A person with luggage standing in a hotel room.

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. "There have been quite a few studies that have shown that bed bugs don't transmit disease, like mosquitoes do," says Michael Potter, Ph.D., a professor of entymology at the University of Kentucky. "But the welts (from their bites) can be itchy."

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, possibly causing an 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.


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Tips for Traveling Without Bed Bugs

1. When you first enter a new hotel room, put your luggage on a luggage rack or 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 blankets 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. You can also lift the mattress and check underneath, too, using a flashlight if possible. 

3. Consider checking upholstered furniture, too, says Potter. "If I'm traveling, I'll take a quick look at a couch or recliner, if there is one—at the seams and the head and neck area."

If you see any telltale signs, tell hotel staff and ask for a new room, preferably in another part of the building.

4. Stow your suitcases, zipped closed, on a luggage rack or a hard surface for the length of your stay. You can also pack large plastic trash bags and keep your luggage in them during your time in the hotel. "The other thing I do is try not to spread my stuff all over room," says Potter. "If there happen to be bugs, they sometimes will get into things and the more stuff you have around, the higher the probability of that."

5. When you get home, if you have any concerns that you've brought home a stray hitchhiker or two, tumble your travel clothes in a hot dryer for up to 30 minutes. (The heat will kill bed bugs, but simply washing the clothes usually won't.)