Insect repellent is a necessity of travel and depending where you live, of life. Whether you style yourself as tourist or traveller, budget or high-end luxury, business traveller or pleasure seeker, city slicker or beach bum, there are some travel certainties. Once you’re in a tropical climate, mosquitoes and their barbaric bloodsucking insect brethren will do their utmost to find you. And when they do, you should be prepared for them.
By prepared, I mean you need to have every insect repellent weapon in your arsenal already deployed. This is entirely necessary if you want to gain the upper hand in “The War Of The Moz”.
Yes, that is a thing. I just officially made it up.
This post is not going to detail the physiological features of the flying fiends who would have your blood for breakfast. Neither will it list out all the ghastly infections and diseases that may befall you if you have chosen to breeze into your chosen location unarmed against these miniscule monsters. Instead, I will pre-suppose that as a minimum, you have heard of malaria, and you have probably heard of Zika. Therefore, you already know that both of those things are VERY BAD and should be avoided at all costs. Insect repellent is a good first step in enjoying your travels without encountering either of them.
Insects suck – and so do their bites
Even without all of the ghastly infections, at the risk of stating the obvious, insect bites are bad, right? They itch and weep for days. For me, they now erupt into golf-ball sized welts that sometimes refuse to die without the aid of antihistamine lotion. Until the lotion kicks in, they serve as a muse to make-up artists who enjoy Halloween.
Also, as an ultra-competitive person, it bugs me (no pun intended!) that something so small and evil can attempt to ruin my travels. So I find a certain appeal in gliding through tropical locations practically undetectable to the nasty little blighters. A bit like I imagine Harry Potter must feel when he’s sneaking through Slytherin House in his Invisibility Cloak.
I say “practically undetectable” as you never know. Insects are evil geniuses who are forever concocting new ways to find new blood to suck. But these methods, especially when used in combination, will give you the best possible chance of enjoying your tropical stay without suffering the bites.
In case the wee beasties still manage to sneak a sip of your claret despite your best efforts with these insect repellent ideas, we have included ideas for bite remedies as well.
Apart from the old-fashioned method of spraying yourself liberally with insect repellent substances (see below), this little gadget is hands down the best deterrent for mozzies and flying insects that we have ever found.
The LifeSystems Portable Mosquito Killer is a small, battery-powered device that kills mosquitoes dead in their tracks. We have used these since 2013 when we travelled to Africa, and since then in many countries in Asia and Central America. I cannot recall ever being bitten in a room when one is switched on. Where the mozzies have dared to stage an invasion, I have found some of them dead on the floor the next morning. Zapped by clever, insect-targeted death rays while I was sleeping soundly? I’d like to think so. But actually, the device takes small cartridges that slowly emit a scent that is harmless and odourless to humans, but deathly for our tiny winged enemies. It weighs only 125 grams in your bag, and the cartridge refills last for up to 6 nights. I would never again travel to a hot country without one.
Let’s face it, you can buy chemical insect repellent wherever there are biting insects and people, especially tourist people. But I have only ever found these babies to order online. One plus a pack of refill cartridges is well worth the weight and space in your backpack.
2. Insect repellent lotions
As I said, you can buy variations of this anywhere. Really, don’t do what we have done in the past and think you need to pack fifteen litres of the stuff. You will invariably run out anyway, and have to buy more from a shop that is perfectly well stocked to sell fifteen litres of the stuff per tourist per day. Most likely at half the price of your local supermarket.
If you do feel the urge to take some then take an insect repellent roll on. I still do, as I have been caught without insect repellent on a plane before and got eaten alive. I have not yet seen roll on bug repellents widely available in Asia or Central America. They are useful because you can get them travel-sized at less than 100ml, and roll ons last longer because you don’t have residue spraying everywhere and being wasted. We use the Jungle Formula ones.
Now, I really don’t want to get into any discussion about the relative merits of DEET on this blog post. Suffice to say, if I personally have a choice then I’d prefer to avoid the pain and risk of mosquito bites now, today, and if this means covering myself with DEET then I am at peace with that. It seems that DEET has never been proven to cause risk to humans in reasonable doses, in any case.
However, if you are someone who prefers to avoid DEET, whatever your reasons, then there are natural alternatives available. Personally, if I were staying somewhere for a long time and was using insect repellent every day, then I would likely switch to a natural alternative. Jungle Formula do have a natural alternative as part of their range in any case.
3. Insect repellent wipes
These are also really useful. They are not liquid so they are allowed on planes because you can’t use wipes to blow up a plane like you can a bottle of normal insect rep… oh, well. Let’s not go there. Suffice to say, insect repellent wipes are good for travel. Single use ones are handy for stealing from hotels like we did with these ones. But if purchasing, it’s better if you can get a multi pack like this one.
4. Repellent wearables
We discovered these in Bali. A small supermarket had those festival-style rubber wrist bands impregnated with citronella and they were surprisingly effective. But they did make us look like overaged students. And I know some people cannot get on with the scent of citronella. If you are this person then skip on to item 5. If you don’t mind the scent and are reading this post because you were hoping for some natural, non-DEET insect repelling remedies, then read on.
We now use the Parakito stuff. These are a range of fabric bracelets and keyrings which have a small pocket in which you insert a citronella-scented tab. You can buy refills for the tabs. Although not exactly stylish in design, they are a step up from the rubber student festival wristbands. And if we all support the cause, someone might come along and create something that actually serves both function and form.
5. Clothing that repels insects
This can be done in two ways. You can buy insect repellent to spray onto your clothes. It contains permethrin and claims to last for several washes. However, a bottle is quickly used up after a few items of clothing are treated. For longer term travel this would mean having to either carry several bottles of it around, or keep sourcing it in different places.
There are also now clothing ranges such as Craghoppers Nosilife. The entire range is made of fabrics engineered with insect repelling properties that claim to last for the lifetime of the clothing. Even as an outdoor clothing brand, they do have some more feminine pieces in the range. As well as the masculine ones.
6. Mosquito nets
If they are used correctly, then mosquito nets can be very effective at keeping the mozzies away from your sleeping skin. In places where there are a lot of mosquitoes, many hotels and hostels will have them already installed. You can of course also carry a travel mosquito net. As we are always carrying our Lifesystems portable ray of death, we don’t usually bother, although we do always use them in hotels if available. However we have never been travelling anywhere where we cannot buy batteries, so mosquito nets still make the list for this reason!
7. Citronella incense coils
Incense coils are another thing that I would not actually bring in the backpack due to size and weight considerations. However, they are usually available in local supermarkets so I will often pick some up if we are staying in one place for a few nights or more especially if we are sitting outside a lot. I have used these ones during summer evenings even on our balcony at home. The coil means they last a lot longer than a traditional incense stick and the citronella scent is not an overly strong scent.
Treating the dreaded bites
If the arsenal of insect repellent methods above still proves insufficient protection against the malevolent mozzies and you find yourself scratching red and swollen bite marks, then the treatments below will help to soothe them.
8. Bite creams/antihistamine lotions
I never go to any hot country without an antihistamine cream. The best one I have found is Fenistil. (It also helps with sunburn). I do have some extreme reactions to insect bites where they become huge and swollen so when this happens I rely on medication to control the immune reaction. If you just want something to reduce the itching, then some aloe vera gel will cool and soothe the bite spot. Tiger balm is also good against bites.
9. Bite relief clicker
This clever little device works by delivering a small static charge when it is clicked against the skin. Used directly on the bite area, it tricks the body out of the immune reaction to the bite, reducing swelling and itching for several hours at a time. It doesn’t take any batteries or charging, and doesn’t have any use-by date.
10. Hot water
Bear with me, it really works! Actually, hot water works by the same principle as the bite relief clicker above, it fools the immune reaction. Wet a clean towel with water as hot as you are able to stand it without scalding (or screaming, if anyone else is around) and hold it against the bite spot until the itching subsides. It’s also surprisingly effective.
So there you go. That is our arsenal in the War of the Moz. We find it works very well and have yet to be struck down with malaria or other insect-borne diseases. Do you have any top tips or products for fending off the bloodsuckers? Share in the comments below!
IMPORTANT: This article is not intended as medical advice. You should always talk to a doctor or pharmacist for travel advice or in case of any reactions to insect bites, bite remedies or insect repelling products, especially if you are pregnant or taking medication. Take care of your health.
This article contains affiliate links. Retailers will pay us a small commission – at NO cost to you – if you buy anything once you click through. We have personally tested ALL of these methods during travels on the plains of Africa, beaches of Asia and forests of Central America. Whether they contain affiliate links or not.