This Entomologist Has a Travel Warning: Always Put Your Suitcase in the Hotel Bathroom
There’s just something about walking into your hotel room after a long flight, flinging your suitcase (and yourself) on the bed, and officially entering vacation mode. It just feels all sorts of right, doesn’t it? Well, apparently, there’s one thing about that equation that’s all sorts of wrong, according to experts. Namely, the whole flinging-your-suitcase-on-the-bed part.
Believe it or not, the best place to put your luggage when you’re staying in a hotel isn’t on the bed. Or on the floor. Or even shoved inside the closet on one of those luggage rack thingies. Nope; the smartest travelers know to store their suitcases in the hotel bathroom—or better yet, inside the tub.
Why You Should Put Your Suitcase in the Hotel Bathtub
The reason behind it is simpler than you might think, but it might make your skin crawl: bed bugs. These teeny tiny critters hide inside beds, couches, and clothing, and feast on the blood of humans to survive. (Sounds like something out of a horror movie, doesn’t it?) And if they’re present in the room, they’ll happily jump from the bed to your luggage and into your clothing, if given the chance.
“Travelers should avoid placing their luggage on upholstered surfaces and the bed when they arrive at their destination, since bed bugs are typically found on mattresses, box springs, and in the crevices of furniture and inside upholstery,” says Brittany Campbell, Ph.D., staff entomologist for the National Pest Management Association (NPMA).
Since they’re way less likely to infest a bathroom, Campbell says that it’s the safest place to store your luggage when you’re away from home. You can either place your luggage in the tub while you thoroughly check your room for bed bugs, or leave your stuff in the bathroom during your entire stay. (If you leave your bag in the bathtub, just remember to take it out before you turn on the shower. That could end pretty badly.)
What’s Wrong With a Luggage Rack?
There’s technically nothing wrong with using a luggage rack for luggage, says Campbell, who notes that it’s better than placing your suitcase on a bed or chair—but only if it’s been thoroughly inspected first.
“Avoid using racks with hollow legs, since bed bugs can hide within the legs,” Campbell says. “For added protection, you can place your suitcases in plastic trash bags during the duration of the trip. Tie the plastic bag when luggage is not in use to prevent bed bug entry.”
Why You Should Worry About Hotel Bed Bugs
If the very thought of all of this has left you wondering why it never occurred to you before that bed bugs could be lurking in your hotel room, you’re not alone. That’s because the bed bug horror stories we often hear usually involve home infestations, which, according to the NPMA’s 2018 Bugs Without Borders survey, occur in 91 percent of cases. But here’s another interesting factoid the survey turned up: 68 percent of respondents treated for bed bugs had stayed in hotels or motels near or around the time they contracted them. The reason for that one is simple: bed bugs love to travel. (Almost as much as you do.)
“Essentially, anywhere people live or stay can potentially become infested with bed bugs,” says Campbell. And yes, they can easily travel home with you, by way of your trusty suitcase.
“Bed bugs are extremely skilled hitchhikers due to their ability to survive in temporary habitats, such as personal luggage or underneath the seats in cars, buses and trains,” she says, adding that even places like home share rentals should be checked as soon as you enter. “Regardless of where you lay your head at night, bringing back bed bugs is a serious issue, as these elusive pests can quickly make themselves at home and are difficult to get rid of.”
The biggest take-away here? Even if you’re booking at a 5-star resort, it’s better to be safe than sorry. Doing a bed bug check first thing will put your mind at ease—not to mention save you a lot more stress in the long-run.
How to Check for Bed Bugs in a Hotel Room
There are ways to tell right away if your hotel room has a nasty case of bed bugs. In fact, Campbell has a mental checklist of sorts you can run through, as soon as you walk into your room.
1. Pull back the sheets.
First, pull back the bed sheets so you can get a good look at the mattress seams and box springs—especially the corners. You’re looking for ink-like stains or bed bug skins that have been shed. (Fun fact: Before they reach maturity, bed bugs shed their skins FIVE TIMES and require a meal of blood before each shedding, according to WebMD.)
2. Inspect the rest of the room.
Your next step is to thoroughly inspect the entire room. Check behind headboards, peek inside dressers, examine the sofa cushions and desk chairs. In other words, leave no stone unturned. If your search turns up some curious signs of bed bugs, Campbell says you should notify the hotel management immediately and request a room change.
And if this does happen, I’m sorry to say your room check has to begin all over again.
“Bed bugs can move and spread via housekeeping carts and even through wall sockets, so ensure the new room is not next to or above/below the suspected infestation,” says Campbell.
What to Do If You Find Bed Bugs in Your Suitcase
If you do suspect your luggage was taken over by the tiny critters—from a hotel stay or otherwise—inspect your suitcase outside your home before bringing it indoors. You can give it a quick vacuum before storing it in a closet or over your garage, and wash and dry all of your clothes on hot cycles—even those that haven’t been worn.
Then, get thee to a licensed pest control professional, ASAP. They can deal with any potential infestations that may have been transferred into your home, and will make sure the problem is solved before it gets worse.
For more ways to help prevent bed bugs in the home, see 6 Products for Avoiding Bed Bugs (and Getting Rid of Them If You Have an Infestation).