For many of us, the holiday season is a time of joy. It is also a time for travel as we look forward to spending time with family and friends. One thing that can damper our holiday season is dealing with unwanted visitors – no, not that cranky Scrooge of a relative – but bed bugs! Bed bugs are notorious hitchhikers, tagging along with unsuspecting travelers on their clothes and luggage. As we enter the biggest travel season of the year, check out these tips for preventing bed bugs and preserving your holiday cheer.

1. Prepare For Your Guests

When you have guests staying with you, make sure you are prepared for the possibility of bed bugs being brought in with them. Don’t put your guests’ coats and bags on the bed. Instead, clean out a closet and use it to store their belongings. If you have to put their items on the bed, lay a sheet down first. It can be cleaned later. Place a plastic mat by the door for them to place their shoes on. If possible, provide luggage racks for them to use to store their belongings on. Use a bed bug mattress cover on any beds your guests will be using. If your guests will be sleeping on the couch, lay a sheet down over it first.

2. Clean Up After They Leave

Once your guests leave, make sure to go behind anywhere they kept coats or luggage and clean. Vacuum closets where luggage and coats were kept. Vacuum the beds and couches where they slept. Seal the vacuum bags immediately and dispose of them outside. If you used sheets under luggage or on your couches, wash them in hot water and dry them on high heat. Wash the plastic mat you used for their shoes with hot, soapy water.

3. Be On The Lookout

Whether you have guests who just left or you are the guest yourself, check your surroundings for signs of bed bugs. Inspect the mattress, box springs, and  headboard, especially around edges and seams. Make sure to check couch cushions and chairs, as well. The most common sign of bed bugs is small, rust colored spots. Avoid using dresser drawers if possible. When you arrive at your destination, especially if you have been in a heavily populated area (subway, bus, airport, etc) check your shoes, jackets, hats, and luggage immediately. Be sure to check around zippers and seams. If you spot bed bugs, remove the clothing immediately and wash in hot water and dry on high heat. Vacuum luggage and seal and dispose of the vacuum bag immediately. If you are going to be a guest at a hotel or other lodging accommodation, you can also check the Bed Bug Registry, which is a free user-submitted database of bed bug reports across the US and Canada.

4. Don’t Wait Around

Once you arrive home from your travels, unpack your luggage and change your clothes immediately. Wash everything in hot water and dry on high heat. The heat of the water and air from the dryer will kill any bed bugs that may be lingering around. Once unpacked, vacuum or steam your luggage and seal it in plastic bags or containers. Store your luggage outside the home (in a garage, shed, etc) until you need to use them again.

5. Call The Pros

Bed bugs are resilient and can be extremely difficult to get rid of. If you suspect you have a bed bug problem, call a pest control professional who can come in and provide you with a thorough evaluation and comprehensive treatment plan.