How to Avoid Bed Bugs When Traveling

Planning a trip in the near future? Whether you’re traveling for business or for pleasure, one thing that most people don’t think about is the possibility of picking up bed bugs.

But maybe you should.

Rather than hundreds or thousands of dollars on bed bug extermination, it’s a better idea to invest a little bit of time and attention when traveling to avoid bringing these pests back home.

How to Avoid Bed Bugs When Traveling

By far, the most common way that bed bugs spread from home to home is by hitchhiking rides in suitcases and clothing of unsuspecting travelers. According to the CDC:

“Bed bugs are usually transported from place to place as people travel. The bed bugs travel in the seams and folds of luggage, overnight bags, folded clothes, bedding, furniture, and anywhere else where they can hide.”

Once bed bugs find their way into your home, they can become a stressful, time-consuming, and very expensive problem to eliminate.

Here are some simple steps you can take to minimize your chances of picking up bed bugs during your travels.

Before You Leave:

1. Research your hotel online before booking

Hotels are known for being bed bug hotspots, since there are so many people checking in and out each day—and potentially bringing bed bugs with them. In 2021, Pest Strategies compiled thousands of hotel reviews to come up with the top 10 worst NYC hotels with bed bug problems.

If you’re planning to stay at a hotel, look it up first on Bed Bug Reports, a free public database of bed bug sightings in the US and Canada. (You can also check the Bedbug Registry for reports prior to 2016, which allows you to search by hotel name, city, and state.)

Check hotel reviews and comments as well. While not all reviews are 100% credible, finding a pattern of bed bug complaints at a particular hotel might alert you to take extra precautions.

2. Use hard shell suitcases

When traveling, it’s recommended to use hard shell suitcases instead of fabric suitcases with outer pockets and straps.

Bed bugs find it challenging to climb onto rigid plastic covering, making it an effective barrier against these tiny hitchhikers. On the other hand, bed bugs can easily cling onto and hide in the pockets and straps of fabric suitcases.

3. Pack large plastic bags

Plastic bags are your first line of protection from bed bugs sneaking into your luggage and clothing. Make sure you pack enough to store all of your clean and dirty clothing (airtight and resealable plastic bags are ideal).

It’s also a good idea to carry some large plastic trash bags to place backpacks and suitcases in when they’re not in use.

During Your Trip:

1. Look before you sit

If you’re traveling by airplane, train, or bus, it’s a good habit to check your seat and surrounding area before sitting down. This includes checking the seat cushion and seams for signs of bed bugs, as well as inspecting the seatback pocket and any nearby upholstery or carpeting.

While it’s not a super common occurrence, bed bugs can certainly find their way from someone else’s luggage or clothing into yours. So take a quick look at the seams and cracks around your seat for bed bugs before settling in for the ride.

2. Inspect your room before unpacking

Whether you’re checking into a hotel or somebody else’s home, the first thing to do is to check the room you’re staying in for signs of bed bugs. Leave your suitcase in the bathroom or on a luggage rack while you perform a quick visual inspection.

Pull back the bed sheets and inspect mattress seams for live bed bugs, shell casings, blood stains, or tiny black dots (bed bug excrement). Remove the mattress pad if you can and check all four corners of the mattress and boxspring.

With your smartphone flashlight, look behind the headboard (common bed bug hiding spot), around the bed frame, and inside nightstand drawers. Lastly, check the seams and crevices of upholstered furniture (e.g. sofas and chairs).

3. Keep luggage away from the bed

On the off chance that you missed something, it’s a good idea to keep suitcases off the floor and as far away from the bed as possible.

The ideal place to keep suitcases is in the bathroom or in a dry bathtub, as bed bugs are less likely to be found in these areas. You can also keep them in closets or on the luggage racks provided in most hotel rooms, but make sure to inspect these areas for signs of bed bugs before placing your luggage there.

For extra protection, keep bags and suitcases in large plastic bags whenever you’re not using them.

4. Hang your clothing or keep them in your suitcase

Placing your clean clothes in drawers or leaving them out in the open is taking an unnecessary risk.

Instead, hang them in the closet where bed bugs can’t get to them. Or for shorter stays, just keep them inside your suitcase.

5. Store dirty laundry inside sealed plastic bags

Studies show that bed bugs are attracted to the odor chemicals in dirty laundry. They will actively climb towards piles worn clothing, even if they’re in your suitcase.

The best way to protect yourself is to keep all dirty clothing in sealed plastic bags, which serves as a physical barrier and prevents the odor from attracting bed bugs.

After Returning Home:

1. Inspect suitcases before bringing them inside

At the end of your trip, do a quick visual inspection of your bags and suitcases before you bring them into your home. In particular, pay attention to outside pockets, seams, and straps—especially if you’re using fabric bags or suitcases.

Unpack luggage in your bathroom, not in your bedroom. If you have clothes that weren’t sealed in plastic bags, shake them out over the bathtub and see if any unwanted visitors fall out.

2. Put clothes directly in the wash

If you followed all of the precautions above, the chances of bed bugs getting into your clothes are pretty small, but it’s better to be safe than sorry.

If possible, throw all of the clothes from your trip into the washer as soon as you finish unpacking—don’t throw them in the hamper or leave them out. Wash your dirty laundry as well as any clean, unworn clothes that spent time in your suitcase. If you don’t have a washer at home, keep them in sealed plastic bags until you can take them to the laundromat.

When washing clothing, use hot water settings. The water temperature should ideally reach 120 °F, which is the temperature needed to kill bed bugs and bed bug eggs.

3. Clean out empty suitcases with a steamer or hair dryer

As a last precaution, once your suitcase is empty, go through it with a handheld garment steamer or hair dryer to clean the inside.

Even if it doesn’t kill bed bugs directly, it’ll help expose them as they try to run away from the heat.

What to Do if You Brought Bed Bugs Home

  • Keep an eye out for bed bug bites. If you discover insect bites happening at night within weeks after returning from a trip, bed bugs are usually the prime suspect.
  • Use bed bug monitors or traps to see if you can catch them. We recommend using interceptors, which are small, inexpensive devices that you place under the legs of your bed that capture bed bugs when they’re climbing up or down.
  • Get a canine bed bug inspection if you suspect you might have brought bed bugs home, or if you find out there were bed bugs at the place you stayed at. Bed bug sniffing dogs have a high degree of accuracy, and are able to detect bed bug infestations very early on.

About MMPC

MMPC is one of the highest-rated pest control companies in New York City. We have over 25 years of experience providing reliable and eco-friendly pest management services.

If you have questions about bed bugs—or need help with finding or exterminating them—call (212) 219-8218 or click the button below to contact us!