Checking into a hotel for a holiday vacation? Beware the potential bed bugs. Hotels and motels can be hotspots for infestations of the small reddish-brown insects, who can hitch a ride on luggage and clothing and live happily in a hotel bed.

Bed bugs feed on the blood of people and animals, usually while they sleep. Even though they're not known to transmit disease, "their bites can cause itchy, irritating welts that prompt excessive scratching and can keep you up at night," says Consumer Reports' chief medical adviser Marvin M. Lipman, M.D.


Find out how to get rid of bed bugs at home.
 

If these bloodsuckers get into your luggage and travel home with you, they can take up residence in your own mattresses, boxsprings, walls, and furniture, causing a tough-to-beat infestation. That's a holiday gift that no one wants.

Here are five steps that will help you avoid a bed bug encounter during your vacation.

Helpful Hints for Traveling Without Bed Bugs

1. When you first enter a new hotel room, put your luggage in the bathroom—an unlikely place for bed bugs to hide—while you inspect the bedding and furniture.

2. Pull back the bed sheets and check the mattress and box-spring seams for bugs—especially at the head of the bed. Adults, nymphs, and eggs are all visible to the naked eye. Also keep your eyes peeled for  exoskeletons (casings that the bugs leave behind when they molt) and dark, rust-colored spots.

3. Lift the mattress and check underneath, too, using a flashlight if possible. If you see any telltale signs, ask for a new room in another part of the hotel.

4. Stow your suitcases on a luggage rack or a hard surface, after checking it to make sure it's bed bug-free. Even better, pack large plastic trash bags and keep your luggage in them during your stay.

5. When you get home, kill any potential hitchhikers by tumbling your travel clothes in a hot dryer for 30 minutes (simply washing the clothes usually won't kill bed bugs). And if possible, store your emptied luggage in the garage, the basement, or a hot attic (temperatures above 120° F kill bedbugs).