Travelers have enough to worry about: getting the best deal on flights, packing, and finding a place to stay. But what happens when you arrive at your hard-won mountain getaway to hear a rumor that it's housing not only fellow bikers and hikers but also bed bugs?
As a survivor of three apartment bed bug infestations — as well as one run-in at a hotel — I'm here to tell you what I would do.
First things first: Stay calm. Rumors are just that, and they won't, by themselves, give you bed bugs. When you get to your room, drop your bags near the door and go straight to the bed. While bed bugs could be anywhere in the room, the bed and headboard are their most likely hotel hangouts.
Remove the bedspread and untuck the sheets around the edges of the mattress to inspect its seams. You're looking for bed bug harborages, which will usually have black mold-like flecks (bed bug poop), clusters of small white capsules that resemble miniature rice (bed bug eggs), and the bugs themselves or their cast-off exoskeletons.
Next, move to the headboard and see if it can be easily detached or moved from the wall (some are screwed directly into wall—leave those be unless you want a damages bill). Continue your inspection. You're looking for the same gnarly bed bug features in any crack or crevice you can see — the head of a screw, a wood joint, and so on. You might want to use a penlight or, if you have a smartphone, a flashlight app.
If you find any bed bugs during your search, scoop them into one of those complementary coffee cups as proof. Call the front desk, explain the problem, and ask if they have other rooms. If they don't, or if you'd rather move to different lodging anyway, calmly and politely ask for a refund (if that doesn't work, you may want to mention the possibility of a bad review on TripAdvisor or The BedBug Registry). Repeat these steps for the next room, wherever it is.
Even if you don't find bed bugs, it isn't an absolute guarantee that your room is bed-bug-free. If you're still worried, keep your luggage away from the bed area during your stay, and hang your clothes in the closet instead of putting them in the dresser drawers. And when you get home, be sure to do your laundry — in hot water and on high dryer heat — as well as inspect or clean your luggage.
Brooke Borel is a science writer and journalist. Her new book, Infested: How the Bed Bug Infiltrated Our Bedrooms and Took Over the World is on stands now.