How to Prevent & Remove Head Lice While Travelling
Learn how to Identify, Prevent, and Treat Head lice while travelling even if you can’t buy specialised pesticide shampoos.
So Today I’m going to cover something from the unglamorous side of travel. In this day and age of Instatravel, it’s easy to think modern travel is all beers on the beach and infinity pool selfies but the reality is, things don’t always work out as planned. One of the things that can take your travel experience from 100 to 0 fast is head lice.
Now first thing, don’t freak out! This is not the end of the world, it doesn’t mean you’re dirty or that you are going to infest everybody. You’re not going to suffer any long term effects. In one or two treatments over a few weeks, you will be good as new.
Lice and nits live close to the warmth of the scalp in human hair. They are caught mostly from head to head contact so anywhere with close confines, contact with kids or shared headrests, hats etc. could be the culprit.
I have hair down to my hips (which granted I’m a little precious about) and have travelled all over the world without ever catching head lice, though my travel buddy did once and we treated her without a problem. Part of this I’m sure is luck and I contribute the rest to my hair paranoia. Here are some simple techniques to minimise your chances of catching nits on the road.
Cover your head – When using public transport or interacting with kids I usually make sure my hair is up under a hat or scarf. This is an easy habit that prevents head to head and head to headrest contamination.
Check the room – This is part of my anti-bed bug precaution (preventing bed bugs is a whole other story), I always view a hostel or hotel room before paying for it. Pull back the sheets and you can do a quick scan for any dead bugs, or tiny tell-tale blood spots. (Head lice don't live long off the head so this is purely a precaution).
Tea tree/Eucalyptus oil – Another part of bed bug prevention is carrying a little bottle of Tea Tree oil. I sprinkle a few drops across the sheets and pillows and not only does it refresh, even stuffy rooms but makes any bugs run for cover.
Don’t share - Clothing items like hats or things like brushes, pillows, headbands etc. Things that have direct contact with your head need to be kept to yourself. This is a great habit to teach any children you are travelling with as well.
Do you think you have head lice? It can be uncomfortable and a bit creepy but don’t worry, it could happen to anyone and is pretty easy to treat. If you think you have nits, comb through your hair to try and find a tell-tale bug or ask a partner or friend to have a look for you if you feel comfortable.
Itchy scalp – You will probably have an itchy scalp and back of the neck near the hairline.
Find a bug - A head lice is a small bug, adults are just bigger than a sesame seed and can be brown to a sort of see-through, cream in colour.
Find eggs – This is more easily done by someone else but you may be able to feel small bumps stuck to the hair shaft about a quarter of an inch from your scalp.
Small red bumps on neck and shoulders – Occasionally a rash of small bumps will appear near the hair line.
Feel them moving – The more mature bugs move around and can create an itchy, creepy feeling that’s pretty gross. Don’t worry they don’t live in clothes or on the body so they won’t crawl all over you.
Lice are born from eggs attached to your hair strands, they mature and lay more eggs continuing the cycle. This means that if you choose a non-chemical way to remove the lice, you will need to do two treatments 8 days apart, to catch any missed eggs hatching and stopping the cycle for good.
Treat everyone sharing surfaces – If you’re travelling with a partner, family or a close group it can be easier to treat everyone at once, as a just in case measure.
Nit comb – I actually carry a small nit comb when I travel (see previously mentioned paranoia) It can deal with tricky tangles and be an extra level of security if you feel a head itch coming on. If you don’t have one on you, any fine toothed comb that wouldn’t let a sesame seed through is fine.
Bag head – There are a lot of treatments suggested for head lice including; mayonnaise, oil, conditioner, and pesticide shampoo.
My favourite is coconut oil, something else I carry everywhere I go. It is a great moisturiser, hair conditioner, shave balm, leather conditioner the list goes on, but in this instance nit treatment. Put several teaspoons of coconut oil through your hair until it is densely coated from scalp to tip. Then pin hair up and wrap a plastic bag around your head and wait 45min-1hour.
Nit-pick – Wash you oil out of your hair with your usual shampoo, combing through several times to remove all the dead lice and as many eggs as possible (it leaves hair lovely and conditioned). If there is someone you are comfortable with, ask them to check your hair over, and squish any eggs they find still stuck to your hair follicles between their nails.
Wash all the things – Head lice don’t survive long away from the head but it may pay to wash your pillow cases and headwear, better safe than sorry.
If you do find yourself with Nits and somewhere with no access to pharmacy chemical shampoo treatment, you can usually find some oil or heavy conditioner to use for the bag head treatment. Just don’t forget to reapply the treatment after 8 days and as a courtesy to others wear your hair up until their all gone, so you don’t pass them on. Head lice may not be a fate worse than death but we could all live without that creepy crawly feeling.
Do you have your own remedy for lice removal? I’d love to hear your less glamorous travel story’s and tips, please comment bellow.
Author of Stress Free Adventure Planning