Rome, Paris, Kenya, Monaco. All fabulous places. Dream vacations for some, while others favor remote islands and secluded beaches. Whatever your destination, whatever your reason, traveling abroad can create a lifetime of memories.

Be sure to plan ahead to avoid mishaps that can turn a dream vacation into a nightmare trip from hell.

Sure you need to book flights and pack (don’t forget your passport and melatonin to help with sleeping), but have you considered which steps you’ll need to take to ensure your health, safety, and finances before traveling abroad? Here’s a checklist of key items to consider.

The Santa Cruz, Bolivia skyline. If you're thinking about traveling abroad, be sure to practice safety.

  1. Always practice safety always, especially when traveling abroad. Subscribe to the U.S. State Department’s STEP alerts for your destination. It will update you on travel restrictions, strikes, and areas of political unrest. These alerts can advise you of unexpected obstacles that await you.
  2. Travel insurance can also be highly important in emergency situations abroad. So if you’re one of those naysayers who think you won’t need protection from cancelations — or something more significant like evacuation assistance — think again. Better safe than sorry (or stranded). For as little as a few dollars a day, you can cover broken cameras, emergency medical attention and save hundreds or even thousands of dollars on trip cancellation, medical insurance, and equipment replacement.
  3. Next, consider travel documents. Make sure your passport and all travel documents are up-to-date. Is your destination one of those countries that require a passport to be valid six months after your return? Do you need a visa? Smarter Traveler offers a list of countries that do.
  4. Keep extra copies of your passport and paperwork should the originals get lost. Physical and digital copies are a must. Also, keep a paper copy of your itinerary and contact information for family and friends. Email copies to yourself should your phone go missing or die.
  5. Notify your bank and credit card companies of your travel dates so you’re not locked out of your own accounts for “suspicious activity.” And ask about international ATMs while you talk with your banker. This way you might be able to avoid those pesky ATM charge fees.
  6. Vaccinations: Do you need any? Check with your doctor about the CDC-recommended shots and vaccine protocol for your destination. Some vaccines take a few weeks to build immunity and still others may need to be taken over a course of days, weeks or even months. Keep your vaccination certification in your carry-on for easy access.
  7. Do some studying about your destination. Yes, spend time researching the customs, exchange rates, tipping, appropriate clothes and useful phrases (think “please” “thank you,” and “bathroom” for starters).
  8. Speaking of electronics, make sure your technology is prepared for its international adventure, too. Look into international phone plans, or if that’s cost-prohibitive, see about a mobile hotspot.
  9. And what are you doing about maps? Offline maps are your best friend when it comes to traveling with limited data or battery. You can find wifi in many places, but downloading offline maps through Google Maps or CityMaps2Go will allow you to follow your GPS without using up battery life and roaming data. Be sure to pack a portable backup charger. And maybe tuck a paper map into your day pack, just in case.
  10. Don’t forget your home. Make sure it’s looked after (think mail, newspapers, yard) while you’re gone. Nothing sends a louder message to vandals and thieves than a mailbox stuffed with mail and an overgrown or otherwise neglected lawn.

So your pets and house will be taken care of while you’re gone. Your vaccinations are up-to-date. You have all your documents. Last step? What to pack. Your checked bag is up to you, but consider the climate when packing and carrier weight restrictions. Take a photo on your phone of your packed suitcase. Doing so will provide you with what’s inside should you need to file a claim. It will also assist airline employees with what to look for.

Finally, pack these essentials in your carry-on: Passport and visa, medications (with labels), insurance and ID cards, portable charger, electrical converters, cash/debit cards/credit cards, earplugs/eye mask/sleeping pills or melatonin, headphones, antibacterial wipes, sweater/scarf for cool temperatures on the plane and your cellphone and its charger.

How do you practice safety when traveling abroad? Share your tips and ideas with us on our Facebook page, or on our Twitter stream. You can also find us on our Instagram page at @TravelproIntl.

Photo credit: ACS (Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons 3.0)