On a recent family vacation we had a scare that we were sleeping with the enemy: bed bugs. It turns out they were just some itchy Amazonian bites—nothing serious, thank God—but the thought they could have invaded our luggage, joined our trip, and followed us home was enough to freak us out substantially.
I've had friends who have battled with bed bugs before, and I can still conjure up their sad, defeated faces in my mind. Yeah, I did not want to deal with that crap.
Bed bugs put up one hell of a fight, and—resilient buggers they are—can be found even in the cleanest of places. Hotels are prime locales for them to cozy up, too. All that bedding! All those people in and out! And even though the bed bug heyday seems to have passed, these guys will never really disappear. They'll still be around even after the Armageddon—mark my words.
I learned through my scare that there's a lot that can be done to prevent or safeguard against bed bugs as best as possible. And because writing this post is making me squirm, I'm going to hit it all as fast as possible.
Buy hard-sided luggage. Cloth feels like home to bed bugs, and with all those fabric creases in soft luggage, there are so many folds for them to hide in. When they encounter something like the Muji suitcase Erica swears by, they just keep on moving. (Ed note: I wipe the suitcase religiously. After every trip. By the door.)
Read reviews. Even the nicest and most vigilant accommodations can be hit with bed bugs. An infestation in one room shouldn't be held against a place necessarily, but it's also not really worth risking. I always try to scan reviews for any repeat warnings about bed bug issues and how they were handled. Also, for any place in North America: behold the bed bug registry.
Keep suitcases in plastic. This might border on looking neurotic, but zipping up suitcases in something like this clear plastic case is really such an easy (and cheap) measure. I've heard of people who sub-pack all their clothing in plastic or Ziploc bags, too, to make sure nothing that's been worn touches clean clothes. I personally think that's overkill, but different strokes for different folks.
Watch where you put your bag. The floor is a bad place for it, but so are those fold-up luggage holders with cloth bands that hotels so kindly supply. Apparently the safest place to stow it is the bathroom, but I usually just throw it on a desk or table. (Ed note: I freak out when people put their bags on the bed.)
Inspect the room. Erica's written about bed bugs before, and how to case a hotel room properly for one. Gross, but Super Important Tip: Check for any reddish or brown—anything that looks like blood, ack—spots on walls, headboards etc. Anything suspicious at all is reason enough to ask for a room change. And make sure it's far away. Resort to the hairdryer trick if you're feeling paranoid.
Inspect luggage. Once I was home, I opened my bag and checked all the contents one-by-one for any signs of bed bugs. The analysis happened on an open floor where I would be able to see any scurrying out. Fortunately, it turned up nothing.
Launder. Everything. After inspecting, I bagged it all to take it to be laundered by the pros. The key is to pump up the heat because, although there are different takes on exactly at what temperature bed bugs finally will fry, what's for sure is that it has to be super, industrially hot. (Ed note: Don't you people need to do this anyway after you return from a trip? I don't take it to the dryer's but shit, I like clean clothes.)
Lastly, don't go crazy. I know from experience: Once the fear and panic kicks in, there is no limit to the amount of plastic bagging and freaking out one can do. And that'll ruin not only your trip, but your sanity. So try to relax. (Ed note: Too late.)