Updated date:

How to Avoid Bed Bugs When You Travel

Stephanie loves to travel. She has written numerous articles with tips, photographs, and information on places to visit.

Don't Let the Bed Bugs Bite!

Its probably at the top of any traveler's list of nightmare scenarios - staying in a hotel room with bed bugs. Unfortunately, its quite common, even at 4 and 5 star properties around the world.

As adults, the idea of bed bugs crawling under the sheets is even more horrifying than our childhood fears of monsters under the bed. These critters are real - and they are not going away!

So how can you avoid bed bugs? What can you do to treat a bed bug bite? What are the signs that there are bed bugs in your room?

Having just returned from a trip where I encountered the pests first hand, I've got some tips for you.... If you dare!

Bed bugs along a mattress

Bed bugs along a mattress

What are Bed Bugs?

Bed bugs are tiny insect parasites that feed on the blood of warm-blooded animals - including humans. Adult bed bugs are about 1/4 inch long, small (yet visible to the naked eye) and wingless. They range in color from white to tan to deep brown. After feeding, they may appear to have a dark black center within their body. But the average person may find it difficult to find the pests simply by looking. They hide in cracks and crevices and avoid coming out in sunlight.

We don't know them by their scientific name, Cimex lectularius (Cimicidae), but rather as "bed bugs" because they make their homes in our living spaces, burrowing into bed mattresses, sofas, and pillows. As a traveler, you are likely to encounter bed bugs in hotel rooms, cruise ships, hostels and other shelters.

Just what you want on your vacation, right?

Bed Bugs - YUCK!

How Can You Tell if You Have Bed Bug Bites?

I will tell you from first-hand experience that you probably will not feel the bed bugs biting you. In fact, the bites sometimes do not even iitch until they start healing. However, some people are sensitive to the bugs' saliva, which can result in an allergic response and skin lesions that resemble mosquito bites.

Bed bugs are active at night, preferring darkness over the light of day. Their peak time for biting is about 1 hour before dawn. Bed bugs are attracted by the warmth of our bodies and the CO2 that we breathe out.

Bed bug bites are distinct from other insect bites (mosquitoes, sand flies, fleas and ticks) as follows:

  • Appearance is a small red bump, similar to a mosquito bite, but lasting much longer
  • Unlike flea bites, there is not a red dot in the center of a bed bug bite
  • Bed bug bites can take up to a week to become visible on human skin
  • The tell-tale sign of a bed bug is bites in a row (they may return to the same area after being disturbed, or they have made multiple attempts to get a good vein)
  • Some people will not show any signs of being bitten by bed bugs - that's right - you may never even know that they were in your bed!
  • You could look for signs of bed bugs - described below - but quite frankly, seeing the little red bumps on my feet and legs was enough. I didn't want to pull back the covers and look around the seams of the mattress!
Bed bug bites on my foot

Bed bug bites on my foot

Where do Bed Bugs Live?

Bed bugs are usually found in mild, temperate climates, but they are quite adaptable. In other words, you can find them just about any place where they can find food.

If you have been on vacation and stayed in a room with bed bugs, chances are you could bring home an unwanted souvenier! Bed bugs will stowaway in luggage, clothing and even furniture purchased at second-hand stores.

Gives the term "flea market" a whole new meaning, doesn't it?

Even the cleanest homes, apartments and hotel rooms may be infested with bed bugs. They get in through cracks in the walls and even scurry through electrical outlets! A bed bug infestation has to be eradicated right away, or the pests will continue reproducing and set up a nice little home for themselves right inside your place!

Bed Bug Infestation

Lines of bed bug bites down my leg

Lines of bed bug bites down my leg

What are the Signs of Bed Bugs?

Most hotel managers will tell you that they know there is a bed bug problem once a guest complains of getting bitten! However, do not expect all travel properties to be accommodating of your complaints. The very idea of bed bugs is not one that future guests want to hear about. So, oftentimes, guests will be told that their bites are sand flies or mosquitoes, instead of bed bugs.

That's exactly what happened to me.

If you are wondering if you have bed bugs in your room, you can investigate. Signs of bed bugs include tiny spots of blood or dark brown/reddish bed bug droppings on the linens. You can also spot bed bug eggs (resembling tiny poppy seeds) along mattress seams. Although bed bugs themselves hide during the day, you might find them hiding under mattresses, behind loose wallpaper, in laundry baskets or in drawers near beds.

Professional pest control companies, like Orkin, can determine whether you have bed bugs.  In fact, some dogs can be trained to sniff out the pests too!

What to do if you get Bed Bug Bites

For most people, the worst thing about getting bed bug bites is the idea of the tiny pests in their bed, biting them. Bed bug bites themselves are not usually dangerous or harmful. Few people will experience allergic reactions.

Unlike mosquitoes, bed bugs do not transmit disease. You could get an infection from scratching bed bug bites, but that is usually the extent of any potential problem.

Do be aware that bed bug bites seem to take forever to heal, and also that bites may not appear until days after you are bitten. I got my bites over a week ago, and the red dots stubbornly remain covering my feet and legs. A few stay bites are visible on my arms and hands, too.

If itching is a problem, ask your doctor if you can take over the counter antihistamines like Benadryl and/or use a topical cream with cortisone.  Should your bites get infected, you may need antibiotics.  Again, consult a medical professional.

Parting Thoughts on Bed Bugs

Bottom line on how to avoid bed bugs when you travel?

  • Read online reviews of hotels, hostels, cruise lines, etc.
  • Check the mattress and other areas of the room after you check in and before you go to bed
  • Ask for a new room or - better yet - call your travel agent to ask for a new hotel if you discover signs of bed bugs in your room
  • Be persistent - don't allow management to deny your reports of bed bugs!

Travel smart and safe - and don't let the bed bugs bite!

How Can you Stop Bed Bugs?

There are several ways to stop bed bugs if you happen to stay in a place that is infested with them, or if you inadvertently bring them home.

  1. Do not lay your suitcase on a bed, or near a bed you suspect to have bed bugs.
  2. Wash all bedding and clothing in hot water - a minimum of 120 degrees F. Dry clean only garments can also be dry cleaned to kill bed bugs, but be sure to let the dry cleaners know so they can take precautions to avoid infestation at their establishment.
  3. Dry fabrics on high heat for at least 20 minutes after washing.
  4. Alternatively, place fabrics in sealed plastic bags and leave outside on a hot, sunny day. You can also freeze the bags if warm sunshine is not an option where you live.
  5. If you can part with your items, it might be best to simply throw them away.
  6. Vacuum folds of beds and sofas and the edges of carpeting. Dispose of vacuum cleaner contents in a sealed bag as soon as possible.
  7. Hire a professional pest control company to treat the area with insecticides and examine the affected rooms for eggs. Several visits may be necessary.
  8. Use a protective cover for your mattress and box spring. Bugs trapped inside will die, but those outside of it (unfortunately) will not!

Unfortunately, you cannot starve bed bugs. Bed bugs can live for months without feeding, but they do prefer a meal every 5-10 days.

Much as it would be great to simply wait them out by staying at a friend's house - and hopefully not bringing an unwelcome host gift - you will need to take steps to eradicate bed bugs from your home as soon as possible!

© 2010 Stephanie Marshall


Adam on January 10, 2018:

A travel tip from an experienced traveler. I have tested this theory and it works I have found bed bugs this way... So easy take a bar of Hotel room soap unwrap it when you arrive to your room. and put it under where the pillow is UNDER the sheet. Go to dinner and do not worry about it. Before you sleep check the bar of Soap for these blood thirsty parasites. They are drawn to the sent. 2-6 hours. and make sure to turn the lights OFF. Happy Travels.

Richard A Moore from Nigeria on July 03, 2016:

There is a brand of luggage specifically designed to kill bed bugs once you leave and return home. Its called Therma Stike.

They do hard-shell hand luggage and full size suitcases. I find them every useful for travelling in Africa where bedbugs are everywhere.

Thomas James from London on February 20, 2015:

Great hub voted up!

VJG from Texas on January 12, 2015:

Yup. This is the first thing we look for in hotel rooms. We turn back bed covers before we even bring in our bags.

Korbin Jakobe from Spain on March 14, 2014:

Good information on how to Avoid Bed Bugs during travel.........

vipin on December 31, 2013:

Its amazing, looking at the time and effort you put into your blog and detailed information you provide. I'll bookmark your blog and visit it weekly for your new posts.

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on September 27, 2012:

Yeah, not really my favorite thing, either. At least I can share my bed bug experience so that hopefully others can avoid it. ;-) Best, Steph

Dale Anderson from The High Seas on September 27, 2012:

Here's what I have to say about the idea of having bed bugs.....BWARGH! I dislike the idea of sleeping on things that are alive and want to suck my blood. But maybe that's just me. Good tips here.

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on April 02, 2012:

Thanks pstraubie - believe me, experiencing bed bugs is something I never want to do again! Hope your friend finds it useful for his/her travels. Best, Steph

Patricia Scott from North Central Florida on April 02, 2012:

The very idea of a bed bug makes my skin crawl. And I am aware that they are in 4 and 5 star hotels. Eeeeewwww. Now that I have said that, I do appreciate all of the information you shared here. I am sending the information to a friend who will be traveling extensively for the next few months.

louromano on March 19, 2012:

Nice info. Thanks.

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on March 10, 2012:

Thanks Barbara! That is awful that they keep coming back and are in the bathroom too. Good luck fighting the bed bugs!

Barbara on March 10, 2012:

The tip about keeping your stuff on tile isn't true they go on tile i found them in my bathroom and no matter how many times i bomb my house they keep coming back :( so we bought a cover for our boxsprins, matrises and pillows and lest see if that helps.

illegal vacation rentals on March 01, 2012:

I love that the bed bugs are hitting the vacation rentals now in SF. Vacation Rentals in a residential neighborhood are illegal. I guess you get what you sew.

stessily on February 23, 2012:

Steph, A hotel in the "big city" which neighbours the suburban rural hamlet where I live has been in the newspapers several times over the past several years for bed bug complaints. Yuk!

Very well presented and illustrated.

Well done.

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on January 31, 2012:

ewwww - I cannot imagine that, travel! But you are right that bed bugs get into much more than just beds. YUCK!!

travel-O-grapher from Dhaka, Bangladesh on January 30, 2012:

ewwww... that is some crazy stuff!!! haha... but to tell the truth, its not a good experience to have! i was stuck in long bus journey of 16 hours with bed bugs on my seat.. it was hell!!!!!

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on October 24, 2011:

Thanks donate - had to use my unfortunate personal experience with bed bugs. Really creepy, and I hope that more people can learn how to avoid them! Best, Steph

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on October 07, 2011:

Ewww is right! I never saw the bugs when they bit me, but that is common as well. Hope some people can learn to avoid bed bugs with these tips. Thanks, Steph

vianasya from Indonesia on October 07, 2011:

Hello, stephhicks68. Yes, I have been bitten by bedbug. It was there somewhere and bite me. By reading your hub here, finally I see how bed bug really look like,eewww..! Yuck!

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on October 01, 2011:

Yes, indeed. Not a fun thing to go through from personal experience. Then again, writing a hub about bed bugs can help me turn lemons into lemonade....

Dr Rockpile from USA on October 01, 2011:

Ahhh! This hub gives me the Heebie-jeebies. So sorry you wrote this from experience. Good job with it.

SleeplessnLaJolla from La Jolla, Ca on August 14, 2011:

Ekkkkkk! THanks!

Maksym on August 14, 2011:

Thank you for your hub! It is very important to know more about all dangers of our environment. I think you do a good work when you tell to people about bed bugs. Good luck!

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on July 29, 2011:

so sorry! Hope you get rid of those awful bed bugs soon!

whatsupelsalvador from San Salvador, El Salvador on July 29, 2011:

our sons apartment hsad bed bugs OMG it has been a battle

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on July 10, 2011:

You are right - the bed bug bites lasted several weeks for me. And they are quite good at hiding. Yuck!

timonweller on July 10, 2011:

Oh I have had bed bugs before, they are so nasty and take ages for the bites to go away as well, even after getting rid of the bugs.. Just one of the things that sucks when traveling. I always look for them in hotels now before staying, but they are very good at hiding.

tilinaoita on June 23, 2011:

Great tips to learn from here. I guess there is no one out there who didn`t had this problems at least once in their life.

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on June 22, 2011:

That is so cool, Rochelle!! Dogs are amazing - I love that some of them can even be trained to detect low blood sugar or even cancer in humans!

Sniffing out bed bugs has got to be a great service to offer. :)

Rochelle Frank from California Gold Country on June 22, 2011:

I recently saw a bit on TV where people had a dog who was trained to find bedbugs. They said he was 80% (or something) more effective than professional exterminators. They are renting him out to local motels to give their rooms a once over.

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on June 22, 2011:

Ugh - sorry for you myi4u! I understand that the bed bugs don't just hang out in beds, either. They can be in any upholstered chair, pillow, etc. Once they are present, its hard to get rid of them.

Good idea to check ahead and read other travelers' reviews, and then to post your own, as well.

myi4u from United Kingdom on June 22, 2011:

Excellent! Now i know more about bed bugs. When i was in college, i got bitten by bed bugs once. The itchiness was unbearable. My skin is the sensitive type but i was lucky that it didn't leave any marks after all that scratching!

When travelling, i always check reviews from various websites to see if anyone complain about bed bugs! It's not always that accurate but at least i have a better chance to avoid bed bugs hotel rooms. If i found one, i will make sure that i post reviews too.

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on June 22, 2011:

Thanks CondoLux - actually the bugs can be brought in by other guests (which is how you end up bringing them home), but they can also get in from outside through outlets, small spaces in flooring, etc. The bugs are attracted to us by the CO2 we breathe out. That tells them that lunch is nearby.... ewwww!

CondoLux Rentals from North Myrtle Beach,South Carolina on June 22, 2011:

Very thorough Steph! My main question is though, how do hotel rooms GET bed bugs? Don't people have to bring them in somehow, then they multiply?

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on June 21, 2011:

I've heard mixed reviews about the spray. Better bet is to check first before you go to bed and if it appears there might be bed bugs, ask for a new room or even consider changing hotels! Good luck and safe travels!

Jeannie Marie from Baltimore, MD on June 21, 2011:

Oh dear, that is not good! I saw some bedbug spray in a store. Maybe I should get it and spray everything down just to be safe. Yuck!

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on June 21, 2011:

Good luck Jeannie - I have to admit that even though I had just talked to a couple about bed bugs and how to spot them, I was still surprised to find the bites on my legs in the morning. UGH!

Jeannie Marie from Baltimore, MD on June 21, 2011:

This is a really helpful hub. I am going on vacation next month and I am nervous about staying overnight in a hotel since bedbugs can be anywhere. I will be conducting a careful inspection when I get there. Thank you for the information!

vnustham from Thailand on March 23, 2011:

you right, great hub.. I used to see this on TV but not interest to pay attention cause as never got it bit me.. Last month I got attach and now you remind me how to do.. Thanks again..

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on December 06, 2010:

Good thinking Blair! A prepared traveler is usually a much happier one. When you know what to look for, it helps you avoid beg bugs. Get a different room, if necessary, or even change hotels if you can. Happy travels, Steph

Blair Stover on December 06, 2010:

I have been lucky not to encounter any bed bugs during any of my travels. Before even putting your suitcase on the bed, make sure that you look under the sheets and even lift the mattress to make sure that there is nothing there. After reading this I think I am going to go out and get a can of the bed bug spray. I would rather be safe than sorry!

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on November 30, 2010:

Sherri, you are right! It used to be something we joked about growing up. In fact, the reports of bed bugs in hotels along the East Coast this year didn't even cause me much concern. Now, firmly believe that all people traveling and even heading to college need to know about bed bugs - how to spot them, avoid them and what to look for.

Amazing story about the bar of soap "proof" of the bed bugs - and yes, my grandfather talked about bed bugs during his service in the Pacific too.

Sherri from Southeastern Pennsylvania on November 30, 2010:

Bed bugs were funny things to mention when I was a kid, probably because they weren't as common as they are coming to be now. Your closing line brought back memories of my mother saying to me at bedtime, "Nighty-night, sleep tight, don't let the bed bugs bite!"

During WWII, Mom lived in San Francisco while my father was stationed in the Pacific, sometimes hopping from hotel to hotel specifically because of the bed bugs. Innkeepers were as reluctant then as they are now to admit the problem. Then, the convincing evidence was a bar of soap soaked in water during the day and smacked onto the mattress in the middle of the night. Proof!

Super helpful article, Steph. No one who travels nowadays is immune from these once amusing opportunists.

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on November 27, 2010:

Thanks Nevada Logan - I'm not sure everyone appreciates reading about bed bugs, but its one of those topics that helps to share... ;-)

Nevada Logan from USA on November 26, 2010:

ewww now I'm all itchy! Lots of good stuff here, thanks for writing this hub. I learned a lot about those little devils!

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on November 26, 2010:

Yes, they certainly are disgusting! That's why you need to avoid bed bugs when traveling.... ;-)

patdmania from waterford, mi on November 26, 2010:

Gross!!!!! Bed Bugs are disgusting!

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on November 25, 2010:

omcj - that is good to know. I think that owners of properties probably take better care to keep pests away.

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on November 25, 2010:

Hi Linda - I am with you! At the very least, I am going to check out the rooms carefully before staying at any hotel.

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on November 25, 2010:

Dolores - you are right! Good for you for taking the proper precautions to avoid bed bugs at your home. Gotta be careful when purchasing second hand clothing and furniture!

omcj1234 on November 25, 2010:

This is part of the reason why I'm glad I switched to vacation rentals. Incidence of bed bugs is almost zero.

Linda Jo Martin from Post Falls, Idaho, USA on November 25, 2010:

I don't ever want to sleep in a hotel again!

Dolores Monet from East Coast, United States on November 24, 2010:

I usually buy my clothing used. The last time I did, I wrapped the stuff up in a plastic bag and stuck it in the freezer for a few days, just in case. Now I see from your fine, yet disgusting hub, that I did the right thing! Yay!

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on November 24, 2010:

Good idea to keep the lights on - bed bugs hate light. I know, its a nasty thought to consider looking out for the bed bugs, but better to be prepared and know what you are looking for, especially when you're not sleeping in your own bed!

Nell Rose from England on November 24, 2010:

Hi, Ewwww! lol now I am totally creeped out! but thanks for the great info, I will certainly be careful in future, what a horrible little thing! cheers nell

ocbill from hopefully somewhere peaceful and nice on November 24, 2010:

I read in a newspaper report they an actually live up to 1 year without food. And exterminators may have to come back twice as they are immune to some pesticides. In some cases when hotels were too crowded, I've had to leave the lights on to keep them at bay.

georgiecarlos from Philippines on November 24, 2010:

Thanks for sharing! except now, am somewhat scared to go near my bed!

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on November 24, 2010:

Yuck indeed!!

Scarlett My Dear from Missouri on November 23, 2010:

Good to know, on all counts! Thanks! Oh ~ and, Yuck!

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on November 23, 2010:

It really is disturbing, isn't it?? I thought I should share my bed bug experiences to help others avoid the problem (if possible) while traveling. NYC has definitely had issues this year. :(

Jaynie2000 on November 23, 2010:

This is disturbing. I have heard from several sources that they are making travel to many places in NYC really challenging. It's making me itchy just thinking about it!

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on November 23, 2010:

Oh - that's another great tip! Thanks Jeremey! Keep those bed bugs out of your suitcase and bags....

Jeremey from Arizona on November 23, 2010:

Good info here, as an express delivery driver I ran into these critters occasionally and was tipped by a fellow traveler to keep my belongings in a tiled area in hotel/motel rooms while there because of the bugs inablity to navigate the tiled areas.

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on November 23, 2010:

Hi all - I had my luggage disinfected at the last resort I stayed at. They fumigated my suitcase and washed, dried and pressed all my clothes. So far, I haven't seen any little hitchhikers around in my house and no more bites...

Roberta - they say that the increase in bed bug infestations is due in part to increased global travel, but also decreased use of DDT pesticides - bad for our food, but good for getting rid of bed bugs!

revybaby from On the Road on November 23, 2010:

This is really a big problem in Michigan right now. I read the materials the State provides and saw how hard it was to rid yourself of them. How long did it take you to rid yourself of the bugs?

Roberta Kyle from Central New Jersey on November 23, 2010:

fabulous and really informative and I can tell from the pix that you did some first hand research. Funny how nobody had bedbugs until a few years ago and then Bingo-- worldwide infestation--Do they disinfect your stuff at the airport? or do you just have to throw your luggage away?

carrie450 from Winnipeg, Canada on November 23, 2010:

Very good advice, I'll bookmark this for future reference, Thank you.

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on November 22, 2010:

Yeah Lilly - makes me totally re-think purchasing furniture at garage sales, too ... ewww!

Lori J Latimer from Central Oregon on November 22, 2010:

ewwww...thank you for this Hub? Hee hee. Some of the things you describe sounds like there may have been a few beds that may have had them. We used to buy used mattresses but never again

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on November 22, 2010:

I am sorry, but I am totally laughing out loud. In full disclosure, I started this hub while staying in a hotel room (in Oregon - no bed bugs). It was the middle of the night and I couldn't sleep. Needless to say, researching bed bugs a bit further did nothing to help me rest easy....

drbj and sherry from south Florida on November 22, 2010:

This is very interesting about bedbugs, Steph, but now I feel so itchy and scratchy I have to stop reading and go shower.

Related Articles