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The best African safari luggage is completely different to the best luggage for a city trip or backpacking expedition.
Dusty savanna, cramped buses, a jam-packed Land Cruiser bouncing into the wilderness…there are some very unique conditions that make it important to choose specific safari luggage.
The single most important part of African travel is having a suitable bag. Everything else you can work out after you have arrived. But luggage? It’s going to stay with you, so you need to choose well.
The Basics of All Safari Luggage – Pack Light!
An elephant does not care what you look like. Neither does a lion, or even a safari guide. So put the fancy clothes away and get practical. The wilderness simply isn’t a place for frivolities and that starts with your safari luggage.
First take a look at our detailed guide on what to pack for an African safari. In short – pack light and keep it simple. Why? Well, however you plan to travel in Africa it’s going to be crowded, and there isn’t enough space for big safari luggage.
- Light aircraft safari flights have strict 15 kg (33 lb) baggage weight limits
- Safari vehicles are designed for off-roading and don’t have much space for luggage
- Travel on public transport and you must be comfortable carrying your own luggage, including walking with it for more than a kilometre.
On an African adventure you will be moving from place to place. On many safaris you go to a different camp every day. So there isn’t even time to unpack everything. Just take the basics and stay practical – this isn’t a fashion statement!
It doesn’t help if you are a wizard at folding clothing into crease-free, super-flat, super-organized piles. If your safari luggage is a complete dinosaur it’s going to be disastrous. 🙂
And all the skillful arrangement adds up to nothing if your bag weighs more than King Kong with the Empire State Building in his left hand, and a distressed blonde in his right!
How to Pick the Best Safari Luggage
Let’s recap on the conditions, especially if you haven’t been on an African safari.
On an African safari you will be driving off-road, often on arid landscapes shrouded in dust. If it’s not dusty it will probably be muddy.
Take a holiday at an all-inclusive beach resort and you only use your luggage once – to get from home to the resort. In Africa you will be on the move. Whether public or private transport, flights or local buses, all that moving means stuff will spill and your safari luggage is going to get dirty.
There are usually two options when it comes to what to wear on holiday. Change your clothes every day, or change your destination every day instead. Move regularly between destinations and you don’t need lots of luggage. And don’t worry if your clothes are a little sweat or dust-stained. You will look more out of place in incredibly clean clothes!
It’s going to be hot, probably very hot. You will be battling against humidity. If it’s rainy season, you and your luggage will get drenched. These can be tough conditions so the fundamental principal of all safari luggage is to make it easier for yourself.
Here is how to choose safari luggage that will make an African adventure easier, not more challenging.
1. A need for reasonable quality (but don’t go designer and expensive)
The eternal conundrum is whether to head for an exclusive luggage shop or select the cheapest, most rubbish piece of safari baggage available at a local supermarket.
Airline baggage controllers do not distinguish between designer labels and care not for price tags – your bags get completely stuffed up, whether you paid a small fortune or got them in the bargain bin.
Your bag will be treated like a bag of potatoes by the majority of the people who handle it, from baggage controllers to local bus boys squashing your carefully labelled luggage next to some chickens and maize sacks. Be warned – fragile stickers don’t work, especially not when you are on safari.
Spending hundreds or thousands on Louis Vuitton’s finest or the very latest Antler miracle is not a wise thing. And the cheapest safari luggage won’t live up to the demands of traveling in Africa.
So go for a good, middle of the road bag – the “iSpot” duffel bag range from Travelite is a recommended choice. They are durable and inexpensive.
iSpots are soft, relatively light and have a built-in wheely handle so you can pull them along the road and runway when neccessary. Their zips are concealed, and all have locking facilities on them (so many lightweight bags only have locking docks on their main zips and not on side pockets).
They are rugged, hard-wearing and spacious enough for two-week trips in Africa. The seams won’t rip and dispose half your belongings onto a buffalo-covered savanna.
2. Soft, squishy bags work best
In Africa there is plenty of space for elephants to charge around. But there is not enough space for luggage. Keeping your weight below 15 kg is important. Your safari luggage needs to mould and squeeze into any available space.
Solid state suitcases may be good for European city trips but they are completely impractical for Africa. These massive, stainless steel megalodons are too bulky, do not stack neatly, and take up too much unnecessary room.
African safaris require soft, squishy bags that can be squeezed into small spaces. Duffel bags are perfect for this. Backpacks are also a good choice, provided they don’t have a protruding and inflexible frame.
So let’s recap. The perfect safari luggage is light, squishy, hard-wearing, rugged enough for the dusty savanna and spacious enough for the safari essentials.
3. Reduce the volume of your safari luggage
That aside, the volume of your bag should also be taken into account. A 70-liter capacity is around average. There are some excellent duffels out there, especially those designed for diving or adventure pursuits, which offer more space.
But remember that a tightly packed soft bag is better than a loosely packed one, because it keeps your belongings from rolling around and getting damaged. It also prevents your cosmetics bag getting a bang and leaking its contents all over your clothes.
Some duffel bags have straps that can compress the contents inside. These are ideal, as you can start light and still be compressed, then expand if you end up purchasing half a bag of souvenirs.
4. Other key considerations
A wet bag is a great idea for cosmetics. Don’t buy an expensive one. You can use a run-of-the-mill high-street supermarket bag and tie the handles up tight to prevent unwanted spillages.
Consider decanting things like shampoo and moisturizer into small containers, or buy them in small bottles to begin with (The Body Shop, for example, has some great small bottles of products which are ideal for travelling). This reduces volume.
Your choice of safari luggage is peculiar to you and your needs, what you want to put in it and where you are going. Whether you spend a lot of money on it or not, just make sure that it is secure with decent locks or, failing that, cable ties.
When flying, never put anything of value in it (jewellery, cameras, computers, cellphones etc). And if it gets damaged by an airline’s baggage handler, make sure you stand up for your rights and get it either repaired or replaced.
Where to Take Your Safari Luggage
Now you know what to take and how to take it. So go out and explore! 🙂
But where? These Africa safari guides will help you plan the best trip in different locations – South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, gorilla trekking. Hopefully your safari luggage will keep returning to Africa, and see as many countries as you do.