“Oh my god what is that?” I squealed.
Lee and I were snuggled up together in the bottom bunk of a hostel in Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia watching TV shows on our laptop when all of a sudden I watched a plump, juicy bug scramble across the sheets between us and onto the pillowcase. I instinctively grabbed it with my thumb and forefinger and squeezed. Bad idea.
The bug was like a tiny water balloon filled with our own warm blood. It splattered in all directions, leaving a horrible red starburst on the white bed sheet. I gagged in disgust.
At breakfast that morning I was covered in small itchy raised bites. I looked over at the German guy across the table eating his toast and saw the same tell tale bumps along his arm. We gave each other a sympathetic look and I slid over my bottle of Calamine lotion with a smile.
Bed bugs are truly a pain, but if you are backpacking long term the odds are good that you will encounter them at least once. Read on to find out more about dealing with these annoying little pests.
Every Hotel Gets Bedbugs, the Good Ones Get Rid of Them
Many people believe that only the scuzziest, dirtiest hotels get bed bugs and that these pests are a sign of a run-down establishment. However, the truth is that all hotels get bedbugs from time to time, from the cheapest hostel to the finest five star resort. Lee used to work at a gorgeous four star hotel and even it used to have bed bug problems every now and then. These little critters have nothing to do with the cleanliness of the establishment, they can be carried in on someone’s luggage and make their home in the beds, feeding on your blood while you are sleeping.
Therefore, any hotel in the world can get infested with bed bugs, which means that there is no point spending ridiculous amounts of money on travel to avoid them.
However, the difference is whether the hotel deals with the problem or not. High class luxury establishments will deal with a bed bug problem as soon as possible by treating the room with pesticide and stopping the infestation so that it will not bother any other guests. Budget hotels will sometimes ignore the problem, so multiple guests are affected.
If you are looking through reviews on TripAdvisor and you see that a hotel has had numerous complaints about bed bugs over a period of time, you can assume that they have had an infestation that they haven’t dealt with properly. However, if there is only one bed bug complaint, the hotel might have had a problem once but dealt with it right away.
Hostel Bed Bugs – Can You Spot Them in Advance?
Is it possible to tell if your bed is infested with bed bugs before you sleep in it? The truth is, it can be pretty difficult to spot bed bugs during the day because they are nocturnal and their little nests will be well hidden within the dark crevices under the bed or within the mattress. However, you can look for signs of clear moulted exoskeletons around the bed or the smell of rotting raspberries. Carrying a small LED light on your key chain can help you look in the dark crevices under the bed.
If you spot the bed bugs in your room, you can complain to the hotel and ask them to switch rooms. Pay attention to how they respond to your complaint. If they seem genuinely concerned like they intend to solve the problem, this is a good sign. If they respond with a non-committal shrug like the woman in our hostel in Malaysia did, this is a bad sign. (It came as no surprise that multiple rooms were infested and we were also visited by a mouse in the same hostel.)
Bed Bug Tips
So what can you do if you encounter these little bloodsucking creatures on your travels?
First of all, don’t panic.Don’t drive yourself crazy worrying about bed bugs or looking around for them… it will only make you stressed out and uncomfortable and cause you to lie awake at night. Relax and don’t let paranoia ruin your trip.
Bed bugs are not the worst thing in the world and they are certainly no reason not to go travelling. The odds that you will encounter them are small and even if you do,you will only have a few itchy bites for a couple of days (try Calamine lotion). Just laugh it off and move on, it’s all part of the adventure.
For those hypochondriacs out there – don’t worry about catching a disease from a bed bug bite. They don’t transmit diseases and they are not considered a threat to your health.
However, as a rule you should get in the habit of never putting your luggage or your backpack anywhere near the bed. This is because the little bugs can leap from the bedding into your baggage and follow you around on your travels! Instead, keep your bags in the corner of the room or on the luggage rack in the closet.
When you come home from travelling, you can put all of your clothes straight in the wash and run them through on the hottest setting to kill any creatures that might have tagged along. Those are some souvenirs that you really don’t want to bring home! Here is a more in-depth guide to getting rid of bed bugs, with info on how to properly wash your clothes to get rid of these creepy crawlies.
Have you ever encountered bed bugs on your travels? Tell us your creepy crawly stories in the comments and your tips for dealing with them.