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Travel Myth - Hostels Will Have Bed Bugs

In which we determine that hostels are not bed bug hotbeds...

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Picture of Bedbugs and Eggs

Picture of Bedbugs and Eggs

© Dodson Urban Pest Management Lab at Virginia Tech
Bottom line: bed bugs are simply not the travel scourge your mother thinks they are for student travelers and backpackers. Bed bugs don't transmit disease and hostels don't harbor 'em any more than do hoity hotels (which, in fact, do occasionally host the buggers). Let's lay some myths to rest and learn that bed bugs are not the ultimate bane of backpackers, as well as how to identify bed bugs, bed bug sign in lodgings, treat bed bug bites, how to avoid bedbugs in lodgings and kill bedbugs if they decide to travel with you (they're worldly little things).

Bed Bug Myths

1. Hostels Will Have Bed Bugs

    Hostels have no more bed bug incidents than do other lodgings. Greg Baumann, vice president of technical services at National Pest Management says, "There are no data to support that hostels have a higher incidence of bed bugs (than hotels)." (Nonetheless, some folks, like your mother, will always fear hostels are bed bug hotbeds.)

    In 2005, bed bugs became a hot travel topic when they started turning up in some pretty posh digs. They had virtually disappeared from the US lodging scene until a 1972 DDT insecticide ban; the spray once used on cockroaches and other pests turned out to have been an effective way to kill bed bugs, too. A favorite cockroach catching method became traps rather than DDT, and a subsequent resurgence of bed bugs meant guests were being bitten in fine hotels, where (according to some accounts) the staff routinely denied the critters' presence. In Europe, the bugs never really left, according to Orkin spokesperson Martha Craft -- one reason that hostels, which are most common in Europe, know all about the little blood eaters.

    Canada's Pest Control writes of bed bug hotel infestations: "The stigma attached to these parasites is influencing some hotels and other accommodations to ignore infestations or treat them without professional help. Lack of professional treatment comes with great risks, notably the possibility of litigation." Reading between the lines, we can deduce that there's no way in Hades some hotels will agree that those red bumps on your body are bed bug evidence -- and a US desk clerk may not even know what bed bug bites really look like, anyway.

    Hostels, on the other hand, have long acknowledged the bugs' presence in the lodging world, especially outside the United States, and many take steps accordingly. Some actively tell you what to look for (read more on spotting bed bugs), and some hostels don't allow sleeping bags or sleep sacks in hostel dorms partly because yours can carry bed bugs (they like traveling as much as you do). Bed bugs also hitchhike on backpacks -- be careful if you bring your bag into your hostel dorm. (See some tips on avoiding bedbugs in hostels.)

    And, of course, many folks assume the bugs come with the territory of filthy hostels (another myth -- that all hostels are filthy by nature). Bed bugs don't care about clean, though.

    Where some truth may lie in the hostels-always-have-bedbugs myth is that the sheer density of people possible in one hostel dorm room can create a higher possibility of the bugs' appearance than in a hotel room used by a couple of travelers at a time, according to Baumann. If twelve backpackers are sleeping in one room, twelve chances are created for bugs to hop off one backpacker's stuff and into yours, or into the hostel dorm furniture. (Bed bugs do like to sleep around, and they can be found in chairs as easily as in beds.) Again, though, there is no evidence to support the idea that hostels are more prone to infestation than other lodgings; in fact, given the higher likelihood of infestation and bed bug transference in a hostel because of sheer traveler numbers, it's remarkable that that likelihood does not translate into an actual higher infestation incidence in hostels than hotels.

Let's move to the next page to learn about bed bug bites and disease (another myth).

"The rewards of the journey far outweigh the risk of leaving the harbor."
--Unknown

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