Travel is a wonderful means of discovering various places in terms of their culture, food, language, people, and customs. There is a romanticized beauty of getting lost in the beauty of a town you’re in, of happening upon strangers who become your friends, of reveling in a night out and waiting until it’s dawn to catch the sunrise…traveling is truly a wonderful thing that brings a lot of joy to one’s life.
Travel also comes with its ugly moments. From the stress of missing your flight to the horrors of getting your wallet stolen, there are truly unpleasant times that occur while on the road. I’ve had my fair share of bad cases, like crippling food poisoning or getting mugged by a petty thief, but I would say that the worst, by far, has got to be my experience with bed bugs.
Bed bugs are devilish creatures, truly the spawn of Satan himself, which do not deserve a place on this Earth for the physical and psychological trauma they bring to their victims. They are notoriously difficult to pinpoint and to kill, and they make an otherwise-relaxing holiday far from it. I had the unfortunate experience of getting bitten not once, but twice, in my early days of solo travel. Here’s the first story for you:
Crazy Travel Story #12: That One Time I Got Bed Bugs in Belgium…
It was October 2015. I was 22, just a couple of months fresh out of college and living on my own abroad in France for my first year as an English teaching assistante. I was about a month into my job when I got my first, two-week school holiday, and I decided to spend the first week of it exploring Belgium. I planned to visit three cities– Bruges, Ghent, and Brussels– in that order, and soon enough, I was on the train over to Bruges to begin my adventures just across the border.
I had a fun, two-night stay in Bruges before I headed off to Ghent. The place I stayed at in Ghent was in a former manor that’d since been converted into a hostel, and besides its gorgeous, austere architecture, it also offered lovely views of the Old Town just outside from where my bunk was situated. Another enjoyable two nights in Ghent, and I was soon off to Brussels as my final stop.
Compared to my visits in the previous two cities, the Belgian capital turned out to be a lackluster one. I attributed it to my poor planning, as I only gave myself one night in the massive city before I was to catch a flight to Prague for the second week of vacances. But I also found parts of the city rather run-down and unsafe; I even had some creepy men lurking behind me while I was taking photos with my travel buddies at the Grand Place, which made me really uncomfortable.
The hostel in Brussels wasn’t bad, but it definitely wasn’t the pretty, Gothic-like one I’d stayed at in Ghent. Plus, one of my bunkmates got pissed at me for waking her up close to midnight with my showering and hair blow-drying; I ended up apologizing to her the next morning and we reconciled, but I still felt bad for being inconsiderate.
Any case, it was that following morning that I woke up and packed up to check out of the hostel and explore Brussels that the itching began. First, it began on my shoulders, which I’d attributed to my backpack strap irritating me, but then it spread to my neck, then chest, even my face! It became extremely unbearable as I was scratching (and scratching and scratching…) as I was trying to enjoy my sightseeing in Brussels.
I had no idea why I was suddenly so damn itchy…it honestly wasn’t until I left the city and arrived in Prague that I told my travel mate there that she told me it was most likely bed bugs. As soon as she told me the symptoms associated with bed bug bites, I went into full-blown panic mode! Not only was I covered in painfully-itchy welts that were swelling with each growing minute, but god forbid that I also inadvertently carried them with me in my backpack and on my clothes!
Action was required immediately. Upon checking in at the hostel in Prague, I told the receptionist that I’d contracted bed bugs at the previously destination I’d visited, and that I needed to get ALL of my clothes washed and dried pronto. Both in high heat to kill those blasted buggers. I also dug through my backpack to make sure I didn’t see any trace of bed bugs or eggs that’d hitched a ride from Belgium to Prague (didn’t see anything), and I also went out to buy some cheap clothes to wear as the hostel washed my clothes. Even after I did that, I even took them to the nearby Laundromat to make extra sure that no traces of bed bug remnants were on them.
To be honest, the ideal would’ve been to throw my clothes away, or even burn them, but I still had a week to go on my travels, and there was no way in hell I was going to buy so many clothes to make up for what those nightmarish creatures did to me…as for the bites I’d received, I had to suffer the rest of my time in Prague with them; I did my darndest not to scratch, and very slowly did they disappear. It wasn’t until towards the end of the trip that I more-or-less “recovered” from the itchiness. I will say, though, I still have faint scars from those bites, even five years later.
I always wondered just exactly when and where did I encountered those damn bed bugs? For the longest time, I’d believed it’d been at the Brussels’s hostel, when the itching began. But more recently, I started to believe that it was actually as early as in Ghent; I recall my last night there, I noticed a small, reddish-brown insect crawling on my bed. I killed it, and I noticed some blood on the sheets after I disposed of the body. Given I’d never encountered bed bugs prior to that, I’d assumed it was just some weird, harmless bug. Little did I know that it was, in fact, a bed bug, and I should’ve requested to move rooms, heck, even hostels, IMMEDIATELY after that incident.
That event traumatized me for the longest time. It made me paranoid, as I ended up tearing through every hostel or hotel bed sheets and mattresses every time I traveled. Even typing this out is making my skin crawl, even in the comforts of my home. This incident in Belgium wasn’t the only one, though, as a second encounter occurred just barely two months later. But more on that in another post…
Have you encountered bed bugs on your travels? Let me know!