We’ve all heard of bed bugs, and perhaps met a backpacker who’s heard of a guy whose next door neighbors college roommate has had them. But has anybody actually SEEN them? Do you know how to spot them? There is a group of backpackers who apparently think that budget travel absolves them from basic standards of hygiene. They spread them hostel to hostel, often without even noticing. Problem is, they are not easy to spot. Being nocturnal, they hide during the day and come out at night, often when the traveler is out or asleep. Here is what you need to know.
First, what does a bed bug actually look like? Most people think they are too small to notice, often comparable to a mite or tick. This is not the case! Bed bugs resemble a small dark beetle about the size of a ladybug.
Second, just because a home-stay or hostel looks clean, doesn’t necessarily mean it is. Sheets can be changed, pillow cases washed, floors mopped, but bugs can remain. They hide in the mattress until our victim goes to sleep. When first arriving, inspect your bunk. Take off the bed sheet and look for spots on BOTH sides of the mattress. Bugs that have ventured out previous nights are inadvertently squashed by persons rolling over, leaving dark or sometimes red stains.
When the lights go off, bugs begin to search for food. Sometimes they will crawl up the walls or bed frames. If you turn on a bedside lamp after 20-30 minutes, they will be visible. Most times you will only see a few. This is not indicative of their true numbers. Thousands can be hidden.
If you spot just ONE bug, IMMEADIATELY get up and notify every person in the room. If one bed has been compromised, chances are high that all several others have as well. Pack all of your items and leave the room. After informing management, ask that they allow you to wash your clothes free of charge. Bugs have been known to hide in clothing and spawn. It is vital to wash everything that entered the room. Bugs also will find a way into your backpack. Several hostels will offer to freeze your bag overnight, killing the remaining that may be hitching a ride inside. It’s always good practice to never leave your bag open in a hostel.
How do you know if you’ve been bitten? If you have lain on your bed and notice even a single bug, there is a chance you have been bitten. The sooner you notice and exit the room, the more you mitigate the damage. Bites are relatively harmless. Be aware that bites can take awhile to materialize. Some may take up to 12 hours to be seen. Bites are similar to that of a mosquito; red spots with a bothersome itch. Most clear up within 24-48 hours of being bitten.
Take heed, be aware, and look for the key signs of infestation. Just might save yourself a night to remember!