Bedbugs aren’t a big concern when you travel … unless you get them. Then they’re a blood-sucking nightmare, and they won’t just ruin your trip — they can ruin your life for months afterward if they hitch a ride home with you.
Don’t think you’ll find them only in a two-bit motel — there are well-documented cases of tourists having their upscale hotel getaways ruined by massive bedbug bites. And it’s no use traveling to a region that’s bedbug-free: The data says they can be found all over the U.S.
What’s the best way to weed out these tiny critters? We love this video demonstration from the University of Maine, in which Jim Dill, an expert with a sweet New England accent, shows us how to look for bedbugs upon first checking into a hotel.
We combine his tips along with some other expert advice into a step-by-step guide for avoiding a bedbug-infested holiday:
Put your bags in the tub, away from the luggage rack
Bedbugs can hide in luggage racks too. (Photo: Getty Images)
This should be the first thing you do after checking in, and it’s often not mentioned. While a luggage rack may be away from the bed and elevated, bedbugs could easily be hiding out within the fabric of the straps. To be extra safe, put your bags in the bathroom tub, which bedbugs are unlikely to climb into.
Cindy Mannes, vice president of public affairs for the National Pest Management Association, also says you could leave your bags at the door when you first check in: “Just don’t unpack anything until you’ve checked for bedbugs,” she told Yahoo Travel.
Start your inspection by checking the headboard
(Photo: Scott Higdon/LuckyPix/Corbis)
Bedbugs don’t stray far from the bed — as Dill says, their range is about 20 feet away from their host — but they’re sneaky and can play hide-and-seek better than any 5-year-old.
Take a flashlight (if you have a smartphone, it probably has one) and get a good look at the headboard, which is a common hiding spot, and don’t forget to look in the creases.
“Many people overlook the headboard because it can be difficult to remove from the wall to examine it,” Louis N. Sorkin, BCE, a consulting entomologist with Entsult Associates, told Yahoo Travel.
And just to digress for a minute, Sorkin should know bedbugs well — he stores thousands of them at home for study and keeps them alive by letting them feed on him, since he doesn’t react adversely to bites. Chuck Norris has nothing on Louis N. Sorkin.
As for what bed bugs can look like, their size and color can depend on whether they’re an adult or immature, or whether they’ve recently fed. The common rule of thumb is that they’re the size and shape of an appleseed, but Sorkin has posted examples of how that’s not necessarily so. They can be flat or plump in shape, and pale or reddish-brown in color.
Check the piping of the mattress
The crevices of a mattress’s piping make for a great bedbug hideout, so take off the sheets and look closely at the top and bottom parts.
Check the mattress or mattress pad for blood spots or poop
We know, this isn’t the most romantic way to begin a hotel stay, but other than seeing the bugs themselves, this is the best giveaway of whether any bedbugs have been feeding recently. The bloodstains can be red or brown, and the bedbugs’ poop can look like magic marker dots or marks, or raised mounds, Sorkin said. The poop residue will be light-to-dark brown or black.
Check the nearby drawers and nightstand
(Photo: Getty Images)
These make for another nice, dark hiding spot for bedbugs. Don’t just look on the corners of the inside — to be really thorough, take the drawers out from the nightstand and look under them too.
Check all other prime hiding spots
This could include the aforementioned luggage rack, bed frame, picture frames, and anything else within a few feet of the bed.
What if, gasp, you find bedbugs when you check in?
What a typical adult bedbug looks like. (Photo: adrian davies/Alamy Stock Photo)
I’ll share a semi-embarrassing story: Last year I stayed at a boutique hotel in British Columbia, and minutes after checking in I saw some apple-seed-size, orange-brown bugs on the window and the windowsill.
So I did what any sane person would do: I freaked out, zipped up the bags I had placed on the floor, and ran down to the front desk. To the hotel’s credit, the guy working there immediately came up to my room to check on the problem. Which, it turns out, was no problem — they were just a species of ladybug I’d never seen (Canadians!). But he examined the mattress and the room just to be sure.
Provided what you found are in fact bedbugs, notify the front desk immediately. It’s probably OK to ask for another room in the hotel, but make sure it’s not next door or right above or below (and check that room thoroughly too).
What if, double gasp, you wake up the next morning with bedbugs?
This is the scarier scenario, because you don’t know where the bugs might be in your stuff, and you must make sure they don’t leave with you. Since the hotel is going to owe you one, insist that it launder your clothes immediately. And washing them isn’t enough: Mannes of the NPMA advises putting all fabric in a hot dryer for at least 30 minutes and steaming your luggage.
To be extra safe, before returning home place all your garments in a vacuum-sealed bag and dry them again.
If you’re wondering what bedbug bites look like, Sorkin keeps an extensive (and gross) collection of photos that include the bugs, their eggs, and their bite marks. The bites aren’t dangerous for most people — just unsightly and uncomfortable. Some people have harsh skin reactions that will require a doctor visit.
Bonus question: Could bedbugs hide on your pets?
Both Mannes and Sorkin said this is an unlikely scenario, but Sorkin added that it’s not impossible.
“There are exceptions where infestations have been allowed to proliferate due to many reasons,” he said. “Hotel staff haven’t been given proper education. I’ve seen infestations in homes where people and pet dogs and cats both had been fed upon over many months or longer.”
So just to be safe, give Checkers a good look before you check out.
Bonus question No. 2: How can I research if a hotel has bedbugs?
There are some websites where anonymous guests can report bedbug infestations at certain hotels, such as BedBugs.net and the Bedbug Registry. But there’s no way to be sure if the reports are accurate, and ultimately no hotel is 100 percent safe from bedbugs because of how easily they stow away with guests. Your best bet is to examine the room yourself.
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