How to Prevent Bed Bugs When Traveling

woman with magnifying glass detecting bed bugs

Traveling opens the door to new adventures, cultures, and memories, but it can also invite some unwelcome guests into your life — bed bugs. In this article, we’ll explore how to prevent bed bugs when traveling.

Safe travels takes on a whole new meaning when we’re talking bed bugs. In this article, we’ll cover pre-packing tips, how to inspect your hotel room, and how to get rid of bed bugs if you do find them.

Can You Bring Bed Bugs Home After Traveling?

Yes, you can bring bed bugs home after traveling. That’s the unfortunate reality. These tiny critters are expert hitchhikers that latch onto clothing and nest into the nooks and crannies of your luggage without notice.

How can you unknowingly bring bed bugs home after traveling?

  • When you place your luggage on infested carpets or near drapes in hotels, you can provide bed bugs with a perfect opportunity to climb aboard.
  • When you lay on hotel beds, and ride on trains, buses, and even airplanes you can pick up hitchhikers that follow you home.

Once bed bugs have made their way into your luggage or clothing, they can easily be brought into your home and find numerous hiding spots there, from mattresses to furniture.

Learning how to prevent these pests is not just a travel hack, but a necessity.

Bed Bug Protection for Travel

bed bug on a white wall
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As you prepare for your next journey, it’s time to consider not only your itinerary, but also how to protect yourself and your belongings from unwanted hitchhikers. Here are some measures you can take before and during your travels to minimize the risk of bringing bed bugs home:

Pre-Packing Tips

Before you go, taking the time to pack wisely can be your first line of defense against bed bugs. Here are some pre-packing tips to avoid bed bugs on your next trip:

  • Choose the right luggage: Opt for hardside luggage whenever possible. Its smooth surfaces make it more difficult for bed bugs to latch onto and find hiding spots compared to fabric bags.
  • Pack clothes in resealable plastic bags: Use resealable plastic bags to pack your clothes. They act as a protective barrier, safeguarding your belongings in the event that bed bugs manage to get access to your luggage.
  • Bring a small flashlight: Packing a small flashlight can be a game-changer. You’ll need it upon arriving at your hotel, Airbnb, or motel to thoroughly inspect for signs of bed bug infestation. (Don’t worry, you can’t still use your phone’s flashlight if you forget to bring one.)

How to Inspect Your Hotel Room

inspector looking at bed bugs in a mattress
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Taking a few moments to inspect your accommodation for bed bugs can make all the difference in ensuring your stay is pleasant. Here’s what to look for when checking for bed bugs:

  • Live bed bugs, measuring 1/4 to 3/8 inch long and resembling an apple seed in shape and color.
  • Shed skins that bed bugs leave behind as they mature
  • Clusters of tiny, white eggs hidden in crevices
  • Red stains from crushed bed bugs
  • Small black dots, which are bed bug fecal matter

Bed bugs are elusive and can hide in various places, often close to where people sleep or rest. Here’s where to look for bed bugs in the hotel. (You can use your flashlight if you remember to pack it!):

  • Mattresses and box springs: Remove the bed sheets and thoroughly inspect the mattress and box springs, with a focus on seams, tufts, and any crevices.
  • Behind the headboard: Detach the headboard, if possible, to inspect behind it. This is a common hiding place for bed bugs.
  • Nightstands and drawers: Pull out the drawers of the nightstand and inspect inside and underneath.
  • Upholstered furniture: Don’t overlook sofas, chairs, couches, and other upholstered furniture. Check all sides, especially on seams, folds, and skirts.
  • Luggage rack: Inspect the fabric straps of the luggage rack. They offer perfect crevices for bed bugs to hide in.
  • Pillows: Check the pillows and their cases.
  • Curtains: Inspect the folds and seams of any curtains in the room.

Here’s a video by the University of Maine with a few tips:

Pro tip: Leave your bags in the bathroom while you inspect your room.

What to Do If You Find Bed Bugs in a Hotel Room

If you do find bed bugs in your room after the inspection, the first thing you should do is notify the hotel staff. Ask to be moved to a different room, preferably one that is not adjacent or directly above the infested room. Then, inspect the new room, just as you did initially, before unpacking.

How to Avoid Bed Bugs When Flying

Can you get bed bugs from an airplane? Yes, you can. While the chances of encountering bed bugs during a flight are low, they’re not zero. Being cautious and prepared can reduce this already slim chance even more. 

Besides choosing hardside luggage, here are other strategies to help you avoid bed bugs when flying:

  • Seat inspection: Upon boarding, give your seat a quick inspection, focusing on the seams where bed bugs are most likely to hide. 
  • Bring your own blanket and pillow: This way, you can avoid using the airline-provided ones, which, although cleaned, could potentially be a risk factor for bed bugs.
  • Use a plastic bag for carry-ons: Before placing your carry-on bag under the seat in front of you, put it in a plastic shopping bag. This simple barrier can deter bed bugs from latching onto your belongings.
  • Alert cabin crew if necessary: If you do spot a bed bug on your seat or anywhere else around you, discreetly alert a cabin crew member. Airlines usually have protocols for handling these situations.

How to Get Rid of Bed Bugs After Traveling

steam coming out of the steam cleaner
Photo Credit: SaevichMikalai / Canva Pro / License

Discovering bed bugs after returning from a trip can be a distressing experience. However, there are effective steps you can take to eliminate these pests from your luggage and other belongings and prevent them from infesting your home:

  1. Do not unpack in your bedroom: Choose a light-colored surface in the laundry room or garage so there’s a stark contrast, and you can then notice if there are any bed bugs attached to your things. Do this away from your bedroom to avoid spreading the bed bugs.
  2. Vacuum your luggage: Use a bagged vacuum equipped with a HEPA filter and a crevice tool, and thoroughly vacuum all your bags. 
  3. Wash and dry clothing: Empty all your clothing into a washing machine, and wash it in a hot water cycle, followed by at least 30 minutes in a high-heat dryer. That includes the clothes you were wearing on the plane. The high temperature will kill bed bugs in your clothes.
  4. Steam clean your luggage: With a steamer that reaches at least 130 F, give your luggage a thorough steam cleaning, using a triangular nozzle and moving slowly so you get all the spots.
  5. Use portable heating devices: For items that cannot be washed or steamed, consider buying a portable heating device. They reach temperatures that are lethal to bed bugs, killing them in a few hours.
  6. Get insecticide sprays: As a supplementary measure, you can use bed bug sprays designed for safe application on luggage (or else you might damage it). 
  7. Call professional pest control: If, despite these measures, you notice signs that bed bugs may have spread to your home, it’s time to call in a pest control pro to come handle the problem.

FAQ About Bed Bugs 

Can Bed Bugs Travel on Clothes?

Yes, bed bugs can travel on clothes. This is the primary method by which these pests travel from place to place. This includes journeys from hotels to your home or even your car (yes, bed bugs can infest your car). However, it is more likely for bed bugs to travel on clothing that you’re not currently wearing since they prefer undisturbed environments.

What Should I Do With My Luggage if the Hotel Has Bed Bugs?

If you find yourself in a hotel with bed bugs, the first step is to leave your luggage in the bathroom while you inspect the rest of the room. Bathrooms are less likely to harbor bed bugs due to the lack of hiding spots and hard surfaces.

If you discovered that your hotel had bed bugs after leaving, follow these steps to ensure your luggage is free from these pests:

  • Wash and dry all clothing
  • Vacuum your luggage
  • Apply hot steam to every nook and cranny
  • Consider using a portable heating device
  • Use an insecticide if necessary

How to Keep Bed Bugs Away With Dryer Sheets?

There is no scientific evidence to support the use of dryer sheets against bed bugs. Instead, opt for implementing proven prevention and eradication methods, like the ones we mention in this article. Other natural home remedies for bed bugs include:

How to Get Rid of Bed Bugs? Hire a Pest Control Pro

It’s clear that bed bugs are not the kind of souvenirs a traveler would want to bring from a trip. So, if despite your best efforts, you find that these pests have stowed away and infiltrated your home, don’t let them turn it into their vacation resort. Call a pest control professional near you to handle your bed bug problem as soon as possible.

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Maria Isabela Reis

Maria Isabela Reis is a writer, Ph.D. candidate, and plant enthusiast from an area where mosquitoes are as relentless in their pursuit of blood as she is in her quest for knowledge. When she’s not swatting away these buzzing annoyances, she’s playing with her dogs and savoring a cup of tea.