Adventure Stories

A Traveller’s Guide to Bedbugs

Written by Marielle

Eeek. They’re something that nobody wants to think about — especially while on vacation — but once the scratching starts, chances are, you won’t be able to get them off your mind.

Bedbugs are nightmarish creatures. Medical News Today describes them as small, wingless bugs that feed on their hosts (AKA you) while the hosts (yes, YOU) are asleep. They also multiply quickly and in big numbers — a female bedbug lays about five eggs in one day, and about 500 in her lifetime. What’s worse is, as a traveller, you may have something in common with them: They’re great hitchhikers. No matter how clean or fancy your hotel or Airbnb might seem, bedbugs may still be there. Undetected. And lurking in small, dark cracks and crevices, just waiting to feed. See? Nightmarish.

Baby bedbugs (or nymphs) become engorged, red and blood-like after feeding

Baby bedbugs (or nymphs) become engorged, red and blood-like after feeding

Where do they stay?

According to pest control company Terminix, bedbugs thrive in mattresses, box springs, carpet and baseboards. Even more importantly, they also can be present in clothing, briefcases, suitcases, computer bags, and other linens. Which leads us to…

How did they get here?

My recent (and first) bout with bedbugs happened at an Airbnb in California. A lot of us woke up itchy, most of us with no signs of a bite, such as redness or bumps. And then, my friend spotted it: A bedbug the size of an appleseed, its flat body crawling across the sheets. We alerted our Airbnb host immediately, and he was absolutely mortified. We knew it wasn’t necessarily his fault — he doesn’t live in the unit, and plus, bedbugs aren’t really a cleanliness issue. But he did note he had travellers from abroad stay there the night before us. It’s possible those travellers could’ve brought the bugs. Like I mentioned, bedbugs are excellent hitchhikers, and can travel with you in the seams of your luggage or clothing (even as you wear it! My friend says he found a bedbug in his shirt pocket).

Pause for a second. How can I be sure I got bit?

Actually, you may not know for sure. Medical News Today says “about 50 percent of people who are bitten show no symptoms at all and do not know it happened.” But chances are, you will feel itchy upon waking up. My scalp and back are still itchy in several places a week after sleeping on a pillow with bedbugs (I know, it’s revolting). On the other hand, bites may take several days to become visible, and often appear in rows. Bottom line is, you’ll really know bedbugs are the problem once you visually spot them.

A sign of bedbugs can be red or brown (fecal spots) blood stains on the bedsheets

A sign of bedbugs can be red or brown (fecal spots) blood stains on the bedsheets

Okay, gross. So what can I do about them?

First of all, don’t let them cast a shadow over your trip. Here are some tips to ensure you out-travel those pests and stop them from coming home with you.

  1. Don’t panic. Alert your hotel or Airbnb host immediately. Thankfully, our Airbnb host took charge the next day by fumigating the rooms, changing the sheets and giving us new towels. If you are offered a new room, be diligent and take precautions to make sure you’re not spreading the infestation to the new area.
  2. Inspect your clothing, luggage, blankets and bedsheets for any bedbugs trying to hitch a ride. Pay special attention to dark clothing and the seams (that’s where they like to hide). Identify any belongings that may be infested.
  3. Move your luggage away from infested areas and elevate it off the ground and away from the walls. Luckily, bedbugs aren’t great climbers, but they do travel across floors. Avoid placing things on the bed, and pack things in plastic bags, or far away, like in the closet.
  4. Wash all your clothes, towels and sheets in hot water and run them through the hottest dryer setting for at least 20 minutes. Terminix says lethal heat temperatures for bedbugs are at about 47 to 50 degrees Celsius. As for cold temperatures, research cited in Science News says infested items should be bagged and placed in the freezer at -17 degrees Celsius for a minimum of 3.5 days. I recommend hot washing everything you can, or at least running what you can through the dryer.
  5. When you get home, unpack your luggage outside or in the garage, and leave it there until you can ensure there is no infestation. That may mean leaving your suitcase out in temperatures uncomfortable for bedbugs, or treating it with the appropriate products.

Good luck, sleep tight and, really, don’t let the bedbugs bite! *Shudders*

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About the author

Marielle

Marielle is a journalist living in Toronto. While she moves to different places across the country for work, she spends whatever free time she has hiking. You can find her booking her next day hike as she dreams of bagging peaks around the world. Follow her adventures on Instagram @marielletorr.

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