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You vs. Bed Bugs: Risk of Hotel Encounters

I have travel thousands of nights over the years and, knock on wood, have had bed bug bites only twice and have never brought the critters home with me. Based on reports of how many properties have had problems at one or another time, I feel lucky with only being bitten on two occasions with minimal affect. In fact, I really don’t give much thought to bed bugs when staying at hotels, though I know my turn would change if they invaded my home. So just what are these bed bug things and are they really a problem?

Bed bugs are nocturnal parasitic insects that have been feeding on the blood of people for thousands of years. No way to make this nice, they sound just gross.

The good news; bed bugs have natural predators. The bad news; they are cockroaches and spiders, both of which I freak out about. Really, aren’t we just talking about the lesser of the evils here?

This topic caught my attention after visiting The Bedbug Registry. It is a free database for everyone, supported by user reports. Oddly enough, their site includes hotel advertising. They even offer a mobile app to make it easier to search their database when traveling.

The greatest surprise from this site was the variety of hotels that allegedly have bugs. The reports are far from limited to local motels off of highways. Most of the big chains are represented here as well. It was at two of the big U.S. chains at I got bitten up by bugs. (No, I didn’t update this site with my experiences since it didn’t exist at the time.)

The highest concentration of reports comes from the Northeast part of the U.S. but overall, the country is covered pretty well. Not surprising, there are more reports in areas that are heavily populated.

So is this database any good? Like similar sites such as TripAdvisor, it is only as good as the input and integrity of the reporters. And like TripAdvisor, it is very possible that a hotel could report that a competitor hotel has bed bugs when it fact they don’t, though I sure hope this wouldn’t be the case.

How can you detect bed bugs? Well, you may see some signs if your eyesight is really good. You may notice black specks on the sheets or maybe signs of droppings along the baseboard or in drawers. Short of that, it is difficult to know with any certainty if those bugs are lurking. They are nearly impossible to see if they are in the fabric such as a bedspread.

One thing that will help is keeping your luggage off the bed. It is very easy for bed bugs to make a leap from bedding into your bag, far more difficult if you use a luggage rack that is often supplied in the room. I am a bit fanatical about this and as far as I know, I have never brought any back home with me. Upon returning home, unpack your luggage in the laundry room rather than doing so with your bag atop your bed. Packing your clothes in plastic bags is another thing you can do and I’ve talked about my use of compression bags in “How To Transform Your Packing” and “Travel Prep By Mom For Jenn’s First Solo International Trip“.

Some travelers do bring along a UV light to check out the bed, upholstery, closet and drawers though I don’t think I’d sleep if I really saw all the stains these lights would show. The chances of showing stains I assume is high, whereas spotting the trail that bedbugs used is probably on the low side. I prefer to sleep, thank you. This article from eHow gives you info on how to look for bedbugs.

Fortunately, most people bitten by bed bugs suffer no serious reaction. It is typically similar to a mosquito bite, some swelling and lots of itching for a few days of several small bites. For those who are allergic, the reactions can be much more severe. My bites were on my back and on my arms like it (or they) had a picnic up one side of me and yes, they took a few days to disappear.

What do hotels do once bedbugs have been reported? This is a topic I want to talk to more hoteliers about. One hotel employee told me that all furniture is removed and replaced in the room and the rooms surrounding the affected room (each side plus above and below). From another hotel I heard that the room is thoroughly cleaned, carpet and all, though nothing is replaced. I asked to talk to the manager of the hotel where I had my second occurrence though the manager never returned my call. Hotels I’ve talked with do have proactive inspections routinely scheduled and work with pest management companies since bed bugs are not something they ever want to see associated with their property.

Should bedbugs keep you from traveling? In my opinion, absolutely not! Based on my .0005% ratio of being bitten, odds are in your favor of never seeing a bed bug.

Now if only my odds of seeing a cockroach living in Florida were .0005%, I’d be very happy!

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