Many people ask me about bedbugs on the Camino. I think there is the impression that they are rife along the Frances route and I hear of stories where people are spraying their gear and themselves with all sorts of chemicals in order to prevent bedbugs. I am here to put your mind at rest and let you know that they are not as common as people perceive and in all my Camino trips I have never had a bed-bug bite. I have also only ever heard of three people who have had bites.
When I was preparing for my first Camino trip I was a little bit obsessed with bed bugs. The thought of sleeping in a bunk bed where lots of other people had slept previously was bad enough, but to think that there were these little vampire blood sucking creatures waiting for some fresh skin to get their little teeth in blood-sucking with dread!
I watched YouTube videos, spend time on the forums and spent money on Amazon (no surprise there!). Below are my top tips to help prevent getting bed bugs, however, some people are simply bed bug magnets, so if you do get bitten, then I will also give you my tips for aftercare. (Note, I am not a doctor!).
#1 - Keep Your Rucksack OFF the Bed
Bedbugs do not stay with warm and cosy beds, no, they also like rucksacks! Some Albergues are very strict about putting your dirty rucksack on a bunk bed, but others quite lapse. Along the Camino, transporting the bedbugs from one hostel to another via your rucksack is the easiest way to spread the infestation. So please, the very first rule of thumb is to keep your bag on the floor, or in the locker provided. DO NOT, at any cost, put your backpack on your bed. If we educate all pilgrims to get into this habit then we will naturally reduce the infestation.
If you see another pilgrim with their rucksack on the bunk then it is certainly worth spreading the "none bedbug" love!
#2 - How to check for bedbugs
When you arrive at a hostel or B&B, then get into the habit of checking for bed bugs. I have spotted a few and have asked to be moved. They are about the size of a poppy seed, and you will see them towards the headboard, or in the seam of the mattress. I know this sounds gross, but you can sometimes see a little red/dark brown marks on the wall where the bedbug poop is. (yuck!).
#3 - Wear bedclothes that cover your skin
If you are sleeping in your underwear then you have a higher risk of being bitten. Bed Bugs like exposed skin (yummy!). I have very thin base layers that I sleep in that cover my body, which is not too hot.
#4 - Use Silk Sleep Sheet (or bed bug sheet)
On my first Camino trip, I used a bed bug sheet that I purchased on Amazon. This was a similar material to a net curtain and was rather useless as it didn't fit any of the beds! It did offer a little bit of protection, but I would avoid purchasing bed bug sheets from Amazon.
I felt more secure in my silk sleep sheet. This is lightweight and is similar to a sleeping bag and gives you great protection. I used mine with my own pillow and I slept so much better. I like to pose like a starfish in my sleep, so the wide envelope style suits my needs better than a "mummy" version - but each to their own.
#5 - Perform a shakedown!
Before you pack up in the morning always shake out your sleeping bag, sleep sheet, pillow and anything else that has been near your bed. I always give my rucksack a bit of a shake when I am outside before putting it on my back.
#6 - Don't panic if you find a bite!
Unless you are one of those people who suffer terribly from insect bites, then you will most likely be ok. I have never heard of anyone being hospitalised on the Camino due to bed-bugs. After speaking with Carmel and Emma who both had bed bug bites, they say it was just infuriatingly itchy! The pharmacist will tell you not to scratch, but we all know how impossible that is!
#7 - If you are bitten, then you need to tell someone!
Often, you may not realise that you have been bitten until the morning. At this point, it is your responsibility to inform the host so that they can manage the situation and prevent the infestation from being spread. If you are already on the road and then you develop itching, then please inform the next albergue host that you have this issue and let them know where the biting session happened. All of the hosts will chat with each other and work together to sort out the problem so that it is not spread. If they don't know about it then they can not deal with the problem. I know you may feel embarrassed, but it is important to voice your concerns.
#8 - Let the de-bugging begin!
So, you have been bitten and you are not panicking. You have informed the people that need to know and now you need to look after number one - you and your kit!
- Place ALL of your possessions on the ground (outside) and spray with Permethrin or other bug insecticide known to be effective against bed bugs. You can purchase this before you go and have it handy in your pack, or you can try and purchase it on the Camino. All of your possessions includes clothes, boots, rucksack, sleep sheet, sleeping bag, jacket etc.
- Next, wash them by hand or a washing machine with hot water and dry in a hot dryer.
- If you are in a bigger town and have the finances, take everything including your clothes, sleeping bag and backpack to the dry cleaners as that will certainly do the trick and kill them off instantly!
Another option (if it is hot weather and finances are a bit low), is to place everything into a black dustbin liner and leave it in the hot sun for a whole day. Shake everything down and then wash all of your clothes, boots, sleeping sheet etc in hot soapy water. Heat kills bed bugs.
#9 - If you like gadgets, purchase a bed bug light!
Yes, you can buy a little UV penlight that can detect bed bugs (and cat urine!). I have been tempted but have not yet made the purchase. I like the idea but as I have already walked five Camino's and not yet been bitten, I can not justify the extra hassle, cost or weight. If you were interested, then here is a link to one that I have found on Amazon. Happy bed bug hunting!
As mentioned numerous times above, being bitten by bed bugs on the Camino is not as common as you may think. If you follow some of the above advice then I am sure you will have a "Beun Camino".