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Twenty Kilos Per Person

How light do you travel? I am an experienced packer (I travelled for a year with just a backpack) who is married to Mr. Just-in-case, who invariably brings things he ends up not needing or using.

Our recent packing challenge was a five-day safari on the Okavango Delta, for which our (and everyone’s) luggage allowance was 20 kg per person. There are very good reasons for this, principal among them being the Cessna Grand Caravan that flies you from Maun to the camp. It’s a small plane, with a small hold.

Twenty kilograms (44 pounds in old money) per person is plenty for someone who understands “essentials”, but starting with 17 kilos (37 lbs) of camera gear gives you a bit of a handicap. But 23 kg allows more than enough essentials for two people, if you pack smart. We could have packed smarter, so this is my resolution for next time.

Things to take on a four-night safari to Wilderness Safaris’ Vumbura Plains Camp:

  • A duffel bag or similar soft-sided bag that can be squashed and smooshed and squeezed into the Cessna’s cargo hold. Our information suggested (but did not insist on) a duffel bag as the ideal luggage, so we assumed our soft-shell wheeled suitcase would also be acceptable. We were mistaken. The Wilderness Air people at the Maun airport are used to this, though, and lent us a couple of their duffels for this trip. We spent ten minutes emptying our suitcase into the duffel. They stored our now-empty suitcase, and when we returned from safari, we spent twenty minutes jamming all our crap back into the suitcase, for the flight back to Johannesburg. My dad played this smarter; he got a  K-way Evo Gearbag from Cape Union Mart for this purpose. I am now on the hunt for a suitable duffel, because travelling light is the best, regardless of where you’re going and why.
  • Fewer clothes than you think. The five-star camp has a daily no-charge laundry service. We were there for four nights, and could have made do with two trousers, perhaps four shirts, three pairs of (ankle high) socks, and three pairs of underpants each.
  • Fewer toiletries than you think. Deodorant and dental care is pretty much all you need. They provide the rest.
  • A camera. Or, if you’re us, a purpose-made backpack containing two digital SLR’s, three lenses, and various filters, etc. Also a GoPro with a variety of attachments, a point-and-shoot camera, and a couple of smartphones.
  • Binoculars or a spotting scope. Binocs will get you a closer view of sights that are outside the reach of your camera. Also good for stargazing at night.
  • A torch/flashlight or headlight. Always handy, really. We travel with headlights wherever we go.
  • Panty liners. On a four-and-a-half hour morning game drive, where the bathroom is behind either the truck or the termite mound and doesn’t include toilet paper, they’re a godsend to the drip-dry crowd.
  • A hat. Preferably one that casts your entire head in shadow, but a baseball cap will do in a pinch. The safari vehicle has a cloth roof, but that doesn’t stop low-angle sunshine at sunup and sundown (and you’ll see both).
  • Deodorant, toothbrush, toothpaste, and floss. Most other toiletries are provided.
  • Sunglasses. Duh.
  • Sunscreen. Duh. Apply liberally. Don’t forget your ears and the back of your neck.
  • Insect repellent. With DEET. Apply liberally, especially if mosquitoes find you delicious. (See also “things to leave behind”, below.)
  • Anti-malarial medication. The Okavango Delta is a malaria-risk place. Fill that prescription, and take it.
  • US dollars in cash. You will need this for tips for your safari guide, and for the staff at the camp who do your laundry, housekeeping, and cook and serve you your meals and drinks. Guides rely on their tips for their income, and a good one can make all the difference to your safari experience (ours was amazing, and worth every red cent of his tip). The general staff people who see to your comfort–many of whom you never see–share in their tip pool.
  • A credit card. For settling up your bill, and for purchases of necessities or souvenirs in the curio shop.
  • Some empty space in your bag. For said necessities and souvenirs.
  • A contribution to Children in the Wilderness. Pack with a purpose and change the lives of local children. We didn’t pack smart enough to be able to do this, this time. Next time: fewer clothes, more school supplies and sports equipment. Possibly in a separate duffel!
  • A sense of adventure. You wouldn’t be safariing in the first place without one, but step outside the Landrover. Take a boat tour or a mokoro tour in the evening. Do a bush walk as part of your game drive.

Things to leave behind to lighten your load:

  • Most toiletries. The camp provides shampoo, conditioner, and body wash in the shower, and soap and lotion at the sink. Unless you have special needs in this vein, deodorant, a toothbrush, toothpaste, and floss are all you need.
  • Make-up. It’ll just melt in the sweaty heat anyway, and nobody cares.
  • A hair dryer. The camp provides one.
  • Weights and an exercise mat. Also provided.
  • A swimsuit. Unless you’re sharing quarters with someone who doesn’t see you naked, you might not need a swimsuit to enjoy the plunge pool on your completely private deck. (For the truly modest, underwear will do!)
  • Insect repellent. There’s a can of spray repellent in every room, one behind the bar in the lodge, and one in every safari vehicle. Unless you’re really delicious to mosquitoes (like my hubs), you might be all right not bringing your own.
  • More than two pairs of shoes. Depending on how long you’ll be safariing, one good pair of shoes should suffice. A pair of sandals or flip-flops for poolside/après-game drive wear is a good second pair.
  • Your laptop. There is no internet at Vumbura Plains. Embrace the few days’ disconnection from the outside world and connect instead with your travel partner, your guide, the camp staff, your fellow campers, and Mother Nature. Smell the wild sage and wild basil. Listen to the frogs’ nightly song. Photograph the heck out of the sunrises and sunsets. You’ll adjust to disconnectedness more quickly than you think.
  • Your cell phone. There is no cell signal either. But you can use the camera and games.
  • A wide array of plug adaptors. Each tent has a bank of four different outlets on the desk. Whether your plugs are from South Africa, the UK, Europe, or the Americas, you’re set. (That said, there’s only one of each kind, so you might need one adaptor for another country, if you’re charging more than one phone or camera battery.)
  • A water bottle. Every guest gets a stainless steel water bottle with their name written on in Sharpie. The staff refill and chill this bottle for you before every game drive, and you get to keep it when you go home.
  • A pack towel. The little microfibre ones that Olympic swimmers and divers use seem like such a great idea when you’re shopping for your trip, but they never do a complete job.  Bath towels and pool towels are provided at the safari camp.
  • The monopod and the tripod. The safari vehicle will probably have a camera rest that’s more stable than a monopod. And unless you’re planning a long exposure shot of the stars, the tripod just takes up valuable space and weight.
  • A first-aid kit. I hope ours enjoyed its trip out. It never saw the light of day, though that might be partially due to luck, I suppose. But the camp has most of what you might need in this vein.

We did our safari at the end of a two-week stay in Cape Town, so we had a lot more luggage than we needed. I am fortunate to have a cousin in Johannesburg who was more than happy to store our excess luggage for the few days we were in Botswana. I don’t know how we’d have done this without him, really. (Though I suppose we could have paid to store some bags at OR Tambo airport somewhere.)

How light do you pack? Does this read like a no-brainer, or does the very idea make you twitch?

This Post Has 3 Comments
  1. What a trip, your pictures are so inviting… You made me laugh with your 17kg of camera gear, reminded me the times when we had all the baby stuff, packing was already the beginning of the fun… Now things are getting easier, the Attilas and me can definitely make it all for 20kg. But the hubby seems to be like yours 😉 Plus he is very tall, so a jeans of his equals 3 of mine…
    I traveled so much when I was an aid worker that I am now a very fast packer. The basics, only the basics, as long as I have a credit card, and some US dollars…

    Things are slightly different when I am traveling to Europe though. You would not believe all the shoes fighting to fit in my suitcase!

    1. Your suitcase is full of shoes when you’re going to Europe? Mine would be full on the way back. 🙂

      Thankfully, we don’t have to juggle baby stuff in addition to everything else. I always feel sorry for people travelling with tiny children; they need so much stuff!

      1. Traveling with babies is such a logistic struggle! and on top of the muscles, you need big smiles to apologize all the time, big lungs to breath deeper and deeper, big arms and big doses of patience 😉

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