A trip to South Africa is filled with ‘what dreams are made of’ experiences, legendary landscapes, epic views of wildlife, incredible food and drink and genuine people. The whole journey fits under that ‘bucket list’ category and whether it’s your first time or tenth, an adventure in South Africa is filled with memory making moments that change you from the inside out.
But what should you pack? Think carefully about how to maximize your space, minimize weight, and choose items that will add joy to your journey. What you pack it all in matters too!
Choosing a Bag
South Africa’s rough surfaces and uneven streets are a nightmare for wheeled suitcases, even in Cape Town. It is enough to convince a seasoned traveler to switch to a travel backpack.
The first thing to consider is size. Going carry on only will make you more mobile. Besides being easier to carry around, there’s the added benefit of avoiding checked bag fees, waiting for your luggage at the carousel, and potentially lost or damaged luggage.
You’ll also want a suitcase-style opening. Top-loading backpacks are terrible for travel. You pack them from the top like a garbage bag and then you have to dump it all out to find anything. With a backpack that opens like a suitcase, you can access everything you need with ease.
Also, pleeease choose a backpack with a hip belt. A hip belt can transfer up to 80% of the bag’s weight to your stronger leg muscles. Your shoulders will thank me.
The Setout Backpack — named Carryology’s best carry on — is ideal for a trip to South Africa. It maxes out carry on dimensions so you can pack everything you need and still have room leftover for souvenirs. It opens like a suitcase so you can stay organized, and it has a comfy, padded hip belt to make carrying a breeze. Plus, it has a subdued look that won’t scream “tourist” like neon hiking bags.
The kind of daypack you choose is going to depend on what you are using it for. If you need something that packs super small and is perfect for a day of sightseeing, then the Setout Daypack is all you need. If you want something a little more robust, made of waterproof material, with room for your laptop or tablet, the Outbreaker Daypack has you covered.
Documents & Details
Make sure your passport is valid. All travelers going to South Africa must have a passport that’s valid for 6 months past date of entry. I know this doesn’t make much sense, but that’s how it is — so double check your passport expiration date well in advance.
Make a copy of your passport and keep that copy and passport separate. You can also leave a second copy with a trusted friend or family member at home (or as a digital file) — just in case! If your passport gets lost or stolen, having a copy can help speed up the replacement process.
From the minute you leave home till the minute you return, you’ll need proof that you’re you. Safeguard your documents while you travel (in an inner pocket of your bag) and make copies of everything, both paper and digital, as back up.
- Contact details of your hotel or lodging
- Contact details for your airlines, and anything else you might need
- Passport (with at least 6 months past date of entry before expiry)
- Copy of front page of passport
- Copy of proof of travel insurance
- Copy of immunizations with dates of activation and expiration
- Currency: some Rand (ZAR) prior to arrival in country (order from your bank, or get through a currency exchange); and bank card with 4-digit pin card (your ATM card is the best way to get Rand on the ground and offers the best exchange rate)
- Credit cards: those with no foreign transaction fees are best (if possible bring at least two different types – Visa/MasterCard are the most widely accepted overseas)
Your journey to Cape Town and the rest of South Africa, will likely be filled with all sorts of different adventures – be ready for anything. Long pants and long sleeves for safari days, casual clothing for wine tasting extraordinaire, sturdy shoes for mountain biking and swimwear for those relaxing days at the beach.
While you probably won’t need anything formal, be sure that you have at least one nicer outfit (pants and a nice top are fine) in your bag that you could wear for dinner or going out. While you’re likely to be based in Cape Town, be prepared for outings across the country and those come with varied climates, varied activities and varied topography. Get your gear and get ready for adventure.
- 2-3 pair travel pants for men & women
- 2 long sleeve shirts (lightweight)
- 4 t-shirts or tank tops
- 1 pair sweatpants or lounge wear for cool nights
- 1 sweatshirt
- 1 pair closed toed sturdy shoes
- 1 pair sandals or flip flops
- 1 bandana or scarf
- 1-2 swimwear
- 1 light jacket or sweatshirt (depending on the season)
- 5 pair underwear
- 2-3 bras (for women)
- 6 pair socks (at least 6 pair)
- 1 pajamas
- 1 nice outfit for evenings out
- 1 pair sunglasses
- 1 rain jacket
Tech & Gear
Don’t miss a moment of your trip. Have your camera charged up and at the ready. Make sure your phone plan works and know the fee structure before you go so that you can stay connected to folks at home. Please note that electrical socket types found in South Africa are D, M and N. The standard voltage is 230 V and the standard frequency is 50 Hz.
If you are from a country with 100-127 volt power, you will need a converter in Cape Town and across South Africa.
Consider including the following:
- Laptop and chargers
- Preferred work gear: external hard drive, laptop stand & external keyboard
- Converters & necessary cables
- Powerstrip (this will let you charge everything at once through only one outlet)
- Travel alarm clock (today most travelers use their phones)
- Mobile phone & chargers (be sure to check with your carriers on how to avoid roaming
- Portable charger & cables
- Camera with extra battery, memory cards, or hard drives
No one wants to be sick ever, no less on a journey of a lifetime. Pack your first aid kit, bring your necessary meds and consider some of the most likely ‘what ifs’ (like mosquito bites in summer and heel blisters from lots of city wanderings). A little pre-planning goes a long way.
- First aid kit (band aids, alcohol wipes, anti-sting pads, bandage, medical tape plus others)
- If meds are loose (inhalers, epi pens) be sure to have their labels or prescriptions with generic names included
- Epi – pens (if you typically carry them; bring two)
- Anti-malaria meds (check with your travel doctor, the CDC or the WHO websites to confirm if needed)
If there is one area where most people overpack it is in toiletries. Remember that everything you need you can buy there. The only things you should definitely pack plenty of are items for which you are brand specific, or if you have an allergy or prescription item. Otherwise, pack only a two or three day supply and plan to buy what you need once you get there.
TSA rules require 3.4 oz containers that all fit into one quart sized ziplock bag. Consider switching to dry items, like shampoo bars and grooming products, to maximize the room in your liquids bag.
Consider including the following:
- Antibacterial lotion, spray & wipes
- Toilet paper
- Sunscreen (especially if you’re sensitive to allergies)
- Lip balm
- Shampoo, conditioner, & soap
- Hair essentials
- Shaving & grooming essentials
- Skin care regimen essentials
- Toothbrush & toothpaste
- Contacts or glasses if this applies
- Deodorant (non-aerosol)
- Bug spray, cream and/or essential oils
When you’re packing for South Africa you’re packing for adventures of all sorts: urban, rural, safari and ocean. Pack in layers and be ready for anything.
- Pack in a carry on bag
- Consider a capsule wardrobe
- Sockets are D, M & V, voltage is 220
- Pack a basic med and first aid kit
- Go easy on the toiletries, you can buy them there
- Carry copies of all of your documents