Over the past 10 months I have been fortunate enough to do a LOT of traveling. And while traveling is AMAZING, it’s not always as glamorous as it seems. In fact, on my trip to Egypt I experienced something awful…Bed Bugs. While bed bugs are quite common in hot desert areas and are normally easy to rid, in our situation we had no idea what do, and no online information to guide us. So today I wanted to give you a cautionary tale and some tips to avoid this common traveler occurrence, and explain how we handled the problem and made sure we only took memories and souvenirs home from vacation!
First…Bed Bugs: Some factS
Well, you may know about bed bugs or you may not. They are tiny bugs that infest your sleeping area and bite you while you’re sleeping. You’ve probably heard your parents say “goodnight, don’t let the bed bugs bite;” yes this sweet good night salutation lives in truth.
They have absolutely nothing to do with cleanliness. We stayed in an AMAZING Airbnb, prettier than any other that we’ve stayed in. The place looked untouched, like we were the first to ever stay there. There was also a long-term tenant staying above us, obviously with no issues. So just because one room in the hotel has them, it doesn’t mean the whole place is infested.
They are attracted to CO2 (carbon dioxide) and thus are drawn to your heavy REM cycle breathing.They typically bite exposed areas (face, arms, legs)…anything not covered by clothing or blankets. Unfortunately for me this meant they attacked only my face (I sleep rolled up like a burrito) and made for a pretty embarrassing couple of days.
The bites were hard to distinguish with online sources (every picture is different). Mine resembled something between a mosquito bite and hives. They started as small red circles and within a day developed into swollen, raised bumps. I initially thought it was an allergic reaction but walked into the bedroom to find the horror of a wall swarmed with mosquitos. So I shrugged them off as mosquito bites. It wasn’t until I did some reading that I came to realize: it was BED BUGS.
I also intially disregarded them because they did not itch…AT ALL. It is a common misconception that bed bug bites always cause an excruciating itch.
The best course of action if you get bitten is to wash the affected area. Part of my morning routine is to wake up and wash my face, which is when I realized the red spots, and thus they were washed immediately. Incidentally my bites healed a bit faster than Caleb’s who showered that night before and didn’t clean the bite area in the morning.
Spotting the Source
From the look of our bites the infestation seemed to be pretty bad, but we were unable to find any signs of bed bugs (according to these online sources). So don’t misdiagnose your bites just because you can’t spot the little guys. And I do mean little, we eventually found one on my suitcase that was about half the size of a small ant and just larger than a flea…online articles described them as apple seed sized.
If you suspect bed bugs, check the sheets for red stains (blood from squishing them in your sleep). They hide in daylight; so check mattress seams, bed frame crevices, the box spring, between wooden slabs, and behind the headboard. But again don’t just rely on finding some to diagnose the issue.
What to Do
Treatment for bed bugs is simple: Wash Everything in HOT water! You need to wash & machine dry all your clothing in at least 120 F temperatures. While washing alone will kill living/larvae, the drying is what kills any eggs..so both are necessary. For un-washable items it is recommended to bag them and leave them be. While bagging won’t kill the bugs alone, it can create a way to tell if bugs are infesting the area/item. Meaning if there are bugs you will see signs (poop, movement) and know to leave them bagged for death or spray them with bug killer.
There are a plethora of online articles detailing the necessary steps to rid your house of bed bugs and not bring them home from a hotel. BUT what if those two cases don’t apply to you. We were in the middle of our trip, moving on to a new Airbnb host. We didn’t want to transfer them to someone else’s apartment or even carry them onto a plane (yes, they can infect a plane). So we had to find another way…
What We Did
1. WASH all your clothing…immediately
If you can find a self-serve laundromat go for it (you’ll save money). Make sure to wash everything at 120 F (50 C) as well as dry on high heat. Anything that can’t be dried (shrinkage) needs to be dry cleaned. If you don’t have time to have that done (bag it in a ziplock until you get home).
While taking your clothing to cleaners may be expensive, it has its perks. First, they are experts and know how to handle each item to preserve the clothing. Second, they iron everything which most certainly kills any remnants. Lastly, this way you aren’t spending your vacation day dealing with laundry. For a week’s worth of clothing for two people we ended up paying around $45 for laundry and drying services…which is not awful and totally worth it (plus a lot of countries don’t have self serve laundromats).
After everything is washed be sure to seal it, just in case your suitcase is harboring any fugitives. Basically live out of zip locks for the rest of your trip. Or if you prefer, keep your clean clothing separate in the dresser/wardrobe for the duration of your trip. But be sure to seal it up when packing just to be cautious.
2. BAG it
Anything you’re not washing needs to be sealed in a ziplock bag. This won’t kill the bugs but will allow you to see if bugs are living in the item. And after your trip you can determine how to move forward with the item. We bagged all sneakers and tried to wear a pair of shoes less likely to be harboring bugs. I chose a pair of leather sandals…no hiding places = not a great home.
We even sealed up anything non-clothing (chargers, jewelry, makeup, purses) for extra caution. This also protected items from being infested from anything lingering in our suitcases. Although it’s very unlikely for bed bugs to live in a non-fabric location.
Everything you will read online will tell you not to spray pesticides onto items. And while I don’t recommend spraying any clothes (they can be hard to wash out) because you don’t want skin contact, we did spray EVERYTHING that wasn’t clothing.
After going to the cleaners we picked up supplies at a store and dumped our suitcases. First we thoroughly sprayed our suitcases and left them to dry. Then we individually sprayed/fumigated the remaining items. We would pour the items into the ziplock bag, spray into the bag, and then seal it up.
And I do mean EVERYTHING (except my makeup/toiletries). We even sprayed inside our sneakers before sealing them up. I don’t recommend this because again pesticides are poisonous and can be absorbed through the skin (but we were willing to risk it). Instead for shoes, use a blow dryer to heat inside the shoe. It is similar to drying but without the tumble that roughs them up. It won’t be hot enough to kill the bugs but can weaken them to come out of hiding, where you can manually squish them…I imagine this to be therapeutic.
4. TOSS it
All the articles will tell you there is no need to dispose of any items. But there are some unnecessary items (that couldn’t be sprayed) that I no longer felt were safe. A huge part of bed bugs is psychological and throwing these items out just made me feel better. So I ended up tossing out our travel lufa along with my hair brush.
Anything that you feel may harbor bugs that you can easily replace, if it’s going to bother you mentally…I say, just toss it!
As stated above, a HUGE part of encountering bed bugs is the psychological trauma of feeling creepy crawlies on you. And while bed bugs don’t survive or travel on hosts, it can feel that way. Especially if you’re layered in a huge sweater like I was.
So our last course of action was to change, but all our clothes were being washed. So I recommend leaving one outfit out from the cleaners (if you feel its safe) or do what we did and buy something on the cheap for the day. I bought a simple dress to wear, and Caleb got a new t-shirt.
Then we went back to our Airbnb de-robed, being sure to bag every item (to wash later) as we removed it and showered! The relief of a full cleansing shower was the perfect remedy to this stress-filled situation.
We were sure to check our suitcases with the airline vs. carrying onto the plane. We figured below cabin any stray bugs were less likely to wander and jump ship to other passengers or the plane itself. But I doubt this actually makes any difference.
Once home we immediately brought our suitcases into our shower (a garage is better if you have one). We carefully unpacked each ziplock bag, inspecting it for any signs of life (feces, movement, bugs in the seams). All clean items were removed from their baggies (outside of the bathroom) and returned to their rightful place. Anything we were unsure about (shoes, unwashed clothing) was left in its ziplock in the bathroom.
After emptying our bags, we fumigated them another round. We sprayed the pesticides into large trash bags, then placed the bags inside them. They are still in the bathroom in their bags…I think they’re safe, but we’ll just leave them until we NEED them (we have other bags).
Any unwashed clothes were immediately washed. However we don’t have a dryer, so things were left to hang dry. Since washing won’t kill any eggs, after each item dried it was ironed. Shoes were blowdried, and anything questionable was quarantined until further inspection.
A Few Notes
If you are staying in a hotel, you should move to another room (just because one room has them doesn’t mean they all do), and the hotel should take care of your laundry/cleaning! Insist on it. But like I said, we were at an Airbnb and traveling to a new city. So there was no switching rooms, and we needed to decontaminate ourselves and things before spreading the bugs to another apartment.
I realize this is a highly specific case situation, but I wanted to share our experience for any other travelers who visit multiple places and bounce around from hotel to hotel or Airbnb to Airbnb like us. The situation was very stressful and knowing what to do vs. how to get that done are very different things. So while online articles will explain the science of getting rid of bed bugs, I wanted to explain the process of how to do it WHILE on vacation.
And you may wonder, is this a reliable source?My boyfriend is a professor at a Research University, which means his job is doing research. So yeah he knows what he’s doing when searching for information. And I am anal when it comes to cleanliness, and this made me feel oh so gross. So I basically read every link google could produce on traveling and bed bug encounters.
So now that I’ve discussed what to do if it happens, which I’m fairly certain is how you came to find this article, I will explain preventative measures that can help avoid this in the future. I purposely didn’t start with these because it’s shitty to hear what you could’ve done to prevent it once its already happened and you just want to know how to fix it.
1. Read Reviews
Don’t disregard reviews for any places (Airbnb or hotels). Read the reviews to determine if there was a prior issue with bed bugs (and probably steer clear if so). For hotels this is easier, they will have reviews. For Airbnb this can be tougher.
I normally only choose places that have multiple good reviews (give or take a one off). This was the first time I chose a place with no reviews! And it’s not their fault because they probably didn’t know they had a problem. But not having reviews told me that they haven’t had a lot of guests…thus could have an unknown issue.
Places with reviews mean people have stayed there and can give feedback on what the place was like. Even though this may not always catch a bed bug problem, you’re less likely to be surprised by any issues. So only stay in Airbnb/Hotels with multiple good reviews!
2. Pre-Check Your Room
This seems over the top for me and will not be something I do. BUT some websites recommend looking over the mattress and behind the headboard before settling in a room. Here’s the thing, we know there were bed bugs, but our inspection still showed no signs. And by the looks of our bites, there were a lot we couldn’t find. So…this would seem to be a waste of time but recommended by some.
3. Bag Placement
I am the person that always places her bag open and next to her bed for easy access. For bed bug prevention, this is a no no. It’s easy for them to wander to your things and setup camp (which is how you bring them home or to other places).
So be sure to keep your luggage is up off the floor (on the luggage rack) and away from the bed. The bathroom is the safest if you’re paranoid.
I also always lay my outfits out on the bed while I shower. This is another HUGE no no. Laying items on the bed presents the opportunity of transfer. Keep clothing items up and away like your suitcase. I think from now on I will hang my outfit of the day while I get ready.
If you have any questions that this article didn’t answer, let me know in the comments! I will try my best to answer.