For the frequent hotel guest, the bed-bug scenario has taken on nightmare proportions: Tiny, roach-looking parasites lying in wait, biting you sleepless and welted and then, as if that weren't enough, crawling en masse into your bag to infest your very home with some of the most notoriously difficult-to-eradicate pests you could find, were you to look.
The whole thing is a little surreal. Many of us only realized that bed bugs weren't fictional in the last decade or so, when the incidence increased and these parasites made the news. Practically overnight, "Don't let the bed bugs bite" went from harmless (if strange) goodnight rhyme to an actual warning.
So, it's real, and it ain't pretty. But you have tools at your disposal that can reduce your bed-bug risk. They'll add some time to your travel process, but they may just end up saving you from the time-consuming, anxiety-triggering, financially draining horror of bringing them home with you from your trip.
The anti-bed-bug strategy starts there, at home, before the hotel is in view. It begins with the luggage you'll be taking on your trip ...
Wrap Your Bags
Repeat this word: plastic.
In the fight against bed bugs, plastic is your friend. The critters like porous surfaces, cracks and crevices, and plastic has none of those. So, you'll start your trip by putting your luggage in plastic bags, because the suckers have free reign in your airplane's cargo hold. They can move from bag to bag, and the one on top of yours could be infested. The best way to ensure you bring them back from your hotel stay is to bring them with you to the hotel in the first place.
Before your check your bags, encase them in heavy plastic you've inspected for holes. Any kind will do, from garbage bags to specially made anti-bed-beg sleeves. The trick is to make sure you can seal it well and that it's something that can survive the baggage-handling process (and is allowed through security checks).
So, you've got your bags ready for the trip, primed to arrive at your destination bed-bug-free. Next stop, hotel room ...
Head Straight for the Bathroom
You probably don't make a habit of heading immediately for the bathroom as soon as you open the door to your hotel room (unless it was a particularly long drive to get there). You should probably adopt that habit starting now.
When you enter your room, carry your bags into the bathroom or any other tiled (or linoleum-floored) space. Do not put them on the carpeted floor. Do not put them on the bed. Do not even put them on the luggage rack. If the room has bed bugs, any of those spots can be playing host.
Non-porous flooring puts you at the advantage. Not only does tile give bed bugs nowhere to hide, but it also makes them a lot easier to spot should they scurry across the floor. Until you've inspected your room for bed bugs and their signs, keep your luggage -- and your coat, hat and travel pillow, for that matter -- safely on the tile.
You needn't bring an exterminator on your trip to be reasonably sure your room is bed-bug-free. What you need is some knowledge of what they look like, what they leave behind and where they like to hide.
Adult bed bugs are about the size of a small apple seed, brown in color, and look something like a smaller, flatter version of a cockroach. Younger ones are lighter in color. They can leave behind evidence like tiny black dots of feces, wings and rust-colored spots where they're been squished.
They're most active at night and in the dark, but they're not entirely against feeding in the daytime. So, contrary to popular belief, bright light is not a great protective measure.
You'll begin your inspection at the bed, but you won't stop there. Bed bugs do very frequently hide in, under and close to the mattress, but there are other places where they can be found -- basically, in anything upholstered, dark and hidden, or containing folds, cracks or crevices.
Your inspection checklist should include:
- all things bed: under it, behind it, walls adjacent to it, each layer of linens, mattress (especially seams), box spring, dust ruffle, pillows, etc.
- in, under and behind night tables
- any carpeting, rugs, drapes and upholstered furniture
- behind any wall décor
- in any cracks, crevices and corners in woodwork, walls or furniture
If you complete this inspection and find no signs of bed bugs, your room is likely clear. If you do find signs, any at all, tell management and request a different room in a different part of the hotel.
Then, start the process all over.
Once you find a safe place to unwind, by all means, do so -- but don't forget the critters entirely...
Keep Your Guard (and Your Bags) Up
Bed-bug-free room? Fantastic! Unfortunately, the risk is not completely gone. For one thing, you (and the hotel staff) may have missed a subtle sign of infestation; and for another, bed bugs can travel through the walls from room to room.
So, maintain a few protective measures throughout your stay. Keep your bags off the beds and upholstered furniture; instead, leave them on tile, a shelf, or the (previously inspected) luggage rack. Don't toss your clothing on the floor after you wear it, and any clothing you wear while in the room should go into a plastic bag when you're done with it.
Basically, be just a tiny bit paranoid. You're probably in the clear, but absolute certainty is tough when it comes to bed bugs.
And finally, for the most serious of bed-bug preventers ...
Do a Wash
Unless you travel for long periods of time, you probably aren't used to doing laundry during a hotel stay. You might want to consider it, though, as an extra measure against bringing bed bugs back home, because they can hitch a ride on your clothes almost as easily as in your suitcase.
Before packing for the trip home, wash (or ask hotel staff to wash) every article of your clothing -- or at least the stuff that can survive a hot-water wash and a medium-to-high heat drying cycle of at least 20 minutes. That'll kill 'em.
Dry cleaning is another option. That'll kill 'em, too.
Once clean and dry, immediately seal your clothing in a plastic bag for the trip home. For clothing you can't wash in those conditions, or if you just don't want to wash your stuff while you're out of town, employ another plastic bag and do not open that bag until you're standing in front of your washing machine at home.
All the washing, inspecting, levitating luggage -- this may cut into your trip time. But this really only needs to be a blip on your travelling radar. Most hotels, motels and lodges these days are pretty darned vigilant in the bed-bug realm. After all, an infestation can cost them serious money both in exterminating fees and lost bookings. Your role in avoiding this travel nightmare is a really a supporting one. So relax, enjoy and sleep tight. Don't let the bed bugs bite.
For more information on bed bugs, safe travel and related topics, check out the links on the next page.
What's in your typical can of bug spray? Find out how bug spray works at HowStuffWorks.
More Great Links
- 5 Tips to Avoid Hotel Bed Bugs. ABC News – Explore. Sept. 29, 2010. (July 25, 2012) http://abcnews.go.com/Travel/tips-avoiding-hotel-bed-bugs-traveling/story?id=11748855#.UA_A6PWIWDc
- Bed Bug Information. EPA. June 15, 2012. (July 25, 2012) http://www.epa.gov/bedbugs/
- Green, Penelope. "A New Breed of Guard Dog Attacks Bed Bugs." The New York Times. March 10, 2010. (July 29, 2012) http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/11/garden/11bedbug.html?pagewanted=all
- MacMillan, Amanda. "15 Tips for Avoiding Hotel Bedbugs." Health. (July 25, 2012) http://www.health.com/health/gallery/0,,20513823,00.html
- Pascarella, Sarah. "Got bedbugs? Your hotel might!" Smarter Travel. April 25, 2010. (July 25, 2012) http://www.smartertravel.com/travel-advice/avoiding-bedbugs-every-traveler-nightmare.html?id=4726511
- Worried about bed bugs in your hotel room? NBC News - Travel Tips. June 7, 2006. (July 25, 2012) http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/11877871/ns/travel-travel_tips/t/worried-about-bed-bugs-your-hotel-room/#.UA_Bq_WIWDc