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Surviving Bed Bugs While Traveling (From Someone Experienced)

I survived bed bugs while long-term traveling in Europe and you can too!

Credit: Shutterstock/TinoFotografie

A couple of weeks ago, I encountered every traveler’s worst nightmare: bed bugs. I was packing up from a 3-day field study trip in Northern Greece when I saw it – claws deep in my new Bershka top. 

After shrieking, I called one of the professors who was on our field study with us. She brought us a plastic bag to put my top in, keeping the bed bug intact until we had time to deal with it at the next hotel.

I sat with my pet bed bug all day while we drove from Thessaloniki to Ioannina. 

a bed bug on linen
The bed bug refused to budge. Credit: Shutterstock/ChWeiss

When we arrived in Ioannina, after a brief argument with our professors over whether or not we were overreacting, my roommate and I hopped in a cab to the laundromat to wash and dry everything we had brought. The key was to dry everything on the highest setting possible to kill any bed bugs. The zipper of my gym shorts was so hot I burned my skin while taking them out of the dryer. 

After spending our afternoon at the laundromat, we took a hot shower and put the clothes we wore to do laundry in a sealed bag to be washed when we arrived back at our apartment in Athens. 

While a phantom itch plagued my skin every time I thought of coming face to face with the bed bug shaped like an apple seed, standing its ground while I threw my top on the ground, I never saw a bed bug again. 

Looking back at that stressful and harrowing experience, I did lose my cool a few times. I freaked out a little bit. I screamed. At one point, I cried. Ultimately, I was able to sanitize my luggage and prevent a long-term bedbug infestation in my apartment without blowing it up, and you can, too. Here is everything I wish I knew about bed bugs.

What is a bed bug?

A close up photo of adult bed bugs
A close-up photo of adult bed bugs. Credit: Shutterstock/Pavel Krasensky

Bed bugs can occur anywhere, worldwide, even in clean five-star hotels.

It is a common misconception that bed bugs are more likely to be found in dirty environments. In fact, bed bugs are not a reflection of cleanliness.

Bed bugs are part of a small group of bloodsucking insects in the Cimicidae parasite family. Adult bed bugs are brown, with flat, oval-shaped bodies about the size of an apple seed.

Bryan McGee, Structural Pest Control Manager at Texas A&M

How to check for bed bugs

As soon as you arrive at your accommodations, perform a bed bug check on and around your bed. Never set your suitcase on the bed without checking for bedbugs first. Use the luggage racks instead. 

To inspect an area, start with the bed sheets. Pull the bed sheets back and look at the tufts and rolled edges of mattresses, checking behind and on the lower side of headboards, nightstands and bedside lamps. Check furniture like chairs and couches, around the seams and under cushions and pillows, on luggage racks and in closets.

Bryan McGee, Structural Pest Control Manager at Texas A&M
In this TikTok, Halee provides a good example of how to check thoroughly for bed bugs.

Once you have decided there are no bed bugs around, ask the hotel not to change your sheets during your stay. Switching the sheets might unknowingly bring new bed bugs into your room.

What to do if you find something

Most often, people know about bed bugs by noticing small dark spots in the corners of the mattress. This is where bed bugs typically hide and lay eggs. Tiny dark dots on the mattress, which are bed bug experiments, is a sure sign of infestation.

Nicole Carpenter, the President at Black Pest Prevention

If you do find small black spots or bed bugs after your inspection, notify the hotel staff and ask to change rooms as long as you have not already put your suitcase on or near the bed, it’s not necessary to wash and dry your luggage.

When bed bugs are in your luggage

If you find bed bugs in your clothes or identify red bites that appear clustered together, remain calm and head to the nearest laundromat. Keep in mind that while annoying, bed bugs do not carry diseases. As Carpenter, President of Black Pest Prevention, writes,

Steaming is also a highly effective method to get rid of bed bugs, and might be a more convenient method for hotels. You can use a clothes steamer by carefully steaming all areas where bed bugs have been noticed, including mattresses, furniture, and baseboards. Use a steamer at 120 degrees. Steamer is a great solution for items that can be washed. For washable items like bedding, I recommend washing them at a high temperature of at least 120 degrees Fahrenheit to kill bed bugs.

Nicole Carpenter, the President at Black Pest Prevention

Not only should you wash all your clothes, but you should also wash any washer-safe luggage, like backpacks or makeup bags. Visually inspect hardshell luggage and clean it with Clorox wipes.

After washing your luggage, you should wrap your luggage in large plastic coverings that will keep your things safe from any other potential bed bugs. You can find them on Amazon.

The key is to make sure you do not transfer bed bugs to your next travel location or home base. If this happens, hiring a professional exterminator specializing in bed bugs is the best way to nip the bed bugs in the bud before you have an infestation.

To conclude

For frequent travelers, bed bugs are almost inevitable.

By checking for bed bugs at every place you stay, using luggage covers, and keeping luggage far from the bed, you can minimize your chances of a bed bug infestation.

If you do find bed bugs, they can be killed in the dryer at high temperatures.

Written By

Hi y'all! I'm Caroline, a student at Furman University studying English Writing.

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