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  • Writer's pictureNoel McCarthy

How to Avoid Bed Bugs While Traveling

Updated: May 25, 2022

hotel room bed, pillow, travel

These days, travel is part of our daily life, and I don’t just mean commuting, although some of us do endure tediously long trips to work! I mean journeys that take a day or two (or more) and include sleeping in a hotel or motel, a bed & breakfast or an AirBnB, perhaps a conference center or a rented apartment. In any event, not at home.

Of course, staying in any of these places always requires a leap of faith, however luxurious or Spartan your choice is. In my travels I’ve found that appearances definitely can be deceptive: expensive, well-appointed accommodation can be harbour all sorts of unpleasant things; while the Spartan can be clean, comfortable, and quiet.

But, no matter which type of accommodation you choose, be prepared for the fact that your room may already have guests ̶ unwanted fellow travellers who have preceded you. That is, bed bugs!

Actually, there are good reasons to believe that it is precisely because of our increased mobility ̶ both nationally and internationally ̶ that we have seen an enormous increase in the global bed bug population. What makes things more complicated, for we humans at least, is that getting rid of bed bugs is hard and these buggers are superb ‘hitchhikers’. They’ll find their way into almost any place we inhabit via clothing, backpacks and suitcases, even you!

But things get worse, I’m sorry to say. Bed bugs live on the blood of other animals, and they do seem to have a preference for us. Research tells us that bed bugs usually remain within ten feet from where we, their human hosts, sleep.

So, wherever you’re going to travel, and wherever you’re going to stay, here are the three ‘stages’ you should keep in mind before you leave:

1. Things to Do Before You Go

Find out all you can about your intended destination

Before you commit to a particular hotel or motel, etc, do your research. Check out every option, investigate every possibility, and read every review and/or customer comment you can about the place you have in mind. However, if you uncover negative feedback about a particular destination, it may just stem from a dissatisfied guest who wants to damage the reputation of the hotel/motel. Happens all the time!

Contact your hotel, motel or Airbnb directly

Even if you don’t find any negative comments during your research, don’t be afraid to call your intended destination and ask them, directly, whether they’ve had any bed bug issues in the past. You’ll know immediately if they’re being evasive or vague with their answers. If they are, don’t waste any more time. Eliminate them from your list.

Think about staying elsewhere

If your intended destinations fail these basic tests, look further afield. Even if you have to drive an additional 15 or 20 minutes to reach a motel/hotel that pasts the test, it’s worth it.

Use the Bed Bug Registry

I know, it sounds a bit weird, but Bedbug Reports is actually a very useful tool for travellers. You can check the site to see if there have been recent reports of bed bugs.

2. Things to Do When You Get to Your Hotel

Check the bed

Before you do anything else when you get to your room, check the bed and the mattress for any traces of bed bugs. You probably won’t see them ̶ they’re fleet of foot and avoid humans, until, of course, it’s time to feed! But if you do see something, bed bugs are easy to identify. They’re brown and have oval-shaped bodies and are about the size of a small apple seed. If you don’t see them, remove the sheets and the mattress pad (most hotels use them) and examine all corners of the mattress and box spring.

Examine the mattress carefully for stains

When bed bugs get squished ̶ which seems to happen a lot ̶ they leave reddish-brown stains that are generally found around the mattress seams. Plus, give the bed and mattress a good shake and see what, if anything, falls out. If they don’t oblige, they may well leave anyway. They have an aversion to bed quakes.

luggage in hotel room, suitcase, shoes, clothes, bed

Keep your luggage off the floor

If your hotel or motel provides luggage racks, use them ̶ after you’ve checked them for bugs, of course. And position the luggage rack far away from the furniture. If the closet happens to be large enough, keep it in there. Also, if you can, hang all of your clothes in that closet, even the stuff you’d ordinarily put in drawers (which happen to be the perfect hiding place for bed bugs!) Hint: Store your dirty clothes in a large, resealable plastic bag. It turns out that bed bugs are particularly drawn to the odours emitted by dirty laundry.

Use an approved insecticide/pesticide spray

We suggest that you carry a small bottle of Sterifab® whenever you travel. Sterifab is the only EPA registered disinfectant and insecticide in one product. And, its nonresidual spray will deodorize as it disinfects. What’s best, though, is that kills bed bugs, fleas, ticks, mites, mold, mildew and more.

3. Things to Do If You Find Bed Bugs

Look for bites 

Actually, knowing whether or not you’ve been bitten by a bed bug is not so easy. Their bites are often mistaken for those dispensed by mosquitoes and fleas, which, not surprisingly, also depend on blood for sustenance. However, bed bug bites look like raised, flat red welts, typically in rows of three. Fortunately, bed bugs don’t transmit diseases, although they can play a role in some public health issues.


However nice your room may be the presence of bed bugs should be enough to get you heading for the door. Of course, it may not be possible to make a quick exit; it may be late at night, there may not be any other hotels or motels in the vicinity, and you may be there for some special occasion, such as a wedding, but you really should get out, somehow. Even if that means demanding another room, which the management will probably be only too happy to arrange. They should also refund your money, regardless of whether they provided alternate accommodation. Demand it!

4. Things to Do When You Get Home Inspect your luggage

How do you get rid of bed bugs? Well, when you arrive home, resist the urge to go straight inside. Instead, check all your luggage for signs of bed bugs, and that includes bed bug eggs. Also, if you happen to detect an unfamiliar, musty odour on any of your bags it may be a sign that bed bugs are present. If you’re not sure, just leave the bags on the back porch or in the garage and check them the next day.

The Uber Factor

If you didn’t drive yourself to your hotel or motel, or you caught a flight instead, chances are that you took either a regular taxi or ̶ as many people do today ̶ use Uber, Lyft, or another of the many other call-up car services. Very useful, but there is a downside to this convenience: Not only are these cars really dirty, but they are literal bacteria ‘factories’ that can often harbour insects such as fleas, bed bugs, ticks, even mites. Your driver probably won’t appreciate you bringing this up, but be prepared when you use this sort of transportation!

woman holding folded laundry

Unpack and do the laundry right away

When you do finally unpack, don’t throw your laundry on the floor, as this could spread any bed bugs you inadvertently brought back with you. Rather, put them straight into your washing machine and make the water as hot as the fabrics allow. When they’re done put them directly into the dryer and set the temperature on ‘hot’. That should eradicate any bugs that came home with you. Hint: Do not hang them to dry, just in case one bed bug survived.

Clean out your luggage

After you’ve unpacked, vacuum out all of your luggage, including backpacks, toiletry purses and handbags. Remember, bed bugs are consummate hitch hikers, and you might have brought one or two home with you!

Your final act, maybe

If, by the way, that hotel or motel with the resident bed bugs refused to either rehouse you and/or refund your money, use every social media platform you know about to register your disapproval. And let the offending hotel/motel know what you’re doing. That might be enough to have them refund your money. If not, let them suffer the consequences.

Protect Yourself

Before you travel, order a small bottle of Sterifab to take along with you. Sleep soundly knowing that these buggers will be caught dead in their tracks. Want to throw a bottle in your suitcase? Order Sterifab!


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