Bed bugs – your unwanted travelling companions
Everyone wants to bring a souvenir home from their trip away – just make sure that it’s not one the blood sucking kind!
Although bed bugs were virtually non-existent a few decades ago, thanks to a boom in international travel, these mini vampires are back with a vengeance.
There is some good news though, if you are unlucky enough to pick up these little critters whilst you are away, banishing them before you step back through the door is relatively easy in comparison to when they invade your home.
What are bed bugs?
Bed bugs are infamously pesky parasites that reside in hotels, homes and even office blocks; hiding themselves away in picture frames, floor boards and furniture.
As their name would suggest bed bugs feel most at home in your mattress. Here they lie in wait until you fall asleep and they can come out to feast.
Relatively inconspicuous these bugs are only 4 – 5mm in length, so are easy to miss. In fact, most people are unaware that they are even sharing a bed with bugs until the bite marks appear on their legs, arms and neck!
How do bed bugs travel?
Difficult to identify bed bugs are natural born travellers. But, contrary to common believe, they cannot fly, preferring instead to hitch a ride with us in our baggage and bags. Moving from hotel to hostel via humans, these little critters are on their own foreign exchange.
Another way that bed bugs can pass from person to person is via our clothes and our sheets. In hotels and rented property, where beds and linen tend to have a high turnover of occupancy, there is plenty of opportunity for cross contamination.
These bugs are more than a nuisance, they are your travelling nightmare and if they have been on your body, you can guarantee that they have wriggled their way into your luggage.
7 top tips on how to avoid bed bugs when travelling
When you think of a bed crawling with bugs, you automatically think of backpackers trawling around hostels or staying in run down hotels. Well think again? Bed bugs are non-discriminant and thanks to their love of travelling they don’t care if they are residing in the lap of luxury or bunkering down at a budget hotel, as long as they are with you. Nowhere is safe…
Although you can’t avoid coming into contact with bed bugs, there are some steps you can take to prevent catching them. Here are my top tips to avoiding bed bugs when travelling.
1. Research the place you are staying. Before you visit make sure that you check out the reviews to see what people have to say about their stay. Do they rave about the rooms or are the beds lumpy and unclean? You can also visit bedbugregistry.com, a site which names and shames properties in the United States and America, that have previously been reported for bed bugs.
2. Purchase a hard suitcase. Bed bugs move by wriggling and using small hooks on their feet. Therefore, anything shiny or smooth makes it harder (but not impossible), for them to grip and burrow!
3. Wrap your luggage and contents in plastic bags. If you are travelling on public transport, such as trains and planes, then your luggage is likely to come into contact with other cases. Wrapping your luggage in plastic makes it much harder for a bed bug to access and keeping your clothes in plastic bags within your case, provides an extra layer of bed bug protection.
4. Think carefully about where you place your baggage. Once you reach your accommodation, don’t be tempted to throw it on the bed or put it on the luggage rack provided, as these places tend to be the most infested. As bed bugs cannot climb up slick surfaces, I always suggest setting your bags down in the bath. Also steer clear of hanging your clothes on wooden rails or folding them neatly within drawers.
5. Inspect your room upon arrival. Make sure that you lift up your mattress, taking particular care to scrutinize corners and crevices. Check the sheets for any small blood stains, bugs or clusters of eggs. If you have a credit card, then gently slide it along hard to reach edges.
6. Take a deep breath. If your room has a musty smell, don’t automatically assume that it is due to lack of ventilation. Bed bugs often given off a sweet odour which some people liken to rotting berries.
7. Air on the side of caution. At the end of your trip, make sure you immediately empty your bag into the washing machine and place all items on a hot wash.
How to get rid of bed bugs from your luggage
Bed bugs are notoriously hard to get rid of and will follow their host from vacation to home. So, if you are traveling and notice bites on your body, or even spot a bug, it is best to act fast rather than wait and hope.
Having treated bed bugs for many years, here’s some advice on how to get rid of bed bugs from your luggage before they get in your home.
1. Bag it up. As mention above the best way to prevent bed bugs getting to your clothes is with plastic bags. This also works vice versa. Make sure you encase all of your luggage in plastic bags to stop the bed bugs from contaminating further. If you are getting transport or relying on lifts, then make sure you line the seats and boot with bin bags to prevent bed bugs from spreading.
2. Wash and dry everything. Before you even walk in your front door, you must make sure that you wash everything. Ideally do this is a laundrette where the machines are much bigger. Place your travelling items on a hot setting and follow this up with a hot dry spin.
3. Check everywhere. Bed bugs are used to playing hide and seek so make sure you inspect all your items – especially those such as electronics and books which can’t be washed. Use wipes and cotton buds to get in small gaps and sterilise as best you can.
4. Throw away replaceable or difficult to clean items. It is always better to be safe than sorry and remember you could spend hundreds of dollars on pesticides trying to combat a chronic bed bug infestation.
5. If you can borrow a hoover, then try and run it over all your possessions in order to suck up any lasting eggs or larvae.
6. Deep freeze. Just like extreme heat, bed bugs can’t stand the cold. If you can gain access to a deep freezer, then place all your items in a plastic bag and bury it in the bottom for at least 24 hours. It might come out a little crisp and your fellow travellers may think you are mad, but at least you will spare them from being bitten and you’ll be bug free. Alternatively, if you are visiting somewhere where the temperature dips dramatically over night, then you could try placing all your items outdoors.
7. Use a bed bug spray, steamer or cleaner. If you do bring bed bugs back to your home, it is important that you don’t panic. There are a number of ways you can deal with these persistent parasites effectively, from residual sprays to steamers and cleaners, but you must make sure that you do your research in advance.
How to get rid of bed bugs when travelling conclusion
A happy vacation can quickly turn to holiday hell when you realise you’ve been sharing your bed with bugs. Thanks to the convenience of international travel, these little critters can easily explore the globe.
Make sure that you keep your wits about you, no matter how nice your accommodation may seem, as it is always better to be safe than bitten! Afterall, you don’t want bed bugs to feature in your holiday memories.
Photos of bed bugs on suitcases