How to avoid bringing bed bugs home from vacation

Protect yourself with these four tips.

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When you finally take a well-deserved trip, the last thing you want to concern yourself with is bed bugs. But even the finest hotels can have them. The hitchhiking pests travel to new places by way of both humans and their belongings. When they find a new home, they look for places to hide, such as mattresses, headboards, couches, and chairs, where they’ll have access to a blood meal undisturbed. While you can find bed bugs in other public places such as libraries, public transportation, movie theaters, retail stores, professional offices, and schools, you’re most notoriously likely to encounter them at hotels—and to take them home with you after your stay. What can you do?

Put your luggage in a smart spot.

When you arrive at your hotel, place your luggage on non-upholstered furniture away from the bed, such as on a desk. If you use a luggage rack, inspect it for bed bugs before plopping your suitcase down. Adult bed bugs are visible to the human eye, approximately 1/4-inch-long by 1/8-inch-wide, and are typically brown or reddish-brown in color. Imagine them to be about the size of an apple seed. However, bed bug eggs are very challenging to spot with the naked eye, as they can be as tiny as 1/32-inch.

Do a thorough inspection.

After your belongings are settled, pull back the corners of the bedding and check the mattress and box spring for bed bugs or signs of bed bugs. Bed bugs will molt and shed their skin before each new life stage. Often, you can find these pieces of shed skin—they’re apple-seed-size or smaller, tan to off-white in color, and resemble the insects, but hollow—lying around areas of infestation such as in creases in the mattress. Bed bugs also leave fecal deposits after they consume their blood meal. You can spot these small dots, which appear like black marker, touching fabric, such as a mattress cover. Make sure to pay special attention to seams, where bed bugs like to hide.

adult female bed bug
This adult female bed bug is roughly 0.2 inches long. Wikimedia Commons

Check your skin each morning during your vacation.

Be mindful of any unexplained bites or welts that seem to appear overnight. Even with a watchful eye, bed bugs can be sneaky.

4. When you return home, treat your suitcase as if you already have bed bugs.

Due to the high number of potential hiding places for bed bugs on a suitcase, take precautions as if bed bugs have hitched a ride home with you. Don’t put your suitcase on your bed, couch, or other furniture to unpack it. If you can swing it, remove the contents from the suitcase in an area such as your laundry room, kitchen, garage, or foyer. Once unpacked, store your suitcase in a non-living space, if possible, such as an attic, basement, or garage. If the suitcase must be stored under a bed or in a bedroom closet, then place it in a large trash bag first and tie the bag shut.

When you pack for your next family vacation, bring the items you need to pack to the suitcase, rather than bringing the suitcase into the bedroom or placing it on top of your bed. An easy way to do this is to put your clothes, toiletries, and other items into a laundry basket and carry them to your suitcase. Remember that bed bugs can live for several months or even up to a year without feeding, so keep the suitcase stored in that garbage bag if you use it once a year or more often than that.

Safe travels!

Nancy Troyano, Ph.D. and board certified entomologist (BCE), is the Director of Technical Education and Training for Rentokil Steritech, a leading pest control company with regional brands including Western Exterminator, Ehrlich, and Presto-X. She earned her PhD in Medical Entomology from Virginia Tech and is skilled in urban, medical, and veterinary entomology.