The travel season is in full swing, as you can tell by the questions rolling into my e-mailbox.

  • First up is Patricia from Norman (welcome back!), who wanted to know how to treat her luggage if she feared it had been exposed to bedbugs.

This is a serious (if icky!) question, as no one wants a bedbug infestation at home. Bedbugs retreat into crevices, making them extremely difficult to eliminate once they have been introduced. If you have followed the news, you will know that due to a ban on the toxic chemical once used to kill bedbugs, they have begun infesting even 5-star hotels in major cities. Once more, ick!

One of the best resources I found online addressing this came from the University of Minnesota Extension office. Most essential information is the following:

How can I assure that my items are not carrying bed bugs without throwing them away?

Many people may want to discard all luggage and clothing after discovering an infestation, but this is unnecessary. The key is to contain all items suspected of carrying bed bugs in plastic bags until the items can be laundered, washed by hand, heated, or frozen.

Before leaving the infested site, anything that can be laundered should be sorted and placed in plastic bags. Separate the laundry as you would if you were normally laundering items, specifically: light colored clothes from dark items; delicate items from items that can be laundered on wash / dry regular cycles; and finally, dry cleanable items. Separating the clothing permits easy loading of the washing machine and you can avoid escaping bed bugs as you try to sort the laundry at home.

When washing, set the washer and dryer for the hottest setting that the fabric can withstand. If you need to use a dry cleaning service, mention to them that the items may have bed bugs and they can keep the articles in the plastic bags until just before loading into the machines.

Suitcases and other items that cannot be placed into a washing machine should be carefully inspected, and if bed bugs are found (or you are not sure) place them into plastic bags, as well. Suitcases may be hand-washed. If hand-washing any items, use soapy water and make sure that the hottest water possible is used. Test the item to make sure it will not be affected by the hot water. A target temperature of 100°Fto 120°F should be sufficient. Use a scrub brush along the seams and folds.

Items that cannot be washed may be heated or frozen. Currently, research is being conducted to determine the most effective thermal conditions for killing bed bugs, while not damaging materials. However, based on related research, a two-hour core exposure at 120°F (45°C) should be considered a minimum target temperature for heat treatments. For freezing, a minimum of 23°F (-5°C) must be maintained for at least 5 days. As the temperature is decreased, the time of exposure is shortened. For instance, the articles could be “flash frozen,” resulting in a very short time of exposure, but the target temperature should be -15°F (-26°C), the conditions required to instantly freeze the eggs. Keep in mind that most household freezers will have varying temperatures between 30°F and 20°F, and a 2-week freeze time is recommended if you are uncertain of the freezer temperatures.

Remember, if heating or freezing conditions are used, remember that these adverse conditions must reach the core of the articles being treated.

Patricia chose to “treat” her suitcase by placing it in the hot Oklahoma sun for a few hours. You may have to adjust your method based on location and season.

At the time that Patricia wrote me about bedbugs, a friend of mine was dealing with a lice outbreak in the family. Here is an article with links to lice-control resources. If you are not the parent of a school-aged child, you might be surprised to learn that lice are gaining resistance to the chemical most commonly used in shampoo treatments (which you might remember from your own childhood), making nit-picking combs the most reliable method for eliminating eggs and nits. Hopefully you will never deal with a bedbug or lice infestation on vacation, but it never hurts to be prepared for these ugly sides of travel as well.

  • Next we have Mark in Orlando who wanted to know the best time to buy his train tickets for a Munich-Paris trip in September.

Any time you’re considering travel across Germany, you’ll want to brush up on how to do it cheaply by reading the following two posts: Getting Across Germany Cheaply, Part One and Getting Across Germany Cheaply, Part Two. If you’re set on the train, the first one’s for you.

Mark wrote in his email that online forums suggested it would be cheaper to wait until arriving in Germany to purchase his ticket. This is simply false. It is possible to purchase tickets from any computer in the world up to 90 days before your travels using Deutsche Bahn’s online search function, and it pays to buy as close to the 90-day border as possible. The cheapest tickets — inside of Germany called “Dauer Spezial,” across Europe called “Europa Spezial” — have limited numbers and will be snapped up quickly. Here is a page describing how to book your tickets online (or by phone, if you prefer), along with the delivery options (printing vs. mailing vs. picking up).

In Mark’s case, there is a special sale between Munich and Paris called Europa Spezial Frankreich, with tickets available for as little as 39 euros! Unfortunately for him, on the date he wishes to travel, all of the 39-euro tickets have already sold. There are, however, three trains with 59-euro fares and one with a 69-euro fare, so it still pays to book in advance.

What follows is a quick tutorial in searching for scheduled trains and their prices for your trip:
+ Enter your information here: Munich, Paris, date and approximate preferred time. No need to change anything else. Click enter.
+ Because it’s an international connection, it will ask you to enter your age, in case you are eligible for a further discount. Put in your age and hit enter.
+ On the next page, it will bring up three trains around the time you entered. If you want to see earlier or later trains as well, click on the Earlier and Later arrows in the “Time” column. You will see it also shows you the standard fare as well as the savings fares. In order to see which prices are actually available, click on “show availability for all.” When you find the time/price combo you like and want to book online, select purchase. On the next page, locate the proper fare and select purchase again. You will then be taken to the booking engine, which will make you register before allowing the transaction.

  • We close today with Margaret in Italy, who is wondering how to deal with a serious case of homesickness while spending the summer alone abroad.

First stop for anyone feeling homesick (or irritable, sad, or otherwise emotionally unstable abroad) is this article on culture shock. It is important to remember that what you’re feeling is absolutely normal and you are by no means alone.

> Contact with home is important, but it only helps to a certain degree — it can feed the homesickness if you dwell on it too much. That said, we all need somewhere to vent, and that generally means calling your nearest and dearest. If a phone is not available, a Skype account allows you to call people using the internet and it’s pretty darn cheap.

> Is your suitcase fully unpacked and stored away somewhere, or have you been living out of it? Put your things on shelves and give yourself a mental cue of permanence.

> Make new habits and rituals. Always buy your bananas from the same guy, always get the same pastry at the same shop. As people begin to recognize you, are friendly, and can anticipate your needs, you have the feeling you belong.

> It might help to reflect on your experiences, to distance yourself somewhat from your feelings. Journaling or blogging and photography are a good way to get a new perspective: think about how you would distill this experience for others and simply document it.

> Try to cherish the opportunity everyday by doing something Italian that you *can’t* do at home — hang out on a piazza, surrounded by ancient buildings, drinking coffee or just listening, watching people parade by with their baby strollers and high heels; try a new gelato flavor (or three); visit a museum and admire the marble sculptures; go to the market and buy fresh ingredients for a bufalo mozzarella and tomato salad dinner; wander town without a map and discover new things; get on the train and take a weekend trip to Rome, Pisa, Cinque Terre, Venice, Bergamo!

> I know the saying is “Feed a fever,” but a taste of home can be a quick fix. For Americans, try to:
+ bake something, anything — banana bread’s a good one, your favorite cookies or brownies are another
+ whip up something typically American: hamburger and fries or potato salad, taco salad or fajitas, BBQ chicken

> Laughter and distraction are also good cures. It can’t hurt to:
+ see a movie or watch a DVD in English; serve with buttery popcorn
+ watch The Daily Show, The Colbert Report or some other (keyword: ) funny show you like [I have heard but am not condoning that a computer with internet access can find most any programs from abroad using a proxy and Hulu or Surf the Channel]

> If doing things by yourself makes you feel lonely (and thereby homesick), then take someone with you or pick up someone along the way. Read the post Meet People While Traveling for more ideas.

Thanks to these readers for writing in. If you’ve got a question, feel free to shoot me an email via the contact form.

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