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How to Get Rid of Bed Bugs While Traveling

Last updated : December 31st, 2020

Two beds bugs


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Let me guess, you’re on a wonderful trip and a few mysterious bug bites have started to appear on your body. Now, you’re starting to wonder if you‘re one of the unlucky ones who has been bitten by bed bugs while traveling.  

No need to be ashamed. Most travelers have had an encounter with bed bugs at some point (even if they didn’t know it!) 

Dan and I have had issues with bed bugs while traveling on multiple occasions. There was this time in Havana, Cuba where every hostel we went to seemed to have an issue with bed bugs. The time in Sri Lanka, when we arrived after 20+ hours of flights in the middle of a night, only to be stuck in a room infested with bed bugs. Oh ya, and then there was our first encounter with bed bugs in Rio, Brazil that prevented me from sleeping for literally weeks.  

It’s true, getting bed bugs while traveling sucks.  

But all hope isn’t lost. There are a few things you can do to get to get rid of bed bugs while you’re traveling. These are easy tips that I’ve used time and time again to free myself (and my luggage) of bed bugs while in a foreign country.  

In this blog, I’ve also included tips on preventing bed bugs while you travel. These are helpful tips that you can use from now on to hopefully keep bed bugs from following you around.  

Common Misconceptions About Bed Bugs and Travel 

backpacking on a budget as a couple
Many budget backpackers have encounters with bed bugs at some stage – even me!
  • Bed bugs only stay in beds – Bed bugs can be found in several different places including furniture, curtains, rugs, electrical sockets, headboards, clothing, and more.  
  • Bed bugs are impossible to get rid of – Bed bugs don’t like the heat. In fact, it’s one of the only things that will kill them. More serious bed bug infestations may require professional help, but for travelrs, a hot wash and machine dry will get rid of them if they’re hiding in your clothes.
  • Only budget hostels have bed bugs – All types of accommodation can struggle with bed bugs. Most expensive hotels generally do a better job at cleaning, which is why they are often better at preventing the spread or larger bed bug problems. With that said, Dan and I have stayed in a fancy hotel before that definitely had a bed bug problem! 
  • You can’t see bed bugs – You can definitely see bed bugs with the naked eye. The average size of a bed bug is comparable to the size of an apple seed. 

Related Read: Find out why I love staying in hostels – even to this day!

What to do When You’ve Been Bitten by Bed Bugs While Traveling

bed bug bites on a males arm
Daniel’s arm after he was bitten by bed bugs all night long! This photo was taken in Brazil, and bed bugs are something you should know about before going backpacking in Brazil!

Before you start trying to get rid of the bed bugs that are ruining your travels, there are a few things you need to do first and foremost.  

Don’t panic! 

The first time I realized that I was getting eaten on by bed bugs, I totally panicked. We’re talking tears, nightmares, and an urge to book the next flight home. Don’t be like me!

What I’m saying is, “do I say, not as I do.” But in all seriousness, there is no need to panic. These days if I find bed bugs I just take care of them and move on.  

Bed bugs aren’t disease-carrying and although they leave behind an itchy bite, you’re going to be alright. Take a deep breath and follow these next steps to deal with these pesky critters when you’re traveling. 

Speak to your hotel or hostel management 

This one sounds daunting, but it is super important. You need to tell your accommodation about the bed bugs that you’ve found.   

Whenever we’ve done this we get a different response. One time, we were staying at a fancy hotel in Bali and they were really good about it. The hotel manager moved us into a new room immediately so that they could get rid of the bed bugs in the room where we were staying as soon as possible. 

Other times though, especially in budget hostels, it hasn’t gone as smoothly. We once had a hostel blame us for bringing the bed bugs to their hostel. And other times, hostel staff simply shrugged and said “okay…?” as if it wasn’t a problem they were concerned about in the least bit.

If your accommodation isn’t quick to take action by either thoroughly cleaning your room or switching your room, then you need to ask them to do this.  

It’s super important that the hotel or hostel is aware of the issue to prevent the bed bugs from spreading like wildfire throughout their hotel.  

But also, it’s important that you get a fresh bed without bed bugs. Getting rid of them from your suitcase, bags, and clothing is useless if you plan on sleeping in the same sheets that night.  

Fact: Bed bugs don’t only live in grimy backpacker hostels. Fancy hotels often have problems with them too.

How to Get Rid of Bed Bugs While Traveling 

A close up fo a bed bugs
Evil things they are!

Below are the exact steps you should take if you want to get rid of bed bugs while you’re traveling. These steps should rid your belonging of bed bugs, and prevent you from carrying them around with you.

1. Wash and dry ALL of your clothes 

This first step is the most important. You need to hot wash all of your clothing and then put them through a dryer.  

Heat kills bed bugs. A hot wash and dryer is the easiest and fastest way to kill any bed bugs that are on your clothing.  

Depending on where you’re traveling, a dryer can sometimes be difficult to find. One time, Dan and I suspected we were getting bitten by bed bugs in Vietnam. Every laundry place we went to did not have dryers because the warm weather made drying clothes in the sun so easy. Eventually, after calling around to many places, we found one laundry shop that offered 2-hour laundry service (and used a dryer to get it done this quick.) 

If you absolutely can’t find a place with a dryer, just be sure to get a hot wash done and then set your clothes out in the sun. Then, follow this next step… 

Extra tip: Change out of the clothes you were sleeping in and have them washed. While your laundry is getting done, put on something else that you assume to be clean. Choose a simple outfit without lots of pockets and details (where bed bugs like to hide), and inspect it thoroughly before wearing. After you get your clean (bed-bug free) laundry back, change into a new outfit and put your dirty outfit into a sealed plastic bag until it gets a hot wash too.  

2. Inspect your belongings 

You can see bed bugs. Bed bugs vary in size, but even the smallest ones can be seen with the naked eye. 

Any of your belongings that can’t be put through the washing machine and dryer you can inspect. Look in seams of clothing, pockets, or any small spaces in which they can hide.  

If you find a bed bug, be sure to kill it by squishing it with a paper towel.  

3. Move rooms or hotels 

Like I mentioned above, you need to make sure you get out of the bed in which you were sleeping the night before. Or, at the very least, get the bedding hot washed, and dried, and then inspect the mattress and bed frame thoroughly.  

Any good hostel or hotel should move your room immediately if you report bed bugs. But unfortunately, sometimes there isn’t space to do so. In this case, you should consider moving hotels. The last thing you want is to have bed bugs removed from all of your belongings, and then just get them again thanks to your hotel room.  

How to Prevent Getting Bed Bugs While Traveling 

Chungking Mansions in Hong Kong has some of the smallest rooms you can imagine! If you’re staying here, there is no way to keep your luggage away from the bed!

Now that you’ve gotten rid of those pesky bed bugs, there are a few things that you should do moving forward to make sure you don’t have a problem with them again.  

Inspect your hotel rooms 

Check your accommodation for bed bugs before jumping into bed! Because you can see bed bugs, this is really important and the best preventative measure.  

The best time to check for bed bugs is when it is dark (either with the curtains closed or at night) before turning on the lights. Bed bugs are nocturnal, and light usually makes them hide.

Enter the room, and leave the lights off. Then use a small flashlight or cell phone light to inspect the bedsheets. Look in mattress seams as well as cracks or seams of wooden headboards or bed bases. 

Book the right accommodation 

Booking a 5-star hotel doesn’t guarantee you won’t get bed bugs, but generally more expensive places do a better job of cleaning. With that said, choose a hotel with simple, clean looking rooms and good reviews. Bed bugs can be found in many different places including wooden bed frames, rugs, or even in curtains.  

Booking a clean room with metal bed frames and simple décor will reduce the places where bed bugs can hide.  

Also, be sure to check the reviews of a hotel or hostel before booking. I use the website Booking.com to always book places to stay when I travel. On this platform, people often leave reviews, and chances are if somebody else had bed bug problems at a hotel or hostel, then you could too.  

Use plastic bags 

One of my top tips for preventing bed bugs when you’re traveling is to use plastic bags! Instead of cloth packing cubes, I store all of my clothes in extra-large Ziploc freezer bags. Beg bugs can’t hide in these plastic bags and they can’t get through them.  

The plastic bags also separate your clothing into smaller groups. This way if you are carrying a bed bug on one piece of clothing, you can keep it separate from your backpack/suitcase and the majority of other clothes until washing.

You can reuse these plastic bags for your entire trip and even save them for future trips!

Store your luggage away from the bed 

Bed bugs are most commonly found around beds – duh! For that reason, I recommend storing your luggage as far from the bed if possible. Although not fool-proof, keeping your luggage as far away from the bed as possible will help reduce the chance of getting bed bugs in your suitcase or backpack. 

Sleep on the top bunk 

If you’re a backpacker staying in dorm rooms then I recommend choosing a top bunk bed. The reason? Well, the top bunks are typically the least popular option, and when having the option to choose a bunk, backpackers almost always pick the lower bunk.

This means, that when the hostel isn’t full, the beds that remain empty are almost always the top bunks.  

Fewer people sleeping in the beds equals less chance for bed bugs to move in. It’s simple statistics! 

And while this tip also isn’t fool-proof, on more than one occasion Dan and I found bed bugs in a lower bunk (where he was sleeping), and not in the bunk directly above where I slept. 

Sleep in clothing 

Of course, the best thing you can do is just get rid of the bed bugs entirely, but if that’s not an option, at least you can prevent those itchy bites! 

If you’re just trying to prevent getting bitten by bed bugs, then you can wear tight-fitting clothing to bed like leggings and long-sleeved shirts. Be sure to keep this clothing stored in a sealed plastic bag when you get up though, it could have bed bugs in it and you don’t want it mixing with your other belongings.

Don’t bring them home with you 

After a wonderful holiday abroad, the last thing you want to have to deal with is little bed bugs that hitched a ride back home with you.  

My best advice is to unpack your luggage outside or in a garage and to not bring it inside. Throw all of your clothes into a sealed plastic bag to bring them inside. Then, throw your clothes directly into the washing machine for a hot wash.  

Keep your luggage outside in a sealed garbage bag if possible. Otherwise, wash it as well or at least vacuum and visually inspect it.  

FAQs About Bed Bugs and Travel 

Reading to board with snacks packed in my bag
Time to fly!
Can you get bed bugs from an airplane?

Yes. There are stories of people who have been bitten by bed bugs while traveling on an airplane. On an airplane, bed bugs would likely live in the fabric of the seats. This is not common though.

How do you know when you’ve been bitten by a bed bug? 

Bed bugs leave behind a small itchy bite that is red. Usually, the bites are in clusters of three. On some people, the bites are small and look like mosquito bites. But others, sometimes react worse and they get really red and itchy (Daniel reacts significantly worse than I do.) 

Can you see bed bugs? 

Yes. Bed bugs are good at hiding, but if you look in the right places you can definitely see them. They aren’t that small and can easily be seen with the naked eye.  

Are bed bug bites dangerous? 

Bed bug bites are not known to carry diseases or have any long-term health effects. They are simply annoying, itchy, and ugly! 

Before you go…

how to save for travel

I hope I’ve helped answer a few questions you had about bed bugs and traveling, and that you now know how to get rid of bed bugs while traveling!

Whatever you do, don’t let your encounter with bed bugs ruin your trip. It’s just a small set-back.

Be sure to check out the rest of our general travel advice for more helpful travel tips, or, read some of our most popular blogs below:

Getting Robbed at Gunpoint – Our Story

The TRUTH About Long Term Travel

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-Bailey

About the Author - destinationlesstravel

We are Dan and Bailey, just your typical thrill-seeking travelers! You will likely find us hiking, scuba diving, catching public transport, or just drinking beer at a hostel.

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