What Should You Do If You Find Bed Bugs On Vacation? Because No One Wants That Sort Of Souvenir

Here's how to deal with a travel nightmare.

Originally Published: 
Your family may be moved to another room or hotel if you find bed bugs on vacation.
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Vacations are supposed to be relaxing, but nothing takes the chill out of a trip faster than finding bed bugs in your hotel room. This certified travel nightmare can happen to anyone at any time. Even if you're staying in a five-star hotel, the possibility that you'll encounter an infestation still exists. Google any major resort or top vacation destination, and chances are you'll find at least a few reviews that reference the dreaded scenario of having a dream family vacation crashed by bed bugs.

That's the trouble with bed bugs: They're insidious little creatures that excel at hiding in the most unexpected of places. Even if a hotel appears to be spotless, that's no guarantee it's bug-free. If you're traveling, the best thing you can possibly do is thoroughly check for bed bugs before settling into your room for the night — and protect your luggage by placing it in the bathtub until the inspection is complete.

But if the worst does happen and you find bed bugs after you've already stayed the night, try not to panic. There are steps you can take to ensure your vacation isn't disrupted too much, while also avoiding bringing an infestation home. Ultimately, your top priority should be moving out of the room as soon as possible and ensuring the bed bugs don't get the chance to follow you home.

If your vacation is interrupted by a surprise bed bug infestation, here's what you should do.

How do you check your room for bed bugs?

Before you put your luggage down or even contemplate trying out the bed, you should conduct a thorough search for bed bugs. These crafty little pests are excellent at hiding. As a result, it's not enough to simply inspect the bed. You'll need to closely examine all the furniture in the room, and check headboards, picture frames, and even wall sockets for signs of an infestation. Here's a step-by-step breakdown of what you should do after you enter your room:

  • Place all luggage — including handbags and backpacks — into the tub. The bathtub is the one place in your room that bed bugs are unlikely to visit.
  • Next, pull back the bed sheets and check the corners of the mattress and the box springs for dark stains, evidence of eggs, droppings, or the bugs themselves.
  • Even if the bed appears to be clean, you may not be in the clear. Next, you'll need to repeat your search on all upholstered items and dark corners, including inside drawers, behind frames, and, yes, even the wall sockets (ew, but true).
  • If you find evidence of bed bugs, do a quick Google search to make sure what you're looking at is a bed bug (or bed bug egg) before you call management. You can even find insect identification groups on Facebook that will help you if you send them a picture.

What should you do if you find bed bugs?

Whether you find bed bugs during your search or wake up the next morning to a suspicious cluster of itchy bites, these next steps are crucial. While your first instinct will be to get out of the room as soon as possible, take a second to document the evidence of bed bugs. This could help you secure a refund or provide proof if you or a family member experiences an allergic reaction or other medical condition due to the bites (for the most part, bed bugs don't carry any known diseases, but the bites can trigger allergic reactions in some people and general discomfort).

After photos have been snapped, take the following steps as soon as possible.

  • Call management and alert them to the situation. If they suggest moving you to another room, choose one as far away from your current room as possible.
  • If you don't feel comfortable staying in the hotel, ask for a refund. Only a handful of states have rules regarding how hotels must handle bed bug infestations, but many hotels will be accommodating under the circumstances.
  • Management won't give you a refund? Don't let that deter you from leaving the hotel as soon as possible and pressing the issue later on with someone higher up the chain of command.

Before you leave the room, you're going to need to do several things to prevent the bed bugs from hitching a ride with you:

  • If your suitcase isn't already in the bathtub, put it there and consider it contaminated for the time being.
  • Get some garbage bags and wrap your luggage in them. They'll need to stay that way for the rest of the trip until you can thoroughly clean everything when you get home.
  • Dirty laundry will need to be bagged as well.

How do you treat bed bug bites?

If you discover you or your family have been bitten by bed bugs while on vacation, then you're going to want to treat the bites as soon as you can. Since bed bugs don't carry diseases, they're unlikely to lead to a serious condition. But that doesn't make the bites themselves any less uncomfortable — and no one wants to be itchy on vacation.

  • Carefully wash the affected area with soap and water.
  • Apply a steroid cream to reduce itching and/or take an antihistamine.
  • Take over-the-counter pain relievers to help with pain and swelling.
  • Place a cold compress or wrapped ice pack on the affected area.
  • Be on the lookout for signs of an infection or allergic reaction, including fever, swelling of the throat or mouth, difficulty breathing, dizziness, or hives.

What should you do when you get home?

Once you've returned home — or even while you're still on vacation, if possible — you need to vacuum out your suitcase before you even think about bringing it inside. Pay extra attention to pockets, corners, and crevices where bed bugs could be hiding.

Next up, it's time to wash your laundry. Wash items in the hottest water possible that won't damage your clothes. Then dry them for at least 30 minutes on the highest heat setting. If you have dry clean only items, skip the washing part and go directly to the dryer.

It's also possible to kill the bugs by leaving your suitcase and any other items you suspect came in contact with the bugs in trash bags out in the heat or a hot car. Bed bugs don't like extreme heat, so if it is summer and you live somewhere warm, leave wrapped luggage in the car for a couple of hours as an extra safety precaution.

Bed bugs can ruin a vacation fast, but the last thing you want is those creepy crawlers getting into your house, too.

Unfortunately, if you suspect one of these little critters hitched a ride home with you, you can nip it in the bud ASAP. First, vacuum your bed, the sheets, the mattress, and the surrounding floor. Then throw that vacuum disposal bag into the outside garbage.

Place your mattress and box spring in a zippered cover. This will keep any remaining bedbugs from coming or going. They can only survive a year without eating, so keep the cover on for that long to ensure all the bugs are dead.

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