Tuesday Travel Trouble: FLEAS

Alright, the Tuesday has finally come to share one of our most troubling travel stories.  We’ve waited to share this one because we are, after all, a website encouraging family travel, letting you know that “you can do it,” and “it will be great!”  Yes, these things are still true.  But part of the reason we share Tuesday Travel Trouble is to help prepare you for unexpected obstacles, for adventures you’d rather not have as part of your travels.

You may recall that Paris experienced a pretty good heat wave a couple of weeks into our stay.  During this time, we got used to sleeping with our windows open, and in the following days, I started noticing bug bites on my ankles.  Mosquitoes, I figured.  But after another day or two of new, itchy bites, I noticed our toddler had quite a few, as well.

Then one day I looked down at my white stocking feet, only to notice a couple of little black specs.  When I tried to pick one off, it jumped and was immediately gone.  Same thing with the next one.  A minute or two later, I had another on my sock.

We had a flea infestation.

Within a few minutes, I had found plenty more fleas, plus bites on several of the other kids’ ankles.  I got to researching flea eradication methods, especially ones that would not put our family’s health at risk.  But the more I researched, the more I despaired.  I called the apartment owner’s daughter-in-law who lived in the building next door.  She didn’t have any recommendations other than the hardware store down the street, but mentioned that fleas had shown up in her apartment that week, as well.  Maybe it was tied to the heat wave?

I called the apartment owner to see if she had any suggestions.  She was surprised and dismayed, but really didn’t have any tips other than to fumigate the apartment with something from the hardware store.

I headed to the French DIY store, Bricorama (which was kind of fun, to tell you the truth).  We wanted a non-fumigation option for health’s sake, but that was really all they had.  Plus the employees really didn’t have any expertise.  After consulting further with Emily, we decided fumigation was really the only option, and even then, getting rid of fleas can be quite difficult.  Since we still had three weeks left in France, though, we had to make it work.

The neighborhood hardware store in Paris

The neighborhood hardware store in Paris (courtesy of Google Maps)

My one last hope in finding an expert was to talk to a veterinarian.  Google Maps found me one just a five-minute walk from the apartment.  The vet was tremendously sympathetic, saying she’d just discovered fleas in her house.  And she was knowledgeable.  She explained the ins and outs of fumigation and how to maximize success.  And she had just enough bombs for our apartment.  I bought all she had and thanked her profusely.

In a flurry, we made all the necessary preparations for fumigation.  We then hurriedly decided that to minimize health risks to ourselves and the kids, we would leave the apartment for at least 24 hours.  This urged us to pursue our Normandy plans, keeping us away from the apartment for 3+ days.  The rush to get out of there led to some unexpected challenges, both with the rental van and with the lodging in Normandy.  But in the end, we were thrilled with our visit to Normandy, and we returned to a flea-free Paris apartment.  WHAT A RELIEF!

A few things we learned from this experience:

  • There are risks associated with any hotel room or vacation rental, but it’s fair to say the risks are greater with vacation rentals.  We did not reach out to Airbnb for help, but if we’d not had a good alternative, they would likely have helped until the issue was resolved.  At the very least, it’s important to contact the owner or manager of the rental so they are aware, can offer guidance, and will not hold you responsible for a problem like this.
  • Make use of local resources.  In our case, it meant a trip to the hardware store and another trip to the vet.  Recognize that the problem you’re experiencing (whatever it may be) is likely one that others experience in your area.
  • If you find yourself in a situation that makes you uncomfortable (health or safety), get out.  Once you’re out of harm’s way, you can work on resolving the issue with lower risk to you and your family.
  • With our flea experience now well behind us, we look back and smile at the added adventure we had as a result of their arrival at Villa des Tulipes.  While we definitely hadn’t hoped for fleas, we were able to make the best of it as we headed to Normandy for a few days, something which may not have happened without the fleas’ encouragement to leave the city.

I couldn’t bring myself to include photos of fleas or bug bites.  Too gross.  So you get photos of Normandy, instead.

Photo credit (monkeys): Pettys

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