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Don’t Let the Bedbugs Bite

I knew this bedbug thing was out of hand the day my girlfriend and I returned from a movie. I stepped in our front door, took off my coat, and as I hung it in the closet, she began to vacuum the seat of my corduroy pants. “Can’t be too careful,” she said.

Theaters, according to news reports, can be hideouts where bedbugs bide their time, waiting to hitch a ride to your home after the main feature is over. But as everyone knows, the mother ship of bedbugs is the hotel room.

My girlfriend enters a new hotel room with the caution of a bomb squad engineer approaching an unexploded artillery shell. She pulls the sheets from the corner of the bed and inspects the edges of the mattress for telltale red splotches. Using a flashlight she carries just for this purpose—I am not making this up—she gives the back of the bed’s headboard the gimlet eye.

Seams in wallpaper and the point where the carpet meets the wall are examined with great suspicion. Apparently the little buggers like cozy, dark places until you fall asleep and they can begin sucking your blood.

Our clothes are never permitted to be placed in a hotel’s dresser drawers. Suitcases are always raised high on a luggage rack—“Bellman, could we have a second one, please?”—and away from walls.

All of this is smart, of course, but it does evaporate some of the magic of checking into a hotel room. Instead of a cool, new environment, the hotel room becomes a place where unseen enemies lurk. I used to fear the thief at the door posing as a room service waiter. Now I worry about tiny bugs that will make me itch. And the fear is everywhere.

In Lithuania, a man uses a global map to plot reports of bedbugs in hotels. He has more than 20,000 reports in 12,000 locations.

The girlfriend’s bedbug protocol doesn’t end when we check out of our hotel room. When we return home, she insists none of our clothes be returned to our closets or dressers unless they’ve been washed or dry cleaned or at least put through a tumble of hot air in the dryer. Bedbugs, who can live years without feasting, apparently can’t survive 10 minutes in a dryer. Then she vacuums our bags thoroughly and sprays the suitcases with a type of poison.

The global scare has accomplished one thing: I now understand what my mother meant when she said, “Don’t let the bedbugs bite” as she tucked me in. I’m not sure she knew what it meant. And remember when hotels and movie theaters were fun places? We’ve surrendered ourselves to an enemy that we can’t even see.


"My girlfriend enters a new hotel room with the caution of a bomb squad engineer approaching an unexploded artillery shell."

Laughed so hard when I read this. My wife does the same thing, all of it except she puts down this special travel sheet called an allersac, cost me a hundred bucks, and our stuff stays in the dryer for an hour. I'm not even allowed to pack anything that can't be put in a dryer. It's not unusual for me to wake up in the middle of the night because she thinks something is crawling on her. I should cut her some slack though, she was bitten quite viciously about a year ago while on a business trip in Los Angeles. I have yet to be accosted, fingers crossed.

Dianashubby on 4/12/2011 6:28:39 PM
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Love Maxa's writings! Not enough humor in the world, and he always looks at things in an interesting and sophisticated way, even if the subject is as disgusting as bedbugs. Thanks for the postings, Delta.

Michael Shapiro on 5/3/2011 4:50:59 PM
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Rudy, I'm with your gal pal! Better safe than itchy. Those blood-suckers give me the creeps. I now check mattresses, et al, every time I check into a hotel of any type in any location. Of course, I've always hated bugs. Always will.

Paul Chimera on 5/3/2011 5:52:45 PM
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Usually I have a pretty dry wit and enjoy subtle humor. However, I wasn't laughing when I read your article. While it may seem like paranoia, preventing an infestation is much easier than eradicating them once they are in your home.
We don't go through all of what you describe when we stay in a hotel. We just put on these special hazmat suits we have before we go to bed, and when we fly. We haven't noticed any problem. Thankfully, the heat chamber in the garage works great when we return from school and work, so we don't have to wear them on a daily basis. Thanks to those simple measures, we have almost completely quit worrying about bedbugs...except at night...when we can hear them...or are those the termites?

2ironic on 1/21/2012 7:27:15 AM
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About Rudy Maxa

Rudy Maxa

Rudy Maxa is host and executive producer of the public television travel series, Rudy Maxa's World. The 78 episodes he has hosted have won numerous awards, including a 2008 regional Emmy for his episode "Rajasthan." He's a contributing editor with National Geographic Traveler magazine and has written for a host of national travel magazines and newspapers. For nearly 15 years he offered consumer travel commentary on public radio's business show Marketplace as "The Savvy Traveler," which was also the name of a one-hour, coast-to-coast weekend show on public radio that he co-created and hosted for four years. Prior to his career as a travel writer and broadcaster, Maxa was an award-winning Washington Post investigative reporter, magazine writer, and columnist for 13 years, during which time his reporting was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. He was a senior writer at The Washingtonian magazine and Washington, D.C., bureau chief of Spy magazine. The author of two non-fiction books, Maxa lives in downtown St. Paul, Minnesota.