Many travelers think that encountering bed bugs is purely bad luck. While it’s not your fault if you do have a run-in, there are proactive things that you can do—and specific items that you can pack—to prevent bed bugs. Because while the itchy bites are bad enough, they’re hardly the only thing to worry about. If these nefarious hitchhikers make it home alongside your souvenirs, you’ve got a major problem. “Bed bugs are pretty creepy, but a large part of the fear associated with an infestation is knowing that getting rid of them is difficult and can be expensive,” says Sean Knox, the fourth-generation owner of Knox Pest Control.
What to Pack: How to Prevent Bed Bugs
Knowing how to prevent bed bugs from infesting your suitcase and your home post-vacation is increasingly important for travelers. Here are eight travel-ready products will protect you and your belongings from bed bugs.
The first thing you should do when you enter any hotel room is to make sure that your home for the night isn’t infested. “Luckily, we all have the most important product for bed bug prevention, and that is our eyes,” says Bill Fish, a certified sleep science coach and the co-founder of Tuck.com. “Use the flashlight on your phone to inspect the room. Look under the mattress as well as on the headboard to see if there are any remnants of what could be bed bugs.”
Knox takes it a step further: “I always check every piece of furniture, including dresser drawers, chairs, sofas, the luggage rack, and under cushions. What you’re looking for is any tiny blood stains or small black dots that look like mold or like black pepper sprinkled in the seams.”
After your eyeballs have done their due diligence, place the PackTite Passive Bed Bug Monitor onto your bed’s headboard—it’ll let you know by the following morning whether bed bugs are present. A UC Berkeley study showed that passive monitors like this one are more effective than active ones at capturing bed bugs.
Bed Bug Trap
Another way to ensure your bed is bug-free is to bring along the Ortho Home Defense Bed Bug Trap. It’s a bug detector in the form of a small, plastic, pesticide-free trap that’s easy to pack. After you apply the enclosed flypaper and push the activating button, it releases a pheromone that tricks bed bugs into thinking it’s a safe shelter, then traps them, letting you check whether you’ve caught any via a handy viewing window. And it works in less than an hour. You can also use it at home when you get back from vacation to prevent bed bugs from infesting your house.
So you didn’t spot any bed bugs with your eyes, detect any with a monitor, or catch any in a trap. Good. But you’re not quite in the clear yet. These are tricky little bugs, and there may still be a few lurking. According to Knox, even one egg in your luggage can lead to a full infestation back home. To prevent bed bugs from creating a problem, pack a travel-sized mist.
Those who prefer natural ingredients will want to go with Sleep-Tite Bed Bug Spray from Fairy Tales Hair Care, a company that makes lice-fighting products for children. Its formula includes sodium and yeast enzymes, which kill bed bugs and dissolve their eggs. While you’re traveling, spray it on your luggage nightly, and also on all hotel bedding, furniture, and curtains. When you get home, keep spraying your luggage each night for up to a week after your trip.
According to a multi-university study published in the Journal of Economic Entomology, DEET is the most effective compound for preventing bed bugs from biting. Yes, it’s a chemical pesticide, but a TSA-approved product called Ben’s 30 uses a 30 percent DEET formula, which isn’t harmful to humans or pets but still aligns with the study’s findings—meaning that it’s all but guaranteed to keep bed bugs away, as well as mosquitoes and ticks. Spray this water-based, fragrance-free solution on your skin as you would any other insect repellant, then rest assured that for the next eight hours, there’s basically a bug-repelling force field around you.
The Right Luggage
“Hardshell suitcases are less likely to transport bed bugs home with you,” advises Knox. There’s even a suitcase manufactured specifically to prevent bed bugs from stowing away: the ThermalStrike Bed Bug Proof Heated Luggage. Within its polycarbonate blend shell is an internal infrared heating system that’s designed to kill bed bugs at every stage of life. Plus, it looks cool.
Whatever type of suitcase you use, remember: “A suitcase should always be placed on a luggage rack as opposed to the floor,” says Fish. Adds Knox: “Bed bugs don’t like tile floors, so if you’re paranoid, stash your luggage in the bathroom for peace of mind.”
Sealed Luggage Liners
Encasing your travel belongings in plastic might seem extreme—until you consider that all it takes is one little bug to bring an infestation home. “These pests are very hard to eliminate from the home,” says Dr. Sydney Crawley, a public health entomologist with Scotts Miracle-Gro. “Treatment typically requires a multi-pronged approach including mechanical and chemical control, as well as preventative measures that help avoid a reinfestation.”
Since nobody wants that, Knox provides this handy recommendation: “Zipper bags that fit around luggage protect you from bed bugs that might be hiding on planes, trains, or in your Uber.” The entomologist-tested Bed Bug Sealed Luggage Liners from BedBugSupply.com come in three sizes to fit most suitcases and carry-ons, and are made from sturdy, machine-washable micro-polyester fabric that prevents bed bugs.
UV Vacuum Cleaner
The Housmile Anti-Dust Mites UV Vacuum, at less than three pounds, is a manageable addition to your packing list. Yes, it’s pricey, but it’s also effective—its ultraviolet light, heat, and suction work together to kill bugs and demolish their eggs. Just turn it on and run it over your bed (or any other hotel surface you plan to lie down on), then rest easy that you’ve done your part to prevent bed bugs from bothering you. Bonus: It also eliminates dust mites and other allergens.
If you’re even remotely concerned you may have unwittingly provided bed bugs a ride home from your trip, spring for Ecoclear’s nontoxic Stop Bugging Me! Laundry Additive Concentrate. Add it to your post-travel laundry loads, or even the loads you do while still traveling—just pour a bit into a three-ounce container, since all you need is two tablespoons per load.
Even though its formula is mild and safe enough for both kids and pets, this concentrated liquid insecticide aggressively removes bed bugs and eggs from clothes and bedding, killing them upon contact. This made-in-the-USA product is also biodegradable, unscented, and absolutely fine to use on all washable fabrics.
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Avital Andrews also covers travel for the Los Angeles Times, Sierra, Outside, and the Huffington Post. Follow her on Twitter @avitalb.