When the Bed Bugs Bite!

December 9, 2016

bed bugs when traveling

Imagine this: Being absolutely mauled by mosquitos from head to toe, smothering yourself in insect repellent only to repel women not mosquitos, cooling off in the sea, getting stung by a jellyfish, then being attacked by fucking bed bugs.

No joke. This was how my month in Cuba ended and another in Mexico started. I felt like a leper in quarantine at my hostel in Playa del Carmen.

“KEEP BACK!” I’d say, squinting between gaps in my fingers from my darkened bottom bunk.

“BEWARE, THE CURSE!” I’d cry, or something along those lines.

I know what you’re thinking. It can’t have been that bad. But trust me, it really was. Thankfully, the jellyfish sting wasn’t too serious. The pain only lasted the best part of a day. And after applying about half a tube of antihistamine-loaded sting relief to my bright-red swollen body, the mosquito bites started to itch less and heal a bit. But bed bugs. Fucking bed bugs. They are stubborn fuckers, immune to insect repellent apparently – even the 50% Deet stuff – and a nightmare to get rid of when traveling.

They ruined me as I slept. My feet and ankles in particular itched so badly I’d wake up in the middle of the night, unable to resist scratching them furiously. The next morning my body would be covered in little red bites, the culprits nowhere to be seen. Bam! In and out. Job done. Ninja bed bugs got what they came for and disappeared back into the shadows.

bed bugs when traveling

At this stage I didn’t know what was biting me. Bed bugs were definitely in the mix though.

So how do you get rid of bed bugs when traveling? What does one do under such dire circumstances?

One turns to Google of course…to be fronted with horror stories about bed bugs ruining trips, lives, marriages, families, etc. But if there were one valid point I took away from my research, it was that the only way to get rid of bed bugs is to wash EVERYTHING.

Literally, all your clothes, bags, shoes, boots, towels, sleeping bag, wash bag and even your toiletries. Everything needs to be washed on a high heat or scrubbed ferociously with hot, soapy water. You see, it’s impossible to spot bed bugs and they don’t just live in cotton; they live in your zips and plastic containers too. So you may even have to throw some stuff away.

Don’t worry; this WILL work. You just need to be thorough and conscientious about it, like a serial killer mopping up after himself. Leave no shirt or sock behind.

Of course you can’t wash everything all at once, unless you spend the day submerged in a pool, the sea or a beautiful cenote, like I did. You’ve already been shunned enough as it is, so hanging out naked in your hostel probably won’t do you any favours. You’ll just have to remain in quarantine until your laundry is done and you can change your clothes – but not before drying everything on a high heat too. This will kill off any clingers on.

As you wait and itch furiously, just remember it could be worse:


Also, it’s not like getting bed bugs at home, which would potentially involve fumigating the entire house. So bear that in mind as you wallow in self pity.

Where did you pick up bed bugs?

Well, from a bed of course. But beyond that there really isn’t much to go off, given how frequently travellers change beds. They won’t necessarily have come from an ‘unclean’ traveller, or a skanky hostel either. Even if you shower three times a day (which is kind of necessary in Cuba) and only stay in the cleanest hostels, you can still easily pick them up. At the end of the day it’s just bad luck. Not a curse, as it turns out.

How do you know you’ve got bed bugs?

Inevitably, you’ll cling to the hope that you don’t actually have bed bugs. That, in fact, you’re just irresistible to mosquitos and really bad at noticing them. But there is a dead giveaway: lines. If your bites occur in lines or clusters then you undoubtedly have bed bugs. Sorry dude.

bed bugs when traveling

Never thought this photo would see the light of day. Needless to say, bit of a low point.

Other giveaways, though not necessarily ‘dead’ as it were, are bites in corners of skin like between toes and fingers or near your armpit, and blood smears in your sheets (they comprise mainly blood). People will also come up and tell you you have bed bugs. They’ll tell you stories, just like mine, and you’ll panic. But you’ve got to be strong! Just follow my advice and it will all be good.

How can you prevent getting bed bugs?

Check your bed!

Seems obvious. Well that’s because it kind of is, I suppose. When you arrive at a new place, don’t just rely on what you see. Run your hand along your mattress to see if there is anything crumb-like, then give it a closer inspection. If it moves, that’s not good.

Check Hostel Reviews

As I have said, bed bugs are brought to places by travellers – it is very rarely the fault of the hostel. However, some people insist it is will often leave negative reviews on hostel booking websites. Unless they didn’t respond to a complaint from a guest, this is really unfair. However, it does warn you that there may be a bed bug problem, so make sure you read the reviews carefully before you check in.

Oil up

As I mentioned earlier, mosquito repellent is not effective against bed bugs. In fact, the only one thing that does seem to combat bed bugs when traveling is baby oil. Now I’m not saying you should carry a bottle of Johnson & Johnson everywhere you go but if you suspect someone else in your group or hostel has become bed bug fodder then it may not be such a bad idea. This stuff is apparently so oily that it stops the bugs from getting traction on your skin. Or so the myth goes.

The Final Word on Fucking Bed Bugs

If you do pick up bed bugs when traveling, you need to take responsibility. Tell your travel companions and anyone that bunks close to your bed in a hostel. Tell the hostel staff too, so they can wash your sheets and other sheets from the beds beside yours. Then bag everything up and take it to the laundrette, and scrub your backpack and shoes like you’ve never scrubbed before.

Trust me, I know how you feel. It may seem like not even God – whoever that is – can help you right now, but with enough determination you will beat those little bastards.


Want some more info on getting rid of bed bugs when traveling or at home? Check out this post published on Student Travel or this one by A Life of More. Got your own bed bug story? Leave a comment! But whatever you do, don’t click on this link 😛

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