How bed bugs turned our big lap of Australia into the honeymoon from hell
Picture this: you’re just six weeks into that great Aussie dream, a 12-month lap around Australia! You know, the one you somehow managed to convince the better half would make the perfect honeymoon escape. You’ve literally spent the day swinging around in a hammock wearing nothing but a pair of budgie smugglers and a smile right up the tip of Cape York when you start to feel an itch. Is it mozzies? Nope. Are those infamous midges of the northern tropics to blame? Don’t think so. It turns out our entire camper trailer was totally and utterly infested with bloody bed bugs! Yep, you read that right, bed bugs. Those little blood suckers reaped enough havoc for two keen honeymooners to wave the white flag, cut the big lap short and retreat back home quicker than Usain Bolt runs the 100-metre sprint!
CAPE YORK TO SYDNEY IN A JIFFY
What the hell are bed bugs, you ask? Trust me, I was in the same boat. As we lay in bed scratching like a couple of town dogs, our good old friend “Google” gave us an insight as to what we had got ourselves into – hell on earth! The following two evenings were nothing short of pure torture. We tried every mozzie repellent imaginable, but that just pissed them off. We washed all the bed linen and even surface sprayed the bed frame too, which did absolutely nothing. Without a wink of sleep for two nights straight we decided to high-tail it from Cape York to Cairns. The aim was to let loose with some proper DIY bug eradication products, starting with three insect/bed bug bombs. But that night they were at us like a bunch of hyenas on a fresh kill. So much so we packed up camp at 1am and hit the road bound for the big smoke of Sydney, scratching ourselves stupid and putting an end to our lap around Oz, 10 years in the making. You wouldn’t read about it, eh?
A BIT ON BED BUGS
In a nutshell, bed bugs are tiny insects that feed on human blood. Think of them like a modern-day Count Dracula, except there can be thousands of them. They only move short distances to feed, so you’ll usually find them hiding in the crevices and cracks of your mattresses, bed frames, linen, carpet edges and cabinetry. Being so small, they’re extremely hard to see with the naked eye, and they breed like rabbits on Viagra! They’re masters at infesting new premises by becoming stowaways in luggage and clothing from other infected premises. In fact, they literally hitchhiked on the backs of international travellers to Australian shores, and made quite a home for themselves too. They can be found practically anywhere, from public transport seating (think planes, buses and trains), to movie theatres, hotel rooms and even straight off the ground. They also spread from property to property like wild fire, which would explain how entire motels have been known to shut down for weeks for treatment.
THE WARNING SIGNS
Now, knowing the warning signs of a bed bug infestation would have saved me a whole world of hurt. Like recognising that the strange brown stain on the timber was actually bed bug excrement or blood, which is usually found on the sheets too. Then there’s the actual bite marks we found on our bodies, which we initially passed off as mozzie bites. But a tell-tale sign is the bite marks or welts will be found in a straight line. While one in five people don’t experience a reaction from the saliva in the bite, the majority of us will see redness, swelling and welts up to about 2cm in diameter, which are itchy as hell – think mozzie bites on steroids!
Now those brown stains on my camper’s cabinetry had actually been there for a good six to 12 months, which had me wondering why I hadn’t been bitten earlier. It turns out the higher humidity up north was what brought them out. If only I had known earlier, eh?
HOW TO GET RID OF THE BUGGERS
It turns out you really do need a plan from a bed bug eradication specialist to sort out a genuine infestation. They will typically use a fancy-pants chemical treatment, which is not available to the general public. And if you think that means it’s game-over straight away, think again – it will still take two or three visits to kill any newly hatched eggs after the initial treatment too. We weren’t taking any chances either, so it was recommended the mattress took a trip to the rubbish tip, the marine carpet got replaced and every piece of clothing or linen had to be treated, washed in hot water and dried in an industrial dryer at high temps for at least 40 minutes. Half of our clothes could have fit a toddler by the time they came out! Given everything we owned was literally spread between the old LandCruiser and the camper trailer, it meant the whole lot had to be double-bagged and stored separately for weeks to prevent re-infestation too. It’s a task that would have been almost impossible on the road.
TOP TIPS FOR AVOIDING BED BUGS
Now, for the answers you’ve been waiting for – how do you avoid them? Well, there are a few little tricks of the trade in this department.
- If you’re staying in a motel room, check for any signs of a bed bug problem around the mattress and linen before you pull up stumps. Things like brown stains, or even actual bed bug carcasses, should ring alarm bells.
- Never put your luggage straight on the floor or bed; the safest place is actually in the bathroom on the bench as they’re not real fond of the tiles.
- Think carefully about picking up second-hand furniture too, as it could already be infested.
- In your camper, opt for a bed bug mattress cover which will help deter them.
- If you usually place your luggage bag inside your camper like I did, you’d want to be bloody sure it’s not carrying any stowaways! Trust me!
BETTER LUCK NEXT TIME
What’s next? Well, we’ve sold that camper trailer now – too many bad memories! But don’t worry, I’ve conned the Mrs into giving me a second chance and we’re hitting the road again next year, but this time I’ll be ready for the little suckers, just in case!
Remember – sleep tight and don’t let the bed bugs bite!