Sleep Tight: A Traveler’s Guide to Bed Bugs

As a child, I imagined bed bugs to be cute, fluffs of imagination that might just playfully nibble on my arm as I was sleeping.

“Sleep tight, don’t let the bed bugs bite,” my parents would say, chuckling, as if the idea of a bed bug biting me was a preposterous notion. Indeed, these were modern times and we had pesticides.

I grew up and still thought of bed bugs as magical, tiny creatures that slept all day. Once I started traveling, I found out that bed bugs are manipulative, evil, ninja creatures and you don’t want to cross them. They are not the mystical image I had of them in my childhood. They are real, and here’s what you need to know about them (since your parents never included instructions in their nightly warning.)

Bed Bugs Can Be In Dirty Hostels and Fancy Hotels

It is a common misconception that bed bugs only hang out in hovels and prey upon unwashed people. They can be found anywhere that people are coming in and out of with suitcases and backpacks because these suckers love to hitch a ride. It doesn’t matter whether you’re paying 5 bucks a night or 500, that place could get bed bugs.

If you read the reviews for a hostel and you see multiple comments of people complaining about bed bug bites or having ended up taking bed bugs away with them, AVOID AT ALL COSTS. Bed bugs aren’t like mosquitoes. They don’t bite you and then head elsewhere. They hide in the crevices of beds and walls and it is highly unlikely that the hostel has been able to get rid of them through fumigation, which can be expensive and cost them patrons (although, many hostels will lie and tell you the problem has been solved, so be wary).

Don’t Throw Your Bags On The Bed Or Ground

At most places, it’s fine to throw your bags wherever you want, but if you’re worried or suspect bed bugs, keep your bags in the bathroom until you have checked around the bed and mattress thoroughly. Bed bugs don’t like water and rarely hang in bathrooms. Instead, they like the dark, creepy corners around and behind the bed. If your bag is on the bed or on the ground, they can easily get into your things and then you’ve got a probable infestation on your hands.

Some People Never See Bed Bugs (Myself Included)

I’ve had two bed bug infestations and I never saw them, yet night after night, I was covered in crazy, itchy bites (they are usually two or three in a row) that were much worse than mosquito bites. I followed the advice online and would wake up at 2am and shine my flashlight around the bed, hoping to catch them, but I never spotted one. I even put sticky tape around the legs of my bed, but to no avail. Some people don’t even react to bed bug bites, so you could be getting bit and not even realize it. Eerie, I know.

How To Exorcise These Demons

The first time I got bed bugs, in a hostel in San Francisco, I made the mistake of bringing my backpack into my bedroom. Huge rookie move. If you’ve been getting bit on your travels, once you get home, leave your backpack or bag out in the garage or on a balcony. Take all your clothes and wash them, then put them in the dryer. The dryer is more important than washing because high heat or freezing temperatures is what kills them. Anything that can’t be put in the dryer, put into the freezer (like books, passport, jewelry, etc.). Once all of your things have been checked, you can bring them inside, and hopefully, the ordeal is done.

Most people underestimate bed bugs, but these things have taken a plane with me and can even get into laptops, so if you think you have them, be extra diligent. Worst-case scenario, you can hire a fumigator, but I’d try to get it done on your own first.

So, now that I’ve ruined your childhood memories and traumatized any future sleep in hostels, my work here is done. Sleep tight . . . you know the rest.


Words by Hannah Smith

Photo by Orin Zebest

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