How to protect against bedbugs when traveling

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Bedbugs are the last thing anybody wants to bring home from a trip, but it happens more than we know. So how can you protect yourself from bedbugs? Howdini's Kimberly Austin asks Entomologist Lou Sorkin and two pest control experts for practical advice on how to protect against bedbugs when traveling.

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  • Louis Sorkin

    Louis Sorkin Entomologist, American Museum of Natural History Louis Sorkin began his career in arachnid studies during his graduate work at the University of Connecticut where he researched arthropod parasites of spiders and mite work. more about this expert »

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How to protect against bedbugs when traveling Four steps to help you protect against bedbugs when traveling:

Step 1: Know your enemy. Understanding what to look for can help you avoid an infestation. Hatched from silvery white eggs, bedbugs grow larger and darker as they mature. Adults are reddis:h brown, especially right after they fed. Don’t just look for the bugs though, keep an eye out for their droppings and the translucent skins they shed as they grow.

Step 2: Search. Inspect any hotel room before you commit to staying in it. Headboards are prime real estate for bedbugs because they go undisturbed for long periods of time. Also search the sheets, edging of the sheets, the mattress, on the sides of the mattress, under the box springs, inside drawers, under furniture and in deep crevasse of the upholstery. If you do find something, immediately alert the hotel, ask for a different room and then check that one too.

Step 3: Isolate your luggage. Don’t unpack— keep your clothing in your bag. Also, keep your bag on a stand. Avoid allowing your belongings to ever touch the floor, bed or any other furniture in the room. Try bringing plastic bags or Ziplocs with you to keep your things sealed. Disposable luggage protectors are also available to enclose your entire suitcase while it remains in the room.

Step 4: Seal or heat it all when you get home. Place your suitcase into a plastic bag until you are able to clean it all out. When you are ready to unload, take your belonging out and put them into new plastic bags, bringing all laundry items to the washer for an immediate hot wash. Heat kills bedbugs. Once your clothes are taken care of, vacuum and wipe the rest of your belongings down with rubbing alcohol.
Transcript KIMBERLY AUSTIN: Hi, I'm Kimberly Austin for howdini.com. Bedbugs are everywhere these days, and we are all at risk. But while there are no guarantees, there are steps you can take to protect your home from becoming infested, especially when you're traveling, which is when many of us are most likely to encounter the dreaded insect.

JEREMY ECKER: We get phone calls--anything from, "I was traveling and I was getting bitten when I was away," to "We went to a bed and breakfast and something happened." Jeremy Ecker owns a canine bedbug detection company in New York City and he's heard it all.

KIMBERLY AUSTIN: For the most part, he says, bedbugs travel when we do, finding their way into our luggage or purses, or even our clothing when we're away from home.

JEREMY ECKER: I mean, anywhere that someone has their belongings is a potential area, whether it be car service, whether it be a plane, where it be a hotel, whether it be a conference room--it doesn't matter.

 KIMBERLY AUSTIN: What can matter, he says, is how long people usually spend in a given place. Bedbugs are natural fugitives who live most of their lives in hiding, venturing out to feed usually only when their victims are still for a long while or even better, sleeping.

 MAN ON YOUTUBE VIDEO: Look at this guy crawling right here.

 KIMBERLY AUSTIN: That is why, as these unlucky guys found out, hotels are prime places to pick up bedbugs, and where we'll focus on precautions.

Step 1: Know your enemy.

LOU SORKIN: Bedbugs can climb and crawl.

KIMBERLY AUSTIN: Lou Sorkin has studied bedbugs for the past 10 years at the American Museum of Natural History. He says simply being able to identify them is the single best thing you can do to protect yourself. Hatched from silvery-white eggs, they grow darker and larger as they mature. Adults are reddish-brown and can be more than ¼" long, especially right after they've fed. You'll be looking not just for bugs, but also for their droppings--black spots or flecks-- and the translucent skins they shed as they grow.

LOU SORKIN: It's very easy to overlook an early infestation if you don't know what to look for.

KIMBERLY AUSTIN: And look, you must.

Step 2 is to inspect any hotel room before you commit to staying in it.

LOU SORKIN: At the more common areas in hotel and motel situations, are the headboards that are anchored onto the wall, and that would have to be removed if it can be removed.

KIMBERLY AUSTIN: Headboards are rarely disturbed in hotel rooms, which makes them great places for bedbugs to hide.

{video by Matt Camper} You can see--right there. Exterminator Matt Camper found these in a room where bedbug activity has been reported.

MATT CAMPER: You see that black flecking--that's blood spots, and that's pretty typically what you'd see if there was an infestation of bedbugs.

LOU SORKIN: You look at the sheets, you pull back the sheets, you look on the edging of the mattress on the sides of the mattress. You should look at the box spring and if possible, lift the box spring.

KIMBERLY AUSTIN: And since bedbugs do not live only in beds, you'll also want to look around the room--inside drawers, under furniture, or deep into crevices in the upholstery.

LOU SORKIN: Sometimes even curtains they'll infest.

KIMBERLY AUSTIN: If you do find something, immediately tell the hotel and ask for a different room, and then, check that one, too. Of course, you can't always get the headboard off the wall or rip apart the room the way an exterminator would, so it pays to add another layer of protection, which brings us to Step 3: Isolate your luggage.

STEVE HAWKINS: I would not unpack; keep your bag on a stand.

KIMBERLY AUSTIN: Steve Hawkins owns the pest control company Five Star Environments, which focuses exclusively on bedbugs. Here's the advice he gives people about hotel stays.

STEVE HAWKINS: I would keep your bag, your clothing in your suitcase. I would not put anything in the drawers or in a closet.

KIMBERLY AUSTIN: And don't put anything on the floor or the bed. You can bring big plastic bags with you and keep everything sealed inside them during your stay--even your laptop, shoes, and camera. You can also buy disposable luggage protectors, zip your suitcases inside when you get to the hotel, and then leave the bags behind when you check out, hopefully bedbug-free. Then, just in case, Sorkin recommends a 4th set of precautions to be done at home.

LOU SORKIN: When you return from a trip, you can take your suitcase and place it in a large, clear plastic bag.

KIMBERLY AUSTIN: He says put your clothing directly into another plastic bag for the trip to your laundry to wash and dry everything on hot.

LOU SORKIN: It seems that the Achilles' heel in bedbugs is actually temperature, and they can't withstand temperatures over 118 degrees or 120-some degrees.

KIMBERLY AUSTIN: Things like jewelry and shoes can be wiped down with alcohol and your suitcase can be vacuumed thoroughly with the upholstery brush and a crevice tool to get deep into the seams. And so once the suitcase has been vacuumed, I don't need to keep it sealed in the bag anymore?

LOU SORKIN: No, but in some situations, people may want to spray that suitcase with an isopropyl alcohol, just to make sure.

KIMBERLY AUSTIN: And all of that should be done outside before you bring the suitcase in?

LOU SORKIN: Yes, it's better to do it in the garage or outdoors.

KIMBERLY AUSTIN: Be sure to seal up and then throw away the vacuum cleaner bag and look for more information in the rest of our Howdini series on bedbugs, including how to identify a bedbug infestation in your home and how to prepare for extermination if you do get bedbugs.

I'm Kimberly Austin for howdini.com

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