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How to check for bed bugs: Every traveler needs to know this

Bali, Indonesia bedroom with dark lighting
visualsofdana / Unsplash

In the lead-up to a big trip, you can’t wait to get away. In the days ahead, you’ll experience new people, places, and foods, letting you live life to the fullest and gain new perspectives. That could mean a trip to Nantucket, where you roam empty beaches and dine on just-caught bay scallops, all while enjoying a small-town setting. 

When you’re caught up in the moment and can’t wait to try the next thing, you probably won’t think much about the risks and hazards around you. One example is bed bugs. Barely visible yet capable of creating havoc, these minuscule creatures can turn a dream trip into a bad situation. Here’s how to check for bed bugs when you arrive and ensure they don’t join you on the trip back. 

What are bed bugs?

Closeup picture of a bed bug
Jay Ondreicka via Shutterstock

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), bed bugs are tiny pests that feed on blood and cause itchy bites on their victims. When there’s an infestation, bed bugs are everywhere. But with the right info, you can identify the threat and be on your way.

The EPA further lists the common characteristics of bed bugs:

  • Around the size of an apple seed (5-7 mm)
  • If recently fed, they have a brown, oval-shaped body that’s long and flat
  • If not recently fed, they have a stretched, balloon-like appearance and are reddish-brown
  • They produce a “musty-sweetish” odor from their glands
  • Have “true bug” characteristics, like golden-colored hairs, four-part antenna, a three-segmented beak, and wings not used to fly

Recent increases in bed bug infestations could be due to subpar pest control, lack of understanding, more travelers, and pesticide resistance. Though bed bugs don’t spread disease, they’re a public health pest, causing allergic reactions, skin infections, and anxiety in victims. 

Safe to say, you want to avoid these creatures at all costs. Here’s how.

How to check for bed bugs when you arrive

White twin beds in hotel room
Masaaki Komori via Unsplash

Besides bed bugs’ physical characteristics, they leave behind telltale signs. Here’s where to look — and what to look for — when you arrive at your room.

  • First, look at your mattress and sheets. Bed bugs gather around seams, piping, and tags and leave brown or reddish stains when crushed. They also congregate on furniture seams and in between cushions. 
  • Next, look for tiny dark spots, which are excrement and can seep through fabric like a magic marker. Lastly, check for eggs — about 1 mm wide — and pale yellow eggshells shed by nymphs as they increase in size. 
  • If signs point to a bed bug infestation, notify the property manager and secure alternative accommodations. The nuisance and bites aren’t worth toughing out. They could ruin an otherwise wonderful trip.

Though bed bugs are increasing in the U.S., you can avoid them with the right info. Knowing what they look like and where they hide lets you check as soon as you check in and stay elsewhere if you find them. So go out and explore with the knowledge you need for a safe, healthy vacation. 

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Mark Reif
Mark Reif is a writer from Stowe, Vermont. During the winter, he works as a snowboard coach and rides more than 100 days. The…
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