Vacation may be the highlight of your year, but humans aren’t the only species you can find boarding flights and sleeping in hotel rooms. Every year, 488 million people in the United State travel, with 1.8 million of those people traveling to cities like Chicago, London and New York on business. With pests like bed bugs found in all 50 states, the risk of picking up an uninvited guest is significant. Learning more about the life cycles, appearance and signs of an infestation can help you keep these tiny hitchhikers out of your home upon returning from your next business trip or vacation.
The Pests That Come Home With You
The most common types of pests you find in luggage, or in items you buy new or used, are bed bugs, fleas, cockroaches, and ants. Each of these pests has unique characteristics and habits that can help you identify an infestation early.
- Bed bugs are tiny bugs that usually live in mattresses and bedding. The signs of an infestation include itchy welts upon waking and dark spots on your bedding caused by waste products or crushed bed bugs. Bed bugs can also live in appliances, inside drawers, and behind electrical outlets, and the bugs can survive for months without food. These pests often enter the home on your luggage or clothing.
- Cockroaches also enter the home by hiding away in virtually anything you bring into your home, including cardboard boxes, clothing, and luggage. These pests are also found throughout the world and can find hidden food and water sources in the home easily. Fast treatment is usually recommended if you see even one cockroach in your home.
- Ants are attracted to the scent of food. To reduce the risk of an ant infestation, seal all foods in resealable plastic bags before leaving your destination and check the food when you arrive home. Sweet foods are particularly attractive to ants, but these pests eat a variety of foods and are most commonly found in vehicles, including buses, trains and personal vehicles, where food is eaten during long trips.
- Fleas are small, jumping insects that cause itchy bites in humans and furry pets, like cats and dogs. These insects are commonly found on clothing or in luggage after you stay in a hotel or rental cottage that is infested with the insects. The insects may initially cause only minor problems like an occasional bite, but the infestation usually worsens over time even if you don’t have pets.
Preventing Pests Before Your Hotel Check-In
Preventing pests is the simplest way to avoid taking them home with you. Hotel reviews are a simple way to get insider information on hotels in cities around the world. Avoid any hotels that have recent reviews indicating pest problems, and avoid hotels with room prices that seem too good to be true. Sometimes, the hotels with the cheapest rates are those that skimp on necessities like regular inspections from pest professionals. Other ways to prevent hitchhiking pests before your check-in include the following:
- Check the Bed Bug Registry to see if your hotel has had an infestation and how long ago.
- Choose luggage that reduces the risk of pest infestations. Opt for washable luggage, like a duffel bag or hard-shell suitcast, whenever possible.
- Before entering your room, leave your luggage in the hallway with your family and examine the room carefully. If you’re by yourself, place the luggage on a counter or on the luggage rack (typically found in the closet). Bed bugs are easiest to spot by examining the crease between the headboard and mattress but can be found anywhere on the mattress or bedding. The insects look like small black dots during their nymph stage, so make sure to use bright lighting while checking your room.
- During your stay, do not put dirty laundry on the floor. Bring your own plastic bag or use the dry cleaning bag left in the room.
- Ants and cockroaches are commonly found under sinks, around plumbing fixtures, and near food preparation areas. Examine these areas carefully for live insects or insect waste, which may look like pieces of dirt.
- Both fleas and bed bugs live in carpeting and on soft furnishings like beds and sofas. Fleas may not be noticeable until you feel an itchy bite. Examine your exposed skin for tiny, dark brown spots that suddenly jump away to identify fleas.
- Bed bugs usually do not bite until you are sleeping unless the infestation is severe, while fleas bite at any time. You should be able to identify a severe bed bug infestation almost immediately if you examine the bedding and mattress after checking in.
If you see any signs, contact the front desk, switch rooms or hotels immediately. If it’s a bed bug infestation, report it to the Bed Bug Registry. Infestations are not often passed from room to room.
Preventing Pests from Hitchhiking Home With You
Chances are that you may not even notice that you have friends stowed away, so follow these steps to remove the risk of letting them into your home.
- To prevent an infestation, or as a cautionary measure, seal your luggage in a garbage bag before you put it into your car. If you are taking a taxi home, seal the luggage outdoors or in the garage after you unpack. It is better to toss luggage if you have confirmed the presence of bed bugs in your hotel, as these pests are difficult to exterminate once they have an established nest in your home.
- If you have confirmed bed bugs at your hotel, leave your luggage sealed for up to six months after removing your personal belongings, or toss the luggage and purchase new bags. If is often easier to buy new luggage than to treat an infestation of bed bugs. If your bag is washable, wash it in hot water and dry it on high heat to eliminate the risk of infestation.
- You should also leave your shoes on the porch, or in the garage, for at least 24 hours to eliminate insects like ants. Seal your shoes for up to six months if you suspect bed bugs may be on your clothing or luggage or have the shoes professionally cleaned before taking them inside.
- After sealing your luggage, change into clothing from home, and wash all the clothing from your trip in the hottest water possible. If you don’t want to wash clothes that are clean, put the clothes in a dryer set on high heat, and let the clothing go through the full drying cycle. The high heat cycle is hot enough to kill all common pests.
With some basic research and a few precautionary measures, you can prevent bringing pests back from your vacations and business trips. If you do find an invasion of hitchhikers in your home, a simple call to a professional pest control company is enough to send any insect packing.