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Let’s face it, while traveling is a ton of fun, there’s a lot of planning and organizing to make sure everything goes smoothly. There’s keeping track of licenses or passports, flight tickets, confirmation numbers. You have to have your phone and charger, your camera, the right shoes and plenty of clean undies. If you’re extra cautious you’re probably going to get travel insurance to cover things like missed flights. But even if you’re a travel pro, there’s something you’re most likely not packing that you absolutely should be. And that one thing isn’t the latest perfect sunless tanner or the perfect pair of travel flats.  While I won’t leave home without those either, there’s something else I started packing that I now never travel without. And that one little thing can actually save my life or yours. Any guesses? It’s a carbon monoxide detector.

Referred to as the silent killer, carbon monoxide (CO) is an invisible, odorless, colorless, and tasteless gas that can be produced from any fuel-burning source. This includes cars, boats, furnaces, boilers, stoves, chimneys, dryer vents, and heating and air conditioning systems. It’s when we enter unfamiliar spaces, with systems that were improperly installed, poorly maintained and/or have bad ventilation, that CO can pool and cause serious trouble. It can happen in apartments, condos, motels, hotels, and buildings old or new. And if you think five-star accommodations will keep you safe from carbon monoxide, think again. 

According to the Journal of Travel Medicine, CO has 200 to 250 times greater attraction to the hemoglobin in your blood than oxygen. If it is leaking into your room, carbon monoxide will start to greedily steal oxygen’s usual seat in your blood cells, smothering us from the inside. Feeling dizzy, confused, having difficulty walking, increased heart rate, shortness of breath and nausea are all symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning. With enough exposure, you can pass out, suffer brain damage or die. This is why early CO detection is key and getting fresh air is critical. 

And I’m not just being paranoid or overly cautious. More and more stories are coming out about travelers dying from CO poisoning all over the world. This family of four from Iowa died in their sleep when CO was mysteriously leaking into their condo in Tulum, Mexico. While visiting Ireland this traveler lived to tell the tale but passed out twice and suffered a seizure from CO after waking up to use the bathroom. After his wife he awoke from hearing him hit the floor she too passed out. He suspected carbon monoxide and told his daughter to open and stay by the window of the apartment they were staying in. He still reports suffering carbon monoxide symptoms even months after the incident.

How Can You Detect Carbon Monoxide While Traveling?

Some ways to protect yourself from carbon monoxide while traveling is to open windows for ventilation and opt for rooms that aren’t situated over furnace rooms.  While this isn’t always possible, early detection is key to surviving CO. Since you can’t always count on CO detectors being installed in your hotel (laws and standards vary by country) I now always travel with a portable CO detector. My favorite is the First Alert 10-year Sealed Battery Carbon Monoxide Alarm ($44.95). You just place it on your nightstand or dresser and you’re all set. There is a wall mount option also, but it’s not really needed.

If a dangerous level of carbon monoxide is detected in your room, this suitcase friendly little CO alarm will send out a sharp loud beep to let you know. Even the deepest of sleepers will get the 411.  It also has an LED temperature display and blue backlight, which makes for easy reading in the middle of the night.  Virtually maintenance-free, the First Alert Carbon Monoxide Alarm comes with a 10-year battery that will let you know when it’s time to replace.

Whether you’re traveling alone or with friends, family, or your pet, a carbon monoxide alarm is an inexpensive life-saving travel essential you should never leave home without. Travel safe!

LEARN: Click to learn more about the dangers of CO!

KNOW-CO: Check out First Alert’s travel-friendly CO detector!