As an avid traveler who has visited over 30 countries in the past decade, I have only had the misfortune of encountering bed bugs once- and hopefully I haven’t just jinxed myself here.
With the current uptick (ha) in news media regarding France’s so-called bed-bug crisis, I thought it would be handy to compile a list of tips and tricks to help fellow travelers avoid the any unwanted companions.
Despite the commonly held belief, bed bug infestations bear no indication on the quality of a hotel. Since bed bugs hitch rides with travelers, they’re just as likely to be hiding in a high end hotel as they are a hostel- though the accommodations with a higher turnover rate have a higher chance of hosting an unlucky visitor with a surprise guest hitching a ride on their clothing or in their luggage.
To this end, most hotels and hostel regularly have inspectors check for pests- even before this surge of media attention. Still, some can get through the cracks, so it’s important to do your own checks when staying in a new location.
Upon entering a new room, put your luggage on a hard, smooth surface such as a desk or a provided luggage rack until you’ve done an inspection of the room. I prefer to keep my luggage above ground level for my entire stay if possible, and leave it closed when I’m not using it.
Next, you’re going to want to examine the room for signs of bed bugs. As the name implies, they are found most regularly in beds and other upholstered furniture. Lift the bedding at the corners of the bed to check the seams mattress and box spring and make sure to check any seams and the pillows. Dedicated searchers should also check behind headboards and along baseboards.
Adult bed bugs are reddish brown in color and are usually about the size and shape of an apple seed, though younger insects are a translucent yellowish white and are smaller, making them much more difficult to see. Other signs of the bugs can be dark spots and molted exoskeletons in those same areas.
If you notice any of these signs, tell the accommodation manager immediately- they should place you in another room (where you’ll definitely need to repeat your inspections), and ideally pay for a visit to a laundromat.
Sometimes, despite our best efforts, bed bugs can still leave their mark on our vacations. Itchy, red bites arranged in a line are one of the tell-tale signs of bed bugs. Unlike flea bites, which tend to have many small bites clustered around the lower body, bed bugs target any skin exposed overnight. These bites often appear several days after initial exposure, and some people don’t have any reaction to the bites at all- you can see how these infestations manage to spread so quickly!
If you notice signs of bed bug bites, it’s importation to act quickly before you spread the bugs further- or bring them home! Everything washable should go directly into the laundry. Wash everything on as high a heat as possible (preferably 140F) for at least 30 minutes. The combination of detergent and high heat should kill any bed bugs and eggs that may be hiding. Everything that is not washable must be sealed into a plastic bag and kept either at 0F for a few days or for several months at any warmer temperature.
If the bites get too itchy, antihistamines should help with the symptoms, or otherwise consult a doctor for more options- these bites last around two weeks!
In my personal experience, I’ve been very lucky. I only had half a dozen bites appear- one of which showed up mid-conversation to the mystified horror of my friends. I’d been moving so quickly through so many hotels that I had no idea where I’d picked up the bites, but luckily I was already on my way home. Upon arrival, I stripped off my traveling clothes, took a very thorough shower, washed my clothes on high and quarantined the rest of my luggage in a non-carpeted area for a few months- and luckily I had no further problems!
On another trip, I woke up one morning with a huge bug bite on my arm. It didn’t look like bed bug bites to myself or the hostel manager, but we all decided to err on the side of safety. You’ll find that most hotels and hostels do not want to play the odds when it comes to beg bugs.
I was immediately transferred to a different room and sent off to a local laundromat. The laundry service was reimbursed to me, as was the cost of my stay. A day or two after I checked out of the hostel, I received an email from their management informing me that they had a professional inspect and clean the room and that they had found no bed bugs.
By this point, I had decided that I was likely suffering from some sort of spider bite, so I was unsurprised but nevertheless impressed by the hostel’s response to the situation. Given that this was a fairly inexpensive, if popular, hostel with a high turnover rate, I would expect this from any higher end accommodation moving forward.
Unfortunately, bed bugs are just one of the risks that you face when traveling outside of your home. Still, these incidents are far and few between and shouldn’t define a fear of traveling to certain locations. If you haven’t already done so, I’d recommend adding a bug check into your standard routine when entering a hotel to limit any issues in the future. Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst, right?
Disclaimer: there were no bed bugs at the hotel in my featured image during my visit