Don’t Let the Bedbugs Bite! 

          After hearing about how bedbugs have infested the city of New York and have now spread to other major cities of the world such as London, I have been on the lookout for the little critters wherever in the world I might be traveling.  I look for them whenever I check into lodging of any kind and am happy to report that I have never seen any signs of bedbugs anywhere I have stayed in the United States, Europe or China in the last several years.  As our regular readers know, I stay in all kinds of lodgings, including hostels, dorms, pensions, bed and breakfasts, ship staterooms and hotels, as long as they meet my standards of safety, cleanliness, location and good value. 

What Are Bedbugs? 

          Bedbugs are small parasitic insects (cimex lectularius) that feed on human blood, mostly at night.  They are reddish-brown, have six legs and at approximately ¼ inch in length or the size of a grain of rice, they are visible to the human eye.  The adult can live for almost one year without a blood meal, accounting for the difficulty in eradicating these pesty nuisances.  Bedbugs have been around for thousands of years and their recent resurgence can, in part, be attributed to increased resistance to pesticides and the increase in world travel.  Infestations have been known to occur in five star hotels, airplanes, cruise ships, buses and trains, not to mention hospitals, schools and dorms.  They hitchhike from one place to another on pets, clothing, luggage and sleeping bags.  It only takes one ‘hitchhiker’ to bring an infestation back to your own home.  Once there, they can take up residence in your beds, carpets, furniture and almost any dark place where they can hide while they wait for you to come near.  Interestingly, they are attracted by body warmth and the carbon dioxide (CO2) that we exhale and use this mechanism to locate their next meal.  

What to Look For  

          Immediately after checking into lodging, I inspect my room for signs of bedbugs, so that I could still refuse the room if any were found.  Not surprisingly, the bed is the main place to check, but is not the only area where bedbugs are inclined to hide.  They are experts at avoiding discovery, hiding in dark places like furniture and carpets, as well as behind electrical outlet plates, door and window casings and under night stands.  Using a flashlight if necessary, I pull back and inspect the sheets, blankets and mattress cover on at least two corners of the bed and directly inspect the mattress itself, particularly in the crevices.  Checking the mattress is the most important part of your inspection and the very least that you should do whenever you are checking into lodging.  Telltale signs include reddish blood stains from crushed bugs and rusty, sometimes dark spots from their excrement.  In some cases, you might even see crawling insects and in severe infestations there may be an odor of almonds or over-ripe raspberries. 

Additional Precautions 

          If you are making lodging reservations ahead of time, you might want to check the internet to see if there have been any reports of bedbugs at that location.  Google the ‘hotel name’ and ‘bedbugs’ to see if anything turns up.  An isolated report is not necessarily a deal breaker, but several reports for the same hotel might be.  Once at the hotel, after determining that there are no overt signs of bedbug infestation, it is still a good idea to take a few precautions.  Do not place your luggage on the bed or carpet!  You can place your luggage on the luggage rack provided, after carefully inspecting it, of course, and keeping it away from the wall.  Some veteran travelers recommend putting your luggage on the bathroom tile floor if there is any question.  On returning home from your trip, leave your luggage in the garage or outside the main part of your house, if possible, until you can do a careful inspection and vacuum it thoroughly.  Wash all clothes whether dirty or not before bringing them into the house.

Good Night, Sleep Tight and Don’t Worry 

          If you are bitten by bedbugs, the sites most commonly affected are the areas of the body that are exposed while sleeping, such as the face, neck and extremities.  The good news is that bedbugs are not known to transmit diseases and the rash is self-limiting and resolves without treatment.  Severe itching can be treated with topical steroids or antihistamines.  Remember that taking a few precautions to prevent bedbug infestation is far easier than eradicating an infestation, which usually requires professional exterminators.  Once again, I have never encountered bedbugs in all my travels and I would not let my distaste for these annoying critters discourage me from exploring this incredible world!          

Travel Insurance

Travel Insurance…An Important Consideration         

          For the first time in all my years of wandering the world, I purchased travel insurance for my trip to China last summer.  Unsure of the medical care that would be available in some of the out of the way places that I planned to visit, it seemed prudent to have coverage in case of the unexpected.  While there are a number of different types of travel insurance which can be purchased in combinations or separately depending on your needs, there are three basic types that should be considered before a trip.  First there is trip cancellation insurance which might be wise depending on the upfront cost of your trip, particularly for older travelers.  Since the only upfront investment for my trip was the plane fare, I decided I did not need this.  The second type is health care or medical insurance.  It is important to check with your health insurance provider in your home country to see if you are covered while traveling overseas.  If not, it is wise to purchase supplemental coverage while traveling.  Fortunately, my insurer does cover me wherever I travel, so I decided I also did not need this.  The third type of travel insurance is coverage for medical evacuation, and this I decided I should have.

A Worthwhile Expenditure

          I was surprised to learn how reasonable medical evacuation coverage was considering the staggering costs if one had to pay for it out of pocket…we’re talking thousands and thousands of dollars!  The cost of medical evacuation insurance is based on your age and where you are going and I was able to purchase coverage from FrontierMEDEX for a few dollars a day.  Thankfully, I didn’t need to use it, but it was reassuring to know that while I was out in the hinterlands of China they would have brought me back dead or alive.  Travel insurance is an important consideration for anyone venturing out of the country and, as I found out, it is easy and economical to tailor a policy specifically suited to your individual needs.