Avoid Pesky Hitchhikers

What does a bed bug look like?The newspaper headlines say it all, “Guests bitten by bedbugs in upscale hotel.” Ick!


Bed bugs, Cimex lectularius (Cimicidae), are small, wingless insects that feed on the blood of warm blooded-animals like humans. And they’ve become one of the dirty little secrets of traveling. According to research entomologist and national bed bug expert, Jeffrey White of BedBug Central, the risk of exposure to bed bugs rises during the peak holiday travel seasons.

Hotels, airplanes, buses, clothing can all become infested with the little critters. You can bring bed bugs home as stowaways in your luggage or on your clothing. Recently, a number of posh hotels in Manhattan underwent an epidemic of bed bugs.

The bugs feed on people while they sleep. You supply them with blood in a painless way and may never even know it is happening. When you wake in the morning, you may find tiny red bumps or welts, similar to mosquito or flea bites.

Bed bugs are tiny and can be hard to spot. The hatchlings or nymphs, are tiny, about the size of a poppy seed; adults tend to be ¼ of an inch long. If you look carefully, you may see them as flat, oval little bugs.

Picture of Luggage

Don't let your luggage carry home unwanted beg bugs.

You don’t want them chewing on you and you don’t want to bring them home with you as an unwanted travel souvenir. Here’s some advice from the experts at BedBug Central to keep those pesky bugs out of your travel plans.

Before You Leave:
Encase your home mattresses and box-springs.This proactive step will prevent bed bugs from getting inside your mattresses and box springs and will aid in the early detection if you accidentally bring bed bugs into your home. Be sure the encasements are beg bug-proof (many exterminators sell these). When you return home, you will want to periodically inspect these encasements.

When You Arrive

Keep your distance. Physical barriers are a great deterrent against bed bugs. When you arrive at a hotel keep your luggage closed and away from bed bug prone areas such as the bed, closets, nightstands and furniture. Most hotel rooms have luggage racks, so use them. (This may be the single most important thing you can do as a traveler to prevent these unwanted hitchhikers.)

Conduct a basic visual inspection of the hotel bed. Well-established bed bug infestations may be detected by pulling back the bed linens and checking the visible edges of the mattress and box spring. You are looking for evidence of live bugs, dark brownish to black spots/stains or shed skins from bed bugs. This is a simple way to find the bugs, before you get into bed.

Coming Home:

Head straight for the laundry room. When you arrive home, immediately launder your clothing in hot water and dry in a hot dryer. Sustained temperature of 120 degrees F. or higher will kill all stages of bed bugs. If you need to carry your luggage through your home to get to the laundry room, consider using dissolvable laundry bags as a way to safely transport potentially-infested clothing. These bags, available from exterminators or retailers that specialize in dealing with bed bugs can prevent the bugs from dropping off throughout the house. If you’re a frequent traveler, consider a portable heating unit that’ll treat your entire suitcase.

Giant Bed Bug

Once bed bugs get into your home, they can be difficult to eradicate. Call a professional.

Leave it to a pro. Bed bugs are a complex pest and self-treating often leads to complicating and even spreading an infestation. This will add a hefty price tag to what may have been a small job. If you think you have bed bugs, contact a pest management firm trained in bed bug treatment.

Get educated—These basic tips are a great starting point, but they are not comprehensive. If you want to learn more, check out this bed bug resource

Bobbie Hasselbring, RFT Editor

RFT co-founder Bobbie Hasselbring has been a travel junkie her entire life. An award-winning writer and editor for more than 25 years and author of the regional food-travel bestsellers, The Chocolate Lover’s Guide to the Pacific Northwest and The Chocolate Lover’s Guide Cookbook, Bobbie is editor-in-chief at