Mosquitoes 101: Your Guide to Bite-Free Travel

Leaves and Critters, Travel Tips
New to world travel? Here are some serious tips to get you ahead in the mosquito game!
When I first thought of writing a "travelers tips for mosquitoes" (one night trying to sleep with a high pitched buzzing around my ear), I wasn't sure if I had enough helpful info to fill a page. But then as I started jotting down notes I realized how as a traveler, those little buggers are enmeshed in our lives in a constant state of war and how much we're forced to learn throughout our travels.

When I pack, I take mosquitoes into consideration. When I decide what guesthouse to stay at, where to eat, when to go for a walk ... mosquitoes.

Not only are they a nuisance, but they are also a health risk. We've all been warned about West Nile Virus, Zika Virus, Dengue Fever, and of course, Malaria. I have not personally (knock on wood) ever had to deal with a mosquito borne disease and I hope never to have to, but I have certainly had my share of itchy bites which is problem enough!

To me, these tips are all now "the basics" but looking back at before I started budget traveling, I didn't know any of this. So here's a small head start for you and may you get bit less because of it.

Traveler's Tips for Battling Mosquitoes

The Nature of the Beast  |   Chemical Warfare  |   Other Ways to Deter Them  |   Mosquito Nets  |   Your Hotel Room

First of all, all the cool travelers call them mozzies. Well, okay maybe not just the cool kids. I did pick up that term from our friends down under many years ago and it stuck. And since those Australians travel like the dickens, most people around the world know what "mozzies" are.

Quick Overview
  • Be most cautious at dawn & dusk
  • Don't get a room near standing water
  • Spray your ankles and elbows on buses
  • Wear long sleeves & long pants (light colors)
  • Use strong spray-on repellent
  • Don't wear perfumy things
  • Keep a fan on or use a mosquito net (correctly)
  • Close up your room in the evening
Know your enemy and know yourself, find naught in fear for 100 battles ~ Sun Tzu

The Nature of the Beast

Mosquitoes lay their eggs in standing water, the larvae grow there, then they fly on out to start feasting on, well, you. So if you see ponds, an old bathtub full of rain water, even old tires on their sides full of water - all mosquito Shangri-La. You don't want to hang around these if you don't have to. I will move to the next hostel if I come across one next to a pond. Nope, next please!

They like still, darker, muggy areas. Think jungles and bogs and abandoned houses. Abandoned houses? Sure, haven't you gone exploring old buildings before? Full of of mosquitoes!

Generally mosquitoes are most active at dusk and dawn. It's actually species-specific but it's a fair rule to follow. This is when you want to put forth your best efforts in repellent and mosquito-deterring clothing.
One of the stages of mosquito larvae in the water.
One of the stages of mosquito larvae in the water.

Chemical Warfare

I have never found the need to take oral prophylactics. You will still have a 10% chance of getting malaria and then if you do get it, you may have a harder time getting over it if you have been taking anti-malarial medication. The best defense, try not to get bit.

Repellent - yes, you need it. What kind you use is up to you but you bet I have my own opinions on them!
From DEET to natural oils, there are a lot of ways to try to fend off these tiny pests.
From DEET to natural oils, there are a lot of ways to try to fend off these tiny pests.
Which is the lesser of two evils? DEET or mosquito bites?
Here's where I probably go a bit too far but I have to say that by a landslide, 99% DEET has been the most effective repellent I have used. It just plain works.

It's also incredibly gnarly. It melts things. If you spray it on your feet with your rubber flip flops on, they will start to stick to your feet. I spilled some in my bag once and it ate through my Eagle Creek toiletry bag and a polyester dress of mine! Because it's so toxic, it has also been known to cause health problems for people too. Of course there are studies to counteract those studies so use your own judgement. Which is the lesser of two evils? DEET or mosquito bites?

Picaridin is the next "new" thing (although not really new at all) being sold in the US. Sawyer brand markets theirs as "it won't melt your gear". Hooray! I finally made the switch to picaradin on my last trip to Mexico and Belize. I was not impressed. It just didn't seem to work very well. Or perhaps I didn't use enough since I was using DEET-sized rations (meaning only a couple of sprays).

Some people prefer natural alternatives but I haven't had any luck with those either. OFF! Botanicals has a plant-based active ingredient chemically synthesized from pine oil extract. But even they say for protection over 2 hours to use DEET.

OFF!, Ben's and Sawyer are all good brands with a variety of repellent options.

The vessel is also important! Not only do you want it carry-on sized but you want a pump spray. Aerosol's aren't allowed in carry-on and are bad for the environment anyway, and you don't want anything you have to wipe on with your hands; then you have poison hands.

Permethrin is another popular repellent to use to treat your clothing. Sawyer sells one you can spray on your clothes and it lasts up to 6 washings. Or some brands like ExOfficio BugsAway has permethrin permanently built into the fabric!

Mosquito coils can be okay for when you are eating dinner outdoors or out on the front porch of your guesthouse bungalow (basically outdoor use). They are super inexpensive and reasonably effective. It's like a poisonous incense coil. Try to buy coils with natural ingredients (if anything on the package is in a language you understand) and don't buy any with octachlorodipropyl ether.

They come with a little metal stand but if you don't have that, they sit nicely hanging out of the top of an empty bottle. If any part of the lit coil touches anything, it stops burning at that spot. Weird. Put it at your feet and try not to inhale the smoke that may or may not be carcinogenic.
Mosquito coil in its handy little stand.
Mosquito coil in its handy little stand.
No mosquito coil stand? Well for sure you have an empty bottle lying around!
No mosquito coil stand? Well for sure you have an empty bottle lying around!
So after all this prevention, you still may get bit. What to do about the itchies? I like After Bite Plus. The "plus" means it has antihistamine. It was taken off the market for quite a while but now it's for sale on After Bite's site so that's great news!

Other Ways to Deter Them

In the evenings, put on a light-colored long sleeve top or cover. Mozzies are attracted to dark colors. I have seen them absolutely swam around someone's black jacket before! So do try to stick to light colors.
Tse-tse flies are attracted to bright blue.
Wear long pants and even tuck your pants into your socks if you are trekking through a mozzie-laden jungle.

Don't wear perfumes or scented lotions. They like those too.

Along the line of them liking still, darker areas. This also means under the seats in buses! Spray your ankles and elbows when you go on a bus. Trust me on this one.

In your hotel room, keep a fan on. Pointed right at you if possible. I hate the wind but if I don't have a net, then fan it is.

Mosquito Nets

Usually if you are somewhere that requires a mosquito net, there will already be one over your bed. I still get that adventurer something-out-of-a-movie feel when I use them. It means you're really travelling.
Mosquito nets can conjure visions of an exotic luxurious (maybe even romantic?) bed. How do you like that bedspread?! LOL
Mosquito nets can conjure visions of an exotic luxurious (maybe even romantic?) bed. How do you like that bedspread?! LOL
But usually they are a bit more utilitarian. Keeping out insects of all sorts and maybe even a rodent or two!
But usually they are a bit more utilitarian. Keeping out insects of all sorts and maybe even a rodent or two!
They really are a godsend when you need them. They also keep out spiders and mice it turns out!

Mosquito nets are hot. Even though they are sheer, they don't let air through.

Don't leave your net "open" during the day or the crafty mosquitoes will get in and then you're screwed. Tie it up in a knot to get it out of your way during the day.

Mosquito nets must be completely sealed. They will find a way in through the smallest gap. That bit of duct tape you brought? Tape up those holes! You also want to tuck the net under your mattress.

Do not lean against the side of the net. Even a hand resting on the net is likely to get bit from the outside.

Your Hotel Room

The tell tale sign if you should expect to have mozzies buzzing around your room? Bloody squished carcasses on the walls. I don't kill many insects, but these little fuckers are one of them. I have been known to leave a smashed blood-sucker or two on a wall.

They will get in the tiniest hole in your screen, under your door, etc. Your room may be sealed but if you have an en-suite bathroom, it may not have screens on the windows so keep that door shut. Usually rooms with fan (no air-con) are not going to be sealed anyway so there's not much you can do.

Do not leave your door open. Go in and out quickly. Somehow, like gnats sensing bananas, they know immediately when a door is open and will slide right in.

There's nothing worse than trying to sleep and hearing that high pitched buzzing by your ear. That's your sign to start smacking yourself about the head to try and kill that flying nuisance that wants to bite you on the face.

You don't always have a net or a fan or even a room! Spray your sheet with repellent for a better night's sleep.

So that's It! Happy bite-free traveling everyone!!!

0 Comments

Submit Your Comment
Thank you! Your comment has been received. :) It will be posted as soon as I get a chance to read it first.
Sorry, don't know what happened. Try later :(
Your email will not be shared or spammed in any way. It is only as extra assurance that you are a real person! ;) Leslie's Travel Snacks reserves the right to delete any comment that is abusive, self-promoting, nonconstructive, mean, or otherwise not in the spirit of this website.