Palm trees, hammocks and dramatic sunsets over the ocean rank very high on the list of things that make the a traveller’s life better. But this raw beauty comes with a price tag that might frustrate even the most seasoned travelettes among you. Yes, you know what I am talking about: insects. And what’s more, the tropical insects.

If you are anything like me, you certainly to appreciate the importance of insects for ecosystems, but just don’t want them anywhere near you – and especially not on your body. You love spending time in those paradises on earth, but you don’t necessarily spend your time in luxury resorts. Hence, you have to encounter and deal with insects, flies and mosquitoes on a daily basis. The good news is, they don’t have to ruin your tropical dream if you take some simple precautions. Here is my Travelettes Guide to avoiding and surviving tropical insect bites.

Mosquitos (II)

photo by Javier Pais

Don’t wear colourful and flowery clothes

In nature, flowers and plants are colourful for a good reason: they want to attract insects and bees, which are critical for their survival. When numerous huge insects landed right in the middle of the flower pattern of my favourite orange Desigual dress, I decided to never troll insects with flowery dresses anymore.

If you are travelling to a tropical destination, there’s probably wisdom in packing clothes with neutral, earthy colours. It’s a shame that insects like bold colours and pretty summer dresses as much as we do. In general, dressing appropriately alone will put you in a very advantaged position in this battle. Appropriately also means, light, but long-sleeved tops and long trousers to cover up your skin.

surviving insect bites - colourful clothes, travelettes

Don’t use cosmetics with fruity or sweet smells

Similar to flower patterns and colours, insects are very much attracted to these smells. Even a shampoo with a strong smell can turn your head into a beehive. I don’t know about you, but I rank the constant buzzing around my ears as the most disturbing sound known to humankind.

Furthermore, there’s a good chance that the smell of such cosmetics will attract a great deal of ants to your bags – which I’ve seen happening, and it’s something you certainly don’t want.

Don’t eat where you sleep, under any circumstances

Especially if you are travelling on a limited budget, chances are that you won’t eat three restaurant meals a day. There’s also a good chance that sometimes you end up having midnight munchies whilst staying at a cheap hotel and get tempted to eat those crackers from your handbag. When this happens, no matter how tired you are, get out of your bed, put some pants on, leave your room and eat outside.

Travelling makes us more generous in terms of etiquette and manners, but I am quite sure you still don’t want to share a meal (or your bed) with an army of ants, cockroaches or even mice in extreme circumstances.

surviving insect bites - don't eat in bed, travelettes

Carry a tropical strength insect and mosquito repellent

This one might sound really obvious, but there’s a nuance that can be game changer: Make sure the repellent you pack is of tropical strength.

Tropical strength repellents usually contain 40 to 50 percent DEET – the chemical that keeps the insects away. If you are travelling from a colder country in which insects and mosquitoes aren’t a big issue, the DEET percentage in a typical over-the-counter insect repellent will be around 10 to 20 percent. Frankly, if you use a repellent with only 10 percent DEET in a tropical climate, our tiny tropical friends will laugh at you and have a field day on your body. Hence, asking your pharmacist for a tropical strength repellent will save you from frustration. Also, mosquito bites on sunburnt skin aren’t fun. They are the last thing you want to have in your slice of tropical dream.

Hint: If you are wearing sandals or flip flops, don’t forget to spray under your feet too. Yes, they will find the unsprayed spot and take revenge otherwise.

Sleep with earbuds

Okay, I don’t want to scare you, but it might be a good idea to sleep with earbuds if you end up in a place with a particularly high insect population. I heard the story of a fellow traveller, who had a rather large insect getting stuck in his ear during the night. In panic he ended up in the closest hospital he could, which happened to be a provincial hospital with rather basic amenities. He had to get surgery for the insect to be taken out. Luckily it was successful, but then the surgeon wanted to have a drink with him, because he was very excited as it was only the third surgery he conducted in his career…

Since I heard this story, I carry earbuds with me just in case. I never had any harm from it. As a bonus, earbuds will block out the noise coming from the loud party next door.

Love those geckos or lizards

I used to be very irked when I checked into a budget hotel and found a dozen geckos roaming around my room’s ceiling. But later on I discovered that if you are not a big fan of insects, geckos and lizards are your best friends. They are the most timid animals on this planet, and they will never harm you or your belongings. Yet, they will enjoy a delicious meal of mosquitoes and other insects in your room whenever they can.

surviving insect bites - gecko, travelettes

What if you get bit?

That said, even if you do your best and still cannot avoid a tropical love bite, no need to panic. Most insect bites recover on their own within a few hours. Try to massage it with tea bags to reduce inflammation. If you are travelling to a tropical area that can be harsh on your skin, it makes sense to carry an aloe vera cream – which can be helpful in relieving not only insect bites, but also sunburn. But of course, if you got a particularly nasty bite, the best bet is to get checked by a medical professional. Most importantly, just remember to practise willpower by not scratching it too much.

All in all, insects might not exactly add value to your tropical holiday – but if you are a little cautious, they won’t ruin an entire vacation either. Even if they affect you to a certain degree, the human brain has this nice feature called “selective memory”. After you leave the tropical destination, your memory will most likely omit the bad insect memories, and will keep the gorgeous sunsets, the taste of fresh watermelon juice and the smell of wild jasmine flowers instead.

What are your top tips to avoid and treat insect bites in tropical destinations?


This is a guest post by Didem Tali.

Didem-headshot Didem is a freelance foreign correspondent who relieves her existential crisis by reading, writing and travelling. You can follow her adventures at Red Write Travel and find her Instagram @didorido for daily updates.