Protecting Yourself From Bedbugs: 5 Things You Need To Know

10/01/2010 03:08 pm ET | Updated Aug 04, 2011

Having to take your shoes off for a security guard. Paying $50 because your luggage is a few pounds too heavy. Jet lag. What we used to complain about when traveling seems quaint compared to what everyone's suddenly worried about: bedbugs. As we've seen in recent months, bedbugs love to hitch a ride with travelers, and can wreak havoc on homes and businesses, resulting in thousands in clean-up costs and plenty of mental anguish.

Worried about picking up those little critters in a some strange hotel and bringing them back to your home or office? Here are five things you need to know.

1. Check your hotel room for signs of bedbugs.
That's the first thing you should do. The Better Sleep Council suggests storing your luggage on a tabletop, luggage stand or other hard surface. Then, if you truly want to rest easy, start looking for signs of bedbugs. It won't be pretty. After all, you're about to dismantle the focal point of your hotel room -- your lovely, comfortable, relaxing bed. But if you're so inclined, remove the sheets and blankets and examine the seams of the mattress and the upper edge of the box spring for any signs of bedbugs or their droppings.

How can you spot red flags? Look for dark spots or stains. Examine the seams and corners at the head of the bed. The National Pest Management Association offers similar advice, adding that if you do find any signs of bedbugs, alert management immediately. If you elect to stay at the hotel but change rooms, for obvious reasons, make sure your new room isn't next to the possibly infested room.

2. Store your luggage in a big plastic bag.
Missy Henriksen, vice president of public affairs for the National Pest Management Association, suggests actually keeping your luggage zipped up and sealed in plastic, if you're truly concerned about bedbugs and want a surefire way to keep them from sneaking into your suitcase. It's an extra step, and a pain in the neck, but it's a virtual guarantee that if you bring bedbugs home, they won't be coming in your luggage.

3. Do your homework.
Charla S. Kucko, director of marketing and communications for the Simon Graduate School of Business at the University of Rochester, travels frequently and has some solid advice for anyone about to book a hotel room -- do some research. "I type the hotel name and 'bedbugs' in the search bar, because if people have had a negative experience, they will often complain about it online," Kucko says. "I also visit to read hotel reviews and see if there are any posts there about bedbugs." The user-generated Bed Bug Registry provides an additional way to search affected locations.

4. Bedbugs aren't just in bed.
We tend to think of bedbugs being in hotel rooms. Unfortunately, that's not the case. "Remember, wherever we go, bedbugs have the opportunity to come along with us," warns Michael Colongione, president and owner of New York-based GotchA! Bedbug Inspectors. "Travel is one of the key factors in why we are currently dealing with a bedbug epidemic. My advice to anyone who travels is to make sure, when staying in a hotel and using airline transportation, to wash all clothing that has been worn and all items in your carry-on luggage using a high temperature and dry using high heat, prior to placing these items back into your dressers and closets."

Another place bedbugs can sneak aboard your clothing? Rental cars. Colonogione is a paid spokesman for Pronto Plus, a preventative spray that kills bedbugs and their eggs. If you're truly worried, you could always carry that around with you and spray your luggage and clothing at will.

5. Be careful when you get home.
After you return from a trip, you might be so relieved to be in a bedbug-free zone that you forget you should still take some precautionary measures to ensure your home stays bedbug free. As Colonogione suggests, wash your clothing pretty much as soon as you enter your home. Store your luggage in the garage or basement -- somewhere far away from where you do your day-to-day living. Even more effective, especially if the suitcases are in the main part of the home, vacuum your suitcase immediately or before you bring your luggage inside. Sure, it's the last thing you'll want to do after returning from a long, exhausting trip, but if you're truly bedbug wary, you really can't argue with Colongione's logic: "It's always best to be proactive before entering your home.

Geoff Williams is a frequent contributor to AOL Small Business. He is also the co-author of the book Living Well with Bad Credit.

The original version of this article appeared on AOL Small Business on 10/1/10.

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