How to Beat Bed Bugs

19

“Goodnight, sleep tight, don’t let the bed bugs bite!”

Nursery rhyme no more! Bed bugs are now a legit concern for travelers, with reports on the rise in hotels, hostels, apartments and dormitories.

And spending the big bucks won’t ward off the bugs – these critters can crash any place where lots of people sleep, giving them the chance for a nighttime nibble. Travelers in high-end hotels should be just as wary as those hanging out in hostels.

But don’t let the threat of these little buggers keep you up at night.

The details are certainly squirm-worthy, but arm yourself with info and you can fend off the infestation.

Creepy Crawly Clues

Bed bugs are nocturnal, so chances are slim that you’ll spot one chillin’ on your mattress waiting for you to call pest control. If you are entering a darkened room, checking the bed as soon as you turn on the light increases the chances of a bed-bug sighting.

But a quick sleuthing session can turn up other signs of the six-legged suckers.

Here’s what to look for:

  • Check the sheets, mattress seams, and box spring for tiny black dots: bed bug droppings. Bed bugs can live in other upholstery too, so check under couch cushions and along the seams of chairs.
  • Keep an eye out for small red streaks on sheets and blankets – if you or anyone else has slept in an infested bed, rolling over and squashing a bed bug mid-meal could leave a tiny streak of blood on the blankets and sheets. (Blerg!)
  • Bed bugs are shedders: they’ll leave exoskeletons, or shed skins, behind for the trained travelers’ eye to find.

So What Are They, Anyway?

Bed bugs are small and flat-bodied, the size and shape of an apple seed. Adults are a rust red color. Young bugs are smaller and white.

Like mosquitoes, ticks, and the cast of Twilight, they’re blood-suckers.

Don’t panic! The good news: a bed bug biting you isn’t going to hurt. The bad news: that means you’ll sleep right through it!

Feet in the morning
Creative Commons License photo credit: jafsegal

So you didn’t see the signs, had a good night’s sleep, but now something’s up with your skin. How do you know if you’ve been a meal for these little guys?

Symptoms & Soothing

Knowing how to ID bed bug bites will let you take the right action for treatment.

Unlike lice or fleas, bed bugs aren’t great at navigating human hair. They’ll go for open areas of skin.

Bed bug bites show up as small red dots, which may appear as a bump or a slightly swollen spot. In rarer cases, allergies might swell the bite site a bit more.

Any one bite from a bed bug is easy to confuse with other bug bites. It’s the pattern that helps you pinpoint this culprit:

Bed bug bites usually occur in small clusters or a rough line across your skin – pest experts call this the “Breakfast, lunch, and dinner” pattern. (Ew.)

They may be itchy, but don’t scratch!

Bed bug bites, themselves, aren’t a health threat, but scratching can cause infection. This might require a trip to the doctor, who will likely prescribe an antibiotic.

To preempt this problem, relieve the itch: you can try an oral antihistamine, some hydrocortisone cream, even an ice pack can soothe your skin in a pinch.

Some people complain of the psychological effects of bed bugs. No, the bug bites themselves aren’t going to your head, physiologically speaking. Rather, it’s the constant worry that bitten and non-bitten alike experience in connection with these creepy crawlies – Did I get them all off? Are they in my stuff? Why does my elbow itch!?

The best cure for this is a big dose of know-how! Even if you did get bit, don’t worry, bed bugs can be banished!

Bed Bugs Begone!

If you get a bite or suspect you stayed in a place with bed bugs, here’s what to do:

First, know that your body is pretty safe. Instead of living on you like ticks, once they bite, bed bugs make an orderly retreat to bags, boxes, bedding, and clothes.

But this means they can be transported from one crash-pad to another in your luggage or on your outfit.

So maybe if I just head to the beach for a few days and let things air out… Nope. Bed bugs can’t be starved out, either. Some estimates put bed bug lifespan at up to a year without a snack! (Ew…again.)

Luckily, bed bugs can’t stand the heat. Before going to a new place or returning home, wash all your stuff in water hotter than 120 Fahrenheit. Or throw it all in the dryer and crank it up on a high-temp spin cycle.


Creative Commons License photo credit: Samantha Jade Royds

Anything soft, cushy, or non-electronic – even your pack or suitcase – should be subjected to the heat treatment. Take your hotel up on its dry-cleaning service. Go hang out at a local laundromat for a few hours. Its worth it to leave the bed bugs behind.

The Final Frontier

You had the itch, you fire-bombed your every travel item, but it happened. Bed bugs followed you home, and now your new roommates are a big pest. Time to haul out the big guns.

Bed bugs are insidious, so there’s a lot of work ahead. All blankets and clothes should be washed in hot water, and bagged and sealed while you’re exterminating so they’re not re-infested. Vacuuming closets, corners, and crevices in upholstery can get rid of bed bug eggs and larvae (bleck, larvae!)

Stores sell sprays that you can then use on baseboards, bed frames, and other infested areas to kill the bugs onsite.

While DIY is respectable, most sources recommend biting the bullet and calling in an exterminator – home remedies can be expensive and often fail to get rid of all the bugs, leaving your place susceptible to a recurring infestation.

Exterminators use a combo of chemical and non-chemical solutions, and you can help prepare your home with some of the cleaning suggestions above.

While you may want to leave house while the exterminator works, or toss your mattress depending on the level of infestation, it’s going to be OK. Soon you will return to bed bug free normality.

Bed Bugs: A Travel Bust?

Whoa, let’s rewind. Just because you’re going traveling doesn’t mean you’re going to have to go Ghostbusters on your next abode. Remember the few simple checks we started with? That can be enough to keep bed bugs and bites at bay.

And here are a few more helpful tips:

  • Google! Websites are starting to pop up that highlight apartment buildings and neighborhoods busted for bed bugs.
  • TripAdvisor and other review websites are a great way to check up on your next hostel or hotel. Has anyone reported a bed bug experience at your next place? Look before you book!
  • When you do arrive, don’t put your bag on the bed. Instead, pop it on a luggage rack, in a bathtub, even on top of a TV. Hang your clothes in the closet instead of piling them up. These moves keep your things out of reach of insect invaders.

If a quick search sets off your bed bug alarm bells, get outta there! Tell the hotel manager so they can deal with the problem, but don’t feel bad about leaving. They’ll probably offer you a different room: use your discretion, but don’t forget bed bugs spread relatively easily. It might be worth a walk out, so you’ll have the peace of mind of staying somewhere totally bug-free.

So, that wasn’t so bad. Bed bugs, blood suckers, bites and bumps… Ok one more time, BLECK! But now you know hopping from hostel to hostel doesn’t have to give you the heebie-jeebies. Keep an eye out, be prepared, and your travels can stay mercifully infestation free.

Nighty night!

Hey Go! Girls, any bad bed bug stories? Ever had to deal with getting these creeps out of your clothes, or the pests out of your packs? Give us your tips and tales about this travel bug!

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About Author

When Julie was a little kid, she conspiratorially whispered to her dad, "You know what? I have powers." It took the world, and Julie, about 20 years to figure out what the heck she meant by that. But in 2010, when a chance backpacking adventure turned into a year of transformational travel, she cracked it: her super power is Wonder Wandering. Her mission? Using her powers of volunteering for globe-trotting good, not evil. Her kryptonite? Stayin' put.

19 Comments

  1. Ick! I got bed bugs once in Argentina and didn’t know what to do! Luckily I washed everything and didn’t seem to have a problem again, but eww! They’re the worst! Thanks for these tips Julie!

  2. Eeek. I was terrified we’d pick these up while on the road. I felt like my mother inspecting room and beds before we accepted them, but thankfully we survived nearly two years bed bug free. We did have an incident with fleas in Sudan, or shall I say hubby did in the men’s dormitory. Fortunately the girl’s room was bug free!

  3. I’ve also heard that bed bugs like the area on the room between the carpet and the wall… so, I never put my bags near the sides of the room!

  4. We too were attacked by bedbugs in Argentina. We had everything washed in high extreme heat. But stuff we didn’t get in the wash we put in the freezer as this is a way to kill them off as well. Hate those critters!

  5. I got the creepy-crawlies just reading this–ew! I managed to evade these nasty critters my whole time living in NYC, but my husband and I picked them up (or maybe fleas…we still don’t know) in this crap hotel in Guatemala a couple years ago. I was itching for days!

  6. Very good tips. Amazingly and fortunately we had NO encounters with bed bugs on our year long RTW, and I’m happy we didn’t (did a great job jinxing myself, didn’t I?). These are some great tips though, and ones that travelers need to employ.

  7. I got into the habit of checking for bedbugs after hearing horror stories from other travelers. After 40 countries, the only problem I ever had was in my own condo building back in Calgary. Seems there was in infestation in a couple of suites. Luckily, I was spared — but I still check!

    Thanks for the great tips!

  8. Ugh, I remember fall last year when the news reported bed bugs all over the US. I was about to travel to Vegas and got so paranoid that I almost cancelled the trip. I hate bugs!!!!!

  9. Our house in London was infected with bed bugs. It was disgusting. I woke up one night to see them running down the walls. We moved house, washed and dried everything we owned, got rid of everything we owned and then moved house again before we got rid of them. With up to 25 travellers living in our house, it made it a hard battle to win. Gross

  10. Great tips. Now I know what bed bug bites look like.
    I don’t think I’ve ever encountered a bed bug. Mosquitoes are the main problem I’ve had while traveling. Had a terrible bout of dengue fever in Vietnam.

  11. Only encountered them back home in London. But, contemplating a cheap hotel in Vientiane, Laos, I asked some tired-looking ladies who were sitting outside scratching what the place was like. “It has bedbugs,” they said… Generally, it’s worst in big places where they can’t spray regularly and have a lot of through put.

  12. Whatever you do–DO NOT CALL AN EXTERMINATOR!!! They spray chemicals which are actually more unhealthy than the bedbug bites themselves, and whats worse, the chemicals don’t actually kill the bugs! The chemicals are an irritant that will casue the bed bugs to scatter for a period of time, but they will retun. Read the fine print in the agreement and youll notice that bedbug removal is only guaranteed for 30 days–now you know why. A quick Google search will give you an example of simple bed bug traps that use dry ice (solidified carbon dioxide) and a lovely little substance called Diatomaceous Earth (DE). DE is a very fine, flour-like white powder that can be picked up at Lowe’s, Home Depot, and any descent gardening supply store. The powder has a micro-crystalline structure with sharp edges that physically cuts through the exoskeleton of creepy crawlies, exposing their squishy bits to its powerful astringent effect that causes the bug to quickly dehydrate and die–poison free! Dont ask an exterminator to tell you about it because theyre in the business of selling return visits, which as far as Im concerned puts them in bed with the bed bugs! DE needs to be kept safely away from pets. Though it is non-toxic, a curious pet can give it an innocent sniff and inhale the powerful astringent, which can cause serious issues with their sinus and lung tissue. Do some research and use it wisely.

  13. This is one of the best, well thought-out articles I’ve read about bedbugs. I’d like to point out three things:

    1.) I’d feel more comfortable sharing the article with guests and other Hostel owners if the article gave businesses a little more of an opportunity to fix the problem (it strongly suggests flat-out leaving). Idk about other Hostels, but we know how to react immediately to a bed-bug sighting and we almost always completely eradicate them in one session.

    Guest/client detection is actually a huge part of combating bedbugs. It’s highly impractical for Hostels to check every bed every day for bedbugs (unless you have an infestation). The best thing *anyone* can do is to let the establishment know asap so they can react immediately.

    I will be adding signs at the Hostel to help educate people about bedbugs and hopefully help remove the stigma.

    2.) About removing the stigma, and helping in their identification, I’d add a few pictures to the article. (If there are any, they didn’t load when I read the article) People need to know exactly what they look like.

    3.) I’d like to add that the name ‘Bedbugs’ is actually a terrible name for the bugs. Most of the time, they live everywhere BUT the bed (i.e.: Mattress)… Mainly in bed-frames (bunks), under old paint, in electric sockets, and just about any small crevice where they can hide near a mattress so they can go for a meal when hungry at night… but yea, definitely look for the blood and black dots (poop) on the walls and bed frames as well.

    • My sister just found a bed bug on a headboard in her roommates’ room! None in the mattress so it’s true, they start off living elsewhere or jump from one person to another before they make it into the bed.

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  15. Thanks for pointing out that bed bug bites in and of themselves aren’t a health threat, but scratching can cause problems. My daughter came home from a trip, and her bedding was infested with bed bugs. I managed to quarantine it, but I think that I’ll find a pro who’ll be able to get rid of them.

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