Have you found any insect repellents that unfailingly work for you? Because I haven’t.
Avoiding bites is my single biggest and most frustrating travel challenge. I should add that it’s also a thing in my home base country, New Zealand. Sandflies are so troublesome in some regions that, with typical Kiwi humour, they are celebrated.
Mosquitoes, sandflies, fleas, all seem to see me as the equivalent of [insert your all-time favourite food here].
I’m pleased to say I haven’t encountered bed bugs so far, but I’m sure it’s only a matter of time as they seem to be on the increase.
Now don’t get me wrong, I like insects in general; they perform vital functions in our ecosystem. I didn’t mind the humongous spiders that used to pay the occasional surprise visit to our bathroom in Vanuatu, nor the rather large golden orb spider that visited our friends’ garden in Queensland (see photo).
But insects that sting, bite or suck upon my person, for no reason other than their own gourmet tastes, are fair targets for assassination as far as I’m concerned. Apart from the 4 days of chronic itching misery they inflict upon me, they can also pass on such delights as malaria, dengue fever, Ross River virus – and the list goes on.
What the experts say
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) advise that remedies containing the following active ingredients work best: DEET, picaridin, oil of lemon eucalyptus, p-Menthane-3,8-diol (which is in oil of lemon eucalyptus), IR3535 and 2-Undecanone. DEET tends to be the favourite among intrepid travellers, but not everyone likes the smell.
Trouble is, I’ve yet to find the right bug spray for me. Most of the ones I’ve tried have had no effect at all, including the more advanced organic, ‘natural’ and ‘eco-friendly’ versions. I’ve never found them to be particularly effective. Having sensitive skin means that I’m fussy about what I put on it, particularly since it goes into the bloodstream too.
Here are some of the other pieces of advice I’ve been given over the years, with (mostly unsatisfactory) results:
Don’t get bitten in the first place
Of all the recommendations I’ve been given, this one – listed in a ‘how to avoid malaria’ publication – is probably the most useless I’ve ever received. I can’t argue with the logic of it, but – really. Talk about stating the bleedin’ (literally) obvious!
How about a citronella or eucalyptus candle?
Tried them, loved the aroma. So did mozzies, who continued to love me. Nice, but ineffective.
Avoid wearing perfume or scented creams
Likewise, this had no effect whatsoever. The mozzies love me whether or not I’m wearing my Chanel.
Mosquitoes go for people who are short of certain vitamins
I was excited when I heard this theory. It sounded plausible, and I thought it might be the key to my problem. So I decided to put myself on a course of multivitamins a couple of months before my subsequent trip. It made no difference at all to my attractiveness to the little biters, but hey, it probably improved their health.
Wear dark clothes
This just made it easier for the mozzies to crawl about my person undetected and bite me without being seen.
WEAR LIGHT CLOTHES
Yep, that’ll help. I’m sure. Help them find me all the more easily. Honestly, they don’t seem to care what I’m wearing. They just smell my blood and go for it. Even long skirts don’t seem to stop them from finding my legs.
Mosquitoes are only active at night
This is total baloney. They get me at all times of the day. I once stepped off a plane in Nice, mid-afternoon, and was besieged within half an hour. News travels fast in mozzie lands.
Try a mosquito net soaked with DEET
Now I’m sure this works, unless you have to slip out to visit the bathroom during the night. But it seems a little over the top to take one of these to your nice hotel. Different if you’re camping or glamping.
Eat more garlic
Sounds like an old wives’ tale, right? What’s more, she was kidding. I put garlic in everything anyhow, so I must confess I didn’t have much hope for this one.
So what does work?
So far, there are only two solutions that have partially worked for me: plug-in insect repellents, and covering up my arms and legs. The latter is usually effective despite the fact that I’ve been told that mozzies can bite you through your clothing. This might be technically true, but it hasn’t happened to me so far. It’s a pain to have to cover up on a warm balmy night in a tropical place, mind you. Still, I’d rather have that inconvenience than get bitten.
Plug-ins are by far the most effective method I’ve tried so far, and a real life-saver for being able to sleep at night without the fear of that dreaded high-pitched whine around my ears. The one I’m using currently is the Mortein mozzie zapper. I’m sure there are similar products available in other countries. Others I’ve heard of recently, but have not yet tried, are a lamp that uses electric shock technology, and a zapper that uses ultrasound.
If anyone has tried these, or found a better solution, I’d love to hear from you.
Happily, there are destinations offering mozzie-free bliss for those of us who attract the little blighters, either because of their geography or because of local eradication measures. Iceland and Antarctica are too cold for them.
The southern French town of Marseillan is largely mosquito-free thanks to local efforts to eradicate them. Even more intensive work is in progress at the Maldives resort of Soneva Fushi. The owners have been working with a German biotech company to develop ecologically-friendly traps that smell like humans! The project’s success is not only benefitting visitors, but the island’s plants and animals. How cool is that!
Unless you’re lucky enough to be going to any of these destinations, travel insurance is a must, to cover you for the more unpleasant outcomes of stings, bites and pathogens. (Read more in my post on travel insurance if you need convincing).
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