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Bed bugs: How to stop them coming home with you

Bed bugs can be an unfortunate part of the international travel experience – so how do you stop the tiny, unwelcome insects from hitching a ride home with you?

Bed bugs have been co-existing with us for a long, long time but have been the focus of several headlines in recent months.

First, there were the skin-crawling revelations of a bed bug infestation in Paris.

Then came the stories closer to home, with cases of bed bugs reportedly linked to a cruise ship that docked in Auckland between August and October.

The reality is bed bugs are a potential danger wherever you’re travelling to.

Here’s how to identify if your hotel room or cruise cabin is infested with bed bugs – and how to stop them infiltrating your luggage before the journey home.

Get inspecting

Bed bugs get busy feeding on the blood of sleeping humans at night time. They then usually like to chill out in dry, dark spaces during the day – so that’s where you should start looking as soon as you enter your accommodation.

A good place to start is the bed mattress. Check both for the bugs (they are visible to the naked eye and are a brownish-red colour) and for brown or black flecks, which, no big deal, are the stains they leave behind when they defecate.

Other places to check include under the bed, behind the headboard, the linens and pillows on the bed, curtains, in and behind any night tables, and anything else that is upholstered or carpeted.

Some travellers recommend running a sticky lint roller over the surfaces you’re checking.

If you find any evidence of bed bugs, request another hotel room or cabin, preferably on another level – then start inspecting again.

Keep your bags off the carpet

And keep your suitcases off beds and luggage racks while you’re at it, too.

Ideally, you want to keep your bags on non-porous surfaces like tiles and linoleum, or on a shelf.

The same goes for your belongings while you’re staying in your accommodation. Avoid putting clothing or coats on the floor and put any clothes you’ve worn into a plastic bag until it’s time to wash them.

Check your luggage and other belongings for bed bugs before you head home. The lint roller can also come in handy for this task.

After the holiday

If you think you can relax your vigilance against bed bugs when you get home, think again – there are still a few more steps to take.

Unfortunately, bed bugs have become very difficult to kill, given they are now largely resistant to insecticides. So you want to ensure you stop any bed bugs that have crawled into your belongings in their tracks.

New Zealand’s resident bugman, Ruud Kleinpaste, told Seven Sharp last month the best way to kill bed bugs is to “put your mattress and your bed in the freezer for three nights”.

But given the logistical challenges involved with that, your best bet is to check your luggage again before you bring it into the house, especially if you’ve travelled on a plane and had your suitcases lumped in the hold along with everyone else’s bags.

Wash your belongings in the hottest water they can tolerate or throw them in the dryer for at least 30 minutes.

Either use a garment steamer to heat treat your luggage or vacuum your bags inside and out, before emptying the vacuum’s contents into a plastic bag to seal up and throw out.

Then cross your fingers and hope the only things you’ve brought home from holiday are tacky souvenirs and happy memories.