As an indie traveller who does most of my own accommodation bookings, I have spent many an hour poring over review sites deciding whether a hostel listing looks as good as its pictures suggest. The number one thing that makes me close that tab immediately? Multiple reviews of the place having bed bugs, especially within the last 2-3 years.
Bed bugs are a traveller’s worst nightmare – not only do they spoil your trip by making you itchy and miserable, they tend to be transportable – You can escape mosquitoes and sandflies by moving away from the area or surrounding yourself with netting, but if you have a bed bug problem… there is a strong chance you will be carrying it around with you! Given that I’m going to be on the road for even longer stretches moving from place to place, bed bugs are definitely a big concern of mine.
It seemed a bit strange at first when the good folk at Rentokil dropped me a hello (Singaporeans will recognize them as a well known pest control company), but when they asked me to talk about bed bugs, I thought it was the perfect chance to put together some information to educate and remind myself and other travellers on how to avoid the bed bug plague.
WHAT ARE BED BUGS?
If you don’t already know what bed bugs are, they are basically tiny blood sucking insects that will make your life a living hell if they exist in your bed.
They suck human blood for food, which is why beds are like a buffet spread for them. They usually leave 3 bites in a straight line or at a regular distance, which is how you can identify whether you’re getting bitten by bed bugs or other insects. The bumps also feel very solid, different from that of a mosquito bite.
PREVENTION IS FAR BETTER THAN CURE
Especially when it comes to bed bugs, or any sort of pest infestation actually – Rentokil has a bed bug eradication programme which involves steaming the bugs to death, but this is one product I will be very happy not to have to try, ever. I’m glad they have it, but I would rather not be in a position to use it.
ON THE ROAD
The Rentokil folk also have some pretty sound advice on their website on preventing bed bugs – Quite honestly some of tips border on paranoia for me, but I guess anyone who’s ever encountered bed bugs is bound to be a bit paranoid about getting them again! Let’s take a look at them and some of the other tips I’ve picked up from around the web:
Check your bed before the view or anything else
I am guilty of either running to the window or just flopping down onto the bed when I get into a room. I think I will try and do this a little more – at least scan the bed quickly for potential signs.
What to look out for:
- Look at the mattress (under the blankets), especially the corners, mattress seams and around the headboard if any
- Look for dried blackish spots – that’s bed bug shit and skin sheddings, or possibly even live bugs (adults are 4-5mm). Use a torch or the light from your handphone to illuminate things. If you are extra paranoid, use a portable hairdryer and run it across the surfaces. The heat should send any bed bugs scurrying so you can spot them
- There is apparently a bed bug smell which is sickly sweet. I can’t say for sure what that smells like though
A reminder too that bed bugs don’t just live in beds – carpets, curtains, drawers, sofas, cushions, wallpaper… almost any nook and cranny where they can hide are potential bedbug areas. I don’t think there’s a need to take a fine toothed comb to your entire abode, but at least more closely at areas that you put yourself and your things.
Rentokil suggests stashing your bags in the toilet if you can, at least until you’re sure your room is bed bug free – which might be a bit of an odd choice, but the smooth tiles and frequent splashing make this statistically a spot where you are least likely to find bed bugs.
If you do have to move rooms in a hotel, try and make sure you are at least 2 floors away. In a hostel there’s a lot less space to move short of changing hostels completely, but at least move into a non-neighbouring room if possible. Bed bugs can travel!
Keeping your bags pristine
Whether or not there are bed bugs in your room, you want to make sure you don’t pick up any unwanted hitchhikers inadvertently! Rentokil suggests NOT putting your bags on your bed, or even the floor if you can help it. I’m very guilty about having my bag in my bunk, especially if I’m in a hostel and space is tight. If you think about all the places your bag has been, it is a little gross to consider, but…
Basically, keep your bag elevated and off the floor / away from the wall – use flat smooth bag stands, dressers, tables and ledges if available because those deter travelling bed bugs and it’s easier to spot them out in the open.
They also suggest laying out a plastic sheet away from your bed and wrapping your bag in plastic throughout your trip to keep unwanted pests out. It initially struck me as a little extreme, but perhaps if you tend to stash your bags at the foot of your bed like I do, it might be a good compromise to make. I might actually look into this for my smaller day bag and larger backpack – besides it can help keep things dry within your bag in case of wet weather!
Separating your stuff
I am not a neat person by nature – bed bug prevention does require you to be a little bit more organised by segregating your stuff and not leaving everything lying around prone to infestation.
- Reusable plastic bags to separate out your clothes and items, especially your clean and dirty laundry – the idea is in case your clothes get bed bugs, they won’t easily spread to all your stuff. In any case, this helps your packing process – I’m a big fan of packing cubes and grouping all my stuff together in smaller bags as it makes it easier to locate and fish stuff out of your bag.
- Heat kills bed bugs – the professionals use steam, but you can just sun your stuff and your bags when you can. Also keeps your stuff from stinking! If you suspect your clothes of having bed bugs, wash them in water that’s as hot as possible to kill them, or toss them in a dryer for about 20mins or so
- Don’t leave your things exposed and lying around on all the furniture/floor – keeping your things in your bags and your bags closed will keep pests out, and if you are like me, less likely to leave something behind by accident!
BACK AT HOME
You’ve made it back home and seem relatively unscathed… or are you? There are some recommended habits for when you get home to ensure you don’t bring bedbugs into your home.
Unpack away from your room
Find a nice tile/concrete floor away from your bedroom to unpack your clothes and inspect them before you bring anything back to your bedroom. Extra paranoid people can consider the front porch or a garage, though I think just doing it outside your bedroom is sufficient.
Heating things up
Similar to an earlier point – sun your bag and items, wash clothes in hot water or use the dryer to kill any potential bed bugs before putting anything back into your wardrobe
Does anyone have any scary bed bug stories or tips to share? I think I’ve been quite lucky so far, but now that I’ve done all this research, I think I’m going to be just that little bit more careful about looking out for bed bugs. Seriously, just talking about them makes me feel a little bit itchy…
Rentokil Pest Control Singapore
With more than 50 years of local brand establishment and global prominence in over 50 countries, Rentokil is dedicated to taking care of the public’s pest control needs. As the leading pest management specialist, Rentokil has the expertise to ensure adequate protection through delivering innovative and safe pest management solutions.