How Do I Protect Myself from Bed Bugs When I Travel?

With bed bugs making a comeback, travelers are worried about what they may encounter and whether they’ll be bringing anything home with their luggage.  Many years ago this was a valid concern, but until recently, bed bugs were only memories for most.

These days, bed bugs are back, and they’re harder than ever to vanquish.  While it isn’t inevitable that travelers run into them in hotels and motels, the risk is certainly higher now than it was ten years ago, and it’s getting worse all the time.

It is prudent to take extra precautions while traveling.  Bed bugs are found most often in places where the turnaround of sleeping people is most frequent.  Hotels, motels, and the like can’t check their guests’ luggage for bed bugs before giving them a room, so any one guest could unknowingly have them tucked away, ready to be set free in their new environment, one that you may be staying in next.

So how do you protect yourself against bed bugs and keep them from returning home with you, safely tucked away in your luggage, hidden from view?  Here are some tips to help you out:

  • Do Your Homework
  • Call Ahead
  • Pack Wisely
  • Protect Your Stuff
  • Inspect Your Room
  • Stay Safely
  • Package Your Dirty Clothes
  • Take Care Back Home

Do Your Homework

There are many sites on the Internet that allow customers to leave reviews of their hotel or motel experiences.  Before making a decision on where you’ll hang your hat, check the reviews for mention of bed bugs.

Even the nicest hotels can have bed bugs.  These parasites don’t care about the value or cleanliness of your home.  If there’s a blood meal waiting for them each night, they’ll be there.  So check all hotels, no matter how expensive.

Call Ahead

Once you’ve narrowed your choices, call ahead.  Ask the management if they’ve had any problems with bed bugs.  If they admit to it, they’ll likely tell you what measures they’ve taken to fix the problem.  If you feel satisfied that the problem no longer exists, ask for a room far away from the rooms found to be infested.

Pack Wisely

You should consider using luggage with a hard surface.  There are fewer places for bed bugs to hide, and the luggage is easier to wipe down.  Bed bugs can be killed with a little bit of pressure so if the outside of your luggage can be easily cleaned, and the zipper buckles are tight, you will have much less to worry about.

You’ll want to take a few extras along with you when you travel.  You’ll need a plastic bag for each type of clothing you’ll be wearing on your trip.  For instance; one bag for whites, one for colors, etc.  You’ll also want to carry a hair dryer with you, as you can’t always be sure the hotel hair dryers will reach far enough for your needs, which we’ll discuss in a bit.  Also carry a magnifying glass and a flashlight.

Protect Your Stuff

After you’ve arrived at the hotel, question the desk personnel about bed bugs again.  You may be speaking with someone different this time and they may have more information.

When you reach your room, either leave your luggage outside the door for a few minutes, or bring it in and place it on the sink, in the bathtub, or on the dresser.  This is to keep it safe from any bed bugs that may be attracted to the scent.

Now it’s time to do a brief inspection of your room.

Inspect Your Room

Remove the corners of the bed sheets and pull out your magnifying glass and flashlight.  Check the mattress carefully for signs of bed bugs.  These include brown spots from bed bug defecation, red spots from blood, and shells that range from clear to light brown from molted skins.  Check along the seams and in any cracks, creases or crevices you can find.

If that inspection turns up clean, pull out the hair dryer and aim it at the headboard for a short while.  Bed bugs like warmth, but they hate heat.  If the headboard begins to heat up and they’re present, they’ll scatter and you should be able to see them.

If you find there are bed bugs in your room, take your stuff, shut the door behind you and return to the desk.  Ask for another room.  Repeat the process.  If you find them again, move to another hotel.

Stay Safely

It’s best to keep your suitcase packed and on a hard, clean surface even if you found no evidence of bugs.  Bed bugs are easy to miss.  Don’t use the wooden curtain rods or dresser drawers and don’t place anything on upholstered chairs.  This makes it harder for bugs to make it to your luggage.

This includes electronic equipment, as these bugs are small and flat enough to get inside them.

Package Your Dirty Clothes

When you change clothes, put your dirty clothes in their separate bags for laundering before putting back into your luggage.  Use a separate bag for each laundry load of clothes and one for dry clean only items.  Close them tightly.  Before leaving the hotel room, put any unworn clothes into the bags as well, they should be washed before being put back into your closets at home.

Take Care Back Home

Your trip is over and you’re back home, so what now?  You are pretty sure you haven’t brought any bugs home but it’s prudent to take care just in case.

Thoroughly wipe down your luggage.  Take all clothing directly to the laundry room and don’t open any bags until they’re ready to be dumped into the washing machine.  Wash each load separately and dry in the dryer.  Prolonged heat will kill any bugs, nymphs or eggs you may have taken home with you.

Take the dry cleaning bag to the dry cleaner without opening it.  Tell the dry cleaner that you were travelling and while you don’t believe the clothing is contaminated, they might want to clean them separately, just in case.

With just these fairly simple precautions, you can be fairly certain your home will be safe from bed bugs picked up in your travels.

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