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photo credit: Fairfax County, VA

My wife’s father and step-mother visit us once a year for the Thanksgiving feast and come a long way–from Sydney, Australia to New York City. And because we live in a typically small New York apartment, each year they’ve chosen to stay in the same Upper West Side hotel. Just two days before arriving, they learned that this normally reliable hotel had suffered a bed bug invasion. The management claimed it had been contained and eliminated–but they would, wouldn’t they? My in-laws worried they’d have to bathe in DEET before going to bed. We wondered if we’d have to burn their coats before the meal.

So with trepidation about the next wave to come crawling out of the woodwork, my father-in-law contacted us for advice. Of course, we suggested they stay with us, but when they chose to stick with the hotel rather than change plans at the last minute, I sent along these recommendations from Tom Green, founder of the IPM Institute of North America:

“When I go into a hotel room, I’ll spend five minutes checking the headboard and the mattress and sheets up by the head of the bed. I’ll put my suitcase on the luggage rack because bed bugs are less likely to crawl up the metal legs of the rack. The problem is, someone may have brought bed bugs in their luggage and used the rack, so you want to inspect the rack too. One thing you can do is plug in a blow dryer and blow it around the headboard–the heat can cause the bed bugs to come out. A lot of times, headboards are mounted on the wall, and you can lift the headboard out and look behind. It’s not a 100 percent guarantee that you will find them, but it’s worth looking.

To be safe, when you get home, take your suitcase straight to the laundry room and wash and dry your clothes right away.”

My father-in-law followed these steps to the letter and found no bugs crawling out of the headboard or frame. What’s more, since their travels took them next to Switzerland and China, they are still checking their hotel rooms there just to be sure. And we were spared the concern that the blood-suckers might hitch a ride on their clothes and end up in our apartment.

Thanksgiving came off without an itch–and without anyone getting poisoned.

If you face a bed bug problem at home, take Tom’s advice and don’t go overboard on pesticides. Bed bugs can be managed without “foggers,” “bug bombs,” or other devices that fill your home with toxic chemicals–in fact, those devices are essentially useless. Instead, your best bet is to get a certified professional. NRDC recognizes Green Shield Certified’s program, which certifies environmentally preferable pest control companies.

And with more holiday travel days to come, you can do worse than clip Tom’s advice–keep it on you to keep the bed bugs off.