Just reading the dreaded words “bed bugs” is enough to send shivers and sympathetic itching along the skin of most travelers. Even staying at a five-star establishment can’t guarantee your safety; bed bugs don’t discriminate by room rate or sheet quality.
“Bed bugs are skilled hitchhikers, able to sneak inside suitcases and then make themselves at home once travelers return from their trip,” said Brittany Campbell, Ph.D., Staff Entomologist for the National Pest Management Association (NPMA). “As bed bugs are extremely elusive creatures, the only surefire way to avoid bringing them home with you is to be extremely vigilant while traveling.”
The best, and cheapest, way to manage your bed bug risk is to do an immediate room check. Once you get into your hotel room or rental, put your luggage in the bathroom or on an elevated hard rack. Break out a small flashlight or use the one on your phone, then pull back the sheets and look for any tiny dark spots that could be droppings or bloodstains. Untuck the corners of the sheets from under the mattress and lift up the mattress cover while mentally apologizing to the hotel staff. You'll want to look around the edges of the mattress, particularly within the seams, for tiny dark spots that will look a bit like mold or blood, eggs (which look like grains of rice, roughly the size of a pinhead), the pale yellow remnants of shed exoskeletons, or actual bugs. Fully grown adults will be roughly the size of an apple seed.
Once you’ve checked the mattress, make sure to check the headboard, nightstands, and any other textiles in the room. Bed bugs can be sneaky and defy their name, living in couch cushions, inside electrical fixtures, on curtains, and under loose wallpaper or wall hangings.
You can also set your suitcase up for self-defense. Make sure you keep it off the floor, ideally on a non-wood surface. You can spread diatomaceous earth (amazon.com, $6) in your bag, keep your clothes in plastic bags to isolate them, or stash the whole suitcase inside a garbage bag or sealed stuff sack to keep out any hitchhikers.
Once you arrive home, and you’ve noticed what could be bed bug bites or feel you may have been at risk, do your unpacking outside. Vacuum and hand-steam your luggage and wash and dry all your clothes on high heat cycles to make sure any stowaways are dealt with. Clothes that can’t be washed can be steamed, blasted with a hair dryer, or quarantined.
Bed bugs are known for being especially resilient, so prevention is the best cure, and there’s no one product that will completely get rid of them. If you’ve taken all these steps and found no evidence, but still want to sleep a little easier, try out one of these bed bug sprays to help keep your sheets invader-free.