Bedbugs? Oh, Hell No: How to deal with creepy crawlies when on the road

After dozens of trips to Europe, we had our first experience with bedbugs in summer 2015.

Visiting small towns, we have never encountered anything like this. But we did have an experience with bedbugs while visiting Venice. The good news is, they don’t carry disease, and they don’t live on the human body. Think of them like glitter — if you see one, there’s a million; easy to spread; very hard to get rid of; not dangerous in any way. But annoying. Very, very annoying. Oh, and also revolting.

We spent a few lovely, restful days in Venice, taking a much needed vacation. One day we noticed that there were a couple of blood streaks on the sheets, near the foot end of the bed. Neither of us could find any wounds on our bodies, but we figured there must be some random mosquito bite somewhere. Two days later, on our last night in Venice, in the middle of the night we woke up and discovered a tiny bug crawling on the bed. Zeneba put her finger on it to stop it in its tracks; it left a bloody smear on the sheet. A few hours of panicked internet searching followed, in which we learned all about bedbugs and what to do about it. We’ve put what we learned here to help fellow travelers.

This is not meant to be a comprehensive guide, but rather a primer on how to deal with a first encounter. If you have an infestation of your home, you need to find a much more thorough source than this. But if you have never encountered bedbugs before, this post can be a good beginning education.

A Few Notes on Bedbugs

-Bedbugs feed on human and animal blood. They are nocturnal and only come out at night to feed. They will bite you and draw blood for 3-10 minutes, then retreat to their nest. Bedbugs can go for months without eating, and are quite resilient. They do not transmit disease.

-Bedbugs are not a sign of dirtiness. We encountered them in a hotel that was one of the most expensive and fancy hotels we’ve ever stayed in, and it was immaculate. Once they get in, it’s very hard to get them out. They can survive for months without feeding, and can survive normal laundry machine washings.

-While bedbugs don’t cause disease, for many people their bites are itchy and annoying. Not to mention the fact that knowing that some random, disgusting bug is biting you in your sleep haunts your dreams worse than Freddie Kruger.

-Whatever you have to do to avoid bringing them into your home is worth it. Once you have an infestation in your home it can cost thousands of dollars and months of stress to eradicate them.

Preventing them:

-When you check in to a hotel, don’t place your luggage on a bed or carpeted floor, or on a luggage rack (until you check the cloth straps on it for bugs!). Put the luggage in the bathroom, or anywhere the floor is tiled, until you can check things over. This will help prevent them crawling into your bag, where they can infest your clothes. Check the bed for signs of bedbugs. Signs are blood streaks on sheets (if you see this when you check in, you need to leave the hotel anyway); dark spots (this can be bug excrement); or collections of bug shells (check in crevices, they shed their skins).

-If you find anything like this, and you are in a large hotel, ask to move at least 4 floors away. If you’re in a small hotel, we would suggest leaving. It’s just not worth it.

Dealing with them once you’ve discovered them:

As mentioned above, we encountered these for the first time this summer, after 40+ trips to Europe. Because they are not related to the cleanliness of a hotel, they can be anywhere. That shouldn’t stop you from traveling, but if you do find them, you need to do whatever you can to prevent bringing them into your own home.

-Notify hotel’s management. Management may not know they have an issue, and they need to. The bedbugs could have come in with the last guest, or they could have been there for months. Either way, someone needs to tell management that the problem exists. Hopefully you can get a refund/room change or whatever remedy it is that would satisfy you.

Preventing them from infesting your home:

When this happened to us, we assumed that our bags and clothes were infected. We got really extreme with dealing with them, but it was worth it. Here are the steps we took:

-When you get home, before you walk in the front door, strip naked. Yes, do it. The bugs and/or eggs could be on your clothes or shoes, but they will not hang on your skin like fleas. Strip naked, leave everything on the porch, and go take a shower. We left everything on the porch overnight, went inside, took a shower, drank a bottle of wine, and pretended this wasn’t happening.

-The next day, go outside and sort your luggage. First we went through and tossed anything we didn’t really care about. Some clothes got chucked, some paperwork, a book, magazines, a small blanket.

-We sorted all our clothes we intended to save, and put them in garbage bags. Each garbage bag was one load of laundry. We would empty the bag into the laundry machine, then toss the bag in the outside garbage can. Laundry had to be bleached. If it was not able to be bleached, it had to be washed in hot water, then dried on the highest setting, through two drying cycles.

-Anything that could not be washed in the above method was put in a plastic bag and frozen for 3 weeks in the freezer. This included shoes, a leather bag (it was rolled up, rubber banded and bagged), books, makeup brushes, and belts.

-Items that could not be frozen were wiped down with bleach wipes. That included jewelry, prescription pill bottles, pens, keys, you get the idea.

This series of actions may sound extreme, but in our view, anything was worth avoiding a bedbug infestation of our house. We had old suitcases, so we just threw them away.

One important note: we always advocate packing light. Packing light can make or break a trip. But we learned on this trip that packing light also had an added benefit in a situation like this: there was less to clean and take care of, and not too much to throw away.

We travel almost exclusively to small towns, and in those towns, we have never encountered anything like this. But in the case of bedbugs, a little prevention can go a long way.