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How to survive an insect phobia while traveling

How to survive an insect phobia while traveling

There is nothing there!

“Have you carefully tucked in your mosquito net?” One of our friends looked at me with a smirk on his face… Somewhat suspicious I replied that no I hadn’t, but why was he asking?

“There is a large colony of ants marching through your cabin. We just went in to pick up the flashlight and wow… I’m happy we’re not sleeping in your hut!”

The location of this particular conversation was somewhere in the middle of beautiful Tortuguero and for me it was the first time ever in such an exotic country. I had been to Mexico before but while we did encounter some funky animals there too, we slept in fairly luxurious hotels and the amount of insects in the rooms was minimal. Apart from the occasional mosquito.


Costa Rica, however, was a totally different ball game. As mentioned we stayed in National Parc Tortuguero and while it is beautiful there, the lodges at that time (we’re talking 2001 here) were very basic. Our cabin was situated next to the – cayman filled -river and in the middle of a small field. To prevent anything creeping in it was placed on poles. The only furniture in the cabin was a bed. That’s it. O and a little light bulb, if you count that as furniture. So no tables, no chair or anything else. And the wooden planks of the cabin where so crooked that you could almost slide through them to go in and out. Not sure how that would prevent a snake from getting in, but I chose to think about that.

Heartbeat 250

We had arrived at the beautiful place in the afternoon and all felt good at that moment. But as soon as the light started to dwindle and more and more creatures started flying around our heads my heart beat went up by the minute. I did have to sleep in that cute little cabin…. And yes sure we had a mosquito net, but what if I had to use the bath room in the middle of the night??

You have to know that obviously our cabin didn’t have a toilet. The toilet building was located at roughly 200 meters from the cabin. You had to cross those 200 meters over a small concrete path. The only light burning at night was in that same – very open – building. And you can probably guess what happens when you turn the light on in the middle of the jungle.

So the idea of having to go there – half naked – in the middle of the night, didn’t exactly appeal to me.


We had a pretty long day of travel so somewhere around 9 pm everyone went to bed. With wobby knees we went to our cabin – armed with a flash light, as all the communal lights went out at 9 pm as well. Turning on the light in our room was also a bit of a problem as a colony of micro ants were marching across the button. Apparently it was their usual route. The first thing I thought when I saw how small they were, was that there would not be much stopping them going through the mosquito net. But I quickly decided to skip that thought.

We set ourselves up in the bed, tucked the mosquito net in carefully around us, turned of the flash light (which was kept inside the net) and laid down.


Of course it wasn’t even ten minutes later that I felt I had to pee. I tried to post pone it for as long as I could, but once you start thinking you have to go to the loo, there is no turning back. Tom was already softly snoring but woke up when I sat up straight. “Do you want me to go with you?” he asked, half sleeping, but that was a bit too ridiculous (even though I wanted to scream yes!) so I said ‘ No ofcourse not! I can go to the toilet alone!”

I turned over my shoes to make sure there wasn’t anything (like a scorpion) inside, put on a tshirt and shorts, turned on the flash light and carefully made sure not to look around the cabin. Opened the door and shone the light across the field to make sure there were no cayman lurking there.

The coast seemed clear, so I stepped down the stairs and half ran towards the toilet building. But dear heavens… it was so crowded in there! And no I don’t mean from people but frogs, insects and god knows what else. I tried not to look around too much and only screamed once when a bright green frog started hopping around in my toilet booth. I didn’t know how fast I had to run back to our cabin (after doing the cayman check again) take of all the clothes and tucked the mosquito net in again.

Of course as you can imagine, I had to go to the loo three times that night. And I hardly slept at all, listening to all the weird jungle sounds. And around 4 am the howler monkeys started giving a little concert, so paired with our jetlag it was 5 am that we sat outside our cabin watching the jungle come to life.


After that very first night I had two choices: either to go back home a total nerve wrack ór accept that I had to share my place here with loads or flying and crawling creatures. I choose the latter and decided to put my insect phobia on hold. And it is really true that once you set your mind to it, you can get used to almost any situation. It wasn’t even a day later that I was brushing my teeth in the same toilet building (only cold water of course) that a cockroach landed on my arm. Instead of screaming and running away I shot it of my arm with a finger and continued brushing my teeth. I might have shivered only once.

How to get used to insects while traveling?

It’s probably one of the most heard comments when I say that I love traveling to exotic locations and that I also like sleeping in remote places where luxury is non existent. And by the way, you might spot a cockroach in any hotel in Asia, no matter how many stars it has. So do you panic or just accept the fact that it is what it is?

It’s a face of life that insects in Asia, Africa and Southern America are a lot more exotic (and big!) than the ones I would normally encounter in the Netherlands (my home country). If you want to travel, that is part of what you will need to get used to. I hate mosquitos the most, because the pose a risk of malaria and other diseases but there are more dangerous insects that you don’t want to run into.

Things to do against insects

Apart from just getting used to it, there are a couple of things you can do to prevent insects forming a problem while traveling

Wear long clothing

Maybe a logical thing to do, but when you know you're in an area filled with creepy and crawly things? Wear trousers with long legs and shirts with arms as well. It'll help

Use insect repellent

It's the solution to all insects but will definitely keep some at bay. Check before you're going what would work best in the country of your choice

Burn a candle

While it is also romantic you can burn candles which give of a scent that insects do not like. Lemony scents seem to do the trick. Citronella, lavendar, lemongrass, rosemary and a few more all are reported to have the effect of scaring them away.

Use a mosquito net

While they can be a pain to carry around, if you're in an area where the mosquito's carry a deadly variety of malaria or worse, it makes sense to be wise about it. You can maybe get a net from the location you're staying but bringing your own tends to be the better option

Don't give them a reason to come and visit you

Insects - depending on the species - like certain fragrances and odours. Some will be attracted to sweaty people, some to your perfume. In either case while sweating cannot always be avoided, not using a perfume is usually a good idea.

Protection is the number one thing to take care of against mosquitos and other stinging insects. Where necessary sleep under a mosquito net. It will keep you safe against most flying intruders and will give you a better night rest.

Don’t touch any animals. This might be logical thinking but I have seen many times that travelers thought it would be fun to get too close to a cayman or a snake or a colourful insect. Just don’t do it. On that note; while I love cats, I am cautious to not touch cats or dogs either. Ever since the wife of a friend got scratched by a cat in Africa and – as we speak – is still fighting for her life. And it’s been two years since the incident. Rare that might be. I’d rather not take any chances.

The selfie culture can be more dangerous than you think when it comes to exotic creatures. I take pictures with a long lens! 😉

In the end, traveling brings me more joy than any scary creature can take away. It’s all a matter of balance. But if you do have an actual real insect phobia… you might be better of staying at home.

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Travel makes my heart sing a little. I love discovering new flavors around the world. Finding the best budget friendly way to walk around a city, or where to go for the best pho when you're in Vietnam. You'll find it all here!

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Written by Simone