A Traveler's Guide to Avoiding Bedbugs, Germs in Hotels

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Yes, you're paying (and tipping, hopefully) so that housekeeping will keep your room in order. And I must admit, I've never once sprayed, dusted or polished anything in a hotel room, so I can't blame you if you choose to leave your toilet brush at home. But if you're feeling a little icky in your dumpy budget hotel room or you just want to be extra cautious, simply spraying a few frequently touched surfaces with some antibacterial sanitizer could make your life a whole lot cleaner. Key places to spray for germs include the phone, door knobs, toilet handle, ice bucket, remote control and bathroom faucet handles.

Avoid the Glassware

It's the law in both Missouri and Kansas that hotel room glasses and cups must be sanitized. Kansas' law goes even further to state that washing of glassware must take place outside of the room. This means that if you're hanging your hat at a Holiday Inn in Wichita, you can pour yourself a cold glass of water and relax -- your cup is clean. In most hotels, however, there's no guarantee that your room glasses and mugs aren't simply rinsed off under the tap by the cleaning staff. The quick way to deal with this is to run your cup under hot water for a minute or two before using it; this will kill most bacteria. Or you can pack a mug from home.

Eek! Does My Hotel Room Have Bed Bugs?

There's been a recent resurgence of these blood-sucking pests, which were nearly eradicated in North America decades ago. Reports of bedbugs in hotels across the United States have been rising, probably in part as a result of the comings and goings of world travelers -- bedbugs are found around the world and can easily hitch a ride across the ocean in a neatly packed suitcase. And not even luxury hotels are immune.

A family member of mine who manages a brand-name upscale hotel in New York City acknowledged that his hotel occasionally has bouts of bedbugs. He explained that they usually come over in the baggage of international travelers. It's nearly impossible to check all rooms for the pests after every guest, and, unfortunately, every once in a while a guest will wake up with unsettling red welts. The hotel staff refunds the guest's money, offers a room change and fumigates the infestation, but there is not much they can do in terms of prevention. Bedbugs are a nuisance, but they're not dangerous -- their bites do not transmit disease as do the bites of ticks and fleas.

Bedbugs are tiny, but they can be seen with the naked eye and resemble small, reddish brown ticks or cockroaches. These miniscule menaces feed at night and their victims will develop itchy red bumps within about 24 hours of a bite. Bedbug bites are similar to mosquito bites, so before you throw a fit at your hotel's front desk when a red bump appears on your arm, give the hotel the benefit of the doubt and check your room for other signs of bedbugs -- especially if you are traveling in a place that has lots of mosquitoes.

To find evidence of bedbugs, look first under the mattress. Do you see reddish brown spots (the dried excrement of the insects) on the underside of the mattress, or on any other part of the bed? It's hard to spot the actual bugs -- these guys are sneaky and their flat bodies allow them to hide in the smallest mattress crevices during the day -- but it is possible to see some bugs, especially if there's a major infestation. You can also check between couch cushions or between the carpet and the wall.

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