I’m not going to say everyone hates creepy crawly things – entomologists exist after all – but at least most of us do. We tend to deal with these creepy crawlies because at least we know what kind of pests we might expect to find in our own backyard. Traveling abroad, however, opens up a whole new can of worms, literally. Following are some suggestions to help keep you safe from pests when traveling.
Mosquitoes, Ticks, and Tsetse Flies
While a bug bite here in the States will seldom do more then leave you irritated and scratching at it, bug bites abroad can be serious business. Dengue fever, malaria, or sleeping sickness—which are potentially life threatening illnesses—are just a few of the horrifying possibilities, and all of them are transmitted by insect bites.
Your first line of defense is to avoid areas where the bugs are prevalent. If that fails, keep covered and wear plenty of bug spray. A compound of 50% DEET is preferred. Wear long-sleeved shirts, pants instead of shorts, boots instead of sandals or open-toed shoes, and tuck your pants into your socks to protect your ankles, a favorite spot for mosquitoes.
In areas prone to ticks, like grasslands and treed areas, keep your hair covered as well and inspect for ticks regularly. If you are sleeping in the open or in an unventilated area, you need to use a mosquito net around your sleeping area to protect yourself through the night.
Tsetse flies are attracted to airborne dirt, so if you’re riding in an open car, it’s preferable to sit up front to avoid them. You’ll want to wear light-colored clothing and avoid yellow, the color reminds many arthropods of the food they eat and might attract them to you. Finally, there are medications that can protect you from some of these illnesses, so check with your physician well in advance of traveling.
Bed bugs are a problem at hotels and hostels around the world. In order to avoid bringing the six-legged hitchhikers home with you, do a visual inspection of your room upon entering. Look at the bedding, pull back the sheets and check the mattress for critters, and check floors. They are keen on carpeted and soft areas, like your luggage, so DO NOT set your suitcases down on beds or floors. Instead, upon entering your room, it’s best to put them up high on a shelf or in a tiled bathroom where bedbugs are unlikely to be until you are sure that the room is clear of pests.
If you do run across bed bugs, you’ll need to deep clean every piece of fabric before you bring it back into your home to avoid an infestation.
Outdoor Adventure Safety
When experiencing the great outdoors through activities like hiking, mountain climbing, and horseback riding, make certain to follow the above outlined tips for keeping safe from biting insects. However, you’ll also want to take further precautions if you know you will be outdoors in pest-stricken areas.
Many areas of the world are home to particularly dangerous ants, wasps, hornets, spiders, and other nasty, nest-y pests that you’ll want to make certain not to disturb. If hiking at night, you’ll want to stay aware of your surroundings and utilize a durable, long-lasting light source (I like the flashlights from 5.11 Tactical to make sure you can see where you are stepping. Stay on well-traveled trails where they are less likely to nest.
During the day, keep your vision keen on the trails. Sunglasses are recommended for blocking out the sun’s glare and allowing you to clearly see any potential pests in your surroundings. Before setting up a tent, make certain to thoroughly inspect potential campsites for anthills and nests. Also, many of these critters build nests under the cover of vegetation so steer clear of dense growths.
Finally, if you’ll be hiking through areas of stagnant water, you’ll want to keep yourself protected from leeches and other pests by wearing hiking boots that fully cover your ankles.
If you are traveling to an area that has poor sanitation, you need to beware of the dreaded Traveler’s Diarrhea, which is caused by exposure to unclean drinking water. Your best defense is to not drink the water, not ever, if you are unsure whether it’s sanitary. Simply stick to bottled water, sodas, drinks that have been boiled—like tea, coffee, wine, or beer.
It’s easy for contaminated drinking water to sneak past an unwary traveler, so remain vigilant. Something as inconsequential seeming as brushing one’s teeth or drinking a soda that has water droplets on it from melted ice can be enough to make you sick. Also, when in doubt, leave it alone. If you don’t see something opened in front of you, refuse to drink it. Make certain that you carry your own liquids with you so that you always have access to safe, clean water.
Adria Saracino is a blogger, marketer, and hiking enthusiast. She often writes for 5.11 Tactical, which sells everything from polarized sunglasses to hiking gear. When not exploring the great outdoors, you can find her writing about style at her personal fashion blog, The Emerald Closet.