Don't invite bed bugs home this Christmas


Over the river and through the woods

Over the river, and through the wood,
To Grandfather’s house we go;

GPS shows the way to hotels to stay
through the white and drifted snow.

Over the river, and through the wood—
Oh how the bed bugs bite!
They sniff out our toes and bite our nose
And hop in our luggage tonight.

If you’re among the 10 million plus Americans planning a car trip this Christmas, don’t forget bed bugs. In case you haven’t heard, bed bugs have been as busy as Santa’s elves this year, spreading to more and more places, including some respectable hotels.

Not to be scary, or to splash cold water over your chestnuts roasting on an open fire, but nearly all the bed bug experts I know are taking bed bugs and holiday travel pretty seriously.  At meeting of entomologists I attended last week, the audience was asked about their bed bug habits.  Nearly everyone indicated that they checked their hotel room for bed bugs, and several found them.  Personally I don’t hesitate to stay in hotels when I want to travel, but I am beginning to take a few extra precautions as I learn more about these very real critters of bedtime legend.  Heeding these suggestions might just save you some unwanted holiday guests.

  • Check prospective hotels along the way to Grandpa’s house using the online bed bug registry.  While I don’t endorse or vouch for the accuracy of this social networking site (founded by a programmer who had a traumatic experience with hotel bed bugs), it is a potentially helpful resource for travelers.  The registry allows people to report bed bug (or suspected bed bug) problems, thus alerting the public to places that might have a problem.  I check this site out along with other sites offering hotelreviews, and take what I read with a grain of salt.
  • When you enter your room, leave your luggage outside or by the front door until you have a chance to check the room.  I bring a small LED flashlight for this purpose.  Take a minute to look around the bed, mattress and (especially) the headboards of the hotel beds.  Look for small clusters of insects, or for fast-moving, flattened bugs hiding in cracks.  If you notice dark brown spots on the mattress welting or in any cracks around the bed, dresser or headboard, this may also be a warning sign for bed bugs (DISCLAIMER: bed bugs can be difficult to spot, even for professionals.  I don’t typically spend a lot of time on inspection because my chances of spotting all but the heaviest infestations are relatively low.  Still, it’s worth a look.).
  • If you do nothing else, do this. Instead of plopping your suitcases on the floor next to your beds, place it on the luggage stand in a convenient spot as far away from beds as possible (it’s a good idea to check the luggage stand first). While not all bed bugs hide on beds, most live close to beds where people spend the night.  Keeping space between your luggage and the bed area will reduce your risk of picking up an unwanted hitchhiker.  This is a good habit to cultivate in the age of bed bugs.
  • If you realize you’ve encountered bed bugs during a hotel stay, don’t panic.  Bed bugs aren’t very likely to hitchhike on your person.  They are pretty good, however, at stowing away on luggage.  When you get home, leave your suitcases and boxes outdoors until you can get some large garbage bags.  Double bag your luggage and transport to the laundry room.  Place all your clothes directly into the washer or drier. Bed bugs will be killed when run through a large tumble drier at the HOT setting for at least 30 minutes (for a 7.7 lb load), or when washed at the hottest temperature. For delicate clothing and wools, dry cleaning is also very effective at killing bed bugs.  Finally, carefully remove and inspect other personal items.  Any bed bugs you find can be crushed or drowned in soapy water.  Your suitcase should be kept in a bag and stored in the attic until next use.  Many people are freezing their luggage (you lucky people in North Dakota can put simply put them outdoors) or placing a no-pest strip in the bag at this stage to ensure no survivors.

For more information about bed bugs, check out the bed bug section of Insects in the City.  And to show I’m no Christmas Grinch, click here for some holiday cheer.  Merry Christmas.

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