15 Tips to Avoid Bed Bugs in Hotels

Be aware of these tiny hitchhikers if you're sleeping somewhere other than home. Here are 15 tips to help you avoid bed bugs when traveling.

There's a reason for the bedtime rhyme, "Goodnight. Sleep tight. Don't let the bed bugs bite." These pesky insects feed on blood, mainly at night.

If you get bitten, you may experience severe itching, rashes, welts, and rarely, anaphylaxis, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) considers bed bugs a public health pest, and though they are not known to transmit or spread disease, they can cause anxiety, insomnia, and allergic reactions.

These buggers are also costly to get rid of, should they hitch a ride and come home with you. But there are ways to avoid bed bugs. Follow these 15 tips to cut your chances of getting bitten while on the road.

Park Your Belongings in the Bathroom

Before you check out your hotel room's minibar or oceanfront view, give it a thorough bed bug inspection. And while you're doing that, stash your luggage in the bathroom.

"Bed bugs are least likely to be found in the bathroom," Missy Henriksen, former vice president of public affairs for the National Pest Management Association, told Health.

"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."

Inspect the Bed

Here's how to check for a bed bug infestation: Pull back the linens, and check all the way around and under the mattress and behind the headboard, too.

Look for blood stains or small black dots that look like mold or ground pepper, Christine Johnson, PhD, a behavioral ecologist in the American Museum of Natural History's Division of Invertebrate Zoology, told Health.

Check for the actual critters, also. Bed bugs are about the size and shape of an apple seed, and you may find them hiding in corners or seams of the bedding.

If you see any suspicious signs, alert the hotel staff immediately.

Check the Room

Next, broaden your bed bug search to the area immediately surrounding the bed: behind picture frames, under the telephone and alarm clock, and even in books, said Dr. Johnson. Check in the cushions and seams of any couches or soft chairs and in the closet before putting your clothes away.

According to the CDC, bed bugs can travel up to 100 feet in one night, but they prefer to stay within eight feet of where people are sleeping.

Keep Luggage off the Ground

Leaving suitcases and bags on the floor—or a second spare bed—can be one way to bring home an unwanted souvenir, said Henriksen. "Bed bugs can travel (from) room-to-room, so even if you don't initially have them, they could be in the room next to yours, and they may come looking for meal sources," said Henriksen.

For the duration of your trip, keep your bags on the desktop, the top of the dresser, or a luggage rack. And avoid leaving clothes strewn around the room.

Wrap Suitcases in Plastic

For extra protection, keep your suitcase encased in plastic during your trip, said Henriksen. Storage and luggage retailers sell zip-up bags specifically for this purpose. "I've even seen people traveling with garbage bags wrapped around their suitcases," said Henriksen.

This precaution can protect your belongings while in your hotel room, as well as during transit, as bed bugs can also hide in airplanes, trains, and taxis.

Teach Kids Hotel Protocol

If you're traveling with children, tell them why you're inspecting the hotel room and what you're looking for. "We teach kids our concerns about other insects, like bees and mosquitoes. Bed bugs should be on that list as well," said Henriksen.

Also, watch for traces of white powder, which could be a pesticide used to treat a previous problem.

"Insecticides aren't good for anyone, especially young children, and you might want to ask for another room or switch hotels if you think you're being exposed," said Dr. Johnson

Move Two Floors Away

Any suspicious marking or evidence of bugs should be enough to warrant a new room, and when it comes to a bed bug scare, hotel staff should be more than willing to oblige.

Request that your new room is at least two floors away from the initial room, said Henriksen, since chances are good that the bugs may spread via the wallboards or electrical sockets.

Speak Up

If you don't like to make waves, it may be tempting to stick with the room you've got, despite a few signs of potential trouble. But Henriksen warns against this. "Now's the time to be a little bolder and ask the right questions. You do not want to be a victim, especially when most hotels will move you without question and will do a proper inspection right away.

They don't want their guests to leave the hotel with bed bugs, and they don't want the problem to go untreated, either."

They also don't want unfavorable or scathing reviews online.

Ask About Bed Bug Prevention Plans

Before check-in, ask the hotel what practices they've put in place to deal with bed bug prevention and treatment. "The overwhelming majority of businesses in the hospitality industry are doing a great job in having an action plan in place to protect themselves and their guests," said Henriksen.

Many hotels conduct proactive inspections and work with pest management companies to quickly remedy any problems.

Read Reviews (Cautiously)

With a little Internet research, it's easy to find out if bed bugs have been reported at your hotel. For example, there are bed bug registries online that are filled with user-submitted reports of bed bug experiences. Online travel sites and customer review sites can also offer a peek into hotels and their pest-related reputations.

Just don't put too much stock in these resources, though, said Henriksen. "There's no accountability for what people are posting. It could be a disgruntled employee or a competing property.

And even if the hotel does have a room with a problem, they will jump on it right away. Just because one guest room has a problem on Saturday, it certainly doesn't mean they'll be there on Wednesday or that it's a hotel-wide problem."

Pitch a Tent

One way to make sure bugs aren't lurking in your bed on vacation: Bring your lodging with you. "Bed bugs are hitchhikers," said Henriksen. "They come into your life based on you being somewhere they are."

Because of this, there's little chance you'll come in contact with them if you're pitching a tent in the woods, for example, or traveling in your camper or RV.

Don't feel compelled to avoid hotels forever, though. Wherever you are, there's a chance you could pick up and bring home bed bugs while you're out and about, said Henriksen.

Have a Post-Vacation Plan

When you return home from vacation, wash all your clothing—even the items you didn't wear—in hot water. Drying them on high heat for at least 30 minutes will help kill any remaining bugs, if there are any.

Dry cleaning works, too (although you should probably alert the people who work there that the clothing may have been exposed to bed bugs).

Bed bugs can't survive in temperatures above 122 degrees Fahrenheit, said Henriksen, so this will assure they don't take up residence in your drawers and closets—and eventually your bed.

Inspect and vacuum out your suitcases before storing them away, as well. And if you've invested in a plastic luggage case, keep it sealed up until you need it next.

Watch for Bed Bug Bite Marks

Bite marks are one sign that you may have brought bed bugs home with you, said Henriksen. "They often bite in a line-shaped pattern, in threes. In the industry we call that breakfast, lunch, and dinner."

Itching or bites alone aren't enough to confirm an infestation, though. If you experience these symptoms, you'll need a professional home evaluation before you can seek treatment.

Call a Professional

"Bed bugs are not a do-it-yourself pest," said Henriksen. If you suspect that you've brought home bed bugs from a recent vacation, call a pest-management service to conduct an inspection.

A professional will look around your bed for signs of insects and may use a bug-sniffing dog if they can't identify the source. Once an infestation is confirmed, they may use heat, freezing, vacuuming, or steaming methods to clear your home.

Try Not to Worry Too Much

Bed bugs have been found in all 50 states, in many locations—rural, urban, and suburban. "They're an equal-opportunity pest," said Henriksen. "They can be in budget properties as well as four-star resorts."

But there's no reason to douse yourself, your kids, or your home with insecticides, said Dr. Johnson.

"Panic and paranoia don't help at all," said Henriksen. "Vigilance is the most important thing—following the checklist, doing an inspection—and those are the things that are going to minimize your likelihood of an infestation."

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles