This FAQ was updated in June 2009 and now has two parts: the first covers how not to spread bed bugs when you travel, the second covers how to avoid spreading bed bugs to others in your daily life.
Note: the section of the FAQ below on travel was originally written before the invention of a tool which many readers will find useful. The Packtite allows people to remove bed bugs from items such as unwashable clothing, books, papers, shoes, etc. This may help someone with an active infestation avoid taking bed bugs to other places (and, once bed bugs are gone, items brought in may be treated — even the suitcase itself!) This is quite a game-changer, and if you can obtain and use one, you may find a lot of the recommendations below don’t apply, since you will be able to reliably kill bed bugs in most of your belongings. You can read more in the Packtite FAQ.
How not to spread bed bugs when you travel
I have bed bugs and I sometimes stay overnight with friends and relatives. What a dilemma! How can I make sure I don’t take bed bugs with me to my host? (Ha ha, that’s a switch. With bed bugs I’m usually referring to MYSELF as the “host.”) They are so small, such good hiders, such good hitchhikers. It seems almost impossible, but here are some tips on what I do to avoid spreading bed bugs:
1) I take the absolute least amount of things with me as possible. The less you take, the less hiding places there are. This means repeating outfits, mixing and matching, and wearing the same piece of clothing or shoes over and over. Again, the less you take, the less chance of taking bedbugs. We have to be stark minimalists. It reminds me of when I traveled in Europe with a pack on my back and carried very little.
2) Whenever possible, I won’t even take a suitcase. I pack my clothes hot from the dryer into ziploc bags. I then put the zip-lock bags of clothes into a clear plastic larger bag and carry my clothes in that. (Ladies, first tuck your lingerie inside something else. Otherwise you’ll find you’re walking down the street with your “underwear showing”–literally). When I travel, I wear an outfit that I take straight out of the dryer or out of a ziploc bag.
3) I tossed out all my cosmetic bags and all those “travel totes for toiletries” (okay, I didn’t throw out my love of alliteration). I carry such items in zip-lock sandwich baggies. I don’t take hairdryers, travel irons, etc. with me. I borrow shamelessly when I get to the place I’m staying.
4) Again, when possible, I won’t even take the clear plastic larger bag into the house I am visiting if I’m using my car. I leave all my stuff in the car and use the car as my closet. The less I bring into the house, the better. I’d rather infect my own car than someone else’s house. I leave my coat in the car, too.
5) I won’t take books or magazines with me that have been in my apartment. I buy them “fresh” for the trip.
6) I never take gifts with me that have been kept in my home. Instead I have any gifts shipped ahead of time, straight from wherever I ordered them online, or buy them along the way.
I don’t know if I’ve spread bed bugs or not. I certainly hope not. I take as much care as possible. I really care about the family and friends I stay with. Most of them don’t know about bedbugs, so even if I tell them, it doesn’t sink in how terrible they can be. I somehow think that precautions like this might help since hotels are not yet reporting bed bugs in 100% of the rooms and not everyone who stays in a hotel with bed bugs gets bed bugs, so there must be a way not to take them with you. However, I think the only way to be absolutely certain you won’t take bedbugs when you visit is if you are visiting a nudist camp.
I eagerly welcome more comments and suggestions on how to do this. It’s a learning process and stuff like this is not written anywhere else. Most of the bedbug articles I find in the media are soooo out of date, often cheeky in tone. They seem to think you just have to cover your mattress and spray, and your problems will go away. They couldn’t even imagine the horror we’ve gone through and we continue to go through on a daily basis.
How not to spread bed bugs to others on a daily basis (added 6/2009)
Most of the tips above are also relevant to your daily life, if you are someone who has bed bugs in your home.
The idea is to avoid taking bed bugs out of your home and infesting your workplace, your car, or other places.
Washing and dressing in clothing known to be bed bug-free immediately before leaving the home is a good rule to follow. (You can ensure clothing is bed bug-free by washing/drying it or running it through a Packtite, and keeping it bagged until wearing; this FAQ and this one may help.)
Think about where other items rest in your home which are only used outside. Why not keep a bed bug-free purse or backpack inside a sealed Ziploc while you’re at home? (The same rule would apply at work if the workplace is infested, and your home is not.)
Removing shoes at your own door and wearing something else on your feet inside the house is another good idea. The shoes, again, can be kept safely somewhere, in sealed bags. (Remember never to store damp shoes in a sealed bag!)
Shoes, hats, coats, etc. can also be run through a Packtite before storing or before use.
The important thing is to think about what you’re taking outside of the home, and ensure it is bed bug-free.
A little bit of common sense, and a little bit of annoyance, will help you avoid spreading bed bugs to others. The reward? Go where you want to, visit friends and family, enjoy your life, even while battling bed bugs!