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TIPS: How to Avoid Bedbugs When You Travel

Bedbug Feeding

Bedbug courtesy Hardin MD/University of Iowa and CDC

They live where you sleep, and feed on you when you do. They’re a problem for luxury and economy lodging alike, and they’re spreading fast enough to prompt a recent two-day EPA summit. But like the little vampires they are, they can’t come into your home without being invited. Or, more accurately, without being carried in. And that’s why there’s no need to panic so long as you take proper precautions when traveling, according to one of the experts who took part in the aforementioned meeting.

“They don’t wander in from the outside like a mouse or ant would come in,” entomologist Richard Cooper told me, and as a co-author of Bed Bug Handbook: The Complete Guide to Bed Bugs and Their Control and the VP of Bed Bug Central, he knows the topic well. “They have to be introduced into your environment. You have to bring something into your dwelling that already has bugs on it and introduce them into your world.”

Given that, there’s no reason to cancel the vacation and go “Bubble Boy.” “You shouldn’t let this interfere with your ability to travel and enjoy travel,” Cooper said. “Yes, it’s a huge and rapidly spreading problem. Yes, there’s a risk that you could run into this when you travel, but that’s why you need to be educated. There are simple steps that can be taken to minimize this having a major negative impact on your life.”

In the past two years, Cooper said, he’s found evidence of bedbug infestations in six out of the 60 or so mid- and high-level hotel rooms in which he’s stayed. He noted that no hotel can be absolutely certain a room is bedbug-free since bedbugs could have been brought in immediately after the most recent inspection, but if management is on top of the problem, the worst you’ll face is a low-level presence. Here’s what Cooper says you should do on the road and, even more important, when you get back home.

     

  • Travel Light

    Try to pack only what can be laundered in hot water—heat is the bedbug’s Achilles’s heel—and can be easily kept in your closed bag when you’re giving the room a look-see or when you’re not wearing or using it.

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  • Inspect Your Room

    Bring a flashlight, leave your luggage at the door while you check things out, and focus on the room’s bed and furniture. Look under the four corners of the mattress, the four underside corners of the boxspring, and the piping of sofas and large furniture, checking for bugs, eggs, exuvia (shed body casings) or digested blood. (See below for examples.) If the headboard is of a manageable size and easy to look behind, check there, too, but don’t risk damaging it or hurting yourself. Digested blood will be brown rather than red, and will dissolve when touched with a wet napkin or tissue, which is an easy way to differentiate it from lacquer or varnish. You should be able to perform a basic inspection in five to 10 minutes.

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  • Don’t Overreact

    If you think you’ve found something, ask management to move you to a room that has no history of bedbug problems and isn’t adjacent to one that has a history. Keep in mind, though, that it’s easy for non-professionals to find false positives. There are plenty of things you could find that look like signs of a bedbug infestation but aren’t, and a low-level problem isn’t necessarily a call to flee the premises altogether. “If I found a large infestation in my room, I’d probably switch hotels,” Cooper said. “I’d be questioning what the procedures are, and then I might ask management a little more and very well might switch. Personally, I never have because I know the hotel’s at risk every day of the year. It can happen. I just want to be placed in a room where they have no knowledge of it ever being a problem.”

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  • Mind Your Bags

    Keep your luggage on a rack rather than on upholstered furniture or on or under a bed. Whether you unpack it or not is up to you, but it’s safest to keep whatever you’re not wearing or using sealed in your bag. When Cooper’s on the road, he even keeps his electronic devices, toiletries, and anything that can’t be laundered or can’t withstand heat in Ziploc bags when he’s not using them.

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  • Seal It Up

    Before Cooper places any luggage into his car for the ride home from the airport, he puts it in a large lawn or leaf bag tied shut with a tight knot. That way his car won’t be infested if he’s missed anything.

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  • Heat It Up

    When you get home, run everything that can be laundered through a hot wash, a 30-minute hot-dryer cycle (115 degrees will do the trick on everything from bugs to eggs), or dry-clean it. For luggage, Cooper uses a PackTite heating unit (sold on his site) for four hours.

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  • Wrap It Up

    Consider encasing your mattress, box spring, and pillows, which helps protect your bed from being infested by bedbugs that do make it into your home.

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All of that said, Cooper stressed, keep things in perspective. “This is a freaky enough topic on its own,” he said. “It doesn’t need to be sensationalized even more. Educate yourself and take protective measures, but don’t panic.” — Michael Peck

Bedbugs under Box Spring Corner 

Bedbugs Under Box Spring Corner

Box Spring with Bedbugs and Eggs 

Box Spring with Bedbugs and Eggs

Suitcase with Eggs and Exuvia 

Suitcase with Eggs and Exuvia

Box Spring with Bedbugs and Eggs 

Box Spring with Bedbugs and Eggs

All photos courtesy Bed Bug Central