Bed Bugs and Globe Trotters

Bed bugs can ruin any traveler’s adventure. I’ve seen infestations in motels, sea-going vessels, and hostels around the world.  They are difficult to get rid of, can be carried home, and can cause psychological symptoms. A victim may experience anxiety from constant itching, fear of going to sleep and depression due to lack of sleep and fatigue.


There are old wife’s tales aplenty. Some recommend covering the body with thick suntan lotion or Vaseline smeared all over the body or bed frame to get them stuck in the goo. Another says spread talc or any fine powder around the bed forming a barrier. The problem is that these bugs can already be in bed-clothes, drawers, and can easily transverse walls and ceilings. Also, these techniques do not get rid of the real problem.

Unlike mosquitoes and ticks, bed bugs do not appear to be vectors for other pathogens i.e. transmit diseases. Bed bugs can cause a hypersensitivity (allergic) and possible anaphylactic (severe allergic) reaction rarely.


  • The bite of a bed bug is small, pink to red in color, and often linear, separated by only a few millimeters. Areas attacked most often are the back, abdomen, arms, legs, and chest. This can help distinguish them from chiggers (most often associated with lesions in moist areas of the body and outdoors activity i.e. bird, dog, cat, rabbit, and rabbit handling, rodents and certain grasses), fleas (usually bite the feet and legs), and certain black flies (bite ears, neck, and face).
  • Scratching causes increased irritation and can lead to infection.
  • These are nocturnal bugs, moving and biting only at night.
  • Definite diagnosis, however depends on a thorough crime scene investigation. As bed bugs are nocturnal you likely will not see them in the daytime, but they leave evidence. Look for: 1) any blood (dark spots or streaks) in the creases of mattresses and box springs. 2) Their feces which is brown or black. 3) Clusters of eggs which are off-white and the size of tiny grains of sand. Make sure to look in any dark crevasses of beds and walls.


  • Primarily symptomatic treatment with Calamine or similar lotions for bites.
  • If hives are present or in question, you can take a finger nail, or closed ball point pen tip and firmly press it to the chest making an “X”. Wait 1-2 minutes, if the mark is raised and/or inflamed, it is an indication of an elevated histamine level in the body. Benadryl or a non-sedating anti-histamine may be necessary.
  • If there is any shortness of breath, wheezing, a change in heart rate, or light-headedness upon standing, consult a physician if available. However, as we are primarily preparing for isolated and remote situations, I will discuss the diagnosis and treatment in-depth in “diagnosis and treatment of anaphylaxis”.

If you carry these critters home:

  • Before returning home, have all clothing in plastic bags and immediately wash them on highest temperature settings.
  • It would be considerate and wise to either spray luggage with a recommended insecticide, scrub with soap and hot water, treat with heat as noted above, or dispose of and get new luggage.
  • Insecticides can help get rid of these bugs, but typically don’t enter walls that harbor bedbugs with access to wall outlets and crevices. Bug bombs may be more effective. In actuality, the EPA has over three hundred approved products that are effective against bedbugs.
  • DEET and other repellant can prevent bites.
  • The ultimate residential treatment is heat to 115-120° F. This is well beyond the maximum temperature of home heaters. Super heater must be rented or hired.
  • Wash and dry all bed clothing at maximum heat settings (dry clothing for 45-60 mins).
  • Place all pillows and mattresses in black garbage bags or plastic respectively, and place in the sun. The goal is to exceed 115° F for at least 2 hours.
  • Shampoo carpets and upholstery.



When you enter your room keep all luggage and gear off the floor and bed until you can inspect. You may sit them on counter tops, on the sink, or dressers.

Inspect your bed and mattress. Check under rolled edges of mattress and springs for blood trails and tiny clusters of whitish eggs. Also check bed frames, cracks, and crevices.

At the first suspicion of bedbugs, if you have no other choice of facilities, put your luggage and gear in black plastic garbage bags.

For more see: Intimate Friends In My Bed





One thought on “Bed Bugs and Globe Trotters

  1. Pingback: My World: Intimate Friends In My Bed | International Travel Advisor

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