How to Tell if a Hotel has Bed Bugs

When you arrive at your hotel after a long day, you probably want to drop your luggage and sprawl out on the bed to relax. But this may not be the best idea because you might encounter bed bugs in hotels. It is wise to check for bed bugs right away so you don’t end up with an itchy disruption to your vacation.

What Are bed bugs?

Bed bugs (Cimex lectularius) are parasitic insects. They feed on the blood of their sleeping hosts. Yuck! Even if this topic makes you squeamish, read on to learn more about how to identify and avoid bed bugs.

Identifying bed bugs

Bed bugs look different depending on their age. Adult bed bugs are small, reddish brown, and flat, about the size of an apple seed. Nymphs, which are young bed bugs, are smaller in size and translucent. Bed bug eggs look a lot like grains of rice.

If they have recently eaten, adult bed bugs will be darker in color because of the blood they have consumed. Nymphs also look different after a meal. Since nymphs are translucent, their stomachs will look darker after eating.


Bed bug bites

If you don’t inspect your room for these unwelcome insects, you may find bites on your body the next morning. Bed bug bites look like small red welts. Sometimes the bites appear in a zigzag pattern. Bed bugs usually bite areas that sleepwear doesn’t cover, such as the neck, face, arms, legs, and hands. 

Bed bugs do not carry disease, but their bites cause discomfort. The welts may swell and itch. In rare cases, sensitive people may experience severe symptoms or allergic reactions.

If you get bitten, wash the affected area with soap and warm water. Try not to scratch, because opening the skin could cause a secondary infection. You can use an anti itch medication or hydrocortisone cream to stop the itching. Much like mosquito bites, the itching welts should go away with time. Of course, do not hesitate to get medical advice if necessary.

Sometimes bites don’t show up until days later. If you’re traveling, this delay can make it difficult to know where you encountered the bed bugs. 

A travel issue

Bed bugs are practical insects. They hang out where they know they will find a sleeping host. They can live anywhere people sleep, including hotels, cruise ships, hostels, and houses. In hotel rooms, they typically hide in beds and upholstered furniture.

Stack of leather suitcases of various sizes and colors

Bed bugs can survive for months without eating and can endure extreme temperatures. This means that, unfortunately, once they hitch a ride in your suitcase, they are likely to spread.

How Common Are Bed Bugs in hotels?

The prevalence of bed bugs seems to be increasing. After World War II, bed bugs were almost eliminated. Eradication was likely due to the spraying of chemicals like DDT and Malathion. But in the mid 1990s, hotels changed how they used pesticides. Hotels began to use targeted pest treatments instead of routine baseboard spraying. This switch gave bed bugs the advantage.

Bed bug infestations occur all over the world, year round. There seems to be a spike in the summer. But since bed bugs survive in all temperatures, the spike may be an illusion. More people travel in the summer, so this may be behind the increase in reports of bed bugs.

Despite the increase in cases, bed bugs are not as common as you may think. The estimate is 7.1 bed bug incidences per hotel over a five year period.

Outbreak registries

You might have heard of online registries for bed bug outbreaks, like this one. These registries are not the gold standard though, and it may not be worth your time to check them. Reports are user submitted, so they may not be accurate or up to date.

Also, bed bug incidents are often confined to one room. You would be unreasonable to avoid a hotel because of a single report.

Myth: bed bugs live only in dirty places

In fact, you can’t determine where bed bugs will strike. The incidence of bed bugs is not related to cleanliness and sanitation. Travelers have reported bed bugs in luxury resorts, standard hotels, and hostels. The pests do not discriminate and will live wherever they can find food.

Most hotels care about their reputation and try to stay clean and pest-free. Shockingly, a single bed bug incident costs a hotel an average of over $6,383 to treat. You can bet that hotels want to avoid bed bugs.

How Do I avoid bed bugs?

Inspect your room

When you arrive in your hotel room, you should check for bed bugs right away. Place your luggage in the bathroom while you inspect the rest of the room. The bathroom doesn’t provide good hiding places for bed bugs, so it’s the safest spot for your luggage.

The bed is the most obvious place to check for bed bugs. Pull back the bedding and mattress pad and examine the mattress and box spring. You should also look in the crevices around the bed, such as the gap between the mattress and the headboard. A flashlight will be helpful.


If your room has a sofa or other upholstered furniture, check that as well. It is also be a good idea to inspect desks, tables, and dressers.

Finally, take a look at the luggage rack. The luggage rack is a possible offender because bed bugs travel the world by suitcase.

If all is well

Even if you have determined that there are no bed bugs in your room, you should still take precautions.

It’s wise to store your luggage on the luggage rack or on a hard surface, rather than on the floor. If you want to be extra safe you could even consider wrapping your luggage in plastic.

When you get home, you can avoid spreading hidden bed bugs by washing and drying the clothes you packed. Fifteen minutes in the dryer on high will kill any bed bugs that may be hiding.

Another idea is to unpack your suitcase in the garage. The hard surfaces in your garage will make it harder for bed bugs to get away.

Uh oh, bed bugs!

If you are unlucky enough to find signs of bed bugs in your hotel room, take immediate action.

Do leave the room immediately. Take your luggage and belongings with you. Ask the front desk for a new room, preferably in a different area of the hotel.

Don’t panic. Do not assume that the whole hotel contains bed bugs. Remember that since bed bugs are not a sign of poor cleanliness, they might be an issue in a single room.

Of course, when you get in your new room, check for bed bugs again. The bed bug statistics show that you will most likely find this room to be pest-free. Try to relax and be grateful that you avoided becoming a bed bug’s next feast.

How do I Treat bed bugs?

After the incident

If these unwelcome pests do attack, you may still be able to contain them.

Wash all the clothing and washable items you packed in the hottest water possible, and dry them on high heat. Fifteen minutes in the dryer will kill bed bugs.

Three front loading red washing machines in a row

Clean and vacuum all your luggage. Bed bugs can hide in small spaces, so be thorough when you clean. Vacuum all the seams and crevices.

When you return home, unpack in the garage or outside to avoid bringing bed bugs inside. Wash and dry your clothing again. This might seem like overkill, but you do not want bed bugs to invade your home.

Treating your home

If you discover bed bugs in your home, you might want to call an exterminator right away. A professional will cost more, but you will save on stress and frustration.

If you choose to attempt treatment yourself, clean your entire house thoroughly. Vacuum all your furniture and floors, cleaning all the nooks and crannies. Machine wash and dry everything possible, including rugs, bedding, and clothing.

Whichever route you decide to take, act immediately before the problem grows. Bed bugs reproduce rapidly, so if even one pair escapes, all your effort is in vain.


Bed bugs aren’t dangerous, but they might ruin your vacation. If you know how to avoid bed bugs, though, you don’t have to worry. Be prepared before you travel and you will be able to enjoy your time to the fullest.

“Sleep tight. Don’t let the bed bugs bite.”


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