Your passport to a good time

Your New Year's resolutions (along with your summer holiday) may already be a fading memory, but if you've made up your mind to travel more in 2014, now's the time to make it happen. Start by using this checklist to transform yourself into a wiser and better-prepared traveller. 

Don't put off dreaming of life beyond the daily grind. After all, you're only a leave form away from taking that trip.

Sort out your paperwork
You may assume that if your passport is valid for the duration of your trip to a country, you'll be free to travel. Not so – even if there are months left on your passport before it expires, you may be refused entry by many countries.

Most European nations require that you have three months left on your passport beyond the date of entry, and some other countries, such as Thailand, China and Turkey, insist on at least six months validity from the date of entry. 

Frequent travellers who have racked up the visas and stamps in their passports should check how many blank pages they need for entry to the country to which they are travelling. You can't add new pages to a South African passport – you'll have to get a new one if you've run out of space (consider getting a 64-page maxi passport).

If you're planning on travelling to Central or East Africa or South America you'll need to get a yellow fever vaccination at least 10 days before you go – countries such as Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Argentina, Brazil and Peru are classified as risk transmission areas. 

Remember to carry your vaccination card with you when you travel elsewhere, as many countries around the world require you to present proof of vaccination if you've travelled somewhere with a risk of transmission.

Get apped up
There are as many apps designed to make your travelling life easier as there are seats on an Airbus A380. If you have a smartphone be sure to download these before your next trip.

Echo112: If you get stuck mountain climbing in Bhutan or sprain your ankle hiking in Namibia, use this app to send your location to emergency services closest to you.

Trip it: This is a handy app that acts as an online travel itinerary and trip planner. Either email your flight, hotel and car rental confirmation to the app, or use the auto import function to export the information to your calendar. 

Seat Guru: Use this app to pick your ideal seat on specific flights. It gives information on things such as amount of legroom, seat sizes and entertainment systems on the plane you'll be flying on.

Skyscanner: Search for flights with this user-friendly app, which has a great option of searching for the cheapest flights to anywhere in the world from your current location – if you're tempted to do some spontaneous last-minute trip booking.

TripAdvisor: The world's best-known travel review site has two apps: one is a version of the website and a new city guide app with downloadable guides, maps and itineraries for 80 cities.

Choose the right credit card with benefits

Most major South African banks, as well as airlines such as Kulula and South African Airways, offer credit cards with travel benefits, with which you can get discounts on flights and hotels, earn air miles with purchases, and even get access to airline lounges.

Check the small print carefully to decide which card will be most beneficial as they all have different ways of awarding flights and miles. 

For example, Virgin Money gives you a 10% discount on Virgin Atlantic flights between South Africa and London, which is hardly helpful if you don't travel internationally. 

Before committing yourself to that piece of plastic find out about the annual fees, flight restrictions (for example, many programmes will not offer flights over long weekends and holidays), how long you have before your points expire, whether card status determines the time it will take to accumulate miles and whether there is an amount you need to spend before you can use your miles.

Know what to pack
When flying internationally, make sure that you adhere to security restrictions for your carry-on luggage: liquids and gels (including lipstick, contact lens solution, toothpaste and deodorant but excluding baby milk) need to be in 100ml bottles stored in a clear plastic resealable bag, and sharp objects such as nail scissors are not allowed.

The United States is generally stricter than other countries about what you can take on the plane. For example, only one cigarette lighter is permitted per passenger and you can't take wrapped gifts. To find out what all these restrictions are, use the "Can I bring?" tool on the Transport Security Administration website apps.tsa.dhs.gov/mytsa

Other countries may have unusual restrictions. Rwanda, for example, doesn't allow you to bring plastic bags into the country (your luggage may be searched upon arrival at the airport), so check before you travel.

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