Have Flashlight, Will Travel: Bed Bug Prevention 101

“Sleep tight. Don’t let the bed bugs bite.” It’s a familiar saying that’s getting harder and harder to obey. While bed bugs aren’t a new phenomenon, they have once again become a common nuisance since the banning of certain pesticides over the last half-century.

Originally (at least 11,000 years ago!), bed bugs found their hosts amongst bat populations. But ancient Greeks mentioned the more human-preferring kind in their early writings, even praising them for their purported healing properties. As innovation and exploration opened up new worlds, European voyagers and then immigrating colonists eventually brought the pesky critters to North America aboard their sailing ships. The introduction of the railroad, followed by other modes of mass transportation, ultimately enabled bed bugs to move quickly and easily from one meal to the next, causing their populations to explode. Twentieth-century commercial and agricultural use of DDT helped control bed bug infestations for a while, but since the U.S.’s ban of it in 1972, bed bug problems have resurfaced with a vengeance, inhabiting every continent but Antarctica posing an inconvenience for travelers around the world who unwittingly encounter and transport the wily creatures across county, state and country lines. Here are our top five tips for preventing bed bugs from hitching a ride with you the next time you travel:

Do Your Research

Orkin publishes a list every year detailing the top 50 U.S. cities with the worst reported bed bug infestations. Check it out to see if/where your destination ranks on the list. You can also call your hotel and ask about their bed bug prevention plan, as well as search online for consumer reports regarding bed bug issues via such sites as TripAdvisor and The Bed Bug Registry. However, individual postings about bed bugs should be taken with a grain of salt, as anonymity often persuades unhappy people (visitors, employees, even the competition) to post exaggerated or untrue comments. And even if the reports are true, if a location has had bed bugs in the past, it doesn’t mean it has them now. Regardless, forewarned is forearmed.

Buy a Flashlight (and Use It)

And speaking of being forearmed, like Paladin’s gun in Have Gun – Will Travel, a flashlight can be a great defense! When you get to your room, set your luggage in the tub. (Bed bugs, if present, can’t crawl on slippery surfaces.) Then get out your flashlight and start snooping. Check curtains and upholstered furniture; look behind artwork and on closeted linens; especially examine the bed by pulling down the bed sheets, looking behind the headboard and examining the mattress seams, as well as the box spring. The light will help you discover any evidence of bed bugs. The bugs themselves are reddish-brown and the size of apple seeds. You might also notice shed skins, egg casings and/or droppings if bed bugs are present.

Keep Your Luggage Off the Floor

Always store your suitcase off the floor on a luggage rack, dresser or table. Bed bugs can’t fly, but they do crawl. Keeping your belongings away from the bed and floor is an extra precaution you can take to make sure they don’t sneak a ride home with you.

Change Your Plans If Necessary

If you find any sign of bed bugs (even if you don’t see the actual bugs themselves), alert management and move rooms and/or establishments. If you decide to stay in the same hotel, make sure to move at least several floors away and repeat your inspection in the new room.

Have a Follow-up Plan

Remember to check your luggage upon your return home. (If you don’t already have one, consider buying a hard-shell suitcase; they can help prevent unwanted guests from coming home with you the next time you travel.) Wash all the clothes that traveled with you (even if you didn’t wear them) or at least run them through a drying cycle. The heat will kill any accidental hitchhikers.

Final Thoughts

Bed bugs can survive for months without a meal. They’re excellent hiders and hard to kill. And don’t think expensive accommodations are any less susceptible to a bed bug infestation than a mom-and-pop motel. Bed bugs can and will live anywhere. But you don’t have to cancel your hotel reservations or avoid VRBOs and Airbnbs –– or even abandon your timeshare on their account. (Of course, if you are ready to ditch your timeshare for good, make sure to get in touch with a business like Timeshare Exit Plan ASAP.) You don’t have to carry along your own tent in protest. Just follow our tips, and you can avoid the itchy bites and red welts that bed bugs bring.