When it comes to backpacking and budget traveling, staying in places you wouldn’t let your pet stay at sometimes comes into play. It’s the price you pay to see the world. However, it’s the places that seem really nice that you have to look out for.
I first experienced bed bugs back in 2011 when I was traveling in Greece. Me and my travel partner booked a hotel room close to the pier in Athens to catch a ferry the following morning. The hotel was pretty nice, nicer than what we had previously stayed in. She pulled a blanket out of the closet and we passed out. The next morning I noticed about 5-6 bites in a row on my inner elbow and some more along my side. She had the same type of bites on her body as well. We soon realized it was bed bugs. We wrapped our clothes in a separate bag and packed them away. Once we got to Santorini we laid our blankets, towels, and our clothes outside on the ground of our hotel to let it set in the sun. It was extremely hot out. Probably the hottest I’ve ever experienced traveling to any country. After a solid 9 hours in the sun, we knew they were dead if we contracted them. And that was that, no more bed bugs.
Well, I wish this was the case in Chile. Catching bed bugs here was one of the worst things that has ever happened to me in my entire life. I would not wish this upon anyone. For two weeks I was so miserable and itchy that it almost ruined a good portion of my time. And come to find out, I didn’t even get it near as bad as some fellow travelers. Mine case wasn’t nothing compared to theirs.
I stayed at a hostel in a little surf town in Iquique, Chile. Theres not a lot of options to stay in this town, but the place itself is highly recommended if your passing through. I booked two nights and and then was heading to San Pedro De Atacama in a few days. I booked one of the only two hostels in this town right on the beach. And at first, I thought it was perfect. The vibe was nice, the rooms were great, and it had a big kitchen. Little did I know this place would almost be the death of me. After my first night I was chilling in the common area and two guys were talking about how they had to sleep on the couches down there. I asked them why and they lifted up their shirt and each of hem had around 100 bites all over their backs and side. Then they showed me a picture of an actual bed bug they found in their bed. They weren’t staying in a dorm room and was in a private room on another floor, so I didn’t even think anything about it.
Later on that night I realized I had to switch bus times and had to take a 1am bus instead. So I packed my things and was hanging out in common area talking to the bed bug guys. I noticed a small bump on my right arm that was starting to itch. I thought it was a mosquito bite. I loaded on my bus and headed to San Pedro. Over night my one bite turned into many on my arm. And not only that, I was having an allergic reaction. I’ve never had allergies or anything in my 29 years of living until now. one I got to my hostel, my arm was so swollen I didn’t know what to do. My entire body itched like crazy.
I found the only pharmacy in town and showed them my arm. The women told me it looked like bed bugs or fly bites and I needed to take a high dose of allergy medicine and some steroid cream. I go back to my hostel and try to lay down and relax. That didn’t work. My body wouldn’t stop itching and I felt like they were crawling all over me. The next morning I woke up and went on a tour. Towards the end of the tour my body starts itching uncontrollably. I felt like the bugs were in my clothes. I get back and notice a couple more bites than yesterday, but these were on my left arm. I get back to my hotel and immediately shower.
The next day I woke up and realized there was even more bites one me. I knew then these bugs more than likely traveled with me in my bag. The thing about bed bugs is, they don’t hang on to your clothes simply because your body puts off to much heat. They like to hide and stay doormat in matters, purses, bags, backpacks, etc. All the stuff that doesn’t have a lot of movement and where they can hide in crevices. Since I was stuck in the middle of nowhere with no dryer in site, I knew I was screwed. Heat is the only thing that will kill these things and here I was, in the driest place on earth, that’s normally so hot and humid it would have done the trick in a day, but yet it decided to rain every single day for a week straight! I had to get somewhere quick!
I caught a 16 hour bus ride down to La Serena. I walked into my hostel and immediately informed them my bed bug situation. I didn’t want to spread these things to anyone. I asked them to help me. I emptied my backpack and purse out on the roof and took all my clothes, including my smaller purse and backpack and wrapped them up in a black trash bag. I then took my big backpack and wrapped it up as well and threw in on the roof to let it soak in the sun for a couple of days. I went down the street and bought all new underwear, bra, shorts, and a top and dropped all my laundry off at the laundry mat and old them I needed lots of “Caliente!!” And then I waited for two days. I still didn’t feel clean. I still itched. I still thought they were in my hair and all over my body. After I got my clothes back and repacked my entire life back into my bags I figured they had to be gone. I did all the proper requirements to kill them. This all took over a week. A week of dreadful bites and pain. Waking up 50 times in the middle of night itching. Thoughts of bugs crawling on you at all times. And even after I knew they were gone, I still itched and felt like they were still there. My bites didn’t go away for almost 3 weeks and I have a couple of scars from them on my arm.
People always asked me how I knew they were bed bugs. Well, bed bugs bite in a row, usually in the same spot or area multiple times. And yes, you can see them. They are usually translucent until they start feeding on you. Then they turn a dark, reddish brown color from your blood. They only come out at night-time to feed. And when they are full, they hide again and you might not get bit for another 3 months sleeping in the same bed! The crazy thing about these critters is that you can get bit 40 times in one night, and your bites might not show up until 10 days later! Yes, its true! My bites kept showing up day by day. Which is why when you’re traveling, it’s so hard to figure out where you contracted these things.
A little bit of advice: Never put your backpack on your bed or anywhere near beds. Always leave it on the floor. Don’t empty your backpack out on your bed. They can cling onto you clothes and end up in your backpack in 2 seconds. I always strip down my sheets and look in the crevices of my mattress now because I’m so terrified of contracting these things again. Apparently in South America, bed bugs are very common. I spoke to over 10 people who got them while traveling through Chile and Argentina. And I was the lucky one that only had about 20 bites compared to 100’s!!