How to Prevent Mosquito Bites While Traveling

mosquitoes around travellerse

There’s a lot to do before a trip: Reservations, packing, making sure the car’s ready. But taking steps to remain healthy during your travels is important, too. One thing should be to take steps to avoid mosquito bites, especially if you’ll spend time outdoors. Our guide can help you learn how to prevent mosquito bites while traveling.

We also have a pro tip for when your travel destination involves water. Check out our personal experience below to find out.

Why Should I Worry About Mosquito Bites When I Travel?

You should worry because mosquitoes can spread disease. When a female mosquito feeds on an infected person or animal, it picks up viruses or parasites in the victim’s blood. Should the mosquito bite you, it will transfer those viruses or parasites through its saliva. Some mosquito-borne diseases found in the U.S. are:

  • West Nile virus
  • Dengue fever
  • Chikungunya virus
  • Zika virus
  • Eastern equine encephalitis
  • Western equine encephalitis
  • St. Louis encephalitis

Some mosquito-borne viruses found outside the U.S.:

  • Yellow fever
  • Japanese encephalitis
  • Malaria (Note that locally acquired malaria cases have been reported in Texas and Florida in 2023.)
  • Rift Valley fever

Before You Go

person spraying on leg
Photo Credit: Zbynek Pospisil / Canva Pro / License

To protect yourself from mosquito bites, add these things to your to-do list:

Get Health Alerts

While you’re checking the weather forecast for your destination, check for any alerts on mosquito-borne illnesses, too. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a number of travelers resources for both U.S. and international travel, including:

Traveling within the United States? Check the websites of the state and county health departments at your destination (or stops along the way). These departments issue alerts on disease outbreaks or if disease-carrying mosquitoes have been discovered in their areas. 

Check With Your Healthcare Provider

There are few preventatives for mosquito-borne illnesses: Vaccines for yellow fever, Japanese encephalitis, and dengue plus several anti-malaria drugs. However, there are different guidelines on who’s eligible for vaccines (for example, the new dengue vaccine is for kids.) The CDC Destinations site lists requirements for countries worldwide. 

However, the CDC suggests that if you’re going outside the U.S., see your healthcare provider at least a month before departure. Some countries require travelers to be vaccinated against other diseases.  Since it takes time to build immunity, and some vaccines or medications require multiple doses, planning ahead could be a trip-saver.

Prepare Your Gear

If you plan to go hiking or camping, you may want to prepare your clothing and gear ahead of time by spraying with permethrin. This synthetic chemical, which acts like extracts from the chrysanthemum flower, is used as an insecticide; on clothing and gear, it’s used as a repellent. 

Permethrin is not to be sprayed on the skin or indoors. Please don’t spray near cats — it’s toxic to them. To treat your clothing and gear safely:

  • Use permethrin that’s formulated for clothing. Don’t buy pesticides.
  • Hang your clothes and gear outside, then spray them.
  • If you’re using permethrin on a tent, use a water-based spray to avoid damaging waterproofing materials.
  • Spray clothes until they’re damp; no need to drench them.
  • Let them dry thoroughly before you put them away. 
  • Treat only outer clothing. (Meaning, not your underwear.)

Don’t want to deal with spraying? You can buy pre-treated insect-repellent clothing and gear.

Choose Your Lodgings With Safety in Mind

The CDC suggests that if possible, make reservations at a hotel, motel, or cabin that has air conditioning. Closed windows are a good deterrent to mosquitoes and other insects. If there’s no air conditioning, check reviews or call the lodging to determine if the rooms have window or door screens.

Don’t Forget Transportation Safety

Before you go, make sure to research the details of your travel pass to get transportation details. How many buses do you need to take? Do you need to take a boat? Are they air-conditioned or in the open air?

What to Pack

Photo Credit: Tony Webster / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Besides your treated clothing and gear, there are a few other things to pack that will ward off mosquitoes. 

Insect repellents with EPA-registered active ingredients: The most common skin-applied ingredients on the market include:

  • DEET: The longest-used and the most common repellent. It is considered the gold standard of repellents for its effectiveness.
  • Picaridin: This relative newcomer to the market is based on an extract from the plant that produces black pepper. Outside the U.S., it is known as icaridin.
  • Oil of lemon eucalyptus: This is derived from the lemon eucalyptus plant and commonly used in natural mosquito repellents. Don’t confuse it with lemon eucalyptus essential oil. 
  • Para-menthane-diol: This is the synthetic version of oil of lemon eucalyptus.
  • IR3535: This synthetic repellent is widely used in Europe.

Note: Products come with varying concentrations of active ingredients. To get the best mosquito repellent for you, match a product’s protection time to your needs.

Protective clothing. Light-colored, loosely fitting clothing with long sleeves, pants, and socks will help deter the little biters. 

Mosquito net. Keep one handy if you’ll be sleeping outside or your lodging doesn’t have screened windows or air conditioning. A net treated with permethrin will be more effective. 

At Your Destination

Check your lodgings: Make sure there are no openings that will let mosquitoes waltz in. Look for:

  • Gaps around windows, doors, and air conditioners
  • Holes in screens
  • Make sure windows and doors close properly. 
  • Look for standing water near windows and doors. (Mosquitoes use standing water as nurseries.)

It might be tempting to bring along some mosquito incense. But please, don’t light it up in your room. Besides the fire hazard, you’ll be exposed to unhealthy amounts of particulate matter and chemicals. 

Use insect repellent.  Permethrin-treated clothing will only protect the areas it covers. So it’s important to use repellent on exposed skin. Always follow product label instructions when applying.  For the kids, WebMD suggests not using repellent on babies younger than 2 months. Drape a stroller with a mosquito net instead.

Use a mosquito bed net if needed. If you’re sleeping outside, or your lodging doesn’t have adequately screened windows and doors, it’s time to break out the mosquito net. To use the net correctly, the CDC suggests:

  • Tuck the net under the mattress; for cribs, tuck it under the mattress or buy one long enough to reach the floor.
  • Pull the net tightly and hook or tie the sides to nearby objects to prevent it from sagging into your sleeping area.
  • To prevent fire, don’t hang a net near flames, cigarettes, or mosquito incense.
  • Don’t sleep with your body against the net.  Mosquitoes can reach you through the holes.

Firsthand Experience: A Waterfall of Mosquitoes

Teresa Joaquim
Teresa Joaquim

I once did a family trip to a nearby waterfall, and we even brought our dog, Bob, with us. I packed my bag with everything I needed: a toothbrush, swimsuit, sunscreen, and, of course, mosquito repellent. Since we were going to a natural water source, I opted for a natural, citronella-based repellent.

When my family and I finally got to the waterfall, we had already applied our natural mosquito repellent. As I was uncertain about entering the waters, I stood by a rock on the margins, with only my feet and ankles under the water. When the waterfall visit was over and we left, I had no worries, or so I thought.

Getting into the car, I started to feel an itchiness on one of my ankles. To my surprise, there was a huge red bump: the mark of a hungry mosquito. The mosquito repellent was probably washed off by the water, giving an opportunistic mosquito the chance to feed on me. 

So here’s the moral of the tale: Remember to reapply mosquito repellents after contact with water.

Teresa Joaquim


If You Are Bitten by Mosquitoes

mosquito sitting on skin
Photo Credit: riderfoot / Canva Pro / License

Despite your precautions, mosquitoes can sneak up on you. You likely won’t have access to many at-home remedies while traveling, but for a quick fix, try:

  • Ice
  • Cold compress
  • Warm compress
  • A dab of non-gel toothpaste (Use one with mint or baking soda.)
  • An OTC hydrocortisone or corticosteroid cream

When to Seek Medical Help

Unfortunately, some folks are allergic to mosquito saliva. The condition is called skeeter syndrome, and it can hit 8-10 hours after a bite. Get medical help if you have any of these symptoms:

  • Hives
  • A large area of swelling
  • Pain
  • Blisters
  • Fever

Get to an emergency room if you have:

  • Swollen throat
  • Wheezing
  • Problems breathing

Once You’ve Returned Home

Besides unpacking, there are a couple things you should do:

Wash permethrin-treated clothes separately. The EPA says that bits of permethrin come off in the washing machine. Since you want to keep permethrin off some clothing (like underwear), it’s best to wash treated items together using the gentle cycle. Some manufacturers suggest hand-washing and air-drying.

For permethrin-treated gear, check with the gear’s manufacturer or the product label for washing instructions. Some tent makers suggest washing a tent by hand and letting it air-dry. Follow label instructions on washing permethrin-treated mosquito nets.

Monitor Your Health. Hopefully, any bites will be just a quickly forgotten annoyance. Unfortunately, mosquitoes can spread serious diseases. Call your healthcare provider if you have any of these symptoms:

  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Body aches
  • Nausea
  • A rash
  • Fatigue

Note: Florida’s Department of Health suggests that if you’ve traveled overseas, remain vigilant about mosquito-bite prevention for three weeks after your return, especially if you don’t feel well. This can help prevent the transmission of diseases to area mosquitoes. 

FAQ

What Kind of Mosquito Bed Net Should I Buy?

Choose a WHOPES-approved (WHO Pesticide Evaluation Scheme) insecticide-treated mosquito bed net. It should be compact, white, rectangular, and have 156 holes per square inch. Plus, it should be long enough to tuck under a mattress.

Can I Use Insect Repellent and Sunscreen Together?

Yes, but don’t apply them at the same time. The safest way to use sunscreen and insect repellent is to use them separately, according to the CDC. Apply sunscreen first, then repellent. (It’s suggested to let the sunscreen dry for 20-30 minutes before you apply repellent.)

Can I Take Mosquito Repellent on an Airplane?

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) says you can take most skin-applied repellents in carry-on and checked bags (depending on the size). However, the FAA says some liquid repellents, including some with picaridin, are flammable. Repellents are subject to size and quantity limits. For specific information, see the FAA’s PackSafe site.

When to Call a Pest Control Professional

Mosquito bite prevention isn’t just for traveling. But if you have trouble keeping the little biters under control at home, Pest Gnome can connect you to the best pest control experts in your area. A local pro has the tools and methods to rid your home and property of mosquitoes so you and your family can stay safe.

Main Image Credit: wayhomestudio / Freepik edited using Canva Pro

Linda Wolfla-Thomas

Linda Wolfla-Thomas is a Midwest-based writer who got a crash course in home maintenance when she bought her first house. She enjoys learning new repair skills, like replacing light fixtures and fixing a leaky toilet, but she’s learned that some things, like putting down floor tiles, are best left to the pros.