What To Do in the Event of a Bed Bug Scare

In This Post: What to do if you think you have bed bugs – aside from panic and scratch excessively. Also, ways to avoid throwing out and/or burning all your possessions. Looking for info on how to CHECK for bed bugs? Click here instead.

I am a germaphobe, and a bit of a hypochondriac. Bed bugs are on my list of “top 5 fears.” As a result, when I travel I am always vigilant. Hyper vigilant.  I immediately check the mattress for bed bugs, even in nice, upscale lodgings. I do not put my bag down until I’ve checked the mattress. I check the online reviews the day prior to my visit to ensure “bed bugs” are not mentioned. I take the precautions. I teach others how to take the precautions. So you can imagine my reaction when, only a few weeks into a trip around the world, the unthinkable happened. We had a bed bug scare.

I was brushing my teeth in the hostel one morning when all the sudden I noticed a strange series of bites/rash area on my neck. My toothbrush stopped moving and I pointed silently to my sister, my eyes wide with fear. “What is that?” Oh god, it’s the BB. 

What happened next can only be described as the “5 stages of bed bugs.”

5 Stages of Bed Bugs

Stage 1: Denial

It’s can’t be bed bugs. I have no other bites on my body! My arms and feet were exposed too – if it were bed bugs I’d have more bites. My sister has no bites. I checked the mattress three times and there was nothing. It’s probably just some mosquitos. It could be a rash from my vest! I have sensitive skin, so it must be a rash from the material or laundry detergent. Oh I know, maybe it’s a spider; I am highly allergic and it totally could have bitten my neck.

Stage 2: Anger

Why is this happening to me?! It’s not fair! I am so much more vigilant than everyone else. Most people don’t even check the mattress! Most people put their bags and all their clothing right on the bed! Most people use the vile communal blankets and sit on the vile communal couch. I do not use the vile communal blankets nor sit on the vile communal couch. I do not put my bag on the bed.

3: Bargaining

Well, maybe it’s not that bad. Maybe it just bit me once and went back into the mattress. Maybe it didn’t infiltrate my bag…I didn’t place it on the bed after all!  Maybe the rash will go away, and I won’t get any more bites, and it’s totally not bed bugs. Maybe it’s another bug as no one else has bites.

4: Depression

I have bed bugs. This is awful. I am disgusting. I feel disgusting. I don’t want to touch my stuff. I want to burn it!  I want to cry. I need help. I will sit alone on the outside deck of the ferry in the cold in personal quarantine because I have bed bugs.

5: Acceptance

I have bed bugs. I have to deal with it. I have to make a plan and “next steps” to get rid of them.

Potential bed bug bites on neck.

Making A Bed Bug Plan of Action

Lucky for us, in this case it was just a scare. No more bites appeared, and we did not find any bugs or evidence in our bags. But this information still applies.

What we did first: 65+ Google searches…

What we did after that: The followng…

  1. Quarantined our items. We placed our bags, shoes and everything else we could outside. We got out minimal clothing for sleeping, and, using an iron in our accommodation ironed these clothes for a period of time (heat kills them) prior to getting into bed as to not spread them.
  2. Immediately looked for laundry. The best method to kill bed bugs is to blast your stuff in high-heat dryers. We went looking for a laundromat so we could do this to everything, including our shoes, backpacks and other bags (like makeup bags, hats, sleep masks, etc). As there were no laundromats where we were, we took our laundry to get done and asked specifically for high heat dryers (my pants are now too tight for my body).
  3. Cleaned all non-laundering items with rubbing alcohol. I am not certain this works, we read mixed reviews online, but it made us feel better. The idea with rubbing alcohol is to clean items you cannot wash (IE Toiletry bottles, electronics, zippers on bags) to kill any eggs.
  4. Did it in the bathtub. Really, we put everything in the bathtub to clean. This way, if there were any loose bugs they could be easily spotted, and the bathtub is an area that is inhospitable for to them to live preventing further infestation.
  5. Got a hairdryer. Going along with the high-heat theme, we used this for our remaining items. Time consuming and annoying, yes, but we dried some items the laundry lady wouldn’t take for an extended period of time. And we saved the receipt to return it (staying in budget).
  6. Used plastic bags. When fresh items came back, we quarantined them into sealed bags ASAP until all of our things were sanitized.
  7. Conducted bite checks. I circled my bites with pen, which seems weird but allowed me to identify each day if there were new ones or not. This helped us determine they were NOT spreading. You can also photograph if you don’t feel like drawing all over your body.
  8. Accepted the situation. While my sister continued to fret, I maintained that we did the best we could do. If they were not gone, we would re-dry everything or seek extermination. At the end of the day, it’s important to remember it is ONLY A BUG. Many reviews incite fear – and believe me my fear was incited – but keep in mind if they were that easy to spread and that impossible to get rid of, the entire world would have them – every bus and metro seat, every hotel room and couch, every clothing store and shared space would be infiltrated with the awful bb. 

If All Else Fails…

You can always look on the bright side:

  • Bed bugs cannot fly.
  • It’s harder to eradicate them from a home/dwelling than a single backpack, so if you’re backpacking you have an easier task at hand.
  • They do not like heat, so it’s unlikely they’ll live on you or on your clothes because of your body heat (they can find a better host than your body).
  • The bugs don’t like your hair, so they won’t live there either.
  • They don’t spread disease! So that’s good.
  • It happens to many people. Getting bed bugs doesn’t mean you are dirty (although you might be).

As always, the best thing to do is remain vigilant and avoid bed bugs altogether by thoroughly checking your mattress at all accommodations prior to laying in the bed or putting your bag down.

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