Bedbugs: How to Avoid Bringing Them Home from Your Vacation
Make sure these blood-sucking stowaways stay out of your luggage
You’ve heard the saying: “Don’t let the bedbugs bite!” These days, with bedbug infestations rampant even in the nicer hotels, that’s easier said than done.
Bedbugs suck blood by night, leaving itchy, red welts behind on your skin and hiding in hard-to-see lairs by day. The flat, six-legged pests just about vanished in the 1940s and 50s with the use of heavy-duty insecticides like DDT, University of Kentucky bug experts report. But Cimex lectularius is roaring back across America, showing up in homes, apartments and hotels.
Want to enjoy your vacation bite-free and take home only the souvenirs you want in your luggage? Follow these tips when you travel.
Pack for protection. Bring a large plastic trash bag or two and store your suitcase in it to keep bedbugs out. Some experts even recommend bringing sealable plastic bags or containers to hold your clothing if you plan to store it in bureau drawers, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health. Also pack a small flashlight, which you’ll need for bedbug inspection. And print out the EPA’s handy, wallet-size bedbug ID card to help you recognize the critters.
Inspect your room. Don’t unpack immediately. Leave all of your luggage and outerwear in the bathroom (the tub’s the least likely place for bedbugs). Use the flashlight you packed to help you spot signs of bedbugs in their favorite, poorly lit hiding places. Here’s where to look:
- Pull back the bedding, including the mattress cover. Examine the seams, folds and crevices of the mattress and box spring for bugs, tiny and nearly translucent nymphs (baby bugs) and blackish-red excrement, University of Kentucky insect experts suggest.
- Remove all the pillowcases and check the pillows, especially the seams.
- Look behind and under the headboard. The headboard may be attached to a hanger on the wall. You can remove it by lifting it up.
Check the nightstand, behind framed pictures and the undersides of upholstered chairs and sofas. Look over the bureau and luggage rack, too. “Bedbugs maybe found on the luggage rack if they have come in on other travelers’ luggage,” notes the University of Minnesota in a release about bedbugs.
If you find any signs of bedbugs, call the front desk to alert them and ask to be moved to a room far from your current one, advise the University of Minnesota experts.
Store your belongings safely. Once you’re satisfied your room is bedbug-free, cut your risk for bringing home a stray by keeping your suitcase on the luggage rack and as far from the bed as possible. Don’t leave clothes, purses, computers or computer bags on upholstered furniture. Keep all bags closed when not in use. “Hyper-vigilant travelers may further opt to keep belongings in sealed plastic pouches and their suitcase in a zippered tote…each traveler must decide how cautious they wish to be,” note University of Kentucky entomologists.
Look before you repack. Before you pack your belongings to leave, double-check your bags and clothes for signs of bedbugs.
Kill ’em off at home. Bedbugs die at temperatures over 120 degrees F, so unpack dirty clothing directly into your washing machine, the Environmental Protection Agency suggests.Then be sure to put them in the dryer. “A loosely filled dryer set on “high” is capable of killing all bedbug life-stages and their eggs in 30 minutes. A dryer with a removable shelf is excellent for killing bedbugs on items that cannot be tumbled, like leather shoes [and] handbags,” notes Virginia Tech bug expert Dini M. Miller, PhD, in a Virginia Extension Service article.
Store your suitcases away from living areas. The basement and garage are good spots. If you think your bag has bugs, put it into a plastic bag and leave it in a hot car outdoors on a sunny day, Miller suggests in a publication from the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. Or, if you travel a lot, consider springing for a portable heating device designed to heat-treat luggage.