This is One Thing, a column with tips on how to live.
I’m a frequent traveler, making my way around the world for work, fun, and adventure. I didn’t really think about the nightmarish possibility of accidentally bringing home pests until a few years ago, when I found a cockroach in a Washington hotel room. I was pretty grossed out and annoyed. (It was supposed to be a nice hotel!) After I caught the roach, trapping it beneath a glass, I spent way too much time researching whether or not a roach could hitch a ride home in my luggage.
After I read interviews with and articles by entomologists and exterminators, my fear of bringing a cockroach home was replaced with a new nightmare: accidentally bringing home bedbugs. According to a study done by Orkin, a pest-control company, 8 in 10 hotels had dealt with bedbugs in 2017. I have no idea how reliable that is, but yikes! And at this very moment, Paris is, according to the news, “crawling with bedbugs,” fueled in part by the uptick in travel. The deputy mayor of the city has warned that “no one is safe.”
Thanks to my local bedbug task force, I have learned that, luckily, there are ways to avoid bringing the blood-eating creeps home from a hotel. You can pull up the sheets and blankets and check the mattress for the little sickos and their poop (aka digested blood)—and hope you don’t miss any signs of them. After you get home, you can wash your clothes and dry them on high heat to kill any stowaways.
But the single most effective thing you can do? Keep your luggage in the bathtub. Because bedbugs can’t climb smooth surfaces, they can’t climb up into bathtubs. Ever.
So, whenever I get to a new hotel and I want to make sure the little suckers don’t get any ideas about hitching a ride, I pick up my luggage the moment I walk into the room and place it straight in the bathtub. I then do a quick check of the mattress and all other furniture in the room. If I don’t see anything that looks bedbuggy, I bring the suitcase out of the tub. If I don’t see anything but still don’t feel 100 percent convinced, the suitcase stays in the tub until I need to use the tub, at which point the suitcase comes out of the tub but stays in the bathroom. (If there’s no tub, I cry a little inside and hope that the bathroom floor is too smooth for bedbugs to walk across.) I take my clothes out when I need them, and I put dirty clothes in a folded pile in the bathroom.
I’m headed to Europe in a few weeks, in the midst of what might become the bedbug infestation of the century. (They’re feared to be on the move to London!) But I’m not worried. I checked: My hotel room has a bathtub. I’ll keep my suitcase in there until it’s time to go home.