What comes to mind for your “trip of a lifetime”? For my mother, it was an African safari. The only problem was that she didn’t have a South Africa packing safari packing list and she wanted to stay carry-on only for all 15 days. Somehow she managed and still was able to enjoy private game reserves, national parks, Durban’s coastline, and the great city of Cape Town.
Packing that lightly can be a challenge and her biggest secret was having laundry done halfway through the trip! But she has lots of other South Africa packing list secrets!
Before Your Trip to South Africa: Things to Do and Prepare
Health: Plan a visit to your local health clinic to get travel prescriptions and vaccinations, which might be necessary depending on which reserves you’re visiting and the time of year. A few days prior to packing, treat your clothing with Permethrin Insect Spray (especially socks, since mosquitos like to bite your ankles). Let dry thoroughly and pack in a plastic bag to preserve the protection. The spray typically lasts through six washes or six weeks, whichever comes first.
Side note: I did this before my trip to Guatemala’s jungles, with great success! Well worth twenty minutes and $15!
Finances: Notify your bank and credit card companies about your international travel. The Charles Schwab ATM card works worldwide and doesn’t charge withdrawal fees or currency exchange fees. For credit cards, pack a Visa or MasterCard (more likely to be accepted than other types) without foreign exchange fees, like the Chase Sapphire Preferred which also includes basic travel insurance.
Many South Africa tour operators REQUIRE you to have travel insurance, but it’s a smart idea even if it’s optional. If you’ve never bought travel insurance before, here are a few places to start:
- Do You Need Travel Insurance? (on a trip like this…it’s most likely YES!)
- Comparing Free Credit Card Insurance versus Paid Travel Insurance (hint: on an expensive trip like this, full-service is likely the way to go)
- Why RoamRight is my Insurer of Choice (you want great support on the ground and easy-to-file claims in a worst case scenario)
Security: Attach luggage tags to all bags, including backpacks or day bags just in case you get separated from anything along the way. Look into ways to protect your cash or other valuables, like money belts, anti-theft underwear (Becky’s pick!), or these hidden pockets to sew into clothing.
South Africa Packing List: A Strategic “Personal Item”
Airlines consider a personal item the bag that you put underneath the seat in front of you. Find a backpack or tote that fits within those dimensions that you can also use throughout the trip as a daybag.
The Basics: Always pack a copy of your flight confirmation(s), travel plans, important phone numbers, travel insurance information, and your passport close at hand!
In-Flight Comfort: On such a long flight, you’ll want a travel pillow, ear plugs, eye mask, hand sanitizer, tissues, Wisps (toothbrushes without a need for water), stain remover wipes for clothing spills, and basic first aid items (especially sleeping pills, ibuprofen or other pain relievers, and any prescriptions or medical supplies you need during the flight itself).
Hint: My post on packing tips for your long haul flight is a great start to finding what you need. I’m still in awe that my parents survived a 15-hour flight from Atlanta to Johannesburg!
Entertainment: Don’t rely on airline entertainment, which doesn’t always match with your preferences. Download a few movies for your laptop/tablet/phone, keep an external battery handy, or pack a good book. If there was ever a time to invest in noise-cancelling headphones, this is it.
Snacks: My mom packed more snacks than most people, since when you travel as a diabetic, she can’t count on airline meals. A spread of sunflower seeds, nuts, string cheese, salami, baby carrots, apples, and protein bars is a deluxe meal that’s easily brought through TSA checkpoints. Most travelers can bring just a fraction of this. Don’t forget the paper towels!
Keep it Safe: As an added precaution, keep anything you don’t want damaged, like a camera or binoculars, in your personal item.
What about clothing on your flight?
Usually I recommend wearing your bulkiest clothing to save room in your suitcase, but since it’s such a long flight to South Africa, comfort is more important. I love pants with an elastic waistband and layers on top so you can adjust to aircraft cabin temperatures. Compression socks are important and throw on a pair of sneakers or other walking shoes that you’ll use throughout the trip.
And if you have space in your carry-on after the essentials, throw a change of clothes in your bag. You never know if you’ll be separated from your main suitcase, so even just a change of underwear can keep you fresh!
The Main Suitcase: A Carry-On
Using a suitcase with just two wheels instead of spinner wheels usually provides more space for packing in the interior and you’ll need every square inch you can get! Look for bags with optional expansion zippers, in case you do souvenir shopping. I love my Delsey Helium Sky, which I recommend every chance I get.
Clothing: Light colored (tan, beige, etc.) clothing is best for safaris. White shows dust, bright colors make you conspicuous to animals, and dark clothes attract mosquitoes and other insects. You’ll want long sleeves and long pants in the evenings to help prevent bites. The trick is to pack just enough clothing to get you halfway through the trip and do laundry when necessary:
- 2 pairs long pants, like khakis or jeans (Prana’s water resistant pants with lots of pockets are great for women and for men)
- 2 pairs cargo shorts or similar
- 6 t-shirts (thankfully, most lodges are casual wear at dinner!)
- 1 long sleeve shirt – try this quick-dry shirt with “BugsAway” technology for men and for women
- 1 nice outfit for dinners in cities like Durban, Johannesburg, or Cape Town
- Swimsuit & cover-up, if desired (and a plastic bag for wet suits)
- 8 pairs underwear
- 11 pairs socks, in case your feet get gross during the day
- Spare shoes (remember you’re wearing your sneakers on the plane!)
>>>>> PRO TIP: Packing cubes keep your clothes and other essentials organized in your suitcase.
Laundry: My parents had their laundry done at the game lodge partway through their trip, but rinsed out a few things independently to keep clothes fresh. Packing powdered laundry soap for rinsing things in the sink and folding travel hangers to dry is easier than packing a full 15 days worth of clothing.
Sun Protection: When you’re in the hot sun for game drives, you’ll definitely want a lightweight sun hat, sunglasses, and plenty of sunscreen.
The Weird Stuff: You’re not in Kansas anymore. Bring a few plastic bags with toilet paper for bush bathroom breaks and thank you cards for tips on the safari.
Toiletries: Along with all the basics, you probably want plenty of insect repellent (these DEET wipes avoid TSA liquid restrictions on the flight). Don’t forget hair conditioner; it’s usually not provided.
Don’t Stress about South Africa Packing!
For most people, a South African safari is a once-in-a-lifetime trip. You can use this printable packing list if you still need more direction, but otherwise focus on the incredible adventure you’re about to have!
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