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I haven't been everywhere yet,

but it's on my list!

  • Writer's pictureDeborah Latham

Packing List for South Africa Trip

Updated: Sep 21, 2023

How I packed for 14 days in a carry on bag and a backpack!

I finally got the chance to go on a bucket list trip! From Tennessee to South Africa! This was the chance of a lifetime, and I was very nervous. I went in December which is the beginning of their summer. I booked my trip through SmarTours, (get $150 off - YOUR REFERRAL CODE: NGK-6KV) , and then realized, I had no clue how to pack for this trip! I researched temperatures and saw they could vary from 50's to 90's in the different locations we were scheduled to visit for that time of year. I don't like to be burdened with a ton of luggage on a trip. I like to travel light and not have to go through baggage claim, but I also want to have everything I need. Thankfully, I am excellent at packing!

I prefer a hard shell carry on for international travel. That along with a camera backpack is all I need! I was the only person on a tour of 24 people that just had a carry on and backpack. My bag was referred to as the clown car of luggage at one time, because I still had everything anyone could need, and I was willing to share when someone needed something they didn't have!

I absolutely love this camera backpack. You are able to adjust the compartment for the camera to fit extra lenses, and it has a laptop compartment on the back of it. Also it has a drawstring compartment on the top section, which is where I carried my medicines, makeup, toiletries and some small items! In the camera compartment I had my binoculars, camera, lenses, chargers, etc. The camera section opens from the top or the side for easy access when you need your camera in a hurry!

First and foremost on every packing list I have is PASSPORT and MEDICINE! There is nothing like getting to the airport and realizing you don't have your passport! I keep my passport in the front pocket of the backpack as it has a zipper with a flap over it and I know it is secure and easy to access!


  • Passport (I also take a picture of my passport and have it in my iPhone notes with a picture of my driver's license just in case)

  • Credit Cards (I make a note with the phone numbers from the back of card in case of any issues. Don't forget to notify your bank/credit card companies that you are leaving the country. There's nothing worse than going to make a purchase and it getting declined.)

  • Medicine (It is very important to take the original bottles with your prescription information on it when traveling internationally)

  • Phone Charger (I take two just in case one stops working or gets lost)

  • Power Bank (The SAFUEL Portable Charger came in handy for more than one person on our tour). It will charge a phone at least 4 times and you can plug in more than one phone at a time. I highly recommend it. When you are taking pictures and videos, your phone will drain faster than normal. There's nothing worse than a phone dying when a lion is walking in front of your safari vehicle!

  • Laptop with charger (I work remotely, so I have to take mine. If you don't need it, then save yourself carrying the extra weight)

  • Camera with charger, extra batteries, and SD card. I used a Canon M-50 on this trip and got some amazing photos!

  • Zoom Lens (some people say you don't need this, but I have photos that you couldn't get without a good zoom lens. I'm so glad I bought it!) I used a Canon 100-400 mm lens.

  • Binoculars - not many people brought these, but I shared mine with others in the safari vehicle since I had my zoom lens on my camera to look through! If I had it to do over again, I would have purchased a more compact pair such as those included in this link.

  • Clear Toiletries Bag with all liquids (travel size shampoo, conditioner, deodorant, toothpaste, toothbrush, travel size downy spray & release, tide stain remover stick, and liquid mosquito repellant) As far as the mosquito repellant goes, I wasn't taking any chances getting malaria. I got travel size Ben's 100% Deet Mosquito Repellant. It doesn't stink and I did not put it on my skin. I wiped my body down with the Ben's 30% mosquito repellant wipes and lightly sprayed my clothes (avoiding anything plastic) with the spray. I did not get bitten by any mosquitoes, and I am a magnet for them usually.

  • Makeup (tip: go to Sephora and get samples of serum, moisturizer, concealer, etc. This saves a lot of room, and you can try a new product or two) I usually pack a very small bag with just the basics. Foundation with SPF, powder, eyebrow pencil, mascara, eyeliner, small eyeshadow palette, and lipstick.

  • Sunblock (a small travel size sunblock for safari days is a must!) I am partial to the individual packets because they pack so easily and don't take up much space.

  • Underwear and Pajamas (I pack these in a small packing cube with my pajamas and carry that in the backpack. I try not to have to unpack anything out of my suitcase in my night in Newark before the flight to South Africa).

  • Flip Flops - I don't like to walk around in hotels barefooted so always take a pair of flip-flops.

  • Sandals (I love Teva sandals for walking in hot climates because they have great support and my feet don't get too hot. They can also be worn to dinner without looking to bad).

  • Tennis Shoes (I wore these on the plane as not to take up space in luggage)

  • Compression Hose (or socks) These are a must for long airplane trips! I have gotten blood clots before from long days of travel. I found these hose to be more comfortable than socks as they don't cut off your circulation at the knees.

  • 7 pairs of shorts/capris/skorts (I took 2 pairs of denim shorts, 2 skorts, a pair of cargo shorts, and 2 pairs of capris.

  • 7 tank tops/camis (I prefer to layer with a cardigan or button up shirt in case I get hot. Also, tank tops and camis roll up very small!)

  • 3 layering shirts/cardigans to wear on top of tank tops if it gets chilly or bugs are bad.

  • 3 t-shirts

  • 2 dressier non wrinkle tops for dinner (all the dinners are casual so you don't have to pack dressy clothes. I just like a couple of nicer options).

  • Safari Hat (This is the one I purchased and I got so many compliments on it!)

  • Leggings for plane

  • Lightweight jacket (I wore this on the plane to save the room in my suitcase and in Cape Town at the top of Table Mountain, I was sure glad I had it!)

  • Extra tote bag (folded up on top of clothes in carry on in case I buy too many souvenirs and need to check my carry on bag on the way home. I didn't buy too much to pack, but did by alcohol in the duty free shop in the airport and was glad to have the tote for my flight from Newark back to Tennessee.)

  • Disposable Wipes (some of the public bathrooms may not have toilet paper, so individual wrapped wipes you can stick in your pocket work wonderfully). These also double as hand wipes and makeup wipes. I was very thankful I purchased these, and I shared a few packets here and there. They will definitely accompany me on all future trips!

  • First Aid Kit (just a mini one with bandaids, antibiotic ointment etc. will do. I was glad I took this as I needed it a couple of times).

  • Fingernail clippers and nail file (I don't know about you, but there is nothing worse than tearing a nail and not having a way to fix it)

  • Epi Pen (I have extreme allergies to a lot of things, so this is a must for me. I let everyone on the tour know that it was in the front pocket of my backpack so that if it was needed at anytime, everyone knew where it was.)

  • Printed copies of plane tickets, itinerary, emergency numbers for tour company, travel insurance (if you have an issue with lost/stolen phone, no service in airport, etc., you will be glad you have back up copies)

  • Cash for tips (I recommend taking $1's and $5's in new bills or undamaged bills) I did not exchange money in South Africa. I tipped everything in US dollars. Everywhere we went took credit cards for purchases. They recommend getting local currency, but I did not and never had a need for it.

  • Hair scrunchies with hidden zipper (These are great for rolling up $15-$20 of cash for the day) I highly recommend these for every day use! I use them all the time. I wear them on my wrist and in my hair. On the trip, it was great and when I'd pull cash out the look of surprise on cashier's faces was great! I drive Uber part time and it's great for hiding my key and cash tips!

  • Phone case with hidden wallet (I did not carry a purse the whole trip). This case comes in other colors also. You can put a pop socket on the back of it without interfering with the wallet. It comfortably holds a drivers license and 2 credit cards, possibly 3 depending on the thickness of the cards. I am still using this case and I love it! People compliment it all the time.

To get everything into my bags, I simply roll all my undergarments and pajamas into a small cube that fits in my backpack top compartment along with medicines, small makeup bag, first aid kit, toiletries bag. The disposable wipes go wherever I can slide them in between things and in pockets of the bag. Camera, zoom lens, chargers, adapters, and binoculars go in the camera section. I then roll all my clothes as small as I can and pack them in my carry on bag and lay my sandals and flip-flops upside down on top. I didn't even have to use the extension zipper on my carry-on! I still had clothes left over at the end of the trip too! They do offer laundry service at one of the hotels so you could pack a little lighter, but I had enough clothing that I did not have to use this service, saving me some money!

I hope this helps with your packing needs, and you enjoy your next journey as much as I enjoyed mine! This was an unforgettable trip and adventure of a lifetime!

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