Traveling Bed Bug Free During Vacation

by Marcia Anderson

A close friend, Sandra, recently contacted me for advice on a bed bug incident she had in a shore bungalow she had rented for a family vacation.

It was not until the family noticed strange bites on the second and third mornings in the bungalow that they thought to look for bugs. They found bed bugs on the mattresses, box springs and on bed frames, and that was just for starters. They also found some behind the night stand and tucked into floor moldings. She sent me photos to confirm the diagnosis. Yes, they were bed bugs, and lots of them. You can see an example of them mounded along the seams of the mattress in the photo below.

Bed bugs in mattress seam

Nothing like a bed bug scare to bring the entire family together! Sandra admitted that neither she nor her husband inspected the dwelling before they moved in all of their luggage. In addition, they promptly plopped their suitcases on the beds when they arrived.

Based on the number and life stages of bed bugs that I saw in her photographs, those insects had set up house long ago and have been happily biting and breeding for many months.

Sandra confronted the owner, but she swore that the property never had bed bugs and the family must have brought them in and infested her property. They argued, but to no avail. It was a painful and time consuming lesson.

Many people have a fear of bringing bed bugs home due to the social stigma associated with them.  Once established, bed bugs can be very difficult to eliminate. One reason is that bed bugs have developed resistance to many commonly used pesticides. Another is that they hide in very tiny places and only come out to feed every fourth or fifth day.

The best advice that I can give vacationers to avoid a repeat of Sandra’s story is to go to the EPA bed bug website and download the Travelers Beware of Bed Bugs card. Keep it in your wallet and follow the directions carefully when you are about to stay anywhere outside of your home. The University of Minnesota also has an informative flier on inspecting your hotel room for bed bugs.

It is recommended that you:

  • Leave your luggage in the car a few extra minutes or place it in the rental property’s bathtub.
  • NEVER lay luggage on the bed.
  • Use a small flashlight (LEDs are best) and magnifying glass to look for signs of bed bugs. If you have children, you can all play Sherlock Holmes while you inspect the mattress seams, box springs, headboards, upholstered furniture, luggage rack, and other places around the room for bed bugs. Anyone who finds one gets a prize.
  • Say something immediately if you find any bed bugs. You stand a better chance of bargaining for bed bug-free lodging.

Tips for travelers to prevent bed bugs

If you are concerned about bringing bed bugs home with you, download EPA’s bed bug prevention, detection and control flier and follow the directions carefully.

Bed bugs should be managed using an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) approach.  IPM is a long-term, sustainable, approach to successful pest management. IPM programs address not only the safety concerns of using pesticides, but also focus on solution-based practices that identify, solve, and prevent future pest issues. Bed bug IPM is not a one-size-fits-all method or silver bullet, but rather a combination of biological, cultural, physical and chemical tools that minimize health and environmental risks.

It is better to be safe than sorry and to take precautions when it comes to bed bugs.  Because once bed bugs become established, they can be very costly and hard to control.

Sandra and her family followed all of the IPM steps they were given to insure they were bed bug free when they returned home. They placed all of their clothing in tightly sealed plastic bags inside their luggage until it could be washed and heat dried. They also placed the luggage in large plastic bags so, just in case a bed bug did decided to hitchhike home with them, it would not be welcomed inside. They placed their books in clear plastic zip-top bags and small electronics into separate zip-top bags until they could be carefully inspected and cleaned. Finally, they purchased a few sets of bed bug interceptors to place under the legs of their beds and couch to trap any wandering bed bugs…just in case.

Have a safe and bed bug free vacation!


About the Author: Marcia is with EPA’s Center of Expertise for School IPM in Dallas, Texas. She holds a PhD in Environmental Management from Montclair State University along with degrees in Biology, Environmental Design, Landscape Architecture, and Instruction and Curriculum. Marcia was formerly with the EPA Region 2 Pesticides Program and has been a professor of Earth and Environmental Studies, Geology, and Oceanography at several universities.

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