A Traveler’s Guide to Bed Bug Prevention

Drawn to areas where humans live, bed bugs are savvy hitchhikers who can travel long distances and go months without feeding. Because of this, even high-end hotels and lodging options are at significant risk of developing a bed bug infestation.

Unfortunately for travelers, sharing a hotel room with bed bugs for just one night can be enough time for these critters to infiltrate your luggage, clothing, and even your vehicle upholstery—all in preparation for their ride back to your home.

In this article, Carolina Pest Management of Charlotte discusses how you can prevent travel-related bed bug infestations and avoid the need for immediate bed bug control.

Jump Ahead

What Do Bed Bugs Look Like?

Adult bed bugs are flat, reddish-brown insects that measure about a fourth of an inch long. Young bed bugs, or nymphs, are smaller and tend to be translucent or yellowish-white.

Bed bugs transition through several life stages—from egg to nymph to adult—and require blood to advance to each stage. Their feeding usually occurs at night, when a bed bug will bite exposed areas of skin while their human host sleeps.

During the day, the bed bugs will make their way toward tight, concealed areas such as:

  • Box springs
  • Mattresses
  • Clothing
  • Stuffed animals
  • Upholstered furniture
  • Bed frames
  • Suitcases
Upclose picture of a bed bug

Even if you don’t see any bed bugs, you may see the aftermath the next day: a red, itchy rash with individual welts or even blisters. However, not all people are sensitive to bed bug bites, so it’s possible to be bitten and not have any visible symptoms.

Pictures of Bed Bugs

Bed Bug infestation in Mattress

Here’s an example of what a mattress filled with bed bugs looks like.

Bed Bug Stains. signs of bed bugs

Even if you don’t see bed bugs, you’ll see signs of them. You’ll see blood stains or smell a musty odor, for example.

Person checking hotel bed for bed bugs

Check underneath the mattress cover and look at the mattress itself for bed bugs.

Signs of Bed Bugs

Around 1 in every 5 people have encountered bed bugs, either at home or in a hotel. And unfortunately, bed bugs have been found in all 50 states—including Alaska and Hawaii.

Knowing what to look for before you fall asleep in a new place can help you prevent becoming a host to (or a transporter of) bed bugs. Some of the most common signs of bed bugs include:

  • A musty odor, which comes from the bed bugs’ scent glands
  • Tiny blood stains on the sheets or pillowcases
  • Black or dark red spots of bed bug excrement on sheets, mattresses, bedclothes, or even walls
  • Bed bug fecal spots, egg shells, or shed skins in the areas where bed bugs most commonly hide, such as around mattresses and in the crevices of upholstered furniture
  • Recent online reviews of the hotel that mention bed bugs

Even the cleanest room can harbor bed bugs, so keeping an eye (or nose) out for bed bug excrement and a musty odor can help you avoid becoming their next meal.

Checking for Bed Bugs Before, During and After Your Trip

Bed bugs tend to stay concealed in small cracks and crevices, making them hard to detect. However, if you’re vigilant about checking for the common signs of bed bugs, you can avoid staying in rooms with active infestations.

Along with making sure that you stay in reputable hotels, motels, and short-term rentals, there are a few other things you can do to prevent staying somewhere with bed bugs—or even worse, bringing them back to your home.

Before your trip, pack helpful items for your trip

These items will help you inspect for bed bugs upon your arrival:

  • Flashlight
  • Magnifying glass
  • Large plastic bags or trash bags
  • Bed bug repellent spray
  • Flashlight
  • Magnifying glass
  • Large plastic bags or trash bags
  • Bed bug repellent spray

Research your accommodations before booking a room

Before traveling, read online reviews about the place you’re staying. Look for reviews that mention bed bugs and be sure to check the date. Since it can take weeks or longer to effectively eliminate bed bugs, a recent review that mentions bed bugs can be a red flag.

Additionally, check your hotel or motel on the free public Bed Bug Registry database. This database collects user-reported sightings of bed bugs at hotels and motels in North Carolina and throughout the country.

Conduct a personal inspection of your room upon arrival

Even if your research doesn’t turn up any bed bug concerns, it’s important to perform a personal bed bug inspection before you carry your belongings into any short-term accommodation.

This inspection should include the following steps:

  1. Upon your arrival, place your luggage in the bathroom. Bed bugs don’t tend to infest bathrooms because they offer fewer hiding spots and are farthest from where people sleep.
  2. Using the flashlight and magnifying glass, look for signs of bed bugs. Even if the bed bugs themselves are hiding, their waste—dot-like black marks—can be a clear sign that they’re lurking. Check for these dots in the following areas:
  • Room corners
  • Room cracks and crevices
  • Bedding
  • Flooring
  • Furniture
  • Mattresses
  • Box springs
  • Headboards
  • Bed frames
  1. Seal your luggage inside plastic bags or trash bags. Items of clothing should not be left lying out, as they can provide the perfect vehicle for bed bugs who would like to hitch a ride back to your home.
  2. Use bed bug repellent spray for peace of mind. Though this spray isn’t powerful enough to exterminate bed bugs, it is a deterrent—spraying it around the bed frame, furniture seams, headboard, and baseboard can keep bed bugs away at night.

After your trip, take care not to bring bed bugs home

The last thing you want is to take a bed bug infestation back to your Charlotte home. Always examine yourself the day after your stay for any signs that you may have been a host to bed bugs the night before.

  • Make sure you look for welts, blisters, and other signs of bed bug bite marks. Keep in mind that you may not have any visible signs of bed bug bites yet—some individuals won’t develop reactions, and in others, bite reactions can be delayed for up to 10 days after.
  • Once you are ready to return home, don’t bring your belongings directly back into your residence. Leave suitcases in a basement or garage until you’re ready to unpack.
  • Wash all clothing items in hot water and dry them on the high heat setting. You could also use a hand steamer to treat each clothing item. Once you empty the suitcase at home, vacuum the inside to eliminate any potential stowaway bed bugs.

What to Do if You Slept in A Hotel with Bed Bugs

Bad news. You missed the problem. A handful of bed bugs hitched a ride inside your luggage, and now the infestation is spreading all over your Charlotte home. Or perhaps a neighbor brought them back after their trip, and now your kids have carried them to your home.

A good place to start is deep-cleaning your home. However, unless you catch the problem at the beginning, DIY bed bug control is the wrong approach. Remember:

  • Bed bugs can live for up to 12 months without food
  • They spread like crazy
  • Full, confirmed elimination can require weeks of diligent work

For these reasons, you should call a Charlotte bed bug control company ASAP.

In Summary

  • Take precautions before, during, and after your trip to prevent a bed bug outbreak in your home
  • Look for both bed bugs themselves plus signs of an infestation to determine if your hotel room is infested
  • If you notice signs of bed bugs after a trip, call a professional immediately!

Carolina Pest Management has been providing pest solutions in Charlotte for over 75 years. We specialize in pest control and wildlife removal in the Carolinas. If you need help eliminating bed bugs from your home, we can help!

Contact us for reliable and effective Charlotte bed bug control today.

Bed Bugs FAQs

Can you see bed bugs with the naked eye?

Yes. Although bed bugs are small, they’re not too small to be seen—most adult bed bugs are about the size of a small ant or mosquito.

I found a bed bug in my hotel room, what do I do now? 

If you find any bed bugs or view bed bug droppings, notify hotel management immediately. Decide whether to relocate to another hotel or ask to be moved to another room. Be careful if you move to an adjacent room since bed bugs are known for infesting connecting rooms.

Are bed bugs still a problem in hotels?

Since the 1990s, the combination of increased travel and tighter living arrangements brought bed bugs back with a vengeance. And today, social media has made the concern over bed bugs even more prevalent. 

As travelers share photos online of bed bugs they find during their trips, more and more Americans are concerned about bed bugs returning with them once they head back to their residences.

How can I avoid bed bugs while traveling?

Since bed bugs can travel from place to place within the luggage and personal items, they are also found within public transportation systems and on cruise ships. But by following the steps above, you’ll be well-equipped to spot and avoid bed bugs while traveling. 

-Check reviews before you travel to see whether bed bugs have been mentioned
-Carefully inspect the area around you for signs of bed bugs
-Use bed bug repellent spray around sleeping areas on trains and cruise ships
-Keep an eye out for signs of bed bug bites—itching, small red bumps, or a rash

By Kristin Dodd

Kristin Dodd, the President of Carolina Pest Management, has been with the company full-time for over 20 years, but has been a part of the family-owned business for much longer. She is currently an active board member of the North Carolina Pest Management Association, and was the President from 2010-2011. She is a licensed operator in...

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