Cheerful backpackers looking map on the street in the city.

Before traveling abroad, don't forget to enroll in the State Department's free Smart Traveler Enrollment Program and share your itinerary details with loved ones. (iStockphoto)

Traveling abroad can offer enriching and fulfilling experiences at every turn. After all, you get the chance to try new foods, discover exciting cultures and meet people from all walks of life. But as gratifying as taking an international trip can be, it can also be stressful and even a little scary, especially in today's insecure times. With terrorist attacks in Paris, Kenya and Istanbul and shootings along the coasts of the Mediterranean, it can seem like the world's best destinations are under siege. Sadly, you can't predict these devastating attacks. However, you can travel smarter by staying informed and taking important steps to maximize safety.

So, how should you prepare yourself for your next international trip? We've compiled a checklist that will help you plan a safe and enjoyable vacation abroad.

Sign Up for the State Department's Smart Traveler Enrollment Program

Registering for the State Department's free Smart Traveler Enrollment Program service is a must, especially if you're traveling to areas that are currently experiencing unrest. Doing so will help the closest U.S. embassy or Consulate alert you in the event of a crisis, such as a security threat or natural disaster. Plus, you can receive updated travel alerts and advisories on the location you're visiting in addition to assistance in the event of an emergency.

Book With a Travel Agent

Even if you're reluctant to trust a travel agent, there are plenty of reasons to consider booking your vacation with one. For one, a travel agent can help you stay informed and prepared for travel abroad. Not only do travel agents keep copies of your passport, visa and trip itinerary, they often receive information and advisories quickly and can help ensure you're always in the loop, no matter where you're located. Plus, in the case of a dire emergency or if you need to cancel your trip for any reason, they can help you get home safely and swiftly.

Invest in Travel Insurance

It may seem like a no brainer, but so many travelers forgo travel insurance. While you may think it's an unnecessary expense, travel insurance can be a life saver if something goes awry while abroad. But before you buy, read the fine print and make sure you purchase the plan that will apply to you. Rely on helpful resources like to compare different plans available, and if you're not sure what you need for your trip, enlist a travel agent or an insurance representative to help you weigh your options and invest in the best coverage for your specific travel needs and itinerary.

Scan Important Documents

There's nothing worse than having your passport stolen when you're on the last leg of your trip. A stolen passport will cause far more than just travel delays – in fact, it can prevent you from getting home. Always keep a scanned copy of your passport with your family at home and on file in your email inbox. That way, if your bags are stolen, you'll have access to your essential travel documents.

Share Your Itinerary Details With Loved Ones

There's a chance your family and friends will want to know your travel plans just to follow your adventures abroad, but providing loved ones with a copy of your itinerary can also help keep you safe. Because of time zone differences and connectivity issues in off-the-grid destinations, your family can stay informed and updated on any travel warnings and alerts that arise before you do.

Keep Your Money in Different Places

While overseas, never keep all of your bank cards, credit cards and cash in one place. That way, you'll ensure you'll have access to funds in the event your wallet or purse is stolen. Instead, keep your money in different places to ensure your cash is out of the hands of pickpockets. Store different cards and cash inside your hotel room safe or your suitcase to protect yourself against theft. 

Lock up Your Passport and Valuables

Even if you're staying in a four- or five-star property abroad, always lock your passport in your hotel safe to avoid a major headache. It's also important to leave valuable items at home and out of your pockets while you're walking down the street. This includes your wallet, money and jewelry. Many pickpockets target unsuspecting travelers by grabbing items from their front, back or side pockets without causing them to flinch. If necessary, carry important possessions in a secure cross-body bag or in your front coat pocket, where you can keep an eye on them.

Buy a Data Plan or Sim Card 

If you're traveling on budget, a sim card or data plan can seem like an unnecessary cost. However, it can be a helpful lifeline if you get lost or scared journeying on your own. Having a phone that works not only keeps you connected to family and friends, but will make it easy to report a theft, call the police or access maps if you're lost.

Be Aware of Your Surroundings

Traveling overseas is a critical time to stay vigilant, even if you feel 100 percent safe. Always keep an eye on your personal belongings and ensure important items are close to your body at all times. Also, keep an eye out for suspicious behavior and pay attention to the local traffic patterns and bicyclists. And while there's a certain charm and excitement that comes with wandering around a new city aimlessly, it comes with added risks. Always keep a map in your pack pocket so you can return to safety easily and quickly.

Tags: travel, safety

Claire Volkman is a social media journalist with a passion for food and travel. She's spent time in more than 30 countries and hundreds of cities writing, photographing and immersing herself in all things food, wine and culture. You can find her favorite recipes on her blog, The Realistic Nutritionist. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Google+ to keep up with her adventures.

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