“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?