You’ve booked the trip of a lifetime. Your camera has plenty of room and is fully charged, your bank has been notified and you’ve lined-up a cat-sitter. All you have to do now is to pack your bags and you’re good to go. Sounds like you’re almost there, right? Not so fast. Packing for an overland adventure through Africa isn’t as straight forward as you might think. Tania recently returned from South Africa and Namibia and sheds some light on what not to pack and what you shouldn’t leave home without when readying for your first backpacking experience.
Packing for an overland safari can be daunting; what to take, what to leave behind… It becomes a mammoth task for someone who has never been on an African overland trip, and even more so, for anyone belonging to the fairer sex.
These were my lessons, learned the hard way, on a 13-day overland safari trip from Cape Town to Windhoek, through Namibia.
Things I should NOT have packed:
- Make-up: I would leave the full make-up bag at home and just bring 1 tinted moisturizer, 1 mascara and some lip gloss. A single pack of make-up remover wipes should be enough too.
- NOT 3 different types of sunscreen: 1 is enough. I chose a tinted moisturizer that contains sunscreen as well. It would be wise to stay away from coloured sunscreen, since we found that the blue sunscreen may prove problematic when attempting to cross the border, since it doesn’t wash off easily (this actually happened).
- NOT Mosquito bands, mosquito wipes and all the random mosquito-repelling crap out there. I would only buy 1 can of Peaceful Sleep mosquito spray (or anything with a healthy amount of DEET in it), 1 small bottle of citronella oil and one small bottle of calamine lotion, for if the mozzies do bite. TIP: keep your tent zipped up during the day and night and no mosquitoes will come inside.
- NOT Shorts: Strange but true. I thought it would be most practical BUT I found short summer dresses, maxi dresses and long shirts to be way more practical because it lets more air in and doesn’t frumple up like shorts do on the long driving days – and you can hike it up when necessary. I just wore tights and a top when climbing dunes and hiking. For the few nights you do go out, a light dress or two you can wear with flip flops is ideal.
- NOT 3 bottles of hand sanitizer, 1 small one is enough.
- NOT Long pajamas or any PJs at all for that matter. I am a morning shower person and I found that every night I slept in the previous day’s clothes, and in the morning went for a shower and put fresh clothes on.
- NOT Too much clothes. There will eventually be full laundry services somewhere along your route so I only had to bring half the clothes I did. Tip: bring 1 bottom for every 3 days but a different top for every day, if you like to feel fresh. I brought too many bottoms and not enough tops.
- NOT Too many pairs of shoes. Looking back, I should have only brought a pair of runners and my flip flops. I spent 99% of the time in flip flops and only used my runners for climbing dunes.
- NOT A suitcase full of snacks. I came home with half of it. There are frequent stops at shops and it just adds to your luggage weight.
- NOT 10L of water. Water can be purchased at every stop along the way. It is VERY important to hydrate though!
- NOT Soaps, creams, shampoos, etc: I would just bring a small 2 in 1 shampoo/conditioner bottle and a small face wash, which I used as a body wash as well.
- NOT A book, laptop, ipad. Everyone said to bring a book because of the long driving days but I didn’t open it once and I adore reading. When driving, I slept, chatted to others or looked at the beautiful scenery, the last thing on my mind was reading.
What no one tells you to bring, but you absolutely SHOULD:
- Earplugs: I did find myself screaming at the tent next door to shut up. You do become a mini tribe in this time and we all are different and need to share a space – earplugs would have helped.
- Tampons: sometimes hard to find in Africa!
- Micro fiber towels 2 (one for body and one for hair)
- Washing pins and a line. You can make a mini gypsy caravan in your tent and hang your washing if you can’t find a laundry service.
- A headlamp: do NOT go to Africa without this. When you use the bathrooms and showers, you need to watch out for scorpions and other animals. Use your head lamp to free up your hands. I also brought a small hanging lamp for inside the tent that came in handy, because your bags start looking like a teenagers cupboard every two days and need to be sorted. Some people brought a small hand torch/flashlight that worked well as a third light source.
- Thin jacket; one of those that can fold up super small, in case of cold or rain. Deserts can be deceivingly cool at night.
- Pain pills (headaches, leg cramps, hangovers, etc.), anti-diarrhea pills, anti-motion sickness pills, and what no one tells you but what happened to almost all the ladies, LAXATIVES.
- 1 pack wet wipes (doubling for toilet paper on bush wee’s).
- Battery packs: there are only a certain amount of electrical points, so everyone competes for that; my battery pack saved my life and I would actually bring another one in the future and have at least two packs, since they don’t take up much space.
- An alarm clock so you don’t oversleep.
- Swimsuit- you can basically live in it in Africa.
- Smaller day pack that you can wear on your back with your phone, camera, money, passport, wet wipes, some snacks and sunscreen in it.
- A single fitted sheet. My friend who used to be a guide gave me this tip. You usually keep the same marked tent the whole trip but mattresses are random every night because they all get packed in together for transit. So, I unrolled the mattress, covered it with a fitted sheet, like I would a bed mattress and zipped my sleeping bag open and used it as a blanket – it rocked.
- Very important: Bring a full-size bed pillow, not a blow-up pillow, a good one. Dragging a pillow around may unfortunately make your travelling more uncomfortable BUT at night you will sleep like a baby. Best advice I received on the entire trip.
- Don’t have any preconceived expectations, just enjoy every moment as it comes across your path and live it out to the max. Don’t hold back, eat that mopane worm, drink that “witblits” shot that comes with your food, you only live once.
Solid advice, Tania, thank-you.