They are every traveller's nightmare. Horribly itchy bites, notoriously difficult to get rid of, and a plague on your house if you bring them home with you - bed bugs are a nasty souvenir to pick up on your travels. Hotels are a particular haven for these tiny critters, as well as taxis, planes and camper vans. But never fear, with a few precautionary measures and know-how, you should be able to enjoy your trip safe in the knowledge that you're in a bedbug-free zone.
First up, check out where you're staying. With the internet at your disposal, it's easy to find quick and plentiful information on what your hotel will be like, and most importantly whether it's had any recent complaints of the bed bug variety. Bedbugregistry.com in North America and yelp.co.uk are both good websites for checking out your hotel's history, according to the customers themselves rather than the hotel's own rubric.
Once you arrive, check your room immediately. Leave your bags in the bathroom - according to several studies, it is the most unlikely place to find them - and get searching. Needless to say, check the bed itself very thoroughly, including the linen, mattress seams, and underneath the mattress. Look out for small specks of blood or faecal stains on the linen, or the bugs themselves - black and roughly the size of an apple seed.
Then spread your search to cover things close by, including bedside tables or any sofas and chairs within about 15 feet of the bed. Though they are most likely to be found near to where people sleep, it is worth checking the entire room to be on the safe side. Bed bugs can travel from room to room through vents or electrical sockets so they really could be anywhere.
When you're relatively sure it's a bug-free zone, bring your luggage back into the room but don't leave it on the floor. Make sure it's off the ground and preferably on a hard surface such as a desk, hard chair or table. Leaving clothes on the floor is a complete no-no and you can even wrap your luggage in plastic to minimise the chances of picking them up, both in transit and once you arrive at your destination.
If you're bitten, try not to scratch the itch and treat the bites with an anti-itch cream. The bites tend to be in concentrated areas, and can be welt-like in appearance. Bear in mind that the bite may not appear until two days after exposure.
If you find bed bugs in your room, don't keep quiet. Hotels should relocate you without a second thought and will usually deal with the problem immediately. Make sure they don't just give you the room next door, try to put some space between you and the infested room.
When you get home, the first thing you should do is wash all your clothes - even if you didn't wear them all. Bed bugs can't survive in temperatures above 50 C so put your machine on a hot wash or send them to the dry cleaners to be extra sure that you're rid of them.
If you do think you've brought bed bugs back with you, call a specialist. They are very tricky to get rid of - not to mention costly - but you won't get rid of them without professional help.