How to Get Rid of Bed Bugs While Traveling

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 get rid of bed bugsuntil 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:

get rid of bed bugs1. 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?

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29 Responses to How to Get Rid of Bed Bugs While Traveling

  1. Clara Mikkelsen says:

    Hi!
    I’m traveling with my sister in Australia, and 4 days ago, I woke up with a handful of itchy mosquito/flea-looking bites on my wrist. The following night I didn’t sleep much, because I was getting several bites on my arms. The morning after I checked the mattress and around looking for bed bugs, but I found zero signs of them. We left the hostel the same day, and I’ve gotten a few more bites since. My sister haven’t gotten any though, and she’s even borrowed some of my stuff and clothes. I’ve put all the close i suspect would be infected in separate plastic bags, and none of the bags seem to have any bugs in them. Does this sound like bed bugs?
    Really hope for help, as I’d rather keep away from all the washing!

    • admin says:

      No, they are extremely itchy and usually will gather around legs first. Not wrists. These might be mosquito bites. They don’t well up in the same manner though.

  2. Paul says:

    Just picked up bed bugs at YMCA in Honalulu. Not only in third world countries.

  3. Ginny says:

    I have encountered bedbugs on my mission trips. Now I have take food grade diatomaceous earth with me and sprinkle on each bed and sometimes over the floor especially the corners. I do the hot water and dryer thing when I get home, then sprinkle DE on my suitcases. They say it may take up to 14 days for DE to work but this has been a big help to me. Now I sprinkle DE on my floors every couple months a few hours before vacuuming and found it gets rid of ants, roaches, etc. You may need to order DE online. I order mine through Walmart and then pick up when it arrives. This is not a cure all for bedbugs but sure helps.

  4. Hiii! Thanks for the great article! I got bedbugs 4 days ago. I thought I didnt get bitten or the bites didnt cause a rash with me, but at the end of the day I was covered in them. By that time I already but everything in binbags and let the hostel wash it at 60 degrees. But I didnt wash my backpack and some clothes, because they didnt touch the bed or anything that did. Can the bugs get into a closed bag at the other side of a room with tiles? And between yesterday evening and this morning, more markes started to show. Is it possible these are still bites from 4 days ago, or did I get them again? I’m honestly getting super desperate here, hate these buggers! Thanks alot!

    • admin says:

      Always visually inspect and when in doubt clean everything. It’s crazy how quick they move and they don’t just live in beds or soft areas, bit can be in furniture, base boards and picture frames. However, a recommended tactic is to put bags in bathtubs upon arrival as they don’t like the cold, hard surfaces. But they may still be there depending on how infested the room is.

  5. Verity says:

    Hi there,

    I have something biting me and I’m not sure if it’s bed bugs or not. I am travelling with a friend and we are staying the same room in beds next to eachother and she doesn’t have a single bite. We have moved to different cites 3 times and I still keep getting bitten by something and she, nothing!! Do you think this is likely to be bed bugs? I would have thought that if I were getting bitten, she would be too…?
    Any ideas??

    • admin says:

      I would check your mattress. You should be able to see them if they are bed bugs. If not, it might just be mosquitos so make sure you use bug spray when you are outside. Certain blood types attract mosquitos more than others.

      Good luck!

    • I am in the same predicament and it turns out some people don’t react to the bites like others do. So just like some people swell up from bee stings and others don’t, I read that some people don’t know they have bed bugs because they don’t react. I started getting a bunch of painful itchy bites at night so I was keeping my eyes out for them and sure enough I spotted one on my pack. I’m super bummed. I would be extra cautious and assume the worst. Especially if you’re waking up with new bites and get it taken care of as quickly as possible.

  6. Chelsea says:

    What about electronics and books? Did you throw these away or treat them?

    • admin says:

      You can visually inspect electronics. I put books in zip locks and froze them when I got home for six months. But you can also visually inspect.

      Amber

  7. Hi,
    We have been traveling through Costa Rica and Nicaragua and have gotten bed bugs from one of the places we’ve stayed. We just got to a new place today and i checked the bed- no signs of bugs. But I’m convinced they’re in our luggage because I have bites/rash and feel them at night.

    I’m going to follow your steps to eradicate them before we go home, but we are in this hotel for 5 more days. How can I make sure they are gone from the bed we stayed in tonight as well?

    • admin says:

      Hi Kate,

      I would request a different room so you don’t risk it. Otherwise, maybe bear through it and go through the steps on the last day.

      Amber

  8. Maria says:

    I’m in Cambodia and might have bed bugs. Still have 3 more weeks of traveling. My clothes are all at the laundry, but for my luggage do you think that pouring boiling water over it will kill them?

  9. Pingback: A Traveler’s Nightmare: Bed Bugs – little bird around the world

  10. Martha says:

    I have just got bed bugs in Asia, Vietnam, mui ne. The way I understand it, is to pack everything and leave it in the boiling sun packed in on liners or plastic bags for at least 24 hours. Use tiger palm for the bites to stop the itching. Best of luck everyone. Greetings from beautiful Vietname

  11. Mathias says:

    Thank you so much for this article!

    I got the most insane bed bugs in Argentina, which almost ruined my travel down here!
    I went to Santiago in Chile and followed your instructions, which helped me get rid of these bed bugs.

  12. Pingback: Moments of Misery: Bed Bugs…? | Globe Gazers

  13. Kersten says:

    Hello my friend and I just got bed bugs at a hostel, and we went through the process of washing and drying everything, but it seems our backpack’s may have shrunk. Did this happen to you? We can’t fit the frames back into either of them

    • admin says:

      With my backpack, I didn’t wash it so never took the frame off. I only put it in the dryer. So it is possible they shrunk. The heat is more important, so there were a few things I didn’t wash but only dried.

  14. Marie says:

    Hey how did you get rid of the bed bugs from your actual backpack? Do you or anyone know of a way to kill them on there without putting it in a dryer?

    • admin says:

      I put my backpack through the dryer, one of the large washateria ones.

      • Jennifer says:

        If you can’t put your backpack in a dryer you can spray it outdoors with an insecticide and then let it air out for a few days. I know it’s not the best solution as it’s toxic, but it’s something.

  15. Hollie harris says:

    Hi Amber,
    I have been in India for 3 months and have 2 months left before I more I to Australia. I’ve had an encounter with out bed buddies this week. I’ve only noticed the bites yesterday evening. My sister and I stayed in a hotel/hostel for 5 days. I guess after reading what you have said that I need to try and find some means of treating my clothes and bag in the same way? I also have been wearing hiking boots, trainers, these too need the boiling treatment? Also, what cream could you recommend as I have read loads and still not sure which ones would be the most effective?
    Thank you for your help,

    Hollie xxx

    • admin says:

      Hollie,

      You would need to wash shoes as well as they are cloth and bugs can hide in the crevices. As far as the itching, any anti itch cream will do, although the bites were the worst itch I’ve ever felt and I had to constantly apply. Try not to scratch as I still have scars from mine.
      Good luck.

  16. I am currently staying in a hostel in Chile, where I woke up and relized I had been eaten alive in the night. Recongnized the bite right away as I had a them before in NYC. Here is my question though.

    Your advice is great and I appreciate it. The thing is I still have 7 months left in my 9 month trip in South America and so finding a washer/dryer that uses hot water/air if very difficult to find. Do you think cold water will do the trick?

    I was thinking of bagging everything washable up (except the clothes on my back), including my backpack as it is small enough to be washed easily. I would instruct the lady to put everything in the large plastic bags except one pair of clothes in a separate bag and tie it all up when it is done.

    Then in a room far from the dorm I would change out of my current clothes, time them up in a bag, shower, then put on the clean clothes. keeping my backpack and other clothes still sealed.

    I would then leave for my next destination and upon arrival immediately wash the dirty clothes.

    What do you think about that strategey? Have better suggestions for when heat (air/water) and cold (freezer) are not options?

    • admin says:

      Hi MJ,

      You have raised a very good point. Latin American countries are very difficult to find hot water or industrial type dryers. I was lucky that we were only gone two weeks, but we definately infested a few hostels afterwards for a lack of knowing what else to do. I would first notify the hostel because they need to know. Unfortunately, studies have shown that washing clothing on the cool cycle kills no bed bugs. Your best bet will be to find a laundromat at the next large city you are in and at least try to run them through a dryer, which is the most effective method. It may be a good idea to ask the locals if they know of any treatment. They may know of some solutions.

      Let me know what you end up working out!

      Amber

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