Thursday, March 24, 2011

Why an RV?

For many the decision to go out and look at and eventually purchase an RV is made because of a love of camping, a desire to travel without high hotel costs, or a quest for the open road - go where you want and when you want - bringing your living quarters with you. For most it is an option to other methods of travel. For us now, (and four years ago if you told me I would be looking at an RV I would have told you that would never happen) it is a necessity.

I have been traveling with my family since I was a baby. Every year we would go on a summer vacation. As I got older, I began to travel this same way with my wife. In my entire life - until two years ago - there was never a year that I was not traveling somewhere overnight, a weekend, or for a length of time. We would always stay at motels and hotels. All of my trips but two were by car. My wife and I started traveling this way (don't tell her mother) before we got married.

I tend to find places that I have been before more comfortable than "new" places, so our trips would tend to repeat - always finding new things to see and do, but there are just some places that my year is not complete if I have not been back to - some of those several times in a year.

All of this changed two years ago. We discovered that there were bed bugs in our house. Where they came from we do not know. It is likely a hotel room that we had stayed in. These creatures find their way into luggage, clothing, etc. and travel to wherever you go next, and next, and next until you get back home and they make their way out and into your house.

Bed bugs have been around since the beginning of time. They exist by feeding off of human and animal blood. They are engineered to do this and nothing else. They have two skin piercing tubes in their head - one contains an anesthesia which is injected into your skin and the other is inserted right next to that first puncture to suck out blood. As they draw your blood into their bodies they grow larger and then travel quickly off before you can be aware that they have been on you. They find humans by the carbon dioxide that you breathe out. They are thought to come out only at night but they have been observed in the day light as well.

Bed bugs were just an accepted way of life until the end of World War II when it was discovered that the pesticide DDT would kill them. In fact, it worked so well that it wiped these creatures out from most modern societies completely. This lasted until government regulations decided that DDT was dangerous to the environment. Another chemical took it place in the 1970's and that continued to be effective to keep bed bugs away from the US, Canada, Europe, and many countries. That is until some government agency decided to ban that chemical pesticide and there is nothing to take its place. It is thought that the bed bug came back to the US through some traveler coming into the US from a Third World country. Bed bugs multiply exponentially and two will beget thousands. And then they spread and continue to increase. In the past several years in the US and other countries around the world bed bugs are infesting homes, hotels, playhouses, places where people sleep and then move on in epidemic proportions. They are especially rampant in the Northeast, though there are major infestations reported in the mid-west, the south, the west, the middle-Atlantic. Really it is across the country.

Not to disgust you any but to put our decision into prospective it is important to know what happens when you have them in your house. The will live inside mattresses, pillows, inside walls, under furniture, behind furniture, in closets, etc. They exist in three stages. As eggs they look like a white crust that has been smeared on a flat surface. Hundreds of eggs are laid in a line, several lines together. Once they hatch they are about the size of a poppy seed. As they feed and get older they grow to the size of a sesame seed - some larger. Up close they look like a beetle with various coloring though most commonly they are brown with mottled stripes on top. And under their heads there are the two tubes. I already described how they bite. Once they are full of blood they return to where they are dwelling. As they move they leave behind streaks of fresh blood - your blood - as well as streaks of black excrement of digested blood. This is most often how you will know that they are in your house. You will find these marks on your sheets, on your pajamas, and on your walls. While the bite is painless at first, some people are allergic to the bites and the person can react in a way that will require hospitalization - this allergic reaction can be fatal as any allergic reaction can be. There are some people who have no response what so ever to a bed bug bite and will never know it bit them. And then there are people like my wife and myself who will show a red mark on the skin where bitten - actually two red spots next to each other (remember the two tubes) - and these marks will swell and begin to itch. Because you are bitten so frequently you become over sensitive with time - even to other insect bites. This over-sensitivity does not seem to go away to other bites even if the bed bugs are eliminated. No matter what you try to do to avoid being bitten, if they are there they will find a place to bite. As we waited for the treatment to our house that would kill off all of the bugs, we covered ourselves completely with clothing at night to try to minimize the skin exposed to be bitten. This included a top that fit tight around the wrists and neck, pants that closed tight around the legs, socks on the feet, and a sock covering each hand. With no way to protect our faces we were then being bitten all over our faces.

I am certain after living through this nightmare that the stories of vampires are based in bed bugs. Like the vampire they come to suck your blood at night - and leave a trail behind them.

This was not only disgusting, but it was uncomfortable as well itching from the bites. We had our house heat treated. This is the only positive way for an entire house to be treated at one time and be certain that all bugs are killed. Jet engine heaters are placed outside the house and large hoses pump heat into windows all around the house and basement. All windows to the outside are sealed with plastic around these hoses to keep the heat contained in the house. Holes are drilled into the walls so that the heat will penetrate into the inside of the walls and kill the thousands living in them. All fabric and clothing must either be hung on hangers or prior to the treatment be heated in a clothes dryer on the highest heat setting for over one hour and then placed into airtight sealed plastic bags and not opened until after the house is heated.

Our house took a day to heat - well over 16 hours. The temperature that bed bugs die at is 120 degrees F. Our house was heated to over 150 degrees F. After the treatment it took two days for the temperature inside to come down with air conditioners running to a comfortable temperature. We did have the treatment done in August so a treatment in winter might not only take longer but also would cool down faster.

All of the bed bugs were killed. How do we know? A dog told us. I should have mentioned the dog - a beagle. This dog is specially trained just like a bomb sniffing and drug sniffing dog to recognize the scent of bed bugs - they have a distinct odor. When the exterminator first came into our house before the treatment he brought the dog. The dog found bed bugs all over the house. They were also in our passenger van - the one we traveled on trips in. The dog is brought back a month after the treatment. Not only can he sniff out live bugs but he also can sniff out eggs and larvae. The house was clear - thank God.

The van had to be chemically treated. There is a commercially available chemical that will kill bed bugs but it must be applied in a sealed area and no humans can go into that area for two weeks. It will not work on a whole house, but it will work for a car or van. The van had to sit with all windows shut with strips of this chemical inside for two weeks. The dog checked the van after that too - and it was clear as well.

This entire process - including house damage and personal item loss due to the intense heat in the house - cost us just about $10,000.00. We are not rich people. We had no choice. The treatment itself is a little more than half of that - but the heat did a lot of damage including blowing out our kitchen refrigerator.

So the bugs were gone - great! But then the problems really start because the one thing that you absolutely do not want to do is bring them back. Bring one pregnant female back in or a pair and you start all over again. So you become cautious - some will say that we are overly cautious, but there is good reason to be.

We stopped traveling any place where we would need to stay over night. All of our travel entertainment was gone - or limited to where we could go and come back home in one single day trip. I love traveling. And I did not know how I would ever be able to travel again.

Until - it came to me that if we could take our home with us - how ridiculous an idea - we could travel. An RV or travel trailer could do that...

So the RV has now become a necessity - for us. Yes, there are millions of people staying in hotel rooms every night. How many come away with bed bugs? More than think they do.

An aside- the day that the house was treated we had to stay away from the house and away overnight. We were told to find a local hotel and the exterminator would come with us with the dog to check the room. He did and the room was clear. There are websites that you can go to and see bed bug reportings and spottings. People who have been to places and have encountered bed bugs list these places on sites on the internet. A week after we left that hotel - the last hotel we will likely ever have stayed in - there was a listing for that same night that we were there - same floor three rooms down the hall from where our room was - bed bugs were in that room that night. They are out there.

I am very much looking forward to traveling again. We still take precautions and I will not go into all of that here. We may seem crazy to others - especially family- but only someone who has gone through this experience this way can understand why we are now as we are. And we are not alone in this. Other RVers that I have spoken to about this understand and will not go into hotel rooms for this and many other reasons.

Perhaps someday the government will permit the use of the chemicals necessary to wipe these creatures out again 0r some scientist will find a way to eliminate them. There are world wide conferences going on all of the time. There are local governments requiring landlords and hotels to do certain things to hold back the spread, but there is nothing that can be done yet to permanently rid this menace.

In the meantime, I will have my RV and take my house with me when I travel. Thinking about these bugs again to write it makes me itch... Ycch!


  1. Although my son and I have traveled from TX to NY/GA, we were (un)lucky enough to experience the bed bug nastiness at a local hotel.

    It was horrible! I read that it was happening everywhere, irrespective of how "fancy" a place was but I still felt like a terrible mother for exposing my son to something like that. *shudder*

  2. Dang ... I am starting to get itchy myself. LOL

    I agree ... before getting my trailer and now the RV I had some concerns about the bed bug menace. It seems like I might have gotten lucky ... in spite of some of the seedy place I might have stayed in during the past. Now ... no problem. My bed is with me whenever I need or want it ... no worries. :)

    1. You could stay at the Waldorf Astoria - which by the way has had bedbug problems - and you could still take home bedbegs. It does not matter how seedy or spotless - they don't really care. They just want blood and a place to find it. In clutter it is harder to spot them, but they are so small that in most rooms you will never know if they are there or not. Soap and water does not kill them. Cleaning solutions do not kill them. Insect sprays and chemicals just move them from one room to the next where there is no chemical. The only thing that kills them on contact is 90% alcohol. It will not keep them away, just kills them or the eggs if it gets on them. The most effective method of extermination is sealing and heating the whole building to over 120 - 150 deg. F and leaving it that way for at least 5 hours - over 12 hours is best with holes drilled into the walls for the heat to penetrate. Thermometers are placed into the holes in the walls to make sure the interior space is heated. Not a pleasant experience.

      Hello ROADTREK!!!