Travelling anytime in the near future? Keep in mind that you need to be careful not to bring home unwelcome guests.

If you haven’t guessed it already, I’m talking about bedbugs.

There are many recommendations to keep them out of your home, but one way they move around is by hitchhiking, moving around in luggage and clothing of travelling people. So it is easy to bring home — shall we say — souvenirs of our time away.

These bugs are visible to the eye and range in size up to a quarter-inch in length. They can be as flat as a piece of paper before feeding, and look fatter after they’ve had their supper. See for pictures and information to help you identify the bug.

They can be found more frequently in hotels, even in well-kept hotels, or other places where travellers sleep, so get into the habit of routinely checking beds for signs of the bugs’ presence when you travel. Given half a chance, they can settle in very nicely in other places, including homes and even offices and other public places, so don’t give them that chance.

When you stay in a hotel, you don’t have to tear the place apart, but do lift up the sheet and take a close look at the tufts in the mattress, and check out the hidden space under the piping around the mattress edges. But, if you see evidence that the bugs have been visiting, such as tiny red or brown pinpoint stains on the mattress or linens, inform the management right away (since they need to take immediate measures to get rid of the bedbugs) and ask to change your room, preferably to the other side of the building. Bug bodies or skins (since they shed their skins) or pinhead-sized whitish eggs in cracks are also not good signs.

When you stay in a hotel, protect yourself further by leaving all belongings in your luggage and avoid putting them in drawers. Since these bugs do not fly and get around by crawling, do not leave luggage on the floor—place it on baggage racks or shelves off the floor, and make sure the suitcase is completely zipped shut when you are not using it. You may want to tape the ends of zippers, or even wrap it in plastic to seal shut any possible way for a bedbug to find its way into your suitcase. Finally, do not leave clothing strewn about, as bedbugs can hide in seams of clothing or behind labels.

And if you wake up with itchy bumps or spots on your skin that were not there on the previous evening, you can suspect that you may have been bitten by a bedbug. If it happens, do not to panic. However unsavoury, bedbugs do not appear to transmit diseases, but many people develop itchy spots, much like mosquito bites. However, do take precautions to avoid bringing them home.

When you get home after a suspected exposure to bedbugs, leave luggage in the garage or an isolated space in the home, and only bring in the contents when you are ready to wash them in hot water. Dry them in the hottest dryer setting possible. Also inspect and thoroughly clean your suitcase and any bags.

– Sylvia Putz is a journalist with an interest in decor and design. She’s written for the TV show Arresting Design;

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