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The end of the year may still be six months away but if you are going to be travelling anywhere – either locally or abroad – you should start your planning now. This is the advice of the Automobile Association’s (AA) Travel Department.

“Six months may sound like a long time but, in reality, it will go past quickly. If you discover in October or November that some of your preparations are behind schedule, you may not have enough time to make alternative arrangements,” warns AA Travel.

If you are planning local travel, the AA advises that you ensure your vehicle, and any other vehicle you may be towing, is in good condition, and good enough to reach your destination and return.

“Cars should be serviced well in advance of a long trip. Similarly, trailers or caravans should also be checked. Tyres, for instance, should be checked and if found to be damaged, replaced. Don’t leave this too late as vehicle dealerships become booked quickly towards the end of the year and you may struggle to get a slot if there’s not enough time,” says the AA.

Apart from this, accommodation arrangements should be made sooner rather than later, and any special needs should be resolved.

“If, for instance, you are travelling to a neighbouring country which requires you to take malaria tablets, now is a good time to start thinking about it. And, if you haven’t already done so, re-check your emergency first aid kit, and refill special medication, especially if you are going to be travelling to a remote area where medical services are limited,” notes AA Travel.

Preparing ahead is also critical if you are travelling with someone who has special needs, such as someone who is in a wheelchair, or who may require a specific diet at a hotel. Leaving these arrangements to the last minute may leave you stranded with few alternatives.

In addition, travellers are warned that visas may still take long to issue, particularly if travel documents such as passports still need to be obtained.

“Travel abroad requires a passport and possibly a visa. Is your passport, and those of any children travelling with you, still valid? If not, you may need to make arrangements to get new ones, and the process may take longer than you think. Rather be well prepared and sort this out now; waiting until three months before you leave might be risky,” urges AA Travel.

Another consideration is that an International Driving Permit (IDP), which AA Travel issues, is a legal travel document regulated by the United Nations which endorses your valid South African driving licence. An IDP entitles the holder the drive in all contracting countries other than his/her country of residence, without further examination. In addition, the IDP provides a valid ID document in multiple languages – a useful document when travelling abroad.

“Obtaining an IDP is simple. But many travellers who require IDPs wait until the last minute and are frustrated when they arrive and there is a queue of people also waiting. A simpler way to obtain an IDP is to apply for it online on the AA’s website at www.aa.co.za/international-driving-permit, and then collect the document at your convenience,” says AA Travel.

An IDP is valid for only one year, so getting one earlier will still cover you if you are planning overseas travel before July next year.

Some essential travel tips in preparation for your holidays include:

Service your car well in advance (including checking the tyres).

Check and replenish your vehicle’s first aid kit.

Check your vehicle’s emergency kit and ensure you have a warning triangle and other critical safety equipment such as a fire extinguisher, tyre inflator, reflective vest, torch, etc.

Remember to pack all medication (chronic or otherwise) which may be needed on the trip; this is important for either local or international travel: check quantities (for refill) and expiry dates.

Confirm and book accommodation.

Ensure special needs are catered for and available at your accommodation.

Check the expiry date of passports (and the number of pages left in the passport) and leave enough time for renewal if necessary.

Check visa requirements of the country you are travelling to, and ensure your documents are valid.

If you are renting a vehicle in your foreign destination (or even using a family member or friend’s vehicle while you are there) obtain an IDP, or confirm that your existing IDP is still valid.

Plan ahead. Don’t wait until two weeks before you leave to start checking your documents, vehicle or equipment.

Check local travel guides for activities and venues which are off-the-beaten-track.

“Preparing earlier for any holiday – be it local or international – will make the experience more enjoyable, and ensures you are able to deal with any issues that might crop up in good time, rather than panic when you realise you have too little time left to manage any unforeseen events,” concludes AA Travel.

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