What Do I Worry About Most While Traveling?

Bed Bugs. Yes, it’s bed bugs I’m concerned with. Not being mugged, or illness, or how much money I have in my account. I have some control over those latter events, and they are much less likely to happen than an encounter with beg bugs.

We’ve all woken up in the middle of the night at one point while traveling and realized that you’ve been bitten by something. There is something about laying still in bed that draws out the itchiness of any insect bite. Most likely the bite happened while you were out and about, and in all odds it’s probably going to be a mosquito bite, or sand flea. Bites are a part of traveling, especially in the tropics…

Then there’s that dreadful possibility that the perpetrator of your swollen, itchy bump is sharing the bunk with you.

Anybody who’s traveled long enough, and who is not endowed with some sort of dumb, shining luck, has probably slept with them–I have…on two occasions, on two different continents.

There, I said it. I’ve had two nasty one night stands with the bugs.

I’m not ashamed of it. It’s changed the way I travel and the way I sleep. Ah, how I remember my blissful days of ignorance when I’d jump straight on hotel beds without a second thought. Those days are gone, forever.

My first bed bug incident was my fault to begin with. Up until that fateful day in Prague, during the winter of 2010, I never checked my bed for the damned buggers. Till then, I’d make a quick glance over the sheets looking for stains, maybe pluck a hair or two from the sheet, give it a quick wipe with my hand, then plop down.

It happened two days into my stay, and the bites were on my neck. I actually picked one off my skin, not knowing what it was. Then I went into the bathroom and saw the bites.Three of them in a neat little row. After that, a quick google search confirmed that I’d been the victim of some bed bugs.

So what ensued was a changing of rooms, boiling and washing of every item of clothing, wiping down my things with alcohol wipes, tossing my pack in a dryer. Luckily I got free of them, and didn’t bring them home…but they left me with something worse. I’d been traumatized. For weeks afterwards I’d wake up in the middle of the night feeling crawling sensations, suddenly alert and picking at any black speck on the sheets.

They scarred me. But I got over it, and now know what to check for. Even checking it can happen, as it did this summer in Merida, Mexico. In Merida, I searched the bed, but caught one on my arm one night. My entire back had been bit up in rows. I’d thought they were mosquito bites until I caught the bastard red handed. Even then, it seems they like my blood more than my wife’s, as both occurrences happened in private rooms, and she’s yet to be bitten…by our knowledge.

The second time around I dealt with it better. As you need to if staying where there’s all kinds of bugs everywhere, like the Yucatan and Chiapas. Bugs are a part of life in tropical places, but bed bugs don’t have to be.

It’s not a matter of cleanliness, or backpacker joints. They infest even the fancy places.

But I know what to look for, and so should you.

1. Black specks, like dropped ink. Check under the mattress, in the corners of the stitched edges. This is where they are likely to be, other than furniture. The spotting will be their droppings, dried blood basically. A way to tell is to wet your finger and see if the mark smears. They will usually be on the mattress, less likely on the sheets. Also, check for blood drops on the sheets and bedding, as if they are rolled over they burst like fully loaded mosquitoes. It will look much like spotted mold.

2.Yes they are visible. They get big, up to quarter of an inch. They hate light and will scatter if exposed, like when you lift up the mattress upon searching. The babies are much smaller and hard to see.

3. Know the bites. They love to bite in rows, most likely it will be three; morning, lunch, and dinner. They bite most in the early morning hours.

If it has happened to you, notify the hotel/hostel immediately and change rooms or places. Do not put your night clothes in with your pack! They lay eggs everywhere, and are quite sticky. A wash of clothes in hot water will kill them. Freezing won’t work, unless you’ve frozen them for several days. Rubbing alcohol kills them on contact.

Make sure never to just lay your pack on the bed as soon as you arrive somewhere. Check the bed first. Even then, I wait till after the first night before I get all comfy and begin putting clothes on the bed. People might look at you funny if they see you searching your bed–who cares? It will save you lots of unneeded trouble, and money, if you so should bring them home. They can live up to a year and a half without feeding. If you get one in your pack, it could mean trouble later one when you return from abroad, and maybe many sleepless nights.

If you’ve been bit…welcome to the club. It happens. It’s a part of traveling. I like to check tripadvisor before I book a place, and check all of the terrible reviews, but even then, there’s no guarantee. A good hostel will have measures in place.

Remember, a quick glance of the mattress will save you lots of trouble…or else become the victim of some bed bugs.

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