How to Stay Healthy When You Travel, Using the Right Online Tools

CDC's Tools and Tips for a Healthy Southeast Asia Trip

If you think your trip to Southeast Asia is expensive, consider the cost of getting sick or injured while traveling there. If your travel insurance doesn't cover any conditions or injuries incurred during your trip – or if you don't get travel insurance at all – then you'll end up paying a lot more than you bargained for.

“Costs, for vaccines and insurance may seem like a lot up front, but it's not that much if you think about how much it could cost if something were to go wrong,” explains Kelly Holton, Communication and Education Team Lead for the Center for Disease Control & Prevention's Travelers' Health Branch (Divison of Global Migration and Quarantine). “When you think about how much you've invested in your trip, then you're investing a little more in your health.”

The Travelers' Health Branch is the CDC's information lifeline for international travelers. It monitors travel-related global health concerns and reports to travelers via multiple channels, including its own website, public inquiry hotline, several smartphone apps, and a reference book for medical practitioners.

I talked to Kelly on the sidelines of the PATA Travel Mart in Jakarta, Indonesia; she had plenty to say about protecting one's health before and during a trip.

  • 01 of 04

    What Do People Search for the Most When Visiting CDC's Site?

    Vaccine shot
    Peter Dazeley/Getty Images

    K.H.: Most people are looking for vaccines first; they've heard that they might need some shots. But we do get a lot of traffic on our outbreak notices. We're hoping that people come looking for the site looking for vaccines, but they find out other things that they might not even know they needed!

    For example, there are a lot of insect-borne diseases in Southeast Asia, so our recommendations are really really important to travelers in the area – steps you can take to prevent insect bites, prevent malaria, dengue, and chikugunya and zika and Japanese encephalitis, and the list goes on!

    On our website, we have recommendations for every country in the world – we can choose Singapore, Thailand, Philippines, whatever country we want, and then you'll get vaccine advice, advice on food and water, insect bite prevention, and staying safe.

    We also monitor outbreaks around the world, we post notices there, we have a lot of Zika notices, about 57 countries with Zika outbreaks right now. We keep all that information about outbreaks up to date.  

  • 02 of 04

    How Can Travelers Get Important CDC Updates and Information While on the Road?

    K.H.: We have two mobile apps for travelers, they're both free, and available at the App Store on the iPhone or Google App Store for Android.

    TravWell (Apple iTunes | Android Google Play) lets you build a trip with the destinations and the dates that you're traveling, and then you'll get the vaccine recommendations and other health recommendations for that destination.

    It gives you a packing list and a health kit that you can customize – for example, if you wear contact lenses, you can add that in; or if there's something we have preloaded that doesn't apply to you, you can delete it.

    It also lets you store information about your vaccines that you've already had, and set reminders for boosters so that your phone will let you know – you can set a reminder for every day during your trip to use insect repellent, or to take your malaria medicine, so it's completely free.

    Once you've downloaded it, it works offline, so you can look up things, while you're traveling even if you don't have a data connection or WiFi.

    The other app is Can I Eat This? (Apple iTunes | Android Google Play) If you're traveling abroad, you want to try all the wonderful food where you're going, it's hard to remember what all the recommendations are to keep from getting sick! With Can I Eat This?, you don't have to remember!

    You just key in the country you're traveling to and answer a few questions about what you're going to eat or drink, and it will either give you a big check mark, or a big X! It also explains to you why it's a good idea and why it's not. It works offline too.

  • 03 of 04

    What's CDC's Main Recommendation About Getting Shots?

    K.H.: We recommend that any traveler to any destination should be up to date on their routine vaccines – MMR, flu, a lot of the vaccines you get to go to school, and those are covered by insurance.

    We also are recommending Hepatitis A and Hepatitis B vaccines, which for adults sometimes are not covered by insurance. Some of them are expensive. But you have to think about the cost of getting sick versus the cost of the vaccine.

    With the Hepatitis-A vaccine, you might be able to get it covered by insurance. [If not, it costs] two to three hundred dollars. Compare it to hepatitis treatment costing $1,800-2,500. Add the days missed from work, it becomes very, very expensive for you!

    Same thing with malaria – malaria can cost up to 25,000 to treat, and you're also incredibly ill! There's only a very small cost to take the malaria vaccine!

  • 04 of 04

    What Other Travel Insurance Inclusions Should Travelers Consider?

    K.H.: We do recommend that people get medical evacuation insurance. On this trip, I bought it just in case – I think it cost me $40 to buy this policy, but they'll fly me anywhere in the world to get medical treatment. A medical evacuation without insurance might cost up to a million dollars!

    That happens a lot with people who've been bitten by an animal, and they need to get immediate treatment for rabies: you can't wait to find out if you have rabies, you're going to die if you find out you have rabies!

    If you have an animal bite, you have to treat it immediately; there are a lot of countries that don't have what you need to be able to treat rabies. For example, if you were going to Myanmar, you might have a policy that would evacuate you to Bangkok – that would be the nearest place where you can get adequate care.

    When you think about how much you've invested in your trip, then you're investing a little more in your health. Plus your travel memories are good memories, you feel good, you come home healthy and happy instead of having this terrible experience.