When you stay in hostels & hotels long enough, you will get bed bugs at some point. It’s just the way it is. No bed is immune to them. From the Ritz, to the budget hotels, to your local hostel. You can’t expect to share a bed with hundreds of travellers and be the lucky one who remains impervious to their nibbles. You might get them in the first week, the first month, or maybe a couple years. For me, it was 4 and a half rotations around the sun after starting my adventures in hostels.
Upon first glance at the red dotted lines they left, I laughed. “Maybe it’s just a rash”, I thought. It wasn’t. I asked my girlfriend to inspect me further, and we found further bites. Under situations like these, many people will hastily jump to action, blaming the hostel, the cleaners, and even their bunkmates for dragging in these vile creatures. I don’t recommend that route. Travel is met with countless unexpected situations, treat this just like a wrong turn that turned into another ride. These things can be dealt with in a civil manner.
Step 1. Confirm They Are Bed Bugs
Bed bugs are nearly impossible to see, most won’t be seen until they’ve had enough you-juice to fill them up to a visible level. So in most cases, don’t trust your eyes. Chances are you’ll see their bites before them. They feast while you sleep, enjoying what the experts like to call as “Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner”, on account of the 3-4 pockmarks they leave in a straight line. Inspect your entire body to see if they got you anywhere else.
Step 2. Inform Staff Quietly
There’s no sense in screaming at the top of your lungs in hopes that your decibel level will effect the amount of help you’ll receive. Calmly find a staff member at the front desk and pull them aside from other guests and explain that your room may have an issue while showing them the “track marks”. Most people in hospitality have been trained to deal with them upon first glance of the bites. They will advise you of their procedures, and will help you in all ways possible. You might worry that they’ll be mad at you, but know that they are unable to track where bed bugs came from. They could have been in the bed long before you got there. Or yes, perhaps you dragged the critters in with you. It is usually policy for staff to contact any hostels or hotels that you may have stayed in previous to your visit there to ensure the problem is dealt with completely.
Step 3. Wash, Kill, & Decontaminate
Depending on where you’re staying, staff may do this for you if you’d like. If the thought of hotel staff touching your under-gotch gives you the queezee’s, they’ll likely assist you in the decontamination process. When it comes to getting rid of these things, heat is your saviour. Wash everything you’re wearing, everything in your bag, and if possible, the bag itself in the hottest water you can get, followed by drying everything in the hottest dryer you can find. Most hostels and hotels will cover this charge for you if it’s coin operated laundry.
Bags, shoes, and anything else un-washable may not be able to be soaked, so in those cases, a steam machine may be used to heat everything up hot enough to kill the little critters. Other methods include putting everything unwashable and placing it into black garbage bags and leaving it in the hot sun for a day.
Step 4. Disinfect the Room (Hotel/hostel does this part)
This step usually doesn’t involve you. Staff will likely check surrounding rooms, usually entire floors to ensure the bed bugs haven’t spread elsewhere. Depending on the procedures, they may heat the infected room up to a point where the bed begs & their eggs (yes, they lay eggs, lots of them) will die. Many procedures also include some heavy chemicals, meaning that room is going to be off limits for a few days while everything is dealt with.
Step 5. Heal Those Bites
Many people suffer from allergic reactions to their bites. Bed Bug spit has a numbing effect on the area, which allows them to bite you through the night, going completely unnoticed until you wake up. While many people find the bite marks will go away on their own after a handful of days, others will require medication in order to heal those marks. My bites unfortunately got infected, leading to a good portion of my arm turning an off-red off-purple. The bite marks began to swell, puss, and bleed. A quick stop at a walk-in clinic, and the doctor prescribed some heavy duty topical hydrocortisone cream along with some variety of penicillin in pill form. Within a few days, I was fully healed, with the exception of some scars. Most people don’t have this reaction, just be wary that it can happen.
Step 6. Speak to the Hotel/Hostel
Ensure that your hotel or hostel understands you’ve been inconvenienced by this situation; however, please note that they have been as well. You can cry all you want, but besides having them comp you a dinner, or a couple beers, or if you’re really lucky, a free night, there’s a good chance you’re not going to see much else in return. You didn’t win the lotto by being bitten by these bugs. You are just another statistic in the widespread travels of these blood-sucking critters. You did however earn a tremendous story, and a few shocked gasps from those who don’t realize how incredible common bed bugs are throughout the world. Wear those bites with pride, and treat them as an education tool to other travellers.
While waving around my own bed bug bites, I had many people ask if I gave the hostel 0 stars on Yelp. I’m sure I considered it, but there’s really no proof, I simply don’t know where I got them. It could have been from a bus, plane, train, or car seat, it could have been from a bed, a towel, who knows. Even if I was 100% sure I got them from a specific place, I don’t feel like that would be a valid representation of the hostel. This kind of stuff happens. Bed bugs are just part of the tourism industry. If I need to get nibbled on here and there in order to experience the world, so be it. Eat me bed bugs!