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The Carry-On Nobody Wants

(Updated October 2, 2003)

It's the one thing most travelers just don't think about, but should: bugs! Yes, bugs, and specifically, ones that become stowaways in your luggage. Hotels, cruiselines and airlines don't like to talk about these little creatures. No matter how well kept a hotel, cruise ship, or airplane appears to be, there are always some bugs that manage to beat the extermination system. If you travel enough you may unwittingly be carrying some of these little critters in your luggage. Unfortunately, I have had to deal with my share of "lug bugs," which can cause more trouble than you can imagine once you get them home.

At the peak of my traveling days as a flight attendant, I was staying in over 160 different hotels every year. Most of the time the hotels were first-rate, and I never thought for a moment that these seemingly spotless hotels could harbor creatures that felt the need to travel with me. On one occasion at a fine hotel in North Carolina, I watched in horror as three roaches crawled into my briefcase. On another, I dealt with "Roachzilla" in New York City. Fortunately, though, he didn't make it into my luggage. On two different cruise vacations, I encountered unknown creatures, and one time my crew and I boarded our 727 in Miami only to run back off the plane, screaming hysterically, because of a massive roach invasion of the galleys. The plane was so badly infested that it was taken out of service for days.

After a trip to the Caribbean we noticed a critter in our home that we had never seen before. My husband dealt with the creature, then put it in a ziplock bag so we could show it to the exterminator. When the exterminator arrived the next day, we showed him the critter, which he declared was definitely not of a local species. He then asked us about any traveling that we had done recently. When we told him that we had been on a cruise ship and had stayed at hotels in the Caribbean, he laughed and said that anyone who does any amount of traveling, especially to warm humid climates, may unknowingly bring bugs home in their luggage. The problem is that they can then infest your home. He suggested the following tips to keep these "lug bugs" at bay:

  • Keep your luggage off the floor and on a luggage rack.
  • Keep your luggage zipped or locked at all times.
  • If you travel for extensive periods, particularly to warm, humid destinations, wrap your suitcase in a plastic garbage bag when you return home. Keep the bag on for two weeks. If any bugs have infested your luggage, they and their eggs will be extinguished from the lack of oxygen.
  • Keep food out of your suitcase, or at least keep it in tightly sealed containers or bags.
  • Throw all cardboard boxes away. Bugs lay eggs in corrugated boxes.

Right now I have three suitcases in plastic from our trip to Mexico last month. I never take anything for granted anymore. So, next time you are on a trip, take this advice, and maybe you, too, won't get stuck with the "lug bug" -- and a $200 exterminator bill!

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