At home, mosquito bites are a major nuisance. When traveling, they are a potential source of life-threatening diseases like malaria, dengue fever, Zika virus, and Chikungunya. These diseases are sometimes underreported, so it’s important to manage your exposure in tropical climates even when you’re told the area is safe. Tip: Always visit the Center for Disease Control before you travel to learn about health risks in your destination.
There are several ways to protect yourself from mosquitos, at home or abroad.
The Fan Trick
Traditional buildings in many tropical areas don’t keep out much wildlife, including mosquitos, and you may not want to coat your skin with chemicals in your home every evening. In that case, sit in front of a fan. Mosquitos find you by sensing your carbon dioxide emissions, and a fan confuses them. They also aren’t strong flyers, so even if they find you, they can’t reach you in a strong wind. If you’re with a group, set up an oscillating fan, or turn the ceiling fan on it’s highest setting. The closer you are to the fan, and the stronger it’s blowing, the fewer mosquitos will find you.
Bring a repellent with DEET
There’s some debate about the safety of DEET, but according to Popular Science, experts agree that it’s the “most effective insect repellent humans have ever invented” and a lot of the negative press is just plain false. Citronella and herbal solutions are fine to try in your backyard, but when your life is at stake, you need proven protection, and DEET is it. You’ll be able to buy repellents in most areas that have mosquitos, but if you want to be sure that it doesn’t contain chemicals the FDA hasn’t approved for humans, bring something with you from the States.
Which repellent should you buy?
Experienced travelers avoid liquids. Not only are they a nuisance in the security line, but they have a tendency to leak and spill in the pressurized environment of an airplane, which could ruin everything in your suitcase. Deep Woods Off towelettes are a popular solution from a trusted brand, containing a solid 25% DEET solution.
Repel has 30% DEET and comes in a convenient solid stick form that won’t leave you wondering what to do with wipes and foil packets every time you apply it. This formula is also available in towelette form.
Mosquito-repellent clothing can cover large areas of your body so you only have to apply repellent to your hands and feet. Ex-Officio’s Bugsaway line includes hoodies, shirts, pants and jackets for men and women, often with hoods, thumbholes and other features designed to help you cover up when you need extra protection. Moisture-wicking, fast-drying mesh is the most popular fabric for tropical climates. The embedded insect repellent (permethrin) lasts through about 70 washes. If you’ll be traveling long-term and washing your clothes often, choose out outerwear items like hoodies or jackets that won’t need to be washed as often.
Untreated fabrics won’t drive mosquitos away, but they will protect the skin they cover from bites.
A lightweight, long-sleeve shirt is a versatile item to carry, offering protection from sun, bugs, thorns, and cool breezes. Shirts specifically designed for outdoor life or travel will resist wrinkles, odors, and stains, dry in a flash, pack up small, and have cooling features like air vents and roll-up sleeves. Columbia and Ex-Officio are both excellent brands.
Long pants, tall socks, and a hat are important parts of a traveler’s wardrobe as well. In a pinch, you can also grab a sheet off the bed and wrap yourself up.
Sleep Under a Net
The mosquitos that carry malaria only bite after dark, so sleeping under a permethrin-treated net offers excellent malaria protection, and even an untreated net offers great protection while you sleep. How do you know if you need a net? If your lodging will be air-conditioned, like a modern hotel, it is probably mosquito-proof as well. If your lodging will be open-air, write ahead and confirm that you will have a net. If you’re camping, traveling long-term, or just want to be sure, you can buy and carry your own net.
Carry Travel Insurance
If you find yourself in a serious medical situation in a remote village, you can just call or message your insurance company and they will connect you with medical care. They’ll also pay your bills, and cover the cost of bringing you home if necessary. In the case of malaria or dengue fever, this could literally save your life. You can grab a quick quote from World Nomads in the sidebar, or if that’s not working on your screen, use this link.
Consider A Random Act of Kindness
On a related note, the Nothing But Nets campaign has been outfitting homes across Africa with treated bed nets for years. This simple program is having a profound impact; in short, it’s working. You can send a net, and possibly save an entire family, for just $10 or sign up to contribute monthly.
“It wasn’t long ago that a child died every 30 seconds from malaria. Today, the rate is every 60 seconds. Just a few years ago, malaria was the number one killer of refugees in Africa. Working in close partnership with the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), Nothing But Nets provided more than 1 million nets to African refugees. The results were measurable and dramatic. Now malaria is the fifth leading cause of death among refugees. We’re making real progress, but still have much work to do.”