Oddballs' Camp Safari Tent

Packing for Safari – Which Duffel Bag is Best? How Many Bags to Bring?

Posted on Posted in Insider Tips & Tricks, Safari, Travel

When it comes to packing, over the years, I have gotten much better learning to travel with less.  So while I was told one bag on the bush plane, I didn’t really understand in practical terms how I would be packing for safari.  I think I knew but buried it deep down in the land of denial.

Traveling to camp in Botswana by small bush plane so not sure why I thought a suitcase on wheels would (a) fit in the plane and (b) roll through the sands in the Okavango Delta.  Apparently, I had forgotten there would be other people on the plane – five on the way to camp, three of us on the way out -so not quite a plane with an overhead bin or for that matter under the seat storage (I’d be lucky if my thighs fit the seat).  So I was limited in both size and weight with the bag which in theory seems fine until you realize that in real terms it is one pair of flip flops and three outfits for ten days with your quart size bag stuffed with sunscreen, contact solutions and bug repellent.

Botswana Bush Plane Oddballs Camp
Botswana Bush Plane at Oddballs Camp with our guides – packing for safari to fit in the small storage space of the plane

Packing for Safari -Planning Stage

So I had to get creative packing for safari and do the hard editing with the clothes and the trip.  Given the vast differences in temperatures for the various locations for my time away, I decided to pack two bags – one duffel for the safari portion (10 days with drab colors -khaki, olive greens, browns) and one carry on rolled bag (with my jeans and black East Coast uniform comfort zone clothes) for the rest of the trip. I was flying business class on SAA from IAD-JNB and decided to carry the (heavy) duffel bag onboard while checking the other bag. Unfortunately, the duffel could not be hard sided with wheels – it had to be able to be squashed which made it heavy to carry through the airport.

On a trip to Venice, I had read about storing your luggage at the airport to avoid the congested and often flooded city (which I did and it was fabulous!).  Traveling with an overnight bag was perfect for that visit. With that in mind, I looked at my itinerary and realized that I was not coming back through Johannesburg airport (slight planning fail) so I could not store my luggage there during my trip.

Oddballs' Camp Okavango Delta Botswana
Oddballs’ Camp Okavango Delta Botswana

So what to do with my luggage? A crazy idea started to form – why don’t I ship my bag from Johannesburg hotel to Capetown hotel – surely there is fedex or other shipping option available.  Of course there were but they would cost $200-$300! Oh boy, I didn’t realize this during the safari planning or would have rerouted back through Jburg.  But first, I need to get that duffel bag and figure out how to pack it with everything I needed for safari, shipping my luggage to Capetown is another involved story for later.

Finding the Right Safari Duffel Bag

Visiting the sporting goods store, I realized just how big (small) the duffel bag was and started freaking out.  It had to be a soft pack -no wheels, no frame.  Staying in a tent was no longer the biggest fear, packing this bag would be (I’ve improved my packing lately with South America as a trial run).   Eagle Creek has a really nice selection of travel options and their medium duffel matched the exact dimensions (24 x 12 x 11) required.  As they only had orange (not quite on the drab color wheel) I went with it and added a luggage scale (they are very strict with weights for luggage outside the US) and space bags (I was ready to try anything).

Packing for Safari in the Eagle Creek - medium duffel -my safari bag for ten days
Packing for Safari in the Eagle Creek medium duffel -my safari bag for ten days

Packing for Safari – Multiple Attempts

Such angst so far with the tent and duffel bag- I’m not usually this crazy with my travels.    Now to hunt for safari appropriate clothes – me the girl who hates to shop.  Once everything was bought and/or borrowed from friends, my pre-packing began a month ahead (can’t let this go last minute like some trips). My first trial didn’t go well -the suggested list of items didn’t fit.  I then tried the spacebags (as seen on TV) and while they fit everything and would be waterproof, the bag was too heavy for me to carry. I would be carrying this bag on/off planes for ten days and it needed to be manageable. I then rearranged a few items, tried again and made it work – it was a bit like a tin of Pillsbury rolls – all vacuum packed and then twist and it explodes.  There wasn’t much air left in the bag – just enough for a few souvenirs maybe? The best part was when I got so many compliments on how well I packed with just the duffel – how could I do that they asked eyeing their own multitude of bags. Little did they know about the bag in transit!

What are your tips for packing for safari? Have you had safari packing challenges to deal with?  What did you do?


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