Traveling With Peace of Mind: How to Spot & Prevent Bed Bugs

We asked a travel expert how to spot bed bugs, what to do if you find them, and how to avoid carrying them home with you.

Published November 2, 2023
Relaxed businessman lying in hotel room bed

You may hope to return from your travels with a nice new tan or a special keepsake. But you never want to come home carrying bed bugs. No matter where you're planning to take a trip, knowing how to prevent bed bugs when you're traveling can help. This is the expert advice you need for keeping bed bugs out of your suitcase — and out of your life.

Expert Advice on Spotting and Preventing Bed Bugs

You spend weeks, maybe even months, planning a trip. You want to make sure some of that planning includes knowing how to prevent bringing bed bugs home with you.

I'm not the most seasoned traveler, nor have I ever dealt with bed bugs, so I decided to reach out to a travel professional who has encountered the pesky pests before. 

Jess Bohorquez, also known as PointsByJ to her social media followers, gives expert advice on travel, finance hacks, and how to use travel points. Besides sharing savvy travel advice for her followers, Jess also had her own personal experience with bed bugs and walked the long, painful path of getting rid of them. I asked her all the questions about preventing, looking for, and dealing with bed bugs so that you can be prepared on your next trip.

Be Aware of Bed Bugs & Your Risk of Carrying Them

For many of us, we may not think of bed bugs too often because we've never had an experience with them. So, I wanted to ask Jess, who gives her expert advice on Instagram @pointsbyj and on TikTok @pointsbyj, just how important awareness and prevention are and who exactly is at risk of finding bed bugs.

"It is incredibly important to be savvy about what bed bugs are, why you want to avoid them, and a little bit of prevention can prevent so much pain and agony and expense," Jess says. She stressed the importance of awareness as one of the most important steps in bed bug prevention. Knowledge is power, after all. 

"One of the misconceptions about bed bugs is that people associate them with dirtiness," Jess said after I asked her if everyone is at risk of discovering bed bugs or if they are just an issue for certain locations. "That is not true. Bed bugs can be found in a lot of different places." She pointed out that bed bugs are a potential risk in any rental or any location you may travel to.

Need to Know

The Cleveland Clinic also notes the cause of bed bug infestations is associated with how easily they spread. Deemed "nature's hitchhikers," these pests travel so easily that they can infest even spotless locations. 

Jess explained that you could be at risk of finding bed bugs in many places, including luxury hotels, movie theater seats, and subways. "Anywhere you're going that has cloth and that is frequented by a lot of different people, you might find bed bugs."

My jaw dropped when she said bed bugs can be found in movie theater seats, so I had to press her a bit further on that one. She shared that bed bugs love any dark, tight space. That makes movie theater seats a hot spot for bed bugs since they love having closed-in spaces to hide and reproduce.

Fast Fact

Jess explained since bed bugs can live almost anywhere, like the overhead compartment of a plane, it's important to take precautions throughout your travels, and not just in your hotel room or rental. 

How to Spot a Bed Bug Infestation While Traveling

Since Jess is a travel expert and has experienced having bed bugs due to her roommate getting them in the past, I knew she would have a lot of wisdom on what bed bug prevention looks like. Thanks to her expertise and some research from the American Academy of Dermatology, you can discover (or rule out) a bed bug infestation by looking for these signs.

  • Tight Spaces: Bed bugs love to hide in tight spaces. Look in furniture crevices, draperies, and mattresses.
  • Dark Areas: Bed bugs are also drawn to dark spaces, so be sure to look under mattresses and behind headboards.
  • Blood Specs: When there's a bed bug infestation, you might notice small blood specs on mattresses, furniture, or linens.
  • Exoskeletons: If you see shell-like fragments on the bed, those could be the left-behind outer shells that bed bugs shed throughout their life.
  • Bed Bugs Themselves: One of the clearest markers of an infestation is seeing the bugs themselves. Look for a small, oval-shaped bug with a reddish-brown body.
  • Dark Stains: Dark brown or black stains on furniture or fabrics could be an indication of bed bugs. Those stains are their excrement.
  • Sweet Odor: If you walk into a room and immediately notice strong and musty odors that are a bit sweet, it could be your first sign that there's a bad bed bug infestation.
Helpful Hack

Jess recommends using a flashlight (or the light on your phone) to check in dark spaces like between furniture crevices, in the carpets, and behind headboards.

How to Prevent Getting Bed Bugs & Carrying Them Home

Young women arriving to room with bunk beds, at youth hostel

Looking for bed bugs is only half the battle in preventing a situation where you might discover them, or worse, take them home. Jess describes these as the "small steps you can take to prevent [bed bugs]."

  • Leave your bag outside: Jess says the most important first step is to leave your luggage outside of your rental and do a full inspection before you bring your belongings inside.
  • Clean like crazy: "You've got to be really diligent about cleaning," Jess says. "The best way you're going to prevent an infestation is to wash all your clothes and dry them on high heat."
  • Steam what can't be washed: Jess suggests using a hand steamer on items that can't be washed, like shoes or your suitcase. The heat, like the heat in your dryer, will kill any bugs.
Need to Know

Bed bugs can live in your suitcase for up to four months, so it's wise to steam clean it after traveling even if you don't believe you encountered bed bugs during your trip.

What to Do if You Find Bed Bugs In Your Rental

Cleaning the floor with steam cleaner

You knew it was a possibility, though you hoped it wouldn't happen. But, you've discovered bed bugs in your rental. Now what do you do? These are the five most important steps to take after finding bed bugs in your rental or hotel.

  1. Remove your belongings immediately. If you can't set them outside, Jess suggests putting luggage in the bath tub of your room to keep it safe.
  2. Take photos of what you've seen. From stains and actual bugs to any bites you may have discovered, take photos of it all as evidence of your discovery.
  3. Alert the owner of the rental or front desk of the hotel. The best way to make sure you and other guests are taken care of is to make sure the right people know about the infestation.
  4. Find an alternative place to stay. If at all possible, do not stay in a place where bed bugs are present. 
  5. Wash your clothing and belongings right away. The biggest part of prevention is cleaning, so give your clothing and luggage a proper clean as soon as you're able.

Extra Preventative Steps to Take 

The idea of dealing with bed bugs is enough to make most of us willing to do whatever it takes to prevent such a situation. If you've covered the above suggestions from our expert, these are a few extra things you can do to prevent bed bugs and give yourself some peace of mind. These tips will help you prevent bed bugs when traveling and in your own home.

  • Keep your suitcase and luggage off the floor for the duration of your stay. Place them on a dresser, a luggage rack, or another hard surface. Avoid storing it on carpet or upholstered furniture.
  • Take caution with secondhand furniture. Since bed bugs can often be hard to spot if they've been in furniture for a long time, the best way to avoid them is to avoid secondhand furniture altogether. 
  • Clean everything regularly. From your carpets to your upholstered headboard, regular cleaning is important for prevention.
  • Wash everything immediately when returning from travel. It's tempting to throw everything down and get to it later, but immediate cleaning is one of the best ways to ensure you don't bring bed bugs home.
  • Use ultrasonic bed bug repellent. You can find pest-repellent devices that use ultrasonic technology to keep common household bugs away. 

Travel With Confidence

Take a deep breath. Because you're not about to let the potential of bed bugs ruin your exciting travel plans. You're equipped with knowledge and preventative measures to make all of your travels peaceful and, hopefully, bed bug-free.

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Traveling With Peace of Mind: How to Spot & Prevent Bed Bugs