If you pick up bed bugs when backpacking or traveling, don’t worry. You have time to get rid of them before you get back home. Just take a day out of your trip to do some cleaning and then you can carry on with your travels. When backpacking, everything you have with you is small and relatively easy to clean, and it is much simpler than having to rid an entire house of the pests. It is essential you get rid of bed bugs before you get home while they are still manageable because once they are in your home, they are infinitely harder to get rid of.
Most people don’t realize they may have bed bugs until they start experiencing the bites on their legs during the night. These usually show up on the legs, arms, or neck and can be in lines or clusters like the picture on the right. The bites are not dangerous, but show up red and blotchy and may itch. Once you get the bites, you can be certain they are already in your luggage or clothing. You may also notice bloody streaks on your sheets if they are light-colored that can tip you off to the possibility of bed bugs.
I have experienced bed bugs before when I was backpacking with a friend in Costa Rica and we picked them up at the first hostel we stayed at. We had a few more stops before the end of our trip and were worried about spreading them around. Plus, they were a nuisance and our legs were covered in bites and they creeped me out, personally. The experience almost ruined the trip for me as I began scouring the internet for information on these bugs and how to get rid of them before I brought them home. The more horror stories I read online, the more I began to panic, and I couldn’t seem to find any information on how to get rid of these bugs while on the road. Everything was about how to eradicate them from your home, and I hadn’t gotten that far yet. It took a lot of digging to find steps that were relevant to our situation, so I would like to put what worked for me all in one place to help out other backpackers. By following all these steps, I was able to return home bed bug free from my backpacking trip and haven’t seen any since!
What you will need:
1. Plastic bags – large trash bags and large ziplock baggies.
2. Lots of change – This is for the laundromat. I think I ended up using around $10 in change to wash and dry all of my things.
3. Clorox or other wet wipes – one container should do.
4. Steam cleaner (optional) – one that does not use water to clean.
5. A freezer (optional) – large industrial kind that is not used often.
Steps for getting rid of bed bugs while traveling:
- Bag it up – Plastic bags play a big role here. If you plan to tackle the bed bug problem as soon as you get home, you will need a lot of plastic bags. First, if someone is picking you up from the airport, have them bring large trash bags. You will want to line the car seats with trash bags in case some eggs are on your clothes and encase your luggage in trash bags for the ride so none of the bed bugs escape into the car. A variety of ziplock bags will also be important to seal anything that can’t be washed like electronics, books, or toiletries until you are able to perform deep cleaning on them.
- Rub-a-dub-dub – The next thing to do is find a laundromat to wash everything in. You will need one that has very large industrial size washers and dryers so you can fit your backpack and more loads into one. Wash everything that you can (clothes, shoes, purses, and luggage) in hot water. This includes the current clothes you have on, so be prepared to switch out the old set with a freshly laundered one. One of bed bugs’ greatest weaknesses is high heat and it is guaranteed to work every time.
- Dry on high – After washing everything, you will need to dry it on HIGH heat for at least 30 minutes. This is the most important step. If you had some things you could not wash, you can throw them into the dryer and it should do the trick.
- Inspect – While you are waiting for all your clothing to wash and dry (can take three or four hours), begin visually inspecting all the non-washable items that were quarantined in ziplock baggies earlier. Flip through all pages of books, examine all crevices of any plastic items or electronics, like taking the batteries out, looking in all the ports.
- Wipe on, Wipe off – While visually inspecting, wipe off everything that was not washed with wet wipes. Bed bugs don’t normally like hard surfaces, so things that are plastic or metal won’t usually be infected, but cleansing these items anyways ensures any eggs are wiped off. Make sure to get in all the crevices and hidden compartments.
- Throw Away – Throw away anything that may be difficult to clean or that is easily and inexpensively replaced. I threw out shampoo and conditioner, chapstick, and pens.
- Re-assemble – Once everything has either been ziplocked or washed, you can re-assemble your backpack and should be bed bug free.
Optional steps that are typically only available to those that are at home:
- Steam clean – For those items that you could not wash, you can perform something extra to really zap any stragglers. If you have a steam cleaner, you can run it along items, other than electronics. By hovering over each item for a few seconds, the heat from the steam cleaner will eliminate any bugs. To do this though, you need a steam cleaner that does not dispense water!
- Freezing – Even after you have wiped down everything, there is the option to freeze your things (Do Not Freeze Electronics). Bed bugs do not survive in extreme temperatures, and although heat is the best solution, freezing can work too, though less reliable. This means using your kitchen freezer that is opened every day to get ice will not work since each time you open it, the temperature warms up. The best method is to use a deep freezer that is not used frequently. Place everything in a plastic bag and you can freeze things like books, sunglasses, flip-flops with rubber pieces, hair clips. You need to leave them in the freezer for a few days, weeks if possible, to be certain that all phases of bed bugs should be eliminated. If you live in a cold climate, placing items outside in temps below freezing overnight should kill any bugs.
After all of this, getting rid of bed bugs while traveling is exhausting, both mentally and physically, but it is no match to battling them in your own home. Next time you go backpacking, make sure to follow steps for preventing bed bugs while traveling so you don’t have to go through this ordeal again.
What other steps did you find that helped you get rid of bed bugs while on the road, saving your home from invasion?