27 May Attack of the Bedbugs
“What, is that,” said Andrew, pointing to the bed where we’d just settled down to catch-up on some episodes of The Walking Dead. I peered closer, my breath catching in my throat as I recognised the small, flat insect scuttling across the sheet.
“A bedbug,” I replied in horror, my mind spiralling backwards in time to my last horrifying encounter with these disgusting beasts.
My First Battle with Bedbugs
Several years ago we had the misfortune to move into a bedbug-infested flat in East London. Of course at the time we had no idea they were there, lurking between gaps in the walls and skirting boards, ready to creep out and attack while we were at our most vulnerable.
A few days after moving in I started to feel itchy; small white bumps, often set in triangular patterns started appearing on my arms, legs and feet which when scratched swelled up into huge red welts. At first we couldn’t figure out what they could be, then a light bulb went off in my head; while researching an article I was writing at work I had come across some news reports about bedbugs. Apparently, bedbug numbers were swelling to epidemic proportions across the Capital; there had even been stories of them living in the seats of tube trains.
Hold on a minute, what exactly are Bedbugs?
Bedbugs are one of the most persistent and difficult pests to eradicate. These brown insects can grow up to 7mm in size and suck up to four times their body weight in blood in just 15 minutes. They’re as flat as a piece of paper, which allows them to hide in tiny cracks in furniture, emerging at night to feed on human blood, attracted by our warmth and the CO2 we give off when we breathe. Just one bug can produce 300 eggs over a two-month period. While they aren’t dangerous, their bites can cause itchiness and allergies. By far the worst effect bedbugs can have is the psychological damage they inflict on their victims – imagine waiting to fall asleep every night knowing that the minute you do, bugs will scuttle out from crevices, crawl over your body and suck on your blood.
Back in London, I still didn’t fully believe we were infested though until we lifted up the mattress and saw the dark brown, beetle-like creatures scuttling along the bed-frame. Appalled, we stayed up late that night, taking the entire bed apart and vacuuming every last inch of the bedroom, our skins crawling the whole time.
What followed was one of the worst months I can remember; our landlord refused to admit that the flat had been infested before we moved in; even though we got evidence from previous tenants. We attempted to sleep, covered from head to toe, on a mattress in the living room to unsuccessfully avoid being bitten. We spent hours vacuuming, cleaning and being visited by pest control companies; nothing seemed to get rid of the bedbugs.
I scratched and cried – a lot.
Eventually our landlord let us out of our contract and we found a new flat. Terrified of taking the bugs with us we chucked away most of our furniture and all of our bedding; the day we moved we took all our clothes, wrapped in bin-liners, to the laundrette and washed and dried them on the hottest setting possible. Still, as I laid down in our new, bug-free flat that night I imagined I could feel creatures scuttling over me and for weeks afterwards I obsessively checked for bedbug signs. It took a long time to finally relax and accept that we’d managed to escape these vile, blood-sucking pests – for now.
Hostels and Bedbugs
So, back to the present and there we were in our otherwise pristine hostel in Australia with a bedbug situation on our hands. The familiar itchy panic started to set in as we captured the bug in a sandwich bag and searched the whole room for more; although we didn’t find any we knew all too well that where there’s one bug, there’s bound to be more.
Our hostel owner was incredulous; he had a complicated bedbug control system set up whereby he hand-checked all the sheets and mattresses after each guest left. Nevertheless, the bug was there, ready and waiting to feed on the next unsuspecting victim.
Luckily, the owner was pretty clued up and immediately removed the sheets and got to work blasting the room with a steam cleaner; he’d been infested many times before finding out that this extreme heat was the only way to get rid of the bugs properly. On one occasion, after a traveller complained of bugs in his room, the hostel-owner checked the boy’s backpack, finding dozens of fat, blood-black bugs living in there. The traveller had been unwittingly transporting a bedbug factory around with him, infesting one hostel after another.
How to Spot Bedbugs when Travelling
Travel for long enough, and you’re bound to come across bedbugs. My little brother recently told me about a traveller he met on a bus in Vietnam. The boy’s legs were covered in wounds; not only had he been attacked by bedbugs, but the local doctor who’d ‘treated’ him had inexplicably proceeded to cut the bites off with scissors; leaving him in agony with open gaping wounds.
There are some ways you can protect yourself from bedbugs though; from bitter experience I’ve learnt the best ways to detect these bugs:
- If possible, check recent online reviews of hostels or hotels you’re planning to stay in before you arrive – be alert for stories of bedbug infestations.
- When you get to your room, don’t put your bags straight on the bed – if there are bedbugs, their tiny, translucent eggs will stick to them.
- Lift up the mattress and inspect it, along with the sheets and bed frame for blood spots and black faecal marks which look like dots of ink.
- Bedbugs shed their skins after each feed, so look out for these too.
- If there’s an established infestation you probably won’t have to go far to find live bedbugs; they’ll usually be hidden in the bed frame.
- Check yourself regularly for bedbug bites.
- Alert your hotel or hostel owner as soon as you spot bedbugs and if possible, leave immediately.
- If you’ve had the misfortune to stay in a place with bedbugs, as soon as you leave, wash and dry all your clothes on a hot setting to kill any eggs that might be present.
Have you ever been infested by bedbugs or come across them while you’ve been travelling?
PattiPosted at 20:13h, 27 May
Eewwww! I’m so sorry you had to deal with this… it is one of my greatest concerns when traveling. I always throw back the bedding and check the sheets, even in the best of hotels. And as an innkeeper… it is my worst nightmare but fortunately, we have “never” had a problem and I hope I can always say that. Yuck!
AmyPosted at 04:01h, 28 May
Ah yes, as an innkeeper I’m sure bedbugs must be a big fear – great news that you haven’t encountered any. Travellers should definitely be aware of how to spot bedbugs so that we all avoid spreading them from one hostel to the next; they really are the most horrid, pointless pests!
Steph (@ 20 Years Hence)Posted at 17:41h, 28 May
Ugh. When it comes to bed bugs, I think the old adage “once bitten, twice shy” is so incredibly true. When my friend and I backpacked around Europe in 2005, we had the misfortune of staying at hostel in Brussels that had a bed bug infestation. I woke up at about 3 am to see my friend curled up in a chair, rocking back and forth. When I asked her what was wrong, she croaked: “bedbugs…” I jumped out of bed, but sure enough, I already had some itchy bites on my feet. Even though our train to London wasn’t for hours, we checked out on the spot and camped out at the chunnel train station which was comforting as everything was so clean and sterile.
Ever since that, I have been SO paranoid about winding up with bedbugs again. So far we have been lucky in our 10 months of travel and not had an encounter yet and I hope to keep it that way! Nothing else ruins a night of sleep as badly as being scared of being eaten alive in your bed.
AmyPosted at 04:37h, 29 May
You’re right, once you’ve encountered bedbugs they’re hard to forget even though, as one hostel-owner exclaimed: “They’re just bloody mozzies without wings!” There’s just something so traumatising about the the way they sneak out and attack when you’re at your most vulnerable. I hope you continue to have a bedbug-free trip!
LpegPosted at 15:31h, 29 May
I got them on a bus, from New York to Boston. They were either on the bus already, or the woman sitting next to me was carrying them on her. Luckily I found them before I ever brought them into my apartment, but I was terrified they were in my car. For the next few months, I would get random bites, but eventually they went away after spraying my car several times. I became paranoid and crazy, and it was the worst experience with bugs, EVER.
AmyPosted at 03:55h, 30 May
Nasty – I’ve heard that they like to lurk on buses. You had a very lucky escape and I don’t blame you for being paranoid that they’d make it into your apartment; all it takes is one bug or one bedbug egg to infest a whole building.
MigPosted at 01:20h, 30 May
Great tips to deal with bedbugs. Luckily this hasn’t happened to me yet, but may encounter them as I continue to travel. If I walk into a hostel or hotel without a reservation I usually ask to see the room first. After reading your post, I’ll check reviews and be sure to do a thorough check of the room! Heat kills those suckers for sure.
AmyPosted at 03:50h, 30 May
You’re lucky not to have come across bedbugs so far Mig; I hope these tips help you to continue to avoid them.
CharliePosted at 00:14h, 31 May
Oh my god, you can get them from riding the tube!?! I know the probability of that must be really low but still, it never even crossed my mind! Your experience with the little buggers in your apartment sounds awful. I’ve a friend here in Montreal who went through the same and, funnily enough, her landlord refused to admit they were there before too. Unfortunately, I think it’s quite common.
I’m dreading the day we stay in a place with bed bugs on our trip!
AmyPosted at 04:24h, 31 May
Yep, apparently the district line is particularly riddled with bedbugs; according to the pest control man East London is a real bedbug hotspot in general. One of the worst things is that you never can really prove where they came from, which makes it so difficult with landlords. I hope you never come across them on your travels!
gabiPosted at 10:23h, 31 May
you just reminded me how much we hate when we get them. thank God, year 3 of travel, and still only happened twice. oh, and i hate the pictures- it brings back too many memories. cheers guys, gabi
AndrewPosted at 12:47h, 31 May
To have only seen them twice in three years for five of you is a pretty good record, I reckon you are probably the lucky ones!
margo-poloPosted at 15:21h, 31 May
Ive just had an episode of these nasty bugs at the Ruby Hotel in Nha Trang, Vietnam. I’m sure i could feel them crawing around in the bed cover and sure enough I got bitten alive. Travel with some Hydrocortisone Cream to help calm the bites down.
AmyPosted at 04:18h, 01 June
Sorry to hear you’ve had a run-in with these disgusting beasts; good tip about the cream, bedbug bites can be nasty, especially if you have an allergic reaction to them.
Heidi WagonerPosted at 17:16h, 31 May
Wow, Yuk and OMG! Thanks I won’t be able to go to sleep tonight. LOL This is very informative and I have read about it happening and not to put your bags on the bed. I love that you give tips to help prevent and even look out for them.
AmyPosted at 04:20h, 01 June
Hi Heidi, sorry for traumatising you! Hopefully this info helps you to avoid getting attacked by bedbugs in the future though 🙂
JohnPosted at 19:20h, 11 January
Oh bugger Amy,
that sounds absolutely terrible and just reminded me of when Moni, my better half got ‘bed bug bitten’ recently on our travels.
It is certainly very humiliating and annoying especially when you should be out lounging by the pool instead of hiding all covered up. Glad to report that all is back to normal since then yet we still cringe when sleeping in strange beds. This latest one we changed the sheets and checked the bed as soon as we moved in.
Looks like that will become the way of the future for us as like you have said, these buggers are so hard to see and before you know it it’s too late.
AmyPosted at 03:59h, 12 January
Hi John, thanks for reading and commenting. Bed Bugs make me shudder, it’s been a while since we had a brush with them but I well remember the fear of being trapped in an apartment with them when we lived in London, it was such a stressful time. Hope you manage to stay bug-free 🙂
HenryPosted at 15:14h, 27 September
I live in the Dominican Republic. I have an infested beg bug apartment or bedroom since that’s where I’m attacked. I found out when I cover my body with Vicks Vapor Rub I’m not attacked. It’s worth it to me because I have too many bed bug scars on my body. It s been working for me.
AmyPosted at 21:44h, 29 September
I’m sorry to hear about your infection Henry, it must be terrible. But it’s good to hear that you have found a temporary solution!