Travel Fears – What If My Hostel Has Bed Bugs?

“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.

The hostel bed where I squashed the bed bug - would you have guessed it was infested at first glance?
The hostel bed where I squashed the bed bug – would you have guessed it was infested at first glance?

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.

Never put your backpack down on the bed, you might pick up hitchhikers
Never put your backpack down on the bed, you might pick up hitchhikers

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.


Kelly Dunning

A Canadian freelance writer with a love of art, culture, literature and adventure, Kelly loves exploring foreign lands and expressing her experiences through the power of the written word.

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  1. Yes, as said by my dear Aktar this is one of the biggest problem we mostly face during travelling……. Very nice post with interesting topic.

  2. I have a couple of suggestions for Bed Bug problems:

    (1) Calamine lotion is fine, but a very visible and messy solution. I always travel with a tube of generic Hydrocortisone – it’s cheap, available without a prescription in any pharmacy, just about invisible, and works really fast.

    (2) If you do end up with Bedbugs in your backpack or luggage, sunlight is your best friend. Take everything out, hang it all up in direct sunlight, and leave it there for a few hours. Same with your backpack (Reember to turn it inside out for a couple of hours also).

    Happy Travels!

  3. Just joined a friend in South America who has been travelling for tree months and didnt habe any problem. On my first night I catched bedbugs, took me tree days to realize, she still doesnt have any problems. I watched everything a switched clothes (put on brand new ones while laundering the rest), but I wss bitten again today. The laundry is tok small and doesnt want to dry clean my back pack so I spent the last for hours boiling water and filling an old bin… Hope it works.

  4. the impact of bedbugs is very individual. I get a terrible response to the bites, and i have found that they are in most hostels i have traveled to. Its just most other patrons haven’t had a response to the bites and don’t notice until after they have left. I have also found that impact to my well being is terrible, i feel exhausted and lethargic just from the immune response, an it vastly impacts my ability to do things on holidays. For this reason, i have given up hostels, i save for more upmarket hotels or couchsurf, where i’m less likely to encounter them.

    1. I know what you mean. My bedbug bites get incredibly swollen, once so bad in Colombia that my entire arm was swollen and red hot and I had to go to the hospital to get antihistamines in an IV! It really sucked.

      1. It might be good to bring along a tiny bit of diatomaceous earth along together with a sprinkler (I use a sieve). Unfortunately the DE takes some time to work on the bed bugs and some people may have an adverse reaction to the food grade white powder.

  5. At 4 am. I found blood spot on my bed. After I turn on my personal lamp on my bed in hostel.
    There were more than 7 bedbugs on my bed.

    Luckyly my skin was not bad.

    But my friend need to go to hospital, she had the water in her’s skin that were bitten by bedbugs.

  6. I just saw my first bed bug and woke up with bites all over my thigh. Ugh! I have 4 days left on my vacation in Malaysia and Singapore. What do I do about my clothes and backpack in these 4 days? Do I need to throw out my backpack? How do I clean it?

  7. When my customers tell me they’re going away, I always advise them to put their luggage straight into the bathtub when they get in the hotel room and leave it there until they’ve inspected the bed and surrounding area. Bed bugs aren’t able to climb or grip the surface of the bath as it’s too slippery for them, and also the bath tends to be white so you could easily spot the bed bugs.

  8. I got really bad Allergy to bedbug all my skin get Inflamedand very itchy it a bit of a nite mare move in to a hostel year ago and there got Ongoing problem with this I left one room over this but there did not have a second room for me and there was still say it not got them in but went to Dermatologist and she said I had bedbug Bite all over me Inflamed scalp as well so left and stay round friend but hostel call me tell me got room for me I could not believe went look At mattresses there was all on the mattresses again called Manager this time he told me he will change Mattress but still not do the job still bite me all nite and one again Flame skin so made my self homeless now but hope to go private soon These are a nightmare

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