Surviving Bedbugs on the Road

Sharing our rental with bedbugs was a true travel NIGHTmare. Here’s how we cleaned our belongings, healed our bites, and coexisted with the little buggers until we could get back on the road.

By Jose deCos


Like everyone, we had our travel plans ruined thanks to COVID-19. In March, we had just arrived back to my hometown in Delaware after a three-month road trip in Mexico. We had planned to move onto our live-aboard sailboat in April but with the marina closed, we can’t even go look at it – let alone get it ready to sail anywhere. We then decided to go back to Spain where we had been living most recently – but it soon became apparent that couldn’t happen, either.

Together with my wife and two kids, we were able to stay with my kind mother who was generous enough to take us all in!  But as amazing as her hospitality was, we were worried we might get her sick with COVID-19 given our need to take the kids out (not to mention living with your parents in your 30s always has a potential for other issues 😉 so we began to discuss our next move.

Where can a homeless family go when everything is closed – even campsites? Like most millennials, we turned to the sharing economy to help. With just a little searching, we found amazing deals on Airbnb for monthly rentals at discount prices thanks, again, to the pandemic. We decided to head to a ski resort (off-season but still covered in snow!) in West Virginia and booked a nice little place that had a fireplace, nearby lake, and plenty of trails to explore.


We arrived and everything seemed as amazing as promised! Then night fell. For the first time in months, our five-year-old came to our bed saying she couldn’t sleep and that she had been bitten.  Half asleep, we looked and agreed. “Hmmm, one big bite. Oh well, I guess there are mosquitos…” But then we saw something move. We turned on our phone’s flashlight and saw the first culprits.


We leaped from our mattress and ran to our other daughter’s bed. They were swarming our sleeping toddler! We snatched her from bug-covered sheets and began a long, sleepless night of searching every surface in the house, killing bedbugs, soothing bit-up girls, and sleepily pacing back and forth about what to do next.

Unfortunately – or fortunately? – this was not our first rodeo with these tiny pests. Though we have backpacked, trekked, and traveled the entire developing world, interestingly, the only other place we had ever encountered bedbugs was just last year in Spain: Walking the Camino de Santiago, we got bit in one of the pilgrim hostels along the route. The owner had apologized and offered us a refund – but the pain of the rash of bites and hard work of cleaning our belongings was the same.

What to Do if Your Airbnb has Bedbugs

While a pension, guest house or hotel will have someone on-site to help you with compensation and remediation for a serious problem like bedbugs, you’ll likely be on your own at an Airbnb (pandemic or no).

The Airbnb refund process is notoriously difficult – but we persisted and eventually succeeded. Click here to read our story and recommendations for how to get a refund and compensation from Airbnb.

Our West Virginia host was mortified and apologetic. She had great reviews so we believe she truly had no idea about the problem. She offered us a refund and told us to call Airbnb.

Unfortunately – or fortunately? –  Airbnb has a strict policy if a guest reports bedbugs in a rental: You cannot book another Airbnb for at least three days! While this keeps you from taking the bugs to your next Airbnb bed, the company will fight for days before they agree to help pay for the new accommodation and your laundry expenses. During this time, you will be living with the little guys.

How to Get Rid of Bedbugs

Luckily, the wifi at our rental was great. As is often the case, a quick internet search can solve all problems J  Just as I hope this article helps others, we quickly found solutions to bedbug infestations online. We found this WebMD article helpful for info treating the kids’ bites, and this Wirecutter article was good for info about the overall cleaning and de-lousing process.

But it’s entirely possible you might meet these buggers when you’re traveling in a remote spot without connectivity. Here are some quick tips to memorize about how to clean up and keep traveling after a bedbug attack.

  • Don’t Move – While it’s tempting to flee in the middle of the night to another lodging, it’s sadly not possible once all your things are infested with bedbugs. We had to do everything right to make sure we didn’t take these critters with us to our next Airbnb – or get them infested in our car.
  • Catch One – Get a bedbug (or several) in a jar or plastic bag. Hang onto these guys as evidence for your refund. (Airbnb actually requires a bug as proof :0 )
  • Take Photos – Take pictures of the bedbugs’ location in the room, as well as photos of the bites on your family members.
  • Request a Refund – It is critical to begin this process immediately. We found a two-pronged approach works best – first contacting the host, and then reaching out to Airbnb corporate. Again, click here for our complete story and tips for getting not only an Airbnb refund but compensation for expenses and our next hotel.
  • Wash & Freeze Everything – It is important to wash and dry all of your things and put them in trash bags before putting them back in the car or moving to a new place. Any parent who’s had a kid with lice will know the drill: Laundry for days! Wash bedding, clothes – everything! – and store it all in tightly sealed plastic garbage bags.  Though bedbugs don’t have claws to hang onto your hair as lice do, you should shampoo several times and keep checking your head, just in case. Things that can’t be washed, have to be frozen: Books, electronics and toys have to be frozen in batches for days to make sure all the eggs and bugs in/on these devices were dead.
  • Secure Your Bed – Many of our friends couldn’t believe that we were able to sleep in that rental for three more nights knowing bedbugs were lurking nearby. But given the pandemic and Airbnb’s mandated hotel stay and foot-dragging about compensation, that’s exactly what we had to do.  Luckily, our web searches helped us with survival tips. After we washed and dried our bedding, we filled pots and pans with water and soap and placed one under each of the legs of each bed. This made it impossible for the bedbugs to crawl up and bite us at night. We called it our “safe island” and it worked: We didn’t get any more bites during the remainder of our stay!
  • Treat Your Bites – Everyone reacts differently to bedbug bites. For example, one of our kids got huge bites that got hard and filled with liquid; the other one didn’t get much more than a rash of red spots. A normal oral antihistamine for swelling and an anti-itch lotion worked well to calm the more troublesome bites. It’s always good to travel with an antibacterial lotion if they get to the blister stage to keep infections at bay.
  • Play Outside – Since we couldn’t relax on the couch or any other soft furniture, we would walk around the ski slopes and play in the snow to pass the days. The bedbugs encouraged us to stay outdoors, which is never a bad thing.

In the end, Airbnb did the right thing: The company refunded our money and compensated us for our laundry and inconvenience. And we got right back on that horse and booked another long-term stay at an old farmhouse Airbnb in Ohio. It’s got clean spacious rooms, friendly hosts, and no tiny pests in sight – day or night.



Jose deCos  – May 2020

ROAM Director of Partnerships   

Since leaving his job running a tech firm, Jose has traveled the world for six years, multiplied his family to four – and ain’t missing life inside an office. After writing the guide to Midlife Retirement, Jose is prepping for family life at sea as he manages partnerships for ROAM.

© ROAM Family Travel 2020 – All rights reserved


ROAM with us! Read more REAL family adventures


Don’t miss a single trip! Enter your email address in the box below to subscribe to ROAM and receive notifications of new posts by email. Check your inbox for an email to confirm your subscription, click the link and you’re ready to ROAM!