Travel Packing Tips for Africa: When Every Pound Counts

If your upcoming trip has luggage restrictions, or you are looking for advice on how to downsize your massive suitcase, the following list of travel packing tips for Africa can help you decide what to bring, what to leave behind and what’s the best small bag for traveling.

African safari packing tips will make a trip to see giraffes at sunset perfect.

Photo: Shutterstock

44 pounds? A soft-sided bag? With no wheels? I was speechless as I read the luggage restrictions for my upcoming bucket list trip to South Africa. I was going to have to teach my inner old dog some new tricks. Following are suitcase packing tips and products to help you travel lighter.

If you’re like me, you pack too big a bag. If I think I need an overnight bag, I bring a small, wheeled carry-on. When the carry-on would be usual and customary, I pack and check a suitcase. I can’t shake my inner Girl Scout – “Always Be Over-Prepared”.

Because my South African trip involves several destinations, I’ll be taking small charter flights. These planes are very, very strict about weight. At this point, I’m concerned that if I eat too much bobotie, I’ll get booted from the plane. I desperately needed some expert suitcase packing tips.

I sent a distress email to my lovely travel agent, Yvette De Vries at African Portfolio. She talked me off the ledge and assured me that I would manage. She recommended an Eagle Creek medium duffel as her essential bag. I ordered it and when it arrived, I shook it out and contemplated just going nude and barefoot.

African safari packing tips include choosing a lightweight yellow Eagle Creek duffel bag.

Photo: Eagle Creek

I got out the supplied packing list and started laying out my crap. I was going to be ruthless. I was going to be cruel. Only the best and brightest will earn a place in the duffel because I need to reserve room for souvenirs!

Looking at my belongings, I realized that the best items to bring would be versatile, scrunchable, lightweight clothing in knits and neutrals.

Best African Safari Packing Tips

Out With the Old

Why not use this occasion to purge my underwear and sock drawers? I ordered new versions of my favorites and packed up the old stuff. I plan to jettison along the way; this will also eliminate the hassle of segregating dirty laundry in my tiny bag and it will free up some room in my suitcase to pack souvenirs. Small ones. Not a large wooden giraffe.

The Cubes Have It

I’m a fan of packing cubes. I like to organize my bag, so I can find things in a jiffy. When I was ordering the duffel, I noticed that Eagle Creek offers a new system with double-zippered cubes that compress the packets by at least a third. It won’t help with the weight of my bag, but it will reduce the bulk. I’ll appreciate that since I’ll be doing my own schlepping.

By Day

I have a wide range of activities scheduled for the trip including the famous tram ride to the top of Table Mountain, game drives in Kruger, and Stellenbosch wine tastings, so versatility is key. I consulted with fellow travel blogger Christine Amorose (C’est Christine) who recently returned from South Africa. Chinos, Everlane tees, and a chambray were her go-to safari items and a skirt and sundress gave her additional options for city days.

I scored lightweight pants at my local Columbia outlet that convert in length from pant to capri, providing two options. They’re khaki, the king of all neutrals. Beyond their versatility, neutral colors do not attract the attention of animals. I do not wish to get eaten. I thought skorts would be an excellent option too. Ones from Athleta were painfully brief but I found a perfect pair at L.L. Bean. For tops, I went with solid color, lightweight tanks and tees. Two are anti-microbial which should help me smell less gamey.

A great African safari packing tip is to get rid of old clothes like these as you go.

By Night

The skorts will give me one option for evening just by switching to sandals and throwing on a scarf. But my trip also includes two nights’ on the Rovos Rail; dressy evening wear is required for dinner. Enter the miraculous jersey sheath. With a forgiving fit and bright patterns (no animal worries on the train), they’ll be perfect. And they ball up to nothing size-wise.

Shoes. Shoes. Shoes.

Again, I have to thank my local outlet shops. I found a super supportive sneaker at Ecco that doesn’t scream “tourist”. More like “bowling shoe”. They’ll be my every day. I also have a pair of old Ecco sandals that have a bit of heel but I can run in them, if necessary. And I’m going to give mahabis a try. I could go with flip-flops but I’m thinking that I need some foot protection (snakes). mahabis are as ugly as Crocs, but have a removable sole so they function as both slipper (good for the 15-hour plane ride) and shoe, for schlumping around the game camp.Before you leave for your bucket list trip, check out these African safari packing tips.

Final Suitcase Packing Tips

For outerwear, I’ll bring my beloved Patagonia zip-up and a very light, waterproof jacket in case there are summer showers to contend with. A pretty scarf will give me some protection against restaurant a/c and provide an option to freshen a tired outfit. Pajamas, bathing suit, a hat, and I’m loaded!.

I’ve trial packed and my duffel has plenty of room and is not uncomfortably heavy. Maybe, just maybe, my New Year can start with one resolution ticked off. By using these suitcase packing tips, perhaps I finally have learned how to pack a light bag. And I think there might be space for me to bring home that wooden giraffe. Or a live penguin. They’re awfully cute.

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