How to avoid bed bugs while travelling 

Bed bugs may be plaguing Paris, but don’t let them hitchhike on your holiday. A quick and easy guide to spotting, avoiding and removing bed bugs while travelling.

Paris is under siege. An army of little critters is sneaking into homes, hotels and – apparently – buses and trains across the City of Lights. The first sightings were reported just prior to Paris Fashion Week, but infestations have erupted across the French capital following a huge summer tourist season. Forget Emily, it’s the bed bugs in Paris everyone is talking about right now, but is the six-legged scourge really that serious? 

What are bed bugs? 

Bed bugs are tiny blood-sucking parasites with six legs and a small, flat, brown body that measures around 5mm long. They’re wingless but very good at catching a ride on clothing and belongings. While the bite of a bed bug doesn’t spread disease or infection, it can cause little red itchy bites that cause varying levels of discomfort, depending upon the severity. Bed bugs are most active at night and survive long stretches without eating. They tend to live in nooks, crannies, cracks and crevices of textile surfaces such as beds, box springs, bedheads, couches and other furniture. Bed bugs are attracted to heat and prefer worn clothing, and look balloon-like, reddish-brown and more elongated after feeding. 

Bed bugs in Paris 

Bed bugs are a fairly common pest across many countries, including Australia, and they tend to occur in high-density housing and short-term accommodation. It isn’t surprising to hear that France is suffering an outbreak given that Paris was the world’s most visited city in 2022, welcoming around 44 million tourists, and the post-pandemic 2023 summer season was one of the biggest yet. A survey by ANSES found that, between 2017 and 2022, 11% of French households experienced bed bug infestations, so this isn’t necessarily something new, it’s just more widely publicised. 

a bed bug on fabric
A bed bug. © Canva

The spread of bed bugs to London and beyond 

While rumblings about Parisian bed bugs making an escape to England via London have been heard, it’s unlikely the English capital will experience an unprecedented infestation. In fact, data released by Rentokil in September 2023 suggests the UK experienced its own surge in bed bugs, reporting a 65% increase in infestations from 2022 to 2023. English microbiologist and founder of Bed Bugs Ltd, David Cain, told Sky News, “I think there’s probably a similar level of issue in London as there is in Paris at present.”

Eurostar is also reportedly taking additional measures to battle the bed bug outbreak, with textile surfaces on all trains regularly cleaned using hot-water injection and extraction cleaning, which Eurostar claims has proven highly effective in eliminating bugs. Eurostar also plans to introduce preventive treatment across its entire network.

What are the first signs of bed bugs? 

When travellers arrive at their accommodation, be it a hostel, Airbnb, hotel or otherwise, the first thing they should do is pull back the sheets on the bed and check the mattress. Rentokil suggests looking for rust-cloured, black or brown tiny dots, pale yellow eggs around 1mm long, a sickly sweet, musty odour, and the bugs themselves. Pay close attention to the mattress seams nearest the wall. Check the mattress, bed base, bed frame and bedhead thoroughly.

a man packing a suitcase
© Pexels/Vlada Karpovich

What do bed bug bites look like?

According to the Victoria Department of Health, bed bug bites are small, red, itchy bumps that often appear in a line or small cluster. People will notice new bites when they wake up. Bites are most likely to occur on legs, arms and shoulders. While some people experience no reaction or mild reactions to the bites, people with allergies to the insects can experience intense itchy wheals up to the size of a fifty cent coin. Severe allergic reactions are rare but do happen. Topical ointments or antihistamines from a pharmacy can alleviate mild effects.

What to do if your accommodation has bed bugs 

If travellers find signs of bed bugs in their room, they should notify the staff immediately and request a new room as far from the infested room as possible. If the hostel, Airbnb or hotel is unable to provide a new room, it’s recommended to stay in a different hotel. Travellers should then examine their suitcases, bags and clothing for any insects that might be trying to catch a ride to a new home. 

checking mattress for bed bugs
Check the mattress. © Canva

How to avoid bed bugs while travelling

  • Never put your suitcase on the bed, store it on a metal luggage rack. 
  • Never unpack clothes into cupboards or drawers, keep clean clothes in plastic ziplock bags inside a zipped-up suitcase.
  • Keep worn or dirty clothes in a separate, tightly sealed plastic bag inside your suitcase as these biters are attracted to worn clothes.
  • Keep your room cool if possible, as the insects thrive in warm environments between 21°C and 32°C. 
  • Regularly check your suitcase for bugs and in concerning accommodation conditions, cover it with a plastic bag. 
  • When you get home, unpack your suitcase away from your bedroom, ideally on a hard floor in a garage as bed bugs can get into the carpet. 
  • Wash every item of clothing in the hottest wash possible (a minimum of 60°C is best) with detergent for 30 minutes, then dry in a clothes dryer. This will kill and remove both insects and eggs. 
  • Put shoes in a black plastic bag and leave them in the sun to heat up for several hours to kill any present insects.
  • Freezing items can also kill the critters, so small items in the freezer for a week can also help. 
  • If an infestation is suspected, never try to treat it yourself. Always hire a professional.

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