Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

How to keep bedbugs at bay during your holiday travels

You've heard the horror stories. You've read the headlines. Bedbugs are here.

So are your holiday travel plans, perhaps to see relatives up North.

Tiny and sneaky, the nocturnal critters have been causing paranoia and mayhem coast to coast, most prominently in large cities like New York and Chicago but also everywhere in between. They've been seen in plush hotels, cheap motels, rental cars and moving vans, movie theaters, airplanes and even government buildings. Locally, the bugs were recently found at a north Tampa men's shelter and an outpatient mental health clinic run by the James A. Haley VA Medical Center.

Some of the hysteria, experts say, is just that. Though bedbugs feed on human blood, they can't transmit disease.

But they gross us out. We thought we got rid of them after World War II, but when we banned the pesticide DDT in the early 1970s and began globe-trotting more, the bloodsuckers found a welcome mat back into American homes.

Don't let yours be one of them.

Know your enemy

There are six stages of life for Cimex lectularius. The easiest to spot is the adult, which is flat, plump, reddish-brown and about 1/4-inch long — tinier than an apple seed. Often missed, though, are their young, which are pale white and about the size of the period ending this sentence. All of them bite.

Learn to spot their eggs and droppings, too. On the Web, is rife with images and videos, including some showing bugs feeding on Louis Sorkin, an entomologist at the Museum of Natural History in New York.

Avoid problem spots

The site takes reports from all over the country. A recent search for Florida found 289 cases of bedbugs in hotels and buildings, including several in the Tampa Bay area. also lists reports of bug-ridden hotels. When planning your stay, you might consider calling your hotel and asking about their protocols for dealing with the insects.

In general, be wary of second-hand furniture and mattresses, which can be infested. Bedbugs can survive for more than a year without feeding. Most fumigators can treat an average-sized couch for about $150.

Find the buggers

When sleeping at a hotel, your first task is to find them. Gary Geiger, owner of Geiger Pest Control Service in St. Petersburg, who also maintains an office in New York City, recommends keeping your luggage in the hallway, or in the bathroom, while you perform this task. An oft-heard tip is to put your stuff on a folding suitcase stand, but Geiger says the tubing in those stands can harbor bugs.

First, remove the bedspread and sheets, and, using a small flashlight, start looking along the mattress, especially the ribbing. Bedbugs like to sleep about 5 to 10 feet away from their meal (they come out around dawn, attracted to the carbon dioxide our bodies emit). Look underneath the mattress, along the baseboard, along the wall, and in crevices in furniture and appliances.

If you spot evidence, ask for another room. Keep your flashlight handy, as it may be useful about 4 a.m., when the bugs are most active. During your stay, keep your clutter to a minimum so any bugs you may have missed can't hitch a ride.

Coming home

Since bedbugs cannot survive extreme heat or cold, most experts recommend taking all your clothes and putting them in the dryer for an hour or more on a high setting as soon as you get home. A cold death is more difficult. Unless it can go below zero and stay closed for a week, your freezer may offer limited results.

If you do spot a bedbug at home, trap it under a piece of clear tape and put that in a jar to show an exterminator or your doctor. If you discover a bug, address it immediately. If you delay, experts warn, one fertilized female can infest your home in a matter of months.

Stock up

Phil Koehler, an urban entomologist at the University of Florida and top bedbug expert, recommends a variety of products for travelers, most of which can be found at

Koehler likes Rest Easy bedbug luggage spray ($15), which can make luggage less inviting. He also likes BugZip garment bag and suitcase encasements ($17.99 to $19.99), bug-free cocoons for your possessions.

For electronics and things that cannot be laundered, Koehler likes Hot Shot No-Pest Strips ($6.49). The website also has a variety of mattress and box spring covers (prices vary per size) to protect an expensive mattress from an infestation.

Frequent travelers might want to invest in the PackTite portable heating unit ($320) which zaps the bugs and their eggs by bringing them in excess of 120 degrees, especially useful for things that cannot be laundered.

How to keep bedbugs at bay during your holiday travels 10/31/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 8, 2011 1:22pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Winner and loser of the week in Florida politics


     Winner of the week

    Peter Antonacci. Gov. Rick Scott tapped his go-to utility player to lead his Florida job recruiting agency, Enterprise Florida, having previously picked him for his general counsel, to lead the South Florida Water Management District and to serve as Palm Beach state …

  2. On the Camino de Santiago, Day 19: A peregrina spends the whole day under the weather, and part of the day under the table


    Day 19: El Burgo Ranero to Puente Villarente: 25.4 km, 7.5 hours (Total for Days 1-19 = 454 km (282 miles)

    This list pretty much sums up my day:

    Eat two bananas

    Walk 13.1 kilometers


    Walk 6.2 kilometers


    Eat half an apple

    Walk 6.1 kilometers

    Crash< …

  3. Storm routs Cleveland


    TAMPA — Alvin Ray Jackson intercepted two passes, returning one for a touchdown, and recovered two fumbles as the Storm routed Cleveland 57-27 Saturday night in its home regular-season finale at Amalie Arena.

  4. Miscue sends Rays to another stinging loss to Rangers (w/video)

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — The Rays gave away DJ Kitty onesies Saturday night. Then they gave away the game.

    Rays centerfielder Mallex Smith misses a drive hit by Adrian Beltre with two outs in the sixth, allowing the tying runs to score. Beltre puts Texas ahead 4-3 when he scores after two wild pitches.
  5. Rowdies shut out Charleston


    ST. PETERSBURG — The Rowdies know a thing or two about stalemates, with five of their past 10 games ending in a draw.

    Rowdies in the first half during the game between Tampa Bay Rowdies and the Charleston Battery at Al Lang Field in St. Petersburg, Fla., on Saturday, Jul 22, 2017.