Rule One: Know what to look for.
As adults, bedbugs are about the size and color of apple seeds. But a bedbug goes through five "immature" stages before it reaches full size. As an egg or emerging bedbug nymph, it can be white or so pale that it can escape detection. So the telltale signs are droppings — dark color spots from blood digestion, pale color spots from an excretory waste or the remnants of their shed outer skin.
See Also: Outsmart hotel room germs.
Rule Two: Know where they are.
Despite their name, bedbugs don't lounge only in beds. They can nestle into bags, backpacks and overcoats, as well as in the seams of mattresses, and in the headboards of beds, in the grooves of the night table, in the cushion of the bedside chair and into the zipper of your suitcase.
"When I go to a hotel, I put my suitcase in the bathtub or bathroom," says Sorkin. "Nothing goes on the bed." Then he does a search, pulling back the bed coverings to look at the sheets, looking in the pillows and then pulling back the headboard.
Dr. Paul Tierno, a microbiologist at New York University, agrees: "Scanning the mattress ribbing, I look for bedbugs or bedbug feces and casts — when bedbugs molt, they shed their skin — I look for eggs and for anything that looks like an insect. If there is any sign, I leave that hotel. I don't even move to another room because I know the hotel is infested."
Tierno suggests putting suitcases on a coffee table, away from the walls, and spraying the suitcase a few days before traveling with an insecticide or, if you've got small children, eucalyptus oil.
Clothes should be packed in tight ziplock bags and kept there during travel. Tierno never hangs his clothes.
Rule Three: What to expect from a good hotel.
"Hotels need to change housekeeping systems," Sorkin says. "That means isolating used sheets from new sheets and teaching housekeeping, the front line, that they need to look at the beds or the box springs. They have to know how to capture a bedbug or be able to call a supervisor in if they see one. And then they need to take that room out of circulation, call a company in to do an inspection and do a treatment from insecticide to heat to cold to vacuuming. They might bring in a canine detection unit throughout the whole complex."