dealing with post-bedbug paranoia: how to travel after bed bugs

by nobugsonme on January 5, 2007 · 22 comments

in bed bugs, bed bugs and travel, bed bugs on public transportation, information and help, reader questions

I mentioned Windy City Mike recently as a “success story,” since he’s been bed bug free for some time, and even moved successfully without his bugs. His bed bug stories are very informative and well-written. Mike contacted me today with a question he’d like me to pose on the blog. It’s a really good question. And I know he’d appreciate your responses. (Remember, real names, real email addresses are optional when commenting. Remember also that your nickname does not have to include the word “bug.” Just a suggestion; you do what feels right, my buggin’ friends.)

I have to preface this by saying that lots of people who don’t suffer from bed bugs might write off the concern Mike’s going to describe as irrational paranoia. Yes, it is a kind of paranoia, and to some degree it’s irrational (in the sense that its out of proportion to the threat). But those of us who have (or had) bed bugs would probably understand it in a way that people cannot understand if they did not suffer months of itchy anguish, alienation from friends and family, the loss of some or all personal effects and furnishings, the great financial loss of that coupled with extermination bills and/or supplies, and perhaps even moving home. (This is why the Village Voice article was so un-helpful; it painted bed bug sufferers as a bunch of crazy paranoid people, without giving the details to account for that degree of paranoia.) In short, when I say Mike is describing a kind of paranoia, I think all Bedbuggers would agree that it’s one that is understandable in this situation. And one I’m sure many of us share, and some have mentioned here before. Mike’s questions get to the heart of the matter: statistically, to what degree is this anxiety rational, to what degree is it not a real concern? Emotionally and logistically, how do we go about traveling (and other activities) once we’ve been burned by bed bugs.

Here’s his letter:


I moved into a new apartment after my old apartment was sprayed in
September 2005. Since then, I’ve not seen bedbugs in my current apartment,
thank goodness; I only hope that trend continues. The thought of
bedbugs invading this new “safe” space — a space that I’ve really grown to
like — prompts feelings of deep horror in me.

Since my original infestation, I’ve not needed to travel — my job is
local, and my holiday trips have been on local commuter rail to family
in northeastern Indiana. However, I may find myself visiting western
New York State (about 54 miles east of Buffalo — nearly 330 miles away
from NYC’s bedbug epidemic) in early August 2007, and this brings up the
spectre of domestic travel and hotel stays.

Most people nowadays seem to contract their infestations from hotel and
motel stays. As you might guess, this has made me absolutely dread the
thought of staying in any hotel or motel. However, I know that even if
I don’t end up traveling this August (I may end up having a conflict),
someday I will have to do just that: stay in a motel or hotel room. So
I need to figure out how I’m going to deal with this — from an
emotional, logistical, and statistical perspective.

While there is a good Ask Metafilter page about avoiding bedbugs while
in hotels (, what’s presented
there isn’t enough information for me, and so I ask my fellow bedbug
sufferers and survivors …

(1) Emotionally, how have you dealt with the anxiety surrounding
possible re-infestation? How do you stop that from ruining your enjoyment of
whatever reason you have for your trip? How do you deal with being
concerned, post-trip, that you might have brought something back?

(2) Logistically:

(2a) What steps have you taken to minimize the possibility of bringing
bedbugs home with you from a hotel stay — both in terms of (i)
research beforehand (I’m aware of the TripAdvisor and HotelChatter sidebar
links), (ii) conversation (if any) with the hotel or motel itself, (iii)
room examination upon arrival, and (iv) post-trip luggage examination?
Given that baby bedbugs can be almost invisible
(, how can you have
confidence in self-examinations?

(2b) Are hotels the only “hot zones,” or are other places associated
with domestic travel troublesome (airports, airplanes, trains, etc.)?
(My inclination is to say that airports, airplanes, and trains are *not*
potential places to be infested, but I wonder.)

(2c) I’ve wondered whether or not actually being bitten in the room is
a litmus test for potential infestation. On one hand, it seems like
bedbugs would not pass up a meal (namely, us) in order to latch onto
luggage — which would mean that yes, if you wake up not having being
bitten, it’s safe to say your room wouldn’t be infested. On the other hand,
that almost seems like it might be too good to be true.

(3) Statistically, has anyone ever run across a statistic *from a
reliable source* such as “every 1 in 500 motel rooms is infested,” etc.?
Knowing what sort of odds I’m playing with would help out a great deal.
If I knew I only had a 0.2% chance of coming back with an infestation,
I could play those odds.

If my fellow bedbug sufferers and survivors have any input as to these
questions — either direct answers, or linkage to columns or sites
addressing the above — I would very much appreciate them.

My deep thanks
in advance,


1 hopelessnomo' January 5, 2007 at 5:20 pm

I have stayed in a hotel twice during my infestation. Although I was more concerned about spreading mine than getting new ones, I was really worried about both scenarios and they ended up being nearly sleepless nights. Here are my thoughts.

I found that it’s impossible to satisfy yourself after your inspection (that is, if you have been affected by bedbugs–if you’ve never had them perhaps it might be easier to feel comfortable about your precautions). Bring a flashlight, magnifying glass, whatever, you’re still not going to be 100% sure given that there will be a dizzying variety of dust and lint and other unpleasant things to inspect and make decisions on in and around the bed, in the bathroom, under pictures and furniture, etc. And I found you can’t really move everything and look under everything. Plus there’s the carpet, not to mention the bedspread. Everyone knows about hotel bedspreads, right? OK. There is no way to be really sure, yet you have to inspect as well as you can. (Unless, of course, the room really is pristine to begin with but in my life I’ve only experienced that once.)

So, it is best to work under the assumption that the room may be infested. Even with all the pre-stay research, even if there are no bedbug reports in TripAdvisor or elsewhere, and the hotel looks well-maintained, the guest just immediately before you could have brought them to your room. What does it matter if there is only a point-whatever-percent chance? And if it is infested, you could be bitten and not know it, even if you are the type of person who is allergic (I know this because not all my bites itch or welt, some just fade away innocently by noon).

This is how I will manage my hotel stays in the future:

-Use a machine-washable duffel

-Pack the clothes inside the duffel into various ziplocs. At least 5 or 6 ziplocs: one for toiletries, 2 or more for clothes, one for dirty clothes, and one for shoes. And maybe one more just for bedclothes

-Additionally pack 3 or 4 large (lawn size), clear plastic bags

-Upon arrival, place coat in one bag, luggage in another and hand items, whatever they are, in yet another bag–I guess toiletries can go in the bathroom but must be washed before repacking (bringing your laptop, or charging phones, PDAs, etc. is a problem that I don’t know how to address, other than spraying or dusting around it on the table, but you could damage the hotel furniture). I wouldn’t bring pesticides with me, it’s probably not kosher on air travel these days?

-Do inspection (and try to relax?)

-Keep everything bagged and/or ziplocked during the stay, including shoes–the small ziplocs are useful, I find it easier to manage several regular (2 gallon size for bigger stuff) ziploc bags than one extra large one and you can pack one complete outfit per ziploc to make it easier

-At bedtime, don’t forget to check that shoes are in a ziploc–maybe get a pair of disposable slippers just for the trip

-Upon return before going home, unless already done at the originating city or hotel, stop at a laundromat to hot wash/hot dry the duffel and its entire contents, and/or drop off at the cleaners whatever is dry-cleanable only

-At home, strip, seal clothes you just took off in a plastic bag for future laundering, and shower immediately

Yes, crazy, but if you’re reading this maybe you know what that’s like.

And airports are especially scary, all that luggage.

2 Bugalina January 5, 2007 at 6:48 pm

I agree… I have “luggage phobia” !! I am serious….I think the best thing to do to buy very cheap luggage…pack everything into plastic ziplocks..stay in only as reputable a hotel as you can afford…tell them that you are aware of bedbugs and that you are putting them on notice…I have done this…and then inspect the room like crazy…spread all kinds of repellents around like tree tea oil or patchouli oil and soak everything with BedBug Terminator or Kleen Free…leave your CLOSED luggage in the bathtub overnite..and upon return..throw the luggage away…and put all of your ziplocks into a large doubled lawn and leaf bags…cable tie it and leave it alone for a few up..and then take the bag…outside or into the bathtub….inspect it exceedinglly carefully…immeditately hot wash and dry everything and throw the black plastic bags away immediately….sigh…until we get help this is what we must do…hotels are spreading these bugs…..they aren’t doing it deliberately of course..but the nature of the bug and the business of sleeping overnite with luggage…its a guaranteed nitemare…don’t kid yourselves….bugalina

3 Doug Summers MS January 5, 2007 at 10:11 pm

Try looking at the pictures you find at this link. Photographs by Lou Sorkin of first instar nymphs at different stages of feeding.

If you can capture a specimen there are a number of experts that can help you with the identification. Clear packing tape or a lint roller may be helpful to capture a unknown specimen.

Good Luck,

Doug Summers MS
MoldDog Environmental

4 Mike Harris January 5, 2007 at 10:54 pm

Doug, thanks, but I don’t have a question about how to identify bedbugs, and, in fact, the link in my post is to one of Lou’s pictures. Your response doesn’t really pertain to my query at all.

5 Bugalina January 5, 2007 at 11:00 pm

Doug….How in the world could anyone spot that on their bodies in the REM sleep stage…it is so small…I heard that dogs were being used in Florida to certify that apts. and/or homes, were bed bug free before they were rented out or sold. If this is true it is the start of very good legislation. People who are unknowingly rented infested apts. should file criminal complaints against the landlords. A certificate stating that the premises are bed bug free is what is needed…Are dogs really capable, in your opinion, of being able to guarantee that premises are bed bug free ??? Of course there is no telling that an adjoining apt. is infested. I think though that dogs can serve a very valuable service in the fight against bed bugs….

6 nobugsonme January 5, 2007 at 11:35 pm

Hi Doug, Glad you’re reading and posting here, but yes–the point is not that we don’t know what to look for in hotels. You might want to give the post another read.

Back to Mike’s questions!

Other responses?

7 jessinchicago January 5, 2007 at 11:39 pm

Hey Mike,

I’ve been a fan for quite some time. I took some comfort, at the beginnings of my infestation, in knowing that another Chicagoan had confronted and defeated bedbugs.

I’m going to echo what has been said above. I have travelled recently, and here’s what I did:

– Bought a cheap duffel bag that I knew I would throw away upon return
– Put all clothes to be worn in extra large Zip-Loc bags (two at most will fit into a carry-on duffel)
– Took only two pairs of shoes- the ones on my feet, and another pair, which was put into separate smaller Zip-Locs, as Hope already suggested
– Put all toiletries into small Zip-Loc bags

Basically, I got through security like a champ because they could see through everything I had in my bag.

Once I arrived at my destination, I was able to keep the duffel itself outside on a balcony. The rest, I kept sealed in the Zip-Locs until worn. After wearing, I made a “dirty” pile of clothes that was kept in a separate bag.

On my return, I packed everything back up into Zip-Locs, stuffed it into the duffel bag, and carried it onto the plane. Before returning home, I went to a laundromat and washed EVERYTHING on hot and dried on hot for an hour or more. Shoes were (although always bagged) kept outside for a long time. Okay, they’re still outside, but don’t tell anyone- holy hell, I might be considered PARANOID! Duffel was disposed of immediately upon entrance to apartment.

Hope this helps.


8 hopelessnomo' January 6, 2007 at 12:25 am

I also forgot to thank Mike for his wonderful bedbug writing.

I should mention something I will bring with me next time I travel: peppermint castile soap (Dr. Bronner?). I read somewhere that gardeners use it diluted with water to kill soft-shell bugs and I tried it with cockroaches and it definitely works (not all soaps kill cockroaches). (Can’t say for sure that it works with bedbugs, it’s just a good guess–sadly, I never see my bedbugs in order to experiment with them.) You need to shower with something, right? May as well use something you can also use to wash other stuff before repacking (comb, toiletries, the soles of your shoes, etc.). Smells better than tea tree oil that’s for sure (pace Jess who loves tea tree oil!).

9 jessinchicago January 6, 2007 at 1:03 am

LOOOOOOOOVE me some tea tree oil! 🙂

10 nobugsonme January 6, 2007 at 1:54 am

I LOVE the tea tree oil too, but it’s definitely not because of the scent (though that grows on you in proportion to the usefulness of the stuff!)

Windy City Mike was one of two people whose blogs gave me the idea that people could move without bed bugs, and the only blog that convinced me that with some hard work and luck it could be done without throwing out everything you own. And that means a lot. (I haven’t moved, but we really need this inspiration.)

Anyway, Mike’s question (2c) brings up a related question in my mind: is the real problem with bed bugs in hotels that they bite you there, or that they come home? We’re all worried about the latter, of course. Reinfestation is a horrific thought.

Oddly enough, the general public seems more concerned with being bitten at-the-time. The opera singer (see article above) and other hotel lawsuits usually appear to be filed by people who did NOT take the bed bugs home.

Of course, on the yahoo group, we usually only meet people who DID. Those who got home scathed but aren’t being bitten once home usually write a hotel review or complaint letter and are done with it.

Even Maya Rudolph’s apartment bed bug lawsuit was about being bitten in the SOHO loft. Well what about her NEXT loft. Did she really get there bug free? Was the moving truck tented with Vikane or are these folks just lucky?!?

But I digress. Not only do bed bugs need lunch more than they need a lift (as per Mike’s comments in 2c), they also don’t need to do anything once they’ve eaten but hobble home to digest it slowly. They’re not thinking “man, we gotta get on that luggage train!”

So why would bed bugs hop the luggage? If the soprano can get 150 bites in one night, surely every bed bug who wants to feed, can?

Maybe she took really good precautions after leaving the hotel. Jess’s seem about right. There’s no reason you need to bring bed bugs HOME after a hotel stay, right? As long as you know what to do. People who tell us they got them in hotels and brought them home didn’t know what to do.

Maybe this is why I am not so worried about my bringing them home. I am a bit worried about the people I know bringing them home. I’m thinking they lack the requisite dose of paranoia that will protect me.

So my main fear is being bitten by 150 hungry bugs like the opera singer or the lady in Anaheim. 150 in one night has GOT to suck.

By the way, I also have a hunch that trains, planes, buses, automobiles, and boats (hello cruises) are very much problem sites. Those padded chairs on trains, planes and buses creep me out. How often you think they get washed? If people can bring bugs home from hotels, they have to carry them on their person, or more likely in their luggage, on your plane or train. And anything that can crawl into a bag in a hotel room, can go from bag to bag in a luggage compartment. (I am not trying to add to the anxiety, sorry. I just don’t want people to think this is a hotel problem– it can happen at work or on a bus. Just like they can live in the bookcase or wall as well as on a mattress frame.)

11 nobugsonme January 6, 2007 at 1:56 am

oh. I forgot taxis.

12 nobugsonme January 6, 2007 at 2:27 am

ps (Someone get me off this blog! Now! I can’t stop!)

Hope– I LOVE Dr. Bronner’s peppermint. I bet it would feel nice and cool on bites too. Hmmm.

But mostly I love reading the kooky bottle. “All one!” MAkes you dizzy turning it around to read all the stuff, but it is good.

13 hopelessnomo' January 6, 2007 at 2:31 am

I find those 150-bites hotel stories puzzling. Did the previous guest in that room not get bitten? Not allergic? Is the hotel negligent rather than unlucky? We’ve read Frank’s calculations about how fast an infestation spreads but it’s not that fast. Even allowing a bite discount for the no doubt zealous lawyer, half that number of bites is crazy for it to be an overnight problem. Makes you wonder if the problem in hotels is not even worse than thought, simply because the housekeeping staffs must have no clue, no training if they cannot come across any evidence of the number of bugs necessary to produce 150 bites.

Nobugs, go to the bed.

14 Doug Summers MS January 6, 2007 at 4:33 am

You are absolutely right; my answer had nothing to do with your question. I inadvertently pasted a reply that was for another question on the support forum. I didn’t intend to post that answer here.

In response to bugalina’s question, I would say that a negative K9 search has a much higher level of accuracy than a negative result with an experienced human inspector. That said one cannot prove a negative assertion. I cannot prove that we have never walked past an infestation without an alert.

Logically, it is like trying to prove that the Loch Ness Monster does not exist. We could prove the positive assertion that they do exist by capturing one, but we cannot prove that the creature does not exist just because we are unable to locate a specimen

Personally, I rely on the dog when I am traveling. I sometimes use a single bed bug for training & my dog finds the single bug target under training conditions very reliably. Research with termite detection K9’s found that the accuracy of detection goes up with the number of termites that are used for a target.

I also follow many of the practices that are recommended here on this site. If I don’t have my dog with me I rely on a visual inspection. I leave my luggage outside until I have searched the room. I do not set my luggage on the floor. I have my dog screen my luggage when I return home. I would isolate my luggage and utilize a thermal treatment if I suspected that my bags had been exposed to or infested by bed bugs.

I fully understand the fear of being bitten. I often worry about bringing an infestation home from work. I utilize live specimens to train my dog and I have nightmares about the bugs escaping their containment. I have slept with a flashlight after finding unexplained bites (apparently fleas) on my body. I think the fear of bringing bed bugs home is a very rational fear. I an afraid of bed bugs despite the fact that I own the best screening tool available.

Doug Summers MS
MoldDog Environmental

15 Bugalina January 6, 2007 at 10:55 am

Doug…I am so appreciative of your honestly…..I wish I owned a bed bug dog. I might suggest that you purchase, as I have, the hard cased luggage. I think we have a link to it on this blog, but Samsonite and Delsey make them. The Industry is well aware of the forthcoming bed bug epidemic. Home furnishings are changing..luggage is changing…hotel design is changing…..all because of this monster bug. I keep thinking..isn’t there something humans could ingest..or put a patch on their skin, they would make their blood “untasty” to bed bugs??? How come it is so hard to get something that kills them !!

16 nobugsonme January 6, 2007 at 12:11 pm

Thanks Doug. We’re glad you’re participating here!

We’ve heard on the Yahoo group before about the precautions PCOs and bedbug cleaning service workers reported taking (reported secondhand to the list), including removing clothing outside their home’s front door (I’m sure there was some kind of privacy set-up), washing them immediately, and not bringing bags from trucks. But you could easily imagine how a worker’s clothing and vehicle could easily become infested, especially when visiting sites with heavy infestations.

I wonder if some folks don’t use some special outer HAZMAT type suit. But even then, it’s removing it that matters.

Also one of the bed bug researchers mentioned on MSNBC’s bedbug series on their website mentions how he raises bed bugs to study in his basement and they DO occasionally get into his bed. His wife gets angry. She must not be allergic to bed bugs, or she’d be out of there. That’s cruel and unusual IMHO!

17 Mike Harris January 9, 2007 at 8:02 am

Ah, linkspam. Thank you, sir. Always nice to know spammers can reach anywhere.

18 nobugsonme January 9, 2007 at 9:45 am

Ha– sorted.

You know MOST hotels would avoid having their name mentioned on our site…

19 Tiago February 15, 2007 at 5:43 am


I am a PhD student in Stockholm University. I moved into an apartment (24 sq meters) in the beggining of last December (2006) but went on vacation soon after (only returned on 7th January). The apartment was rented empty and I bought (how I dead that very thought) a second-hand bed.
2 days after I came back from vacation, it started. At first, I didn’t know about them and I went to a doctor who tried to convince me I was wrong. That same night, I turned my bed upside down – and found them. I immediately threw away my bed (yes, I know…) and vaccumed the whole place. I called the Pest Control guys (Anticimex) and they sprayed with Empire 20 (organophosphorous). I washed and dried my clothes and got them back into the closet. Bought an air matress, sorrounded it with double-sided tape and have been sleeping on it ever since.
The PC guys came again after 3 weeks and sprayed around (close to walls and in closet) and I once again put all my stuff through the drier (at least for one hour at 60 ºC). The same night, I noticed I had red marks scattered through my body. I am sleeping with long sleeved pj’s and socks and I get these marks in my belly, legs, feet, etc. Last sunday I bagged most of my clothes and put them and my luggage in a room at -20 ºC. Only kept some clothes, which were ran through the drier and once more, washed my bed linen and pj’s (at 90 ºC) and dried it at 60 ºC.
Every morning I wake up with red marks in me. But the annoying thing is that I don’t know wheter it’s the bedbugs still. The marks appear and dissapear, most in the same day. Before, they stayed for a couple of days and I can still (even after a month) see small red dots where the … bit me.
The pest control guys returned 2 days ago (on my insistance) and sprayed again, this time with Demand CS (synthetic pyrethroid) and Starycide (an Insect growth regulator). They even sprayed the underside of the air matress, although the sheets reach the floor (even if I have the tape around). And I had marks again, this morning, which have now faded away. I even photographed them, so that I would have proof of what I am seeing and feeling (yes, they itch).
I know this has been a long post, I’m sorry for that. Just wanted to describe the situation as good as possible. Since I am a PhD student, I have to go to conferences and I want to go back home for vacation. I can’t go on living like this and I am afraid to go anywhere, because I don’t want to spread it.
Just want to add one more thing: HELP ME. I have passed beyond the desperation point now.

I thank you for reading and for any constructive replyes.


20 Bugalina February 15, 2007 at 9:20 am

Tiago, if they itch , then imho, they are bites, Is the bed elevated ? You cannot let the sheets touch the floor..this gives them passageway into the bed..please read all the FAQ’s on this need to have more bed isolation..and what about your pillows ? From my experience, the younger the nymph the smaller the bite and the sooner the bite fades, but its still a bed bug on its way to becoming an adult….please read all of our suggestions on the FAQ..

21 Tiago February 15, 2007 at 1:13 pm

As I mentioned, I have an air matress now, no more bed. So it has to be on the floor, there is no other way. The sheets do touch the floor, unfortunately but, as I said, there is no way around it. I don’t have a pillow, the matress itself is higher in the head part.
I put double-sided tape on the ground around the bed, the only other option is to put it on the matress itself, all around. I’ll try that tonight.
I’m really at a loss here, I put my PJ’s (long sleeved, long pants) through the drier EVERY NIGHT, along with the cover and the socks. They sprayed with Demand and Starycide under the bed. Where are they coming from????
The bites can be from a nymph, that’s a possibility I don’t ignore (at all). The strange thing that happens is that I wake up, notice them on my chest, for example (???) – this around 8 o’clock – and around 10-11 they’re gone. I’m going nuts over this, I really am.
Tomorrow I’m going to a doctor. Even though the last time she didn’t want to believe I had this, I managed to convince her to give me a lotion to put on the skin which, believing on her, will kill the little b… if they get in contact with my skin. It only works for 24 hours, though. I thought that I can do the same again. Should I still get marks, it may be an indication that it’s no longer the bugs – or that the product doesn’t really work…
What’s your opinion about wooden floors? I can see some space between the boards, probably enough to put a sheet of paper. The Pest Control guy told me “not to worry, because they prefer to hide along the walls and that is too small for them”. I suppose he means the adult ones (with which I agree) but what about the younger?
Another question (sorry for writing so much but this is really breaking me at the seams): I’m seriously considering asking my landlord to move me to another apartment. Would that be a smart move?

Thanks for your suggestions.

22 nobugsonme February 15, 2007 at 3:18 pm

Hi Tiago! Welcome and I am sure we will be able to give you some advice. I moved your messages to the current Q and A thread: click here and click on the top post in that series. Otherwise, few people will see it. Please click above to go there. Thank you!

When you see people posting to old discussions or FAQs (if the questions are more general like this), please help me out by directing people to copy and paste their messages to the Q and A/Tales of Woe thread. The link is in the top menu “Need Advice?” If you instead respond and others come in, we have several threads going at once, instead of one, and people get lost/lose where they left their question, etc. Lots of people don’t read old threads, so it is better to keep one current discussion going on this general questions and updates thread.

Thank you for your help!

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