are waiting for all your clothing to wash and dry (can take three or four hours), begin visually inspecting all the non-washable items that were quarantined in ziplock baggies earlier. Flip through all pages of books, examine all crevices of any plastic items or electronics, like taking the batteries out, looking in all the ports.
  • Wipe on, Wipe off– While visually inspecting, wipe off everything that was not washed with wet wipes. Bed bugs don’t normally like hard surfaces, so things that are plastic or metal won’t usually be infected, but cleansing these items anyways ensures any eggs are wiped off. Make sure to get in all the crevices and hidden compartments.
  • Throw Away– Throw away anything that may be difficult to clean or that is easily and inexpensively replaced. I threw out shampoo and conditioner, chapstick, and pens.
  • Re-assemble– Once everything has either been ziplocked or washed, you can re-assemble your backpack and should be bed bug free.

Optional steps that are typically only available to those that are at home:

  • Steam clean– For those items that you could not wash, you can perform something extra to really zap any stragglers. If you have a steam cleaner, you can run it along items, other than electronics. By hovering over each item for a few seconds, the heat from the steam cleaner will eliminate any bugs. To do this though, you need a steam cleaner that does not dispense water!
  • Freezing– Even after you have wiped down everything, there is the option to freeze your things (Do Not Freeze Electronics). Bed bugs do not survive in extreme temperatures, and although heat is the best solution, freezing can work too, though less reliable. This means using your kitchen freezer that is opened every day to get ice will not work since each time you open it, the temperature warms up. The best method is to use a deep freezer that is not used frequently. Place everything in a plastic bag and you can freeze things like books, sunglasses, flip-flops with rubber pieces, hair clips. You need to leave them in the freezer for a few days, weeks if possible, to be certain that all phases of bed bugs should be eliminated. If you live in a cold climate, placing items outside in temps below freezing overnight should kill any bugs.

After all of this, getting rid of bed bugs while traveling is exhausting, both mentally and physically, but it is no match to battling them in your own home. Next time you go backpacking, make sure to follow steps for preventing bed bugs while traveling so you don’t have to go through this ordeal again.

What other steps did you find that helped you get rid of bed bugs while on the road, saving your home from invasion?

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