Many people like to bring home a souvenir when they travel. But unless you’re an entomologist, you probably don’t want bugs of any kind coming home with you. That can happen not only if you travel to a tropical locale, but also if you vacation in one of the most bedbug-infested cities in the United States. You might think that you’re doing everything you can to avoid getting bedbugs when you stay at a hotel or Airbnb. But you may actually be making a common mistake that increases your chances of attracting the bugs.
Below, learn about the seemingly innocuous habit that seems to attract tons of bedbugs to your hotel room. Plus, check out the best ways to avoid getting bedbugs when you travel.
What are your chances of getting bedbugs?
Everybody has heard horror stories about bedbugs. Nonetheless, most people don’t know how likely or unlikely it is that they’ll encounter the little critters. (Much less their odds of ending up with the insects hitching a ride home with them._ As Slate reports, popular wisdom casts bedbugs as “world-class hitchhikers.” But are the bugs really that easy to catch if, for instance, you stay at a hotel that has them? As Slate reports, scientists haven’t quite figured it out yet. But the CDC reports, “Everyone is at risk for getting bed bugs when visiting an infected area.”
People — perhaps even you — are pretty scared of bedbugs. And for good reason
The New York Times notes that many people feel very scared of ending up with an infestation of the critters. “Some of the fear is rooted in fact,” The Times concedes. “The bugs, while they are not known to transmit disease, can travel on clothing, jump into pocketbooks and lurk in the nooks of furniture. And they do, of course, bite.” You’ll likely only fear the bugs more if you learn about their life cycle. As Popular Science explains, a fertilized female can lay three or four eggs a day until she dies. But it just gets worse:
Luckily, she only lives about nine months after being traumatically inseminated—regretfully, that is the actual scientific term—by a male bed bug. Traumatic insemination is, somehow, even worse than it sounds. Female bed bugs actually evolved a reproductive tract, but males don’t do anything so pedestrian as push a penis in there. Oh no. They use their hypodermic penises (again, the real term) to pierce their partner’s abdomen, injecting her with sperm.
They may not actually be that easy to catch
Back to the problem of bedbugs in hotel rooms. Popular Science notes that nobody truly understands how the tiny, flightless critters travel. But scientists do know that the bugs colonize beds because that’s where people reliably lie down for hours at a time, just waiting to be bitten. Slate concedes that not many researchers have looked at how infectious bedbugs are. But evidence seems to suggest that an infestation of the critters isn’t that easy to catch. Slate explains, “The prevalence of bedbugs has clearly gone up in recent years, but the rate of freak-outs has been increasing even faster. It’s essential to recognize that the ‘disease’ is just not that easy to catch.”
Here’s how you’re increasing your chances of getting bedbugs
Newsweek reports that populations of bedbugs are once again thriving thanks to cheap travel costs. But how exactly do they find you when you travel? According to a recent study, the bugs seem to come running when you leave your dirty laundry out. The researchers found that even in the absence of a human host, bedbugs are twice as likely to end up in luggage with dirty clothes than in luggage containing clean clothes. So if you leave dirty laundry in your hotel room? You just increase your chances of going home with bedbugs. As Newsweek notes, “The study’s findings suggest one way travelers could avoid bringing bed bugs home is to do laundry before getting on a plane.”
Fortunately, doing your laundry can probably solve the problem
The CDC reports that bedbugs are experts at hiding and at hitching a ride. The creatures “travel in the seams and folds of luggage, overnight bags, folded clothes, bedding, furniture, and anywhere else where they can hide,” the agency warns. Luckily, Popular Science notes that just doing your laundry before you get home from a trip will likely eradicate any bugs or eggs that made their way into your luggage. “Next time you go on a trip, try to find a laundry service to use before you come home,” the publication advises. The heat in a standard dryer cycle will kill the bugs or eggs. Plus, your clothes will smell clean and fresh. (Talk about a win-win!)
Take some precautions, and you likely won’t end up with bugs
CityLab reports that no matter what kind of hotel you book, you can still avoid taking the pests home. The publication advises checking for bedbug reports before you reserve a hotel. (Multiple, recent reports of infestations should definitely set off some red flags.) Once you arrive, stow your luggage in the bathroom. Then, give the room a careful inspection. Keep your luggage off the floor. And always keep your clean clothes separate from your dirty ones. Stash the dirty laundry in a plastic bag, not strewn over the floor or in a fabric armchair.
Even if you got bitten by bedbugs, you can avoid taking them home
CityLab adds that even if you stay at a hotel where you get bitten by bedbugs — and even if you don’t have time to do your laundry before you get home — you can still avoid experiencing a full-blown infestation when you get home. An expert recommends dumping your laundry straight from your bag into the washing machine or dryer. (Opt for a cycle with plenty of heat.) To kill any bugs that hitched a ride, put your luggage in a garbage bag with a Nuvan pest strip, and leave it for three days. (Or, spritz it with a spray designed to kill the bugs.) And if the worst happens and you do start seeing the bugs around your home? Call an expert right away. You don’t want to deal with an infestation alone.