The days when you could decide at half an hour's notice that you were going on a surfing trip to the Transkei coast are probably over – especially if you have a house, a dog, a spouse and two toddlers.
Bad planning can spoil an entire holiday. Finding out in the middle of a camping trip in Botswana that you left your prescription migraine tablets lying on the kitchen table is no fun. Or that you've run out of disposable nappies, or that you forgot to cancel your dentist's appointment.
Apply for leave. Unless you have the leave available, there is no point in making any of the other arrangements. Make sure that you always have at least six or seven days of leave left - you never know when your sister suddenly wants to get married in Zanzibar, or you favourite aunt dies in Welkom.
Reservations. Before you start making any further plans, see whether you can indeed get a reservation for the Otter Trail, or for the tented camp in the game park, or the cottage by the seaside. Especially if it is peak holiday season or a long weekend, you may need to make reservations long in advance. Paying for this in advance not only secures your reservation, it also spreads the cost of the holiday over a longer period of time. Hang on to receipts and reservation documentation.
Passports. If you're going overseas and need to get or renew a passport, you need to do this at least three months in advance. Don't leave it till the last minute. Remember that you need your passport for visa applications and these can take a few days. There is nothing that will stress you out quite as much as wondering whether your visa will be processed on the morning you leave.
House sitter. With crime levels being what they are, it is probably not a good idea to leave your home without somebody in it. A good house sitter will keep things going on the home front – from taking out post and paying the domestic worker, to taking Fido to the vet when his paw gets infected. And there will be someone sleeping there every night. Good house sitters are worth their weight in gold, because their presence means you don't have to worry. But book them in advance – the good ones are often fully booked for months to come.
Packing for the kids. It depends how old they are, but remembering to pack the right clothes, equipment and toys for them, can make your life so much easier. A toddler crying for Teddy at 11 pm in the middle of the Moordenaarsvlakte will not necessarily understand why you can't just go and fetch it like you always do.
Pets/kennels. If you're going to the seaside for the two weeks over Christmas and New Year, remember that you are not alone. That is when everyone takes their holidays and when the kennels are full to bursting. Book now, otherwise you might run into trouble. And let's face it, would you want to book your darling into the only kennel that wasn't fully booked weeks in advance over Christmas? There might be a very good reason for that.
Medication/prescriptions. If you have a cavity in your tooth or your ankle is giving your problems, sort it out before, not after the holiday. There is nothing quite like a blinding toothache to spoil the camping safari or the coastal vistas. If you need prescriptions renewed, get it done well before you go. Remember that doctors can also fax a prescription renewal to your pharmacy – and they can deliver. Very handy if you're pressed for time. Make sure you've also packed everything you need – painkillers, plasters, antiseptic ointment, cough mixture, flu medicine and possibly antibiotics. You don't want to be caught in the middle of nowhere in serious trouble.
Cash is not king. Holidays always cost more than you think. Credit cards, ATM cards and travellers' cheques are all preferable to large wads of cash. Make sure you also have an emergency fund. What if your exhaust needs replacing or your suitcase gets stolen? Would you be able to cope? If you havec credit facilities on your card, you could sort this out.
Cancel appointments. If you have regular appointments – book clubs, meetings, the physiotherapist – cancel them all well in advance. You can't do so when there's no cellphone reception.
Nothing to wear? People always take too many clothes on holiday. The only thing that you should take a lot of, is clean underwear. Jeans, three T-shirts, a shirt, a jersey, comfortable shoes, shorts, a skirt (if you're a woman or a cross dresser) and one really warm waterproof jacket should see one through most holidays – that is unless you're invited to the Queen's garden party. And the likelihood of that is not enormously high.
Car service/rental. Transport, or the lack therof, can make or break a holiday. Get your car serviced, if you're going to be travelling in it. Or rent a car long in advance – not when you and the rest of the southern hemisphere land at the airport. Join the Automobile Association, if you're not already a member, check your brakes, your tyres and your shocks.
- (Susan Erasmus, Health24, updated July 2011)