"Will I get bed bugs on a sleeper car when I'm on the Empire Builder?" a reader recently asked. I understand the concern: I get a bedroom on the City of New Orleans train each year for a Thanksgiving trip to visit family. I enjoy watching the country roll by, but I'm always afraid I'll start itching.
After sleeping on Amtrak trains about 10 times now -- to and from, including a trip to Montana -- I can report that bed bugs have never been part of the unofficial welcoming committee. Small comfort, I know.
"Just like a hotel, at either end of the route or whenever a bedroom turns over, we change all the linens and vacuum and wipe down the compartment," said Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari. Hmmm. That's even smaller comfort since several years ago a bed bug problem began plaguing hotels.
In a world of buggy uncertainty, there are measures you can take to protect yourself -- on a train or in a hotel room.
Search the room, particularly the seams of the seating-turned-bed. Bed bugs are annoyingly tiny, but look for dark specks (the bug's droppings), skin sheddings or the bugs themselves. Because Amtrak seats are a dark blue, run a white piece of paper along the seams to see if anything pops up.
If it does, well, look for other accommodations, even opting for a seat in a distant car. Bed bugs may be small, but they can move from bedroom to bedroom at up to 14 inches in 5 minutes. Consider wrapping your luggage in plastic. The bugs won't be able to hitch a ride on the slick protection. Once at home, throw your clothes into the dryer for 15 minutes. Heat will kill the bugs and eggs.
Send your questions or tips to travel editor Kerri Westenberg at firstname.lastname@example.org, and follow her on twitter @kerriwestenberg.