Written by: Alanna Wallace
So, you’ve done your research and chosen the best volunteer placement in Africa for you – now the time comes to embark on your adventure and the anxiety builds. You don’t want to over-pack for your African adventure – but you also don’t want to leave anything behind!
Never fear – volunteer in Africa expert Alanna gives you some serious packing hacks that will save your suitcase and sanity.
#1. Find a toiletries bag that can fold/hang
Toiletries like shampoos, soaps and your first aid kit can take up space and weight in your bag – not to mention all the small items can feel cluttered in your bag. Find a toiletries bag that you can hang somewhere in your volunteer accommodation, and one that folds out, like the one pictured here. It’ll keep you organized and safe on space.
#2. Maximize space by rolling clothes
There is some online debate about this one – but I truly believe rolling clothing items is the best space saver. It’s the way most flight attendants do it – and they can’t possibly be wrong! If you’re interning in Africa (meaning you’re there for months at a time) maybe invest in vacuum-sealed bags, which will maximize space in your luggage. If you go this route, be sure to stay conscious of weight requirements as the kgs will add up quickly this way!
#3. Identify your bag in some special way
Whether it’s a colourful bobble your grandmother knit you or a funky suitcase tag, find some way to identify your bag in the sea of suitcases on the carousel. This will give you piece of mind when you are picking it up at the end of your travels.
#4. Use all the space available
If your volunteer project working with lions asks that you bring welly boots (for the rainy season), don’t miss out on using the empty space! Stuff shoes with socks, underwear or – my personal favourite – extra pairs of sunglasses! The shoes will protect anything that can be broken particularly if they’re surrounded by clothes in your suitcase.
#5. Cover bottles with cling film / Saran wrap
A quick and easy way to avoid dreaded spills – cover the openings of bottles with cling film and replace the caps over top to ensure the rest of your luggage arrives dry
#6. Invest in some gadgets
There are some incredible gadgets out there for volunteering abroad. My current favourite is the portable charger pictured here. I can charge my smartphone in airports (when others are hogging the plugs!), if the power goes out, and even during long car journeys if I take a road trip adventure. Other gadgets I recommend include head lamps, GoPro cameras and a flashlight clip for reading.
#7. Store electronics together
There’s nothing worse than dozens of loose cords and chargers in your luggage. Use old glasses cases, or even Ziploc bags to keep everything in order!
#8. Go paperless!
Try to avoid printing boarding passes, flight itineraries, etc. and instead download them onto your smartphone or tablet. Not having to flip through dozens of papers will save you time and stress. Instead, organize all the small belongings you need to check in with ease in a passport wallet like the one pictured here. As for your African Impact Pre-Departure Information: save the PDF to your tablet instead of printing it out!
#9. Keep your bag neat and tidy
Some simple ways to avoid a smelly, dirty bag include covering your shoes with a shower cap to stop dirt from getting on your clothes, and popping a dryer sheet in your case to keep it smelling fresh!
#10. The final decision
When I’m finished packing for my travels to Africa, I do one more thing – I take out two items that I packed. I’m a chronic overpacker (and overplanner) so I can always find two things with ease that I realize I’ll never use. This trip it was a sparkly long-sleeved top (what was I kidding it’s the middle of summer!) and moisturizer (which I can buy there and was adding unnecessary weight).
That’s it – the best advice for packing for your volunteer trip in Africa. If you’re still undecided about where to go or what to do, why not take a look at some of our volunteer programs in South Africa?