Before going to sleep at night, I would tear my bed apart removing one layer of bedding at a time to examine every fold and indentation. Id lift the mattress, rip off the pillowcases, inspect around the box springs and in the bug traps set around the house. Id repeat the process again in the morning and expand my hunt to other locations around the house.
I wish I could say Id simply lost my mind, but the reality is almost worse: Earlier this year, we brought bedbugs into our house after a hotel stay.
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Disgusting, biting, bloodsucking bedbugs crawled into our luggage, came home with us and moved in without us noticing. And no, these evil creatures were not from a seedy motel or hostel.
Our battle against the bedbugs stretched for several months, and while Id do my best to make light of the situation, it was truly awful. It was a mental, physical, emotional and financial drain to have an enemy in your home you rarely see, despite your best efforts. But, not seeing them didnt stop them from easily finding and biting us (and our kids) while we slept.
Ill cut to the chase: Im not going to name the hotel where we got bedbugs, though I know with 100% confirmed certainty when and where it happened.
I made the decision early on in this journey not to call out the location, as it largely defeats the purpose of the story since it can happen at any hotel. I dont want you to feel false security by avoiding that one specific property, because the reality is that bedbugs are on the rise and its smart to take bedbug precautions no matter where you stay. Also, the hotel was responsive to our concerns once we called them and handled the matter as well as one could hope after the fact. I did not identify myself as a TPG employee. To the hotel, I was a guest like any other.
With that out of the way, our stay started like any other. After sleeping in the several-hundred-dollar-per-night hotel the first night, I woke up with a bite or two on my legs, but other than being mildly annoying and itchy, I didnt think anything of it. The number of bites increased each morning over the course of our stay. For me, almost all of the bites were on the back of my thighs. It was bothersome and itched, but I thought perhaps I was having an allergic reaction based on the location of the bumps. (Im the kind of person who reacts to bites, plants and everything else far more than the average person.)
After the trip was over, we flew home, unpacked our clothes, washed the dirty laundry and piled the still-clean clothes on the couch overnight. Our unpacked luggage sat in the corner of our bedroom for a day or two before it was put away.
That was more than enough time for the bugs to settle in to their new home.
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The first full day I was home, I took pictures of my bites from the trip as they were now much more bothersome, and as itchy as poison ivy. I Googled bedbugs and began to worry. My bites, however, didnt look like the welts appearing in my (disturbing) internet photo searches. And, no one else in the family had this kind of rash. I mistakenly thought if it was bedbugs, we would all have a similar reaction.
I left home for a few brief trips, and the bites started to heal. And then I returned, and new bites started appearing.
Most mornings back at home, another bite (or two, or three) would appear still almost all on me. Eventually, in desperation, I called a bedbug company and begged them to send a bedbug-sniffing dog as soon as possible to inspect the house, as I hadnt seen anything myself. But by this time, I was pretty certain we had an infestation.
A dog wasnt available for another week after my initial call, so a human exterminator came over instead. Within minutes, my bedroom was torn apart, and a bedbug exoskeleton and bedbug excrement were found.
It was confirmed. We had bedbugs. (And yes, this is all as gross as it sounds.)
Between the time I decided we almost certainly had bedbugs to the time this was confirmed, I called the hotel and asked them to examine our former room for pests. A claim was opened, and eventually the property confirmed the room tested positive for bedbugs. As much as a month had passed between the time we first stayed in that room and when the property found the bedbugs, so just think of how many travelers may have been exposed.
But well come back to that.
The night we discovered the bedbugs, we packed essentials in plastic grocery sacks, heated some clothes in the dryer to kill any potential bugs or eggs and moved into a local hotel. I probably had 20 to 30 visible and itchy bites at this point, and couldnt sleep in our house another minute.
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Less than 24 hours after receiving the bedbug diagnosis, our entire house was heated to 140 degrees with propane-powered heaters, powerful fans and various devices that reminded me of the scene when the government comes for ET, because bedbugs and their eggs cant survive more than an hour at that temperature.
We had to remove things that couldnt stand that heat, but the more we removed, the greater the likelihood something with bugs or eggs wasnt going to be treated, so most things stayed. Some toys and items were damaged or melted. Ultimately, we had the house treated at temperatures upwards of 170 degrees, three separate times, by two different companies.
Apparently, just enough bugs or eggs were missed the first time and the second that wed have to start all over when the bites would slowly start to appear again, and again.
Each time, we had to get a hotel, board the dog and have our house torn completely apart.
I, apparently, react quickly to bedbug bites. It took my eldest daughter three weeks to react and it took my youngest nearly a month to start having visible reactions. Even on someone who does react, bedbug bites can take up to two weeks to appear. Some people simply do not develop a visible reaction at all, making it very hard to even know theres a problem. In my family of four, it took three weeks for anyone other than me to have a definitive reaction to the bugs.
That could make it very hard to detect a problem, and means you cant believe youre staying in a bedbug-free room just because you dont wake up with bites. Sorry.
Looking back, we did everything wrong in terms of travel and bedbugs. Here are a few of our errors:
Even if we did the first three things wrong, we likely could have stopped an infestation just by leaving the luggage outside the house and putting the dirty clothes promptly into a hot dryer.
Bedbugs are, unfortunately, on the rise. They dont discriminate and arent only found in rundown hotels in fact, we acquired these pests at a very nice hotel. But the risk isnt even limited to only beds or hotels. Bedbugs can be found in airports and even on airplanes. Remember, the room we stayed in continued to have bedbugs for at least another month after our visit. Just think of how many more travelers encountered them and potentially brought them home, or into their next hotel or onto a flight.
And of course, who knows how long the pests were there before our stay.
Our bags had stowaways, and on our way home we dragged them through an airport and loaded them onto an airplane. Its easy to imagine how easily these awful critters spread.
If you want to avoid getting bedbugs, you have to assume they are everywhere, and treat your luggage as if its always contaminated. This sounds extreme, but its really not.
Sadly, theres no foolproof way to avoid getting bedbugs, but you can reduce the risk:
Our bedbug treatment expenses totaled nearly $5,000. The indirect costs were higher than that. But thats not even the worst part.
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You see, bedbugs make you crazy. You inspect every bump and bite. You use flashlights and magnifying glasses to examine your bed before going to sleep. You start to doubt your own mind, since bedbugs are so hard to find and you so badly hope it isnt true. You think you beat them, then get depressed when you realize you have to start all over again. If hotel management, a pest control company or any other person doesnt believe you, its an ever tougher, more exhausting fight against an enemy you may not ever see.
Just try going to sleep when you know you, and your children, will be bitten during the night.
Its just not going to happen.
Bedbugs have not, and will not, stop me from traveling. But this experience has forever changed how I travel. Packing and unpacking is harder now. Treating my familys suitcases and belongings as if theyre contaminated is stressful and time consuming. If that keeps my family from enduring a bedbug attack again, however, its all worth it.
Please, learn from my errors. Dont assume bedbugs wont happen to you because you stay in upscale hotels. They can, and do, live anywhere and everywhere. Thats why its important to implement a smart strategy for managing your luggage, so you can hopefully prevent bedbugs from hitching a ride to your home even if you have the misfortunate of sharing a hotel room with them.
Featured image courtesy of Getty Images.
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