Bed Bug Precautions for Travelers

All travelers should be aware of the increase in bed bug infestations worldwide. Bed bugs feed on human blood, and their saliva causes itchy red welts that can be annoying.
Bed Bug Precautions for Travelers - Articles


Whitney Cranshaw, Colorado State University,

Unsuspecting travelers often encounter bed bug infestations and unknowingly transport bed bugs from place to place. Knowledge is the key to defending yourself against bed bugs. If you are going to be traveling, it is always a good idea to take some simple precautions against transporting bed bugs home with you.

What do bed bugs look like?

Bed bugs range from brown to reddish-brown in color, are oval shaped, flattened and paper thin when unfed. Adults can be 3/8 of an inch long (about the size of an apple seed) and immature bed bugs cab be as small as 1/16 of an inch. Young bed bugs are nearly colorless except after a blood meal when they become bright red.

How do they live?

Bed bugs are wingless and actively walk in search for blood at night and hide during the day. Females lay white, oval shaped eggs (1/16 of an inch long) into cracks and crevices of their hiding places, called harborages. Immature bed bugs shed their skin (molt) five times before becoming adults. All stages of bed bugs require blood for growth and development. Immature bed bugs can live several months without a blood meal; adults may survive as long as one year without a meal.

What are the signs of a bed bug infestation?

In addition to bites, there are four basic signs of bed bugs: eggs, cast skins, fecal spots, and live bed bugs. Fecal spots are most likely to be found on mattresses and sheets. As they feed, bed bugs digest blood and defecate, leaving behind small marks similar to those that might be made by a ballpoint pen. These fecal spots can range from black to brown to red in color. Live bed bugs, if visible, are most likely to be found in hiding places in or around the bed.

How can you avoid picking up bed bugs?

Bed bugs are hitchhikers and their presence is not necessarily related to poor sanitation. In hotels or hostels, bed bug infestations are always a threat due to the high turnover rate of people from diverse locations. When entering a new room, it is always a good idea to do a quick inspection using a very bright flashlight. If possible, leave your luggage outside of the room or put it in the middle of the bathroom floor while you do the inspection. The inspection should focus around the bed. Start with the headboard, which is usually held on the wall with brackets. Lift the headboard up 1 - 2 inches, then lean the top away from the wall to gain access to the back. Look for signs of live bed bugs squeezed into cracks and crevices of the headboard. Then pull the bedsheets back to inspect the mattress and box spring, particularly around the seams, Look for fecal spots, cast skins and bugs. Then check any curtains or furniture near the bed including dresser drawers and night stands. These are also often hiding places for bed bugs. The next morning, double-check for blood spots on the sheets in case bed bugs discovered you in the night!

If you can avoid it, do not unpack clothes into drawers and keep luggage closed on a luggage rack pulled away from the wall. Never set luggage on the bed or upholstered furniture. Though luggage racks may not be completely safe, they help to isolate your belongings from the surroundings. When you are not using your suitcase, keep it zipped and closed. Do not lay clothing on the bed. While travelling, you may want to store your clothing in large Ziploc bags to prevent any bed bugs from getting into your clothes. Keeping clothes in Ziploc bags also makes it easier to safely launder clothes that may be infested upon your return home. While sleeping, you may want to keep a flashlight close to the bed. Typically, bed bugs avoid ambient light and movement. Using a flashlight may help to identify an infestation during the night.

What if you notice bed bugs during your stay?

Notify management immediately if you notice an infestation. Request a different room (one that does not share a wall with the infested room), and if management is not willing to help, go to another hotel. All of your possessions have the potential to be infested so it is important to be careful when moving to your new room. Clothing does not have to be washed, but should be dried on the highest setting of at least 30 minutes. High heat (greater than 120 degrees) will kill bed bugs and eggs that may have gotten onto clothing. Clean clothing should be placed in a large Ziploc bag if possible.

What to do when you arrive home?

If you encountered bed bugs during your trip or have reason to suspect the facility may have had bed bugs, it is best to treat your belongings immediately. Luggage should remain outside of the home until it is certain there is no threat of infestation. Do not unpack your suitcase on the bed. If possible, examine your belongings outside the home or in the garage. If you do not have a garage, you can use a light colored bathtub. Do it quickly, in case there are any bed bugs inside. Clothing should be bagged, washed and dried on the highest setting. If a suitcase is infested, and you want to keep it, contact your local pest control company to inquire about any service they may offer, including heat or steam treatment. If traveling is a way of life for you, you might want to consider commercially available small heating units designed specifically for treating non-washable items such a luggage, electronic equipment, backpacks, shoes, sleeping bags, and pillows.

Travelers From Penn State

Many people at Penn State travel as part of study abroad programs, educational meetings, research conventions, etc.

If you are returning to a Penn State dormitory and you suspect you may have been exposed to bed bugs contact your area Housing Office.

  • East Halls: 814-865-1791
  • North Halls: 814-865-9521
  • Pollock Halls: 814-865-4321
  • South Halls: 814-865-2391
  • West Halls: 814-865-9526
  • University Apartments: 814-865-6025