Bedbugs are not a very nice subject to talk about and is one that will leave many backpackers repulse in disgust, but they are a common problem in many parts of the world and anyone taking a gap year will probably come across them at some point. Here is how to spot, avoid and deal with bed bugs on your round the world adventure.
Bedbugs do not have the best reputation among backpackers, and anyone who has travelled the world for any length of time will have a story or two of running out of a grungy hostel dorm or waking up filled with itchy, annoying bites because of them, and they are second only to mosquitoes in the league table of things backpackers would like to see painfully smitten out of existence. But with a bit of knowledge you can (with just a bit of luck too) mostly avoid them on your travels and deal with them properly if you are unlucky enough to encounter them.
What are bedbugs?
Bedbugs are small, parastic blood sucking insects that usually live in small cracks and crevices, and come out at night to bite exposed skin and feed on blood.
They are typically very difficult to spot because they are extremely small, no more than 5mm in length, and are oval and flat shaped. They can vary in colour between red, brown and even a dark yellow.
They mostly live in or around the cracks and crevices in bed frames and under mattresses, because that is where their prey will lay at night when they come out to feed, but they can just as easily crawl onto any clothing, cloth or backpack and be carried from place to place that way.
How to spot bedbugs.
Bedbugs are not easy to spot, and there may even be very little to no signs at all, making even the most observant backpacker easy prey. But common signs to look out for include:
- Small bugs or bundles of tiny white eggs the size of a pin head in any of the cracks or joints of the bedframe in the place you are staying, underneath the mattress or sometimes even in the folds of linen. Use your smartphone’s torch to search for the eggs.
- Tiny black spots on your mattress, this is essentially bedbug poo. Nice.
- Little crusty shells, yep, that is shed bedbug skin.
- Small pin prick blood spots on the sheets, this can happen if you squash a bug in your sleep after they have fed.
- A dank, musty smell in the heaviest of cases but this is not always present, so don’t assume there are no bugs if it isn’t.
Are you all itchy and disgusted yet?
How to recognise a bedbug bite.
It is sometimes hard to recognise a bedbug bite from the bite of a variety of other insects, but commonly bedbug bites cause:
- Itchy red bumps on the skin.
- These bumps will often – but not always – occur in lines across the skin, known as tracks. This is where the bug has walked across your skin, stopping for a bite at regular intervals.
- Usually they are on areas of the skin that would have been exposed at night, especially the face, neck, hands, arms, or ankles.
- In the most severe cases bedbug bites may cause a rash or tiny fluid filled blisters.
It is important to remember that bedbug bites are annoying but unlike mosquitoes or other biting insects they do not carry or transmit any disease.
How to deal with or treat a bedbug bite.
If you get a bedbug bite it is never pleasant but the most important thing to remember is DO NOT SCRATCH. I understand they are itchy, I know they are annoying, but just don’t. A cold compress is usually a good short term alternative to scratching. If you do scratch them then you increase the risk of the bite becoming infected with bacteria and becoming infected.
If the bite does become infected it could become more swollen, increasingly red and more painful.
It is important to remember that bedbug bites in the majority of cases fade away on their own after a few days.
For those bites that are particularly itchy or troublesome the best bet is usually to get an over the counter antihistamine cream or even a tablet, or a topical corticosteriod, otherwise known as a steriod cream such as hydrocortisone or Clotrimazole.
Tips for avoiding bedbugs when travelling.
The best way to avoid bedbugs is knowledge and vigilance. Know what you are looking out for and keep your eyes peeled, that’s it.
You can’t rely on reviews of places alone either, as Tripadvisor and many other review sites will remove reviews that mention bedbugs.
When checking into a new hostel, guesthouse or hotel give everywhere a quick but thorough check over first. Before you put anything, even your pack, on the be just check the sheets and under the mattress, and as far as is possible without getting a CSI team in try and look out for any cracks or crevices in the bed frame or any other area.
If you do find signs of bedbugs, ask for another room entirely and then redouble your efforts to check for any more, or simply leave and find another place. And don’t worry, there is always another place to stay.
What to do if you get bedbugs in your clothes or pack?
If there is a chance bedbugs have settled in your clothes or your backpack the last thing you want to do is carry them to another place. You will continue to get bitten no matter where you go and the places you are staying in (and your fellow backpackers) won’t appreciate you bringing an infestation to them.
So what do you do?
First off is wash everything. And I do mean everything. That means all your clothes, any cloth product like a sleeping bag liner and even your backpack. A solid hot boil wash should be enough to kill the bugs.
After this you can also put all your kit into bin bags or plastic bags and seal them up as much as possible around the can of an insect killer that can be bought in most places. After which you can leave them in the sun for a couple of days and then give everything another wash.
None of this is 100% guaranteed to get rid of them however, and you may need to repeat as often as needed and just buy yourself a few T shirts to wear in the meantime.
Bedbugs are a disgusting thought and they are absolutely a huge pain in the proverbial, but it is important to remember that they are more of a pest and an inconvenience than anything more serious. Be vigilant, try and avoid them, but don’t be overly paranoid about them. Yes you may come across bedbugs from time to time but there are many times where you won’t as well. Hostel and guesthouse owners are usually pretty on top of getting rid of them when infestations do occur. And if you do get bit, well a bit of cream and a few days will see it all sorted, it isn’t the end of your gap year!
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