Some simple precautions can minimize the trauma of dealing with hotel bedbugs.
The creepiest thing about checking into a hotel room is the thought that you may find bedbugs waiting there to greet you. Unfortunately, the more often you travel, the greater the risk. They seem to be everywhere.
Rest assured (hmm, maybe that’s not the right term), bedbugs aren’t confined to hotels alone. They have been found in movie theatres, trendy shops, offices, moving vans, laundromats, public transportation (including cruise ships and airplanes), and yes, even in ambulances.
But, it’s natural that people tend to worry about them most when they think about beds in unfamiliar places!
Entomologists say that the recent (2023) bedbug panic in Paris reported by the media is more overblown than the problem appears to be on the ground. However, rather than panic, it is a good reminder that bedbugs are a perennial problem around the world and that travelers need to be vigilant.
Here are some precautionary steps you can take to avoid bedbugs the next time you check in to a hotel–and, hopefully, sleep more peacefully:
1 – Search before you go
Before booking a room, check out whether the hotel has been cited for bedbugs by other travelers. Some user review sites like TripAdvisor, Yelp, and Reddit include such reports.
Bedbug Reports is a free, public database of user-submitted reports, searchable by state and locality, covering the U.S. and Canada.
Yes, user reporting isn’t always accurate but wouldn’t you feel more comfortable staying at a property that isn’t listed?
2 – Know thy enemy
Know what a bedbug looks like.
A study by YouGov UK found that only 16 percent of more than 3,500 respondents surveyed would definitely recognize a bedbug if they saw one.
The bugs are oval flat and brown — about the size of an apple seed (although size depends on life stage). Attracted to warmth and carbon dioxide, they tend to come out at night and can hide in the tiniest cracks and crevices.
The American Academy of Dermatology also suggests doing the sniff test: A heavy infestation of bedbugs will leave a sweet, musty odor in a room, created by a chemical that helps them communicate.
The health risks are minimal, but the “yuk” factor is extremely high if you bring them home.
My mother lived in an apartment where bedbugs were infested in the walls. I can personally attest to the fact that getting rid of them can be expensive, time-consuming, inconvenient, and very unpleasant.
3 – Check out your room
Before you take off your shoes and get under the covers, do a cursory check of your room or stateroom cabin on a ship.
Look for reddish-brown specks on pillowcases, sheets, covers, mattress pads, and the mattress (especially at seams and corners); this is a sure sign that the bugs have been feeding there. If you have a few extra minutes, check the bedframe and headboard. You may also spot eggs or empty shell casings.
Also, check any upholstered chairs or sofas in the room.
If you do find evidence of bedbugs, report it immediately and ask for a different room somech distance from your current one.
If you are still uncomfortable and need to change hotels, check whether your travel insurance policy will cover the cost of a change of accommodations.
4 – Pack and unpack accordingly
Although bedbugs don’t fly, they are great long-distance crawlers and hitchhikers, adept at getting into luggage, shopping bags, and shoes.
- Only take whatever clothing or personal articles you really need and use sealed plastic bags to pack (see my prior article on the intelligent use of Ziploc bags.)
- Experts say that bedbugs are less likely to embed themselves in hard-side luggage.
- Avoid using hotel drawers or shelves, or leaving suitcases or other personal belongings on carpeted floors. Hanging clothes in the closet is a better alternative.
- Store suitcases in the bathroom. If you are totally bedbug-phobic, wrap them in large plastic trash bags.
- Don’t use your laptop in bed; bedbugs can decide to nestle behind the keys.
When you return home
- Check for signs of bedbugs immediately when you return home (preferably before you enter your house).
- Empty your belongings on a non-carpeted floor.
- Immediately transfer your clothes into a plastic bag until you can wash them in the hottest water the fabric will tolerate; dry them at high temperatures for at least 20 minutes. Alternatively, have your clothes dry-cleaned, even those you haven’t worn.
- Vacuum the inside of your suitcase before you put it away.
5- Sleep tight, don’t let the bedbugs bite
But if they do, recognize the signs of a bedbug bite. The bites may crop up on your back, face, arms or hands; they tend to bite the upper part of your body.
Many people have no reaction to bedbug bites, but others do. The bites are red and swollen and look like hives or welts. They usually have a darker spot in the center and occur in groups or along the lines of your sleepwear.
The bites can itch and burn; scratching them too much can lead to infections.
To relieve the discomfort, Healthline advises the use of over-the-counter steroid creams and oral antihistamines.
6 – Pay it forward
If you find evidence of a hotel bedbug infestation, take photos and report the occurrence to the hotel management and user sites like those previously mentioned.
If you do find traces of them at home, don’t try to do-it-yourself. Hire a professional.
A helpful tip from BedBug Watch:
Use a hair dryer (also commonly found in hotel rooms) to look for bedbugs. Pointing the hot air towards crevices forces bedbugs out of hiding and may help you spot an infestation.
Blow the air along the mattress seams and baseboards until you have some assurance that your room is bedbug-free. Bedbugs don’t like heat.
A short film from the American Academy of Dermatology on checking for bedbugs
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