Bed Bug Prevention Tips for Before, During, and After Travel
Everything to know from traversing the airport to unpacking when you get home.
A bed bug outbreak in Paris just nine months before the Olympic Games has tourists wondering how to prevent and treat those pesky critters, so Travel + Leisure spoke with experts about what to look out for and what to do if the insects do pop up.
First things first: don’t panic. Bed bugs are annoying and difficult to get rid of, but they’re not typically dangerous, Eric Braun, a board certified entomologist and technical services manager for Terminix, told T+L. In fact, bed bugs aren’t known to transmit any diseases.
“It’s the ick factor, right? They find them in areas where you’re sleeping, where you’re at your most vulnerable, where you feel protected and they’re invading that space,” Braun said. “It’s more of a psychological impact than it is a health-related impact.”
Since they’re not going to hurt you, Braun said his “main concern” isn’t getting bit, but rather “bringing them home and causing an infestation.”
From packing, to traversing the airport, to entering your hotel, and more, these preventative tips will hopefully keep your dream vacation from turning into a bug-infested nightmare.
Pick the right luggage
Bed bugs like dark cracks and crevices where they can hide, Braun said. While it’s possible for them to crawl onto any surface, they typically “like to come out when we’re sedentary… so it’s not probable that you’re going to be walking down the airport and one is going to jump on your suitcase and tag along with you.”
That said, they can climb onto any surface. That’s why packing in hardside luggage will make it less likely bed bugs will attach to the surface than if the suitcase was made of fabric, according to the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.
Be strategic at the airport
While comfy plush chairs in lounges and dark nooks may feel like the ideal spot to wait out a layover, Braun said that’s probably not your best bet if you’re trying to avoid picking up any unwelcome friends. Picking a hard, smooth plastic chair may be a better choice over a booth, for example.
“It’s less likely [to find bed bugs] in areas that are lit and [where] people aren’t sitting for extended periods of time,” he said. “It’s more probable that you would contract them in a darker, more private secluded space.”
But while bed bugs prefer darkness, they will still come out when it is light, according to information from the United States Environmental Protection Agency provided to T+L.
Braun recommended travelers inspect the area they are sitting thoroughly and “pick chairs or locations that have as few potential hiding spots for these insects as possible.”
As for when you’re actually on the plane, airfarewatchdog.com suggests booking a morning or daytime flight.
“Since bed bugs are nocturnal, the likelihood of them coming out in the daytime is relatively lower,” the site noted, (with the caveat that luggage may still be stored in a dark overhead bin).
The first thing Braun does when he checks into a hotel room is store his suitcase in the bathroom. He also avoids luggage racks.
“When I travel, I don’t unpack my suitcase, I do not put anything in the provided drawers, I do not leave any clothing around the hotel in the bed [or] on the floor,” Braun said. “Everything should be stowed away neatly… my suitcase goes in the bathroom and if they have a tub, it goes in the tub. Those are areas that are less likely for the bed bugs to be.”
Travelers can also hang their clothes in the closet.
“The bed bugs would have to crawl up the wall of the closet, crawl onto the post of the hanger, crawl down the hanger and crawl into your clothing,” Braun said. “They’re not really very motivated to do that.”
Per the American Hotel and Lodging Association, travelers should consider placing their suitcase “in a plastic trash bag or protective cover during the duration of your trip to ensure that bed bugs cannot take up residence there prior to departure.”
Go straight from vacation to the dryer
If travelers suspect they’ve been bitten or came into contact with bed bugs, they shouldn’t panic. Instead, they should unpack their clothing directly into the dryer first — not the washer.
“You [can] wash them after you dry them, but the high heat will kill the life stages. The water isn’t hot enough to kill them so they could survive a washing,” Braun said. “You’re going to remove all the clothing from the suitcase, all the clothing that you’re currently wearing, and you’re going to place that in the dryer on high for about 30 minutes… if you have some items that can’t go in a dryer that need to be dry cleaned, you would bag them up and take them to the dry cleaner.”
Braun added: “You’re going to then look at your luggage, inspect your luggage. If you suspect that there’s bed bugs in the luggage, you’re going to have that professionally treated.”