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How to prevent bed bugs when traveling

You are most likely to have a toothbrush, clothes, neck pillow, and maybe a passport or book on your packing list for traveling. Preventing bed bugs while traveling is probably the last thing, or not even on your list for your trip. With the increase in travel, there have been headlines for bed bugs spreading in Paris, other European countries, and parts of Asia as well. Bed bugs can be found in all 50 states with Chicago receiving the most bed bug treatments on our 2024 top bed bug cities list. Whether you are traveling for holidays like Labor Day, Thanksgiving, or Christmas or going on summer vacation or spring break, don’t bring bed bugs home as a souvenir.

Contrary to popular belief, bed bugs are not a sanitation issue; they don’t discriminate and can be found in any hotel—luxury to inexpensive—and any home—big, small, clean or dirty as well as dormitories and cruise ships.

“Every traveler should take precautions to prevent bed bugs, even in the fall and winter,” said entomologist and Orkin technical Services Director Ron Harrison, Ph.D. “Bed bugs have been reported in hotels, cruise ships, homes and even public transit in some parts of the country. They are sneaky and can survive extreme temperatures.”

Find helpful tips on how to avoid bed bugs when traveling.

Do bed bugs travel on people?

Yes, bed bugs can travel on people but not necessarily on their skin. They will usually travel on a person’s belongings or clothes.

Can bed bugs travel on clothes?

Yes, bed bugs can travel on people’s clothing such as your shirt, jacket, pants, or shoes.

How do bed bugs travel?

Bed bugs can travel and will attach to luggage, purses, bags, shoes, clothing from other infested areas.

Can bed bugs survive on a plane?

Yes, bed bugs can survive on a plane and other forms of transportation like trains or cars. Bed bugs can hide in the plane seats, overhead bins, other passenger luggage and bags, or on clothes.

Can you bring bed bugs home from a hotel?

Yes, if the hotel has bed bugs, they can hitch a ride on your luggage, bags or clothing and follow you home.

How to Avoid Bed Bugs in Hotels

When traveling, think of the acronym S.L.E.E.P. to remember the following action steps to help avoid taking bed bugs home with you.

Survey your hotel room for signs of a bed bug infestation. Bed bugs are not limited to any sanitation or income level, which means they can be found in any hotel or motel—from a one-star to five-star location. Large infestations of bed bugs can create a musty, sweet odor, like soda pop syrup. They leave behind brown or red spots on sheets. While not known to spread disease like many other pests, bed bugs can leave itchy, bloody welts on the skin. (Welts more commonly appear when the victim is sensitive to bed bug bites.)

Lift and look for all bed bug hiding spots. During the day, these nocturnal insects disappear in crevices associated with mattresses, box springs, sheets, furniture, upholstery and hollow bedposts, as well as crevices behind baseboards, pictures and even torn wallpaper. Make sure to lift and look around all possible hiding spots for bed bugs in the hotel room, not just the mattress.

Elevate your luggage and other items. Carefully inspect the hotel’s luggage rack. If there are no signs of bed bugs on it, use it to keep your suitcase off the floor and away from the bed. Also pull the luggage rack away from the wall. This will reduce the likelihood of the insect crawling up the wall and getting into your things.

Examine your luggage while repacking and once you return home. Bed bugs are great hitchhikers, so be sure to check your luggage and clothing for bed bugs before bringing luggage back into the bedroom. (Orkin recommends unpacking in your garage or utility room.)

Place all your clothing from your luggage immediately in the dryer for at least 15 minutes at the highest setting upon returning home from travel.

What to Do If You Find Bed Bugs in Hotel

Notify your hotel if you find signs of a bed bug infestation immediately. You may want to consider leaving the hotel as the bed bugs can travel to other rooms.

“Once a bed bug finds its way indoors, it can move from room to room by traveling on clothing and luggage or through pipes and vacuum cleaners,” said Frank Meek, board-certified entomologist and technical director for Orkin, Inc. “This tendency to hitchhike—as well as a bed bug’s ability to survive more than a year without a blood meal—make proper prevention and control steps even more important.”

Bed Bug Tips for Travelers

How to Prevent Bed Bugs During Your Travel

Take these steps once you enter your room.

  1. Inspect your hotel room storage area

  2. Inspect your bags

  3. Inspect your bed and surrounding areas like outlets and picture frames

  4. Inspect your bathroom

  5. Inspect the drapes

How to Prevent Bed Bugs After Travel

Take these steps before you go into the house if possible.

  1. Inspect your bags

  2. Inspect your clothing and shoes

  3. Quarantine your luggage in the garage or other area outside of the home

  4. Vacuum your luggage

  5. Clean clothing in the washer with hot water and high heat for drying

“Bed bugs are great hitchhikers, so you have to pay close attention when traveling,” said Orkin Entomologist and Technical Services Director Ron Harrison, Ph.D. “Bed bugs can find their way into your luggage, whether it is in a hotel, on a plane, train or bus and eventually make their way back to your home. If you brought home just one bed bug, it could reproduce and get out of hand in just a few weeks.”

Research from the University of Minnesota has also suggested bed bugs are attracted to dirty clothes, so keep them in a sealed bag or container.

“It appears that body odor is one cue for bed bugs that there could be a food source nearby,” said Harrison. “It may be an evolutionary trait that leads them to your dirty laundry, which makes sense, so do everything you possibly can to ensure you do not attract bed bugs.”

How to Check Luggage for Bed Bugs

Bed bugs are tiny and can be difficult to see in a suitcase or luggage bag. To find bed bugs in a suitcase check the outside liners and threading especially if it is made of fabric. Use a wet cloth to wipe down the bags and check the cloth for any bed bugs. Open the bag and check any zippers, pockets and crevices. Get a vacuum and use it in the corners and throughout the bag.

I’m Worried I Brought Bed Bugs Home

Because bed bugs can be extremely difficult to eliminate, treating an infestation requires the use of a licensed, pest control professional with specific experience in treating for these pests.

Contact your local Orkin Pro, to set up a bed bug inspection

Click here for a printable bed bug tips for travelers guide with easy steps to help you avoid bringing bed bugs back home as a vacation souvenir.

Learn More About Bed Bugs

How to identify Bed Bugs?

Learn what Bed Bugs look like, and how to detect if you have a Bed Bug Infestation.

How do you get Bed Bugs?

Find out how Bed Bugs infiltrate your home and where they are attracted to.

How serious are Bed Bugs?

Learn about Bed Bug bites, their feces and how they can impact your health.

Bed Bug Pest Control

Learn how Orkin handles Bed Bugs, homeopathic cures and the cost of Bed Bug extermination services.

Summer Pest Control Travel Planning Tips For Vacation

Travel planning tips for a pest-free vacation.

Bed Bug Registry

Website dedicated to reporting bed bug activity across the United States and Canada for both hotels and other travel accommodations.


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