If you are budget traveling, especially in hostels, bed bugs are a terrifying reality you will likely face. I’ve had the backpacking pleasure (sigh) of waking up in Italy, Morocco, Laos and Vietnam, to find my body ravaged by the little buggers.
You will recognize bed bug bites by the raised, itchy, red welts they leave on your body, typically in groups of 3. Bed bugs are tiny insects that emerge only in the night, and feed exclusively on blood. Sleeping humans are an easy feeding target, and so the bugs love to hide in mattresses, bed frames, and the crevices of rooms. They multiply quickly and are notoriously difficult to eradicate. Bed bugs have been known to lay eggs in luggage, or hide in luggage, and as a result hostels and hotels often fall prey to a bed bug infestations. Cue the backpacker anxiety - not only do bed bugs leave you terrified of sleep, but the fear of inadvertently bringing those bed bugs home is equally paralyzing.
So, what do you do if you find yourself in an infested room or dorm? Don’t fret. Here are 5 steps to survive the threat of bed bugs on the road:
1. Check reviews
Before booking a hostel, use the search function on whatever booking site you are using to search for the term “bed bugs.” If a hostel or hotel has a history of bed bug infestations, it will typically show up at some point in the reviews. I generally try to avoid hostels and hotels that have any mention of bed bugs - no matter how long ago.
2. Check your room
There are usually some signs of a bed bug infestation - here’s what to do when you check into a new room.
Pull back the bed sheets to check the mattress and box spring: you are looking for the bed bugs themselves, exoskeletons (they leave them after molting) and dark, rust-colored spots. Be sure to check in the seams of the mattress.
Lift the mattress to check underneath as well. A flashlight will help immensely with this.
3. Keep luggage, clothing and items off of the bed, and raised off the floor
When checking into a room, place your luggage in the bathroom or away from the bed while you do a quick look. Some folks choose to travel with a garbage bag to place their luggage inside while in hotel/hostel rooms - this deters the bed bugs from getting into the seams of your pack or suitcase. If you suspect a bed bug infestation, try to keep your items, especially clothing, off the bed at all times. This will minimize the possibility of a bed bug hitching onto your clothing.
4. Ask for a discount from the hostel
In every case of bed bugs in my hostel dorm or hotel room, the hotel has responded well. They’ve typically offered me a different room, a discount or a full refund. This sometimes means that you need to show the personnel the bites. Regardless of financial compensation, it is important to always inform your hotel or hostel if there are bugs.
5. Take precautions when you get home from your travels
I am an anxiety-ridden basket case, so if I have encountered bed bugs in any capacity on a trip, I make sure to be careful when I get home.
To avoid bed bugs infesting your home:
Wash all clothing twice in hot water, and then tumble in dryer for one hour - extreme temperatures kill bed bugs. I always do this in a laundromat.
Place luggage in a sealed garbage bag. You can store it in a basement, cellar or attic - temperatures in those location will help kill any possible bed bugs.
Another trick is the freezer. If an item cannot be washed, leave it in the freezer for 30 days.