Bed Bugs is One Souvenir You Don't Want

Bed bugs had been an epidemic that had thought to have been eradicated in the 1940s, but had unfortunately resurfaced with a vengeance in the United States  in 2010. Many places, including hotels, homes, apartment buildings and even commercial retail stores have been afflicted in recent years. Pest control management companies have also cited a general increase in reports of seeing these pesky bugs.

As a result, these days many people are naturally worried about picking up these blood-sucking pests while on vacation. This fear of bringing home some unwelcome and uninvited guests is legitimate and, while taking precautionary actions to avoid bed bugs takes a bit of effort, it is worth going the extra steps to prevent bed bugs from following you back from vacation and taking up residence in your own home.

Bed bug on carpet
Credit: By Mohamedhp [CC BY 3.0 ( or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

This blood-sucking bugs are very small. You have to look carefully to be able to spot them.

Here are a few tips on how to not give these pesky insects a free vacation into your home:

Look for Signs

The first thing to do when in your hotel room or rental is to look for any potential signs of bed bugs in residence. Signs to look for are dark red or black streaks of digested blood on sheets which typically are accompanied with a sweet odor. Or, by looking closely, you might see small brown specks. These specks are small particles which drop off the bed bug; these are known as "casing". This type of bug is small and moves very fast, so look carefully for any and all potential signs.

bed bug signs
Credit: NY State IPM Program at Cornell University via Flickr

Photo description by the New York State Integrated Pest Management Program at Cornell University: "After feeding on blood, bed bugs retreat to their hideaway. They will defecate (poop) processed blood, leaving black stains near their resting place. When searching for bed bugs on a bed or head board, look for black fecal stains".

It is not in this bug's nature to come out during the day as they are night feeders that come out and give a painless bite. Victims typically do not know they have been bitten until they have visible bites upon waking. This is why it is important to know the signs of bed bugs as chances are you won't see one by looking.

Bed bugs can lie in wait for up to a year for a host to feed upon their next victim. You might be able to find them embedded in seams, behind tags or slinking in the crevices of mattresses if you look carefully. Also, check in the area of the headboard and any furniture positioned close to the bed. Even the artwork on the wall or a luggage rack can house these buggers. The University of Minnesota recommends bringing a small flashlight on your travels to help with the inspection of the room. 1

If any signs of bed bugs are present, report it to management and request a change of room on a different floor (some experts suggest two floors away). Then repeat the process in the new room. Unfortunately, in some cases a hotel may be infested.

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Traveling with a flashlight can help spot bed bugs in places you are staying.

Stowing Belongings

Bed bugs are adept at hiding. The best way to decrease the chance of bringing them home is to store your bags and suitcases away from the places they like to hide. Never set your belongings on the hotel's floor, any upholstered furniture or, worse, on the bed. Instead, use a luggage stand after you examine it or place your things on a high shelf (if you do the latter, inspect the closet or dresser first - place your belongings in the bathroom or bathtub while you do your inspection).

"Bedbugs are least likely to be found in the bathroom," says Missy Henriksen, vice president of public affairs for the National Pest Management Association. "They don't like the tile floors and there aren't as many hiding places. They like to be closer to where people may be sleeping." 4

One of the places I tend to store a suitcase is on top of the desk if in a hotel room and, if in a vacation rental, I put it on a dresser or some other hard surface that is less apt to be hosting bugs.  Although, after reading about the bathroom tip, I'll be doing that from now on too. 

Seal Belongings

To help reduce the chance of bed bugs getting into clothes and other belongings, sealing them tightly in a plastic trash bag can help keep the creepy crawlies out. Additionally, clothing can be placed in large seal-able bags to further deter the bugs from finding hiding places in your stuff. Always inspect your belongings before leaving and, if possible, wash and dry them before going home. Then seal them.

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Bed bug and egg
Credit: NY State IPM Program at Cornell University via Flickr/CC by 2.0

Adult bed bug next to an egg

Wash and Dry Clothes

If not able to seal your things, wash all your clothing, both used and unused. Washing clothes helps make sure bugs aren't hiding within the folds, however, if they do linger, the detergent and heat will kill them. Ideally, when you get home, immediately cleaning clothing will help limit potential exposure to bed bugs. However, if this is not possible, as noted above, you should bag and seal your clothing and then wash and dry immediately upon return home. This way no extra passengers end up as long-term house guests.

Clean Luggage

Bed bugs love to latch on and travel, often hitchhiking covertly. One way to foil their attempt to move from the vacation location to your home is to empty and clean your luggage. Once the suitcases and bags are emptied, give them a good vacuum in order to eliminate any potential nesting. Toss out the bag (if you have a bagless vacuum or if you travel often you might want to buy an inexpensive cleaner where you can toss a bag or one where you are able to clean the device thoroughly).

If a positive bed bug infestation has been positively identified at the place where you were staying, either dispose of the luggage or, if it is expensive or difficult to replace, consider getting it professionally cleaned or fumigated. You don't want these critters to take up residence in your home.

Visit Bed Bug Registry

If you visit the Bed Bug Registry you can check to find out if any bed bug infestations have been reported at the place you plan to stay. 2 This is not a guarantee and reviews might be fake, but looking online at least gives an idea if an infestation is actively known. If someone has reported an issue, you can see it there.

The rise of bed bugs in recent years is a concern, especially during the holiday season when traveling is more prominent. However, by taking the time to check and be proactive with precautions, this can significantly lessen your chances of bringing these nasty critters home. It can take, on average, three weeks to get rid of them. 3 And this entails a lot of work. If gone undetected, the situation can rapidly become an infestation that is difficult to resolve.

Traveling is not always avoidable and, for many, vacations are highly desirable. By taking precautions your excursions can still be enjoyed - without the itch.