Backpacking Bed Bugs: How To Rid Yourself Of Them On The Road

Bed bugs. Ugh. the one thing that sure fire knows how to ruin all travel. For me, I am allergic to them. The sheer number of times I have woken up to slapping one on my leg and catching it in the act of feasting on me is numerous. The bites from there swell up into giant circles an inch in diameter and make me shake. The insomnia I experience settling down to sleep after an attack can last weeks and it is always never far from the back of my mind when I set down into a new place.

On the internet you will see all kinds of tools to help deal with this problem and most involve using a dryer. But I put to you, what does one do exactly when they are in the middle of nowhere in the tropics in wet season and there is not a dryer to be found anywhere? So here are my tips of the trade. How to avoid the pesky pains… and if you do have an encounter, things that you can do to get rid of them.

Avoiding Bed Bugs

The rules of the land are as such. Never ever enter a room or move your luggage in until you have inspected the mattresses and surrounding wooden areas for bed bugs. I don’t even need to tell you that if you find one, hightail it out of there quick smart.

The most tell tale signs on sheets, mattresses and bed frames are small brown spots. Where they basically have had their feast and passed it on through. For heavy infestations you will actually find clumps of eggs together in the corners of the mattresses and bed frames and often you will find the bug. My gut will tell me quite frequently whether they are there or not. It is like I am so well honed these days I can smell the creepy things. Anyway, even if you have the slightest feeling they are there, get the hell out and go somewhere else.

What To Do If You Are Exposed

Treating Your Bites

One morning I woke up after spending the night on a sleeper train in India to find that my entire face had been mauled by bed bugs. I had about 7 bites in total each about the size of an American quarter.


They can be some of the most sore, itchy and persistently lasting bites that you will ever manage. I recommend hauling arse to a pharmacy to get the following to help….

  • Antihistamines – these will not only help you to calm down and sleep better but will help take the itch out of the bite.
  • Cortisone cream – a secondary measure to the antihistamine if you can get it is a hydrocortisone cream such as betamethasone. Use only a tiny amount on each bite and it will help to reduce the localized swelling, pain and itch.
  • Tiger balm can also help. I had one morning where I woke up still drunk in Thailand shaking from being bitten by bed bugs across my back and a lovely Thai woman sat and rubbed tiger balm into my back to try and calm me down whilst I sat shaking and jittery and refusing to go back into any room sleeping. “It’s OK honey, it’s OK”.

If at any point you are in a place like I was in Malang and there is no other place to sleep but this hostel then there are certain things you can do. I for one refuse to sleep in the room if I have been bitten in it. I have slept on the floor or couch of a hotel lobby 3 times now because I refuse to go back in. If you are in a place where you can’t find any and yet your gut suspects they are there you can set your bed up like this:


The best thing to use is a giant plastic shower curtain made out of smooth and slippery plastic. They can’t walk on smooth plastic.  If I have no shower curtain I have been known to put garbage bags taped together over the bed and tucked on at the sides and then use a sleep sheet on top.

To protect your luggage while in this situation either put it in a garbage bag or sit it on a sheet of plastic or garbage bag on the floor making sure all of the parts of your bag are on the plastic.


Getting Them Out Of Your Luggage Before Moving On

The most difficult thing for a backpacker to deal with is getting rid of them if you think you have them. Which of course is all well and good when you are in a country with industrial dryers. But when in Indonesia, India, Malaysia even, this just wasn’t happening. So then we have to come up with creative means with which to solve the problem.

My tools of the trade are

  • Black garbage bags (must be black)
  • 90 percent rubbing alcohol. 70 percent will work but the more alcohol the better.
  • A brush. Dish brushes or this solid brush I have in the photo is good.
  • A packet of wipes
  • A can of bug spray containing permethrin, allethrin or any other chemical known to kill bed bugs. In developing countries these are easier to get your hands on than in the first world as many of them are controlled substances here.


If you are in a place that is ridiculously hot, the aim is to get the bed bug’s core temperature to 50 degrees celcius for over an hour. This will be enough to kill them. Loosely tie all of your stuff made out of material in separate garbage bags. If they are crammed too tightly packed then the temperature won’t get through all of the stuff in the bag and the bug won’t get hot enough to die.


Any of the stuff you have that is plastic or has smooth surfaces wipe it over with 80% rubbing alcohol or alcohol wipes. Also if you have books and electronics check in the nooks and crannies and especially all of the seams of the books. I have found a hatchling in a book of mine before. Freaked the hell out of me. Got rid of that thing quick smart.

I also take to my bags and in all the creases with a can of permethrin. This stuff will kill any bug on contact. It will not kill the eggs, so you will need to find a dryer in coming days or wait until it gets hot enough to put the bag into a black garbage bag for a day or two in the hot sun.


Do all of these things and you should be fine. Remember, the best defence is checking before you even get a problem. If you do have a problem, your best weapon is the plastic bag. Anything that has a chance of being exposed, including your clothes goes straight into a plastic bag until you have time and space to deal with it effectively. After all of this stuff, if you get the opportunity to throw your stuff into a dryer, definitely take it, because the last thing you want to be doing is taking these little bastards home!

Happy killing spree and ridding your stuff of these awful vermin… and remember, goodnight, sleep tight, don’t let the bed bugs bite!




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