The Travelers' Guide to Avoiding Bed Bugs at Hotels

Everything You Need to Know to Keep Bed Bugs from Following You Home

Bedbug
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Bed bugs were once a pest of the past, but they’ve made a remarkable comeback in recent years. Just a few hitchhiking bed bugs in your luggage can start a full scale infestation of the bloodsuckers in your home, should you unknowingly bring them back from your travels.

The mere thought of bed bugs might be enough to make your skin crawl (literally!), but it's important you understand a few things about these pests and their habits.

First, bed bugs don't transmit diseases, and aren't generally considered a threat to your health. As with any insect bite, bed bug bites can be itchy, and some people's skin may be more sensitive than others.

Second, bed bugs are not a product of filth, and will inhabit even the cleanest of homes. Don't assume your house or your hotel room is too clean to host bed bugs. If there's something for them to eat (usually you), bed bugs will be just as happy in a 5-star resort as they will in a cheap motel.

Third, bed bugs are nocturnal. That means they're only going to show their faces at night, when it's good and dark. Don't expect to walk into a hotel room in broad daylight and see bed bugs crawling up the walls.

Fourth, bed bugs are small, really, really small. You can see adult bed bugs if you know where to look, but viewing bed bug eggs will require a magnifying lens. Because they're so tiny, bed bugs can hide themselves in places you'd never think of looking.

Fortunately, there's plenty you can do to minimize your chances of bringing bed bugs home from your next vacation or business trip. If you plan and pack carefully, inspect your accommodations for bed bug problems, and take some precautionary pest control measures when you return, you can travel without worrying about bringing bed bugs home.

Next: How to Plan and Pack for a Bed Bug Free Vacation

Before you hit the road on your next vacation or business trip, do your homework. People are quick to share their travel experiences online, especially when it comes to bed bugs in hotel rooms. Websites like Tripadvisor, where customers post their own reviews of hotels and resorts, are invaluable resources to see if your hotel has a bed bug problem. You can also check out bedbugregistry.com, an online database that tracks reported bed bug infestations in hotels and apartments.

The bottom line – if people are saying they've seen bed bugs at a certain hotel or resort, don't stay there on your trip.

How you pack for your trip can also make the difference in thwarting bed bugs you may encounter on the road. Baggies are a traveler's best friend. Get yourself a good supply of large baggies (1 or 2 gallon sizes work great), and seal everything you can inside them. Clothing, shoes, toiletries, and even books can be zipped up tight to keep bed bugs out. Make sure you seal the baggies completely, as even a tiny opening can allow a wandering bed bug to get in. When in your hotel room, keep the baggies zipped shut unless you need access to an item inside.

If you've still got some old school luggage around – the hard-sided luggage with latches, not zippers – use it. Cloth-sided luggage offers bed bugs a million hideaways. Hard-sided luggage doesn't have folds or seams where bed bugs can hide, and it closes completely, with no gaps so the pests can't penetrate your bag's interior.

If you must use soft-sided luggage for your trip, lighter-colored bags are better. Bed bugs will be virtually impossible to spot on black or dark-colored bags.

Avoid packing clothing that can only be laundered in cold water. Washing in hot water, then drying at high heat, does a good job of killing any bed bugs carried home on clothes, so you'll want to choose garments that can be de-bugged when you return.

Next: How to Inspect Your Hotel Room for Bed Bugs

When you arrive at your hotel or resort, leave your luggage in the car or with the bellhop. Should you walk in and find a room teeming with bed bugs, you don't want your belongings sitting in the midst of the infestation. Don't bring your bags into the room until you've done a proper bed bug inspection.

Bed bugs hide during daylight hours, and they're quite small, so finding them takes a little work.

It's a good idea to carry a small flashlight when you travel, since bed bugs will likely be hiding in the darkest crevices of the room. An LED keychain makes a great bed bug inspection tool.

What Do Bed Bugs Look Like?

Adult bed bugs are oval in shape, and brown or reddish in color. Immature bed bugs tend to be lighter in color. Bed bugs usually live in groups, so where there's one, there's likely to be many. Other signs that bed bugs are present include tiny black spots on linens or furniture (excrement) and piles of light brown skin casings.

Where to Look When Inspecting a Hotel Room for Bed Bugs

Start with the bed (they're called bed bugs for a reason, after all). Check the linens thoroughly for any signs of bed bugs, especially around any seams, piping, or ruffles. Don't forget to inspect the dust ruffle, a common hiding place for bed bugs that is often overlooked. Pull back the sheets, and inspect the mattress, again looking carefully at any seams or piping.

If there's a box spring, check for bed bugs there as well. If possible, lift each corner of the mattress and box spring and inspect the bed frame, another popular hiding place for bed bugs.

Continue your inspection by examining any furniture or other items near the bed. The majority of bed bugs live within close proximity to the bed.

If you are able, inspect behind the headboard, which is often mounted on the wall in hotel rooms. Also, look behind picture frames and mirrors. Pull out any drawers, using your flashlight to look inside the dresser and nightstand.

What Should I Do If I Find Bed Bugs in the Hotel Room?

Go immediately to the front desk and ask for a different room. Tell the management what bed bug evidence you found, and specify that you want a room with no history of bed bug problems. Don't let them give you a room adjacent to the room where you found bed bugs (including the rooms above or below it), as bed bugs can easily travel through duct work or wall cracks into adjoining rooms. Be sure to repeat your bed bug inspection in the new room, too.

While You're Staying at the Hotel

Just because you didn't find any bed bugs, doesn't mean they aren't there. It's quite possible your room could still have pests, so take a few extra precautions. Never place your luggage or your clothing on the floor or bed. Store your bags on the luggage rack or on top of a dresser, off the floor. Keep any items not in use sealed in baggies.

Next: How to Unpack From Your Trip and Kill Any Stowaway Bed Bugs

After you check out of the hotel, you can take steps to keep any undetected bed bugs from following you home. Before you put your luggage in the car to head home, place it in a large plastic garbage bag and knot it tightly closed.

Once you get home, unpack carefully. All clothing and other machine washable items should be laundered immediately in the hottest water allowable, and then dried on high heat for at least 30 minutes.

This should kill any bed bugs that managed to stowaway.

Items that cannot be exposed to water or heat can be frozen instead, although this takes longer to destroy the bed bug eggs. Keep these belongings sealed in baggies, and place them in a freezer for a minimum of 5 days.

Electronics and other items that cannot survive such temperature extremes should be inspected thoroughly, preferably outdoors or in a garage or other area of the house with limited carpeting or furniture.

Inspect your luggage, especially soft-sided pieces. Check the zippers, lining, pockets, and any piping or seams carefully for signs of bed bugs. Ideally, you should steam clean your soft-sided luggage. Wipe down hard-sided luggage and check any fabric inner lining thoroughly.