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

More on Bed Bugs

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.

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

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

Tips 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 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, tell the hotel and ask for a new room in another part of the building.

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 bed-bug 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 bed bugs.)