Crazy Travel Stories #12: That One Time I Got Bed Bugs in Belgium…

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.

HOWEVER.

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 Belgiumโ€ฆ

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!

— Rebecca

51 thoughts on “Crazy Travel Stories #12: That One Time I Got Bed Bugs in Belgium…

    1. It actually wasn’t super simple to get rid of them, as I had to wash and dry my clothes TWICE to make sure no traces were left. Since then, I’ve been ultra-paranoid about bedbugs when I travel. Upon getting to my accommodation, I strip the bedsheets and check the entire room for indications of bedbugs. It’s a bit much, but it’s better to be safe than sorry!

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  1. As far as I know it happened to me once, in Panama. I spent several days in a hotel and then the rest of the stay in road trip mode. I came back to the first hotel the day before I had to fly, I got a different room. As soon as I arrived I noticed the bugs running around on the beds. I killed as many as I could, then spent the night sitting on a chair with the light on to deter them. When I got back to Toronto I washed and dried everything very hot, throwing away some of it, and the luggage spent many days on the terrace in very negative temperatures (Toronto). For a year I kept a close eye on my bedding, nothing. Now I do as you do when I arrive at the hotel, I undo the bed before anything else.

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    1. Do you know if they were, in fact, bedbugs? Did you get bitten by them? Encountering bedbugs on your trip is terrifying, and it can certainly make a stressful trip even more stressful. Glad you also take precautions when you travel!

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      1. No doubt they were bedbugs, but I am fortunate that I have never been bitten. When I am looking for accommodation, “bedbug” in a comment is a strong alarm.

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  2. So sorry to hear this happened to you. Thanks for keeping it real, though. Most people just want to share the sparkly parts of travel. Until you said you likely got the bugs in Ghent, not gonna lie, I suspected the roommate who was bothered by your hair drying had something to do with it! (Oops!) I hope you never again encounter bed bugs during your travels!!

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    1. Haha, that’s a speculation for Brussels! But I really think that it originated from Ghent, just because I spotted the bedbug there. I haven’t come across bedbugs after another incident shortly after Belgium’s (to be recounted in another post), and let’s hope I never encounter bedbugs again!

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  3. Someone from our group in Tibet had bedbugs. They were really good at containing and destroying them so they weren’t passed on to anyone else in our small minibus. I felt so bad for them though, the bite marks looked awful. We were paranoid for a while after that so I understand how paranoid you must have been. Maggie

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    1. Yes, bedbugs are horrifying, and the welts can be huge and swollen. You also feel so disgusting, as your body had been attacked by such gross creatures. Good thing you didn’t get them from your group!

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  4. When I saw this was a story about bed bugs I couldn’t have imagined you’d be telling a tale from Belgium! Bedbugs are, as you say, horrific. I have encountered them on several occasions, once in India, once in Thailand. Luckily, my discovery came quickly on each occasion and I got the hell out of dodge! Hopefully, this and your other story will be your only bedbug tales in a long and illustrious travelling career.

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    1. You had close calls! I had a similar close-call in Istanbul, but fortunately saw the bedbug, killed it, and asked to be put up in another hotel. I’ll be telling the second bedbug tale (which honestly felt worse than Belgium’s) later this year, and I hope never to cross them again!

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    1. I miss traveling, but I certainly don’t miss bedbugs! Thankfully, I haven’t let a few bad instances ruin my love for travel, and it’s just a matter of taking precautions to ensure that it doesn’t happen again in the future!

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    1. That’s horrible! What’s worse about that is that you’re in a moving vehicle, and you can’t necessarily get out of there until the journey is over. Hope you weren’t bitten (or at least not too badly)!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. I can only recount one time that I got food poisoning on my travels, and they aren’t pleasant, either…but having gone through these tough moments, we’re definitely stronger than before!

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  5. Oooh, that is terrifying. Bedbugs are no fun. Those things need to be kill it with fire.
    Sorry that your trip got off a rocky start but the good thing that came out of it is to learn and avoid it in the future. Not every trips would be peachy, your always bound to run into problems no matter where you go or what you do.
    I do want to go to Belgium in the future, once the pandemic dies down and getting myself vaccinated so I can travel again.

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    1. Basically! Bedbugs are notoriously difficult to kill, but taking measures to avoid or get rid of them can save a lot of headache and trauma in the long run. Belgium is a lovely country, and I encourage you to go when you can!

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  6. This is one of my biggest fears. I used to pull back the covers and inspect the bed each time I arrived at a new accommodation, but I’ve gotten complacent in the last several years. Thanks for making me renew my commitment to that measure.

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    1. Yes, I find some hostels not clean enough, and it makes me nervous. But I try to keep my area contained and clean as much as I can. I can imagine that post-pandemic, sanitation in the hospitality industry will be through the roof…and for a good reason!

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  7. When I moved into my dusty apartment in Lisbon, I got bitten by something that I thought was a bed bug. It was a frightening moment. Fortunately some good Americans in the expat group helped me identified that it was just a single incident of a single insect bite. My landlord was also very kind to hire a company to disinfect and clean the apartment. I’ve since discussed bedbug issues with several people, each of them who encountered the situation was traumatized. I sincerely hope the hotels could take measures to thoroughly clean the rooms, even though it was the traveler who brought them, but it started from somewhere.

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    1. What a relief it wasn’t bedbugs! Having them in hotels/hostels is bad enough, but to have them in your own dwelling would be terrifying. Unfortunately, bedbugs are notorious to kill, so a hotel/hostel would basically need to shut down in order to contain and kill those blasted creatures.

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  8. As glamorous as Instagram and travel magazines might make it seem, travel isnโ€™t always glittering and glamorous. There are long bus rides, bedbugs, upset tummies, and blistered feet to name a few ugly sides of travel. On top of that luggage gets lost, hostels donโ€™t exist, people donโ€™t show up when they say they will. But in my humble opinion the ugly sides of travel are just as important as the good ones because that’s how we grow, embrace, learn to let go and experience life as it is. Thanks for sharing and have a good day. Aiva ๐Ÿ™‚

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    1. Wise words, Aiva! Even if the bad sides of travel do exist, they pale in comparison to the multitude of beautiful and joyous moments of travel. It’s important to remain curious and inspired about travel, and continue to move forward despite it all. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

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  9. Oh my, I’m sorry you had to go through that. I wonder if there’s instant relief over the counter medicine for the bites? This happened to me once but I was not travelling. I was in a resto having a good brunch with my friends. I think the chair I was sitting in had them as all of a sudden I felt itchy and it was unbearable I had to excuse myself and leave.

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    1. I believe there’s anti-itching cream to counteract the itchiness, but I didn’t buy any and just chose to ride it out until they stopped itching. The swelling is the worse part, as that takes weeks to disappear and having them on your body is an unsightly look to behold. Hope you hadn’t contracted bedbugs at that brunch, and that it was mites or mosquitos…

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  10. This truly sounds like a horror story to me!! Mid way through your post I was thinking that I should ask you the name of the manor-like hostel in Ghent because it sounded so cool, but now I’m not so curious anymore! ๐Ÿ˜ I have never had anything of this sort happening to me, and truly hope I never will, but I will for sure be on the lookout for small insects in hostel bed sheets from now on!!

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    1. You’re lucky you haven’t had this happen to you yet! Bedbugs can be anywhere, not just in hostels: I’ve heard horror stories from hotels, too. The second bedbug incident I had actually came from Couchsurfing, strangely enough, but that will have to be for another post!

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  11. I’ve- luckily!- never had a run in with bedbugs. My tent was once invaded by giant slugs when we were camping in Germany and I’ve not gotten over it. Woke up through the night to discover they’d all crept in around us. Like something out of a low budget horror movie!

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    1. I can imagine just how slimy they could be! I’d take slugs over bedbugs any day, but neither are pleasant, that’s for sure! Thanks for sharing your experience. ๐Ÿ˜Š

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