The reality is that they are an inescapable part of travel. And the good news is that bed bugs don’t carry any diseases. The bad news is that an encounter can leave you looking like squadrons of angry mosquitoes have blitzed your skin, as well as possibly turn you and your gear into a mobile bed bug palace.
So, an encounter is something you want to avoid. Let’s take a look at how you might be able to do that when travelling.
If a room or bed is home to bed bugs, there are some signs that you can look out for that will help you figure out if you’re sleeping alone or not.
Smell – Bed bugs give off a distinct aroma, a bit like a stink bug. It doesn’t travel very far, but if you stick your nose up against any likely hiding places (see below), then you may be able to detect an odour. This odour serves to attract other bed bugs, so if you find one, you can usually be assured that others won’t be far behind!
Black Goo – In their wanderings bed bugs secrete a black gooey substance, which if fresh will smear to the touch. There will often be more goo around hiding places, so if you see black marks or streaks in your bed frame, in the room, on the mattress on on your bed sheets, then you’ll want to have a closer inspection.
Hiding places – bed bugs are usually nocturnal, coming out at night to feed. They hide out during the day in any crack they can find, from the heads of the screws holding your bed together, to the holes or seams in wooden furniture They can also be found in curtain railings, behind skirting boards, in mattress seams, under carpets – in fact, anywhere where it’s dark and quiet.
Appearance – bed bugs have six lifecycle stages, which range from very tiny to about half a centimetre. They look quite different in each stage, being almost see through in their early stages, to darkish brown in their latter stages. They move quickly.
If you do find signs of bed bugs, then you don’t want to sleep in the room. There aren’t any chemicals you can spray on yourself that will ward the little critters off effectively, and most anti bed bug chemicals are seriously hazardous to human health. The only things that reliably kill them are extreme heat and cold for prolonged periods of time, neither of which are particularly good for you either.
The management of the establishment need to be informed, and they need to give you another room. If that doesn’t happen, get a refund and find somewhere else to sleep, or resign yourself to being eaten.
What to do once you’ve been bitten
Is it bed bugs? Once you’ve been bitten, the first thing to do is figure out that it’s definitely bed bugs. This can be difficult, as the bites are not dissimilar to any other bite. One defining characteristic is that bed bug bites often appear in a line, as a result of the bug not finding food on the first or second (or third of fourth!) attempt.
Tell your host: Don’t feel the urge to embarrass your accommodation provider. Whilst the majority of bed bug bites will show up the day after being bitten, in some cases it can take up to 14 days for bites to show, which means you might have been bitten somewhere else, and in fact may have brought bugs with you to a previously bug free establishment. How embarrassing would that be?
So, unless you have evidence of a serious infestation, accusing your host of poor bedbug management isn’t going to help very much. The best thing you can do is discreetly inform the reception desk, and let them take the necessary action, which should involve high heat washing of the sheets and a thorough room inspection and clean, ideally with a steam or heat gun.
Stop the itch! If you’re the unlucky type who reacts badly to bed bug bites, then you’re going to want some relief from the itching. Topical creams containing an anti-cortisone, usually available over the counter, are your best option. If the itching is really bad, then anti-histamine medication should help, the sort you take for any allergic reaction such as hay fever.
Don’t take them with you! Bed bugs are travellers at heart. They’d like nothing better than to hop a ride on your baggage and come home with you to start a new colony. Preventing this can be tricky – the easiest advice is just not to take anything home with you at all. If that’s not practical, wash everything at as high a heat as possible and vacuum everything else.
(Photo via pinscribd.com)
Laurence is a long-term round-the-world traveller and photographer, who chronicles his adventures on his travel and photography blog, Finding the Universe.
His bed bug expertise comes from a period of time he spent managing a hostel in New Zealand, where duties largely involved the hunting down and destruction of these lovely creatures, whilst assuring people that the hostel didn’t have any.