The appeal of having a motorhome is the freedom to go where you want, when you want, away from everyday pressures and back to a simpler way of life. The benefits of the great outdoors greatly outweigh the negatives, and it would be a shame to let pests like ticks or flies put you off camping. But at certain times of the year, the local wildlife can be a real menace. Nobody wants to pack up camp and head off many miles to find the nearest pharmacist. A little forward planning can make things a lot easier.
Ticks – What Are They?
Ticks are the bugs which cause most worry as in a small minority of cases, they can make you seriously ill. Here in the UK we have several species of ticks. They are small creatures which are part of the same family as spiders and mites, and are most active in the UK between March and October. Ticks live in forests and long grasses, and wait for an animal or person to brush past them, then attach themselves. You won’t be able to see ticks as you pass as they’re just too small. You won’t feel them attaching onto your skin either.
Lyme Disease is the main concern with ticks, but it’s really important to keep the risks in perspective. Not all ticks are infected with Lyme Disease, and finding a tick on your skin doesn’t mean you’re going to automatically fall ill. However, it’s also important to keep the risks in mind, and do what you can to minimise them. Ticks crawl from the point on your body where they made contact to other parts of the torso, so it’s wise to get into the habit of checking your skin carefully after a walk in the woods. If you do find a tick, don’t panic. Remove the tick with a pair of tweezers, taking care not to twist as you pull it off your skin. Put a little antiseptic cream on the spot where the tick bit you. Check your dogs too, following the same technique for removal. The tell-tale sign of Lyme Disease is a red rash around the place where you were bitten, which has been described as like a bullseye in a target. A rash usually starts to appear within three to six days of being bitten. If you spot a rash, see your GP and they will probably prescribe antibiotics.
Keeping Flies and Mosquitoes Away
The flies we have in the UK are a nuisance rather than harmful to health. Even in Europe, a bite from a fly or mosquito will at the worst produce an allergic reaction in some people, causing red, itchy legs or arms. Flies and insects can seriously impact on your enjoyment of being outside though, and who wants to have to spend their summer break hiding inside rather than being out in the warm weather enjoying the sunsets? Any camping shop will sell a wide range of products and gadgets designed to keep flies and other insects away from you. But do any of them actually work?
As far as insect repellent creams and sprays go, the most effective products contain DEET. Although it’s a very effective chemical to keep insects away, there are some health concerns too. Products containing DEET have a very strong smell, and only products containing a lesser concentration of DEET are suitable for small children. It’s probably best to keep the DEET insect repellents in reserve for when the insects are at their most troublesome. Some of the natural alternatives work just as well to fight off the insects. Light a campfire if you’re allowed to do so, as the smoke will help to keep all insects away. Special coils which burn slowly, or candles containing citronella can also help to deter flies. There are also plug-in or battery operated mosquito repellents which can work well, but obviously depend on where you can connect them up to the electricity supply. There’s also evidence that wearing perfume and strongly scented deodorants can attract flies, so keep fragrances to a minimum.
Combatting the Dreaded Scottish Midge
Scottish midges are legendary, and not in a good way. Midges are tiny flying insects measuring only 2 or 3mm in length. Being bitten by a midge isn’t painful; but it’s the itching afterwards which can cause serious irritation. The good news – if there is any – about midges is that they only come out at certain times of day, and in certain atmospheric conditions. Midges generally appear around dawn or dusk, and like still and calm evenings the best. Standard insect repellent will work against midges, as will covering up and trying to plan your day so you’re not sitting out in the evening when the risk is highest. Perhaps most effective are midge net hats, which have a very fine mesh to cover your face and shoulders. Yes, you’ll look a bit silly but they are very effective at keeping the midges away and you’ll see lots of other campers wearing them too.
Consider Your Stopping Spot
Whatever type of insects you’re trying to avoid, choosing your camping location carefully can help minimise the risks of being bitten. Wet and low-lying areas are where insects like to hang out best, so that spot by a pool in the forest might not be as perfect as you first thought. Try to stay away from the water wherever possible, and keep out of long grasses too. Although it’s tempting to leave the motorhome door open wide to allow fresh air to flow in, this will let the insects in too. Keep the door shut at all times, especially in the evening when bugs are most active. Look at the special mesh you can get to fit over the windows, which allows the air to get in, but keeps the bug outside. Think about food storage, as loose crumbs will attract not only flies but ants and other insects too. Ziplock bags and sturdy plastic boxes with lids which clip shut will help keep your food clean and the bugs out.
Heading Further Afield? Insects in Continental Europe
In general, the same rules apply to beating the insects when camping in continental Europe. Ticks are prevalent across the continent, and some studies indicate that the levels of ticks in Europe with Lyme Disease are higher than in the UK. One of the main pests which you’ll find in the Mediterranean but not in the UK are sand flies. Sand flies require warmer temperatures to grow, and there is some evidence that due to climate change, sand flies are beginning to spread further north. Sand flies aren’t particularly dangerous but are a nuisance. If you’re bitten, antihistamine cream will help with the itchiness on your skin.
Putting Together a Basic First Aid Kit
Unless you’re heading very far off the beating track, there’s no need to take the contents of a small doctor’s surgery with you on your travels. A basic first aid kit should have the following items, all of which can be easily sourced from a big supermarket, camping store or pharmacy:
- Antiseptic – either a cream, lotion for washing out wounds or grazes, or wipes.
- Plasters – a range of shapes and sizes
- Antihistamines – both tablets and cream suitable for all ages to deal with minor allergic reactions.
- Painkillers – a pack of ibuprofen, paracetamol, or both. If you’re travelling with children, a bottle of paracetamol suspension is a sensible addition.
- Insect repellent – take two separate sprays or creams with you, one containing DEET and on without.
- Water purification tablets – only essential if you will be off the beaten track and plan to use water from streams or lakes. Boiling water will have a similar effect.
There are also ready-made first aid kids available in large camping stores and supermarkets and these are an easy choice if you’re pushed for time. Get into the habit of checking the stock in your first aid box before setting off on a trip, making sure that nothing has expired or needs to be replaced. Try to find a cool, dark place to keep your first aid supplies, well out of the reach of children.
Overseas Motorhome Travel and EHIC
EHIC, the European Health Insurance Card, is still valid through 2020 as the UK goes through a Brexit transition period. EHIC allows you access to state healthcare across the EU on the same basis as a local resident. That doesn’t necessarily mean that treatment is free, but will be considerably cheaper than going to a private hospital. Another good option is to head directly to a pharmacy. In many places, and especially in larger towns and cities across Europe, there will be someone who can speak at least basic English. Often, pharmacies overseas may be able to supply items which are prescription only in the UK. There’s no charge for seeing a pharmacist, and opening hours may also be longer than in the UK.