Having perfected the art of packing the right clothes for the right destination, spent years honing my skills to travel as light as possible, and circumnavigated (ridiculous) liquid restrictions as much as reasonably possible, I’ve come to understand that the hardest part important when traveling to Africa is to have a suitable suitcase.
It doesn’t help if you’re a wizard in the art of folding clothes into wrinkle-free, super-flat piles, and even more super-organized if the bag you’re putting everything in is a complete dinosaur and should have been pastured back in the Cretaceous period.
And all the skillful arrangement of carefully weighed clothing and cosmetics is of no use if your bag tips the scales to more than King Kong with the Empire State Building in his left hand and an angsty blonde in his right!
So. Luggage is key to a successful and stress-free trip. Right? Well, it certainly has its part to play.
The perennial dilemma I face is whether to head to the upscale luggage store and shell out big bucks on a super-efficient, as light as possible, all-singing-and-dance designer brand, or select the cheapest, junkiest piece. luggage that I can claim at the local supermarket. The reason I’m asking this question is that when you travel as much as I do, you soon realize that airline baggage screeners don’t distinguish between designer tags and don’t care about price tags: your bags fill up for complete, whether you have paid a small fortune for them. or got them in the bargain bin at less than cost.
So the question you really need to ask yourself is “will my bag withstand the rigors of modern air travel?” In my opinion, there are two answers to that: “rarely” and “only on a good day”.
Let’s first assume that your luggage arrives at the same destination as you, on the same flight as you. These days it seems like many major airlines have trouble routing bags to the right place at the right time. So, always be grateful when you see your bag on the carousel, assuming, of course, that there is a carousel at your destination airport. And a word to the wise, a lot of international safari destination airports don’t have carousels, but merry men who literally throw your bags through little holes in the walls onto the floor or roughly hewn countertops.
Your suitcase, when you say goodbye to it when you check-in at your departure airport, which is usually first world, will be treated like a bag of potatoes by most of the people who handle it from that moment on, since whether first, second, third or third world. aliens!
Be careful: fragile stickers do not work. I’ve lost count of the number of times my “fragile” bag has turned upside down and smashed to pieces on a carousel or at the bottom of a huge pile of luggage teetering dangerously on the back of a tractor and trailer. Nothing works, except sheer luck and the possibility that the person handling your bag has a vague idea that its contents are actually valuable.
So. Spending hundreds or thousands on the best Louis Vuitton or the latest Antler miracle is not a smart thing to do. I tried the cheap and cheerful approach, but found myself buying stock at the local “el cheapo” luggage store, so decided to go for a good in-between bag: Travelite’s “iSpot” range of duffel bags.
The first thing to be aware of on most safaris involving small planes as connecting flights is that a) they usually have a weight limit of around 15kg and b) they require soft, squishy bags that can be squeezed in small spaces, not huge stainless steel megalodons filled with everything but the kitchen sink!
My iSpots are smooth, relatively lightweight, and have a built-in wheeled handle, which means I don’t always have to search for a cart. Their zippers are concealed and they all have locking devices (many lightweight bags only have locking springs on their main zippers and not the side pockets, which irritates me to the core!).
They are robust, strong and roomy enough for two-week trips or small enough for a couple of days here and there.
Fully packed, I rarely exceed 15kg in my main bag and carry a backpack with me for cameras, binos, netbook and in-flight necessities. Despite this, however, my main iSpot duffel bag, which cost me over R1500 (about 150 Euros or $200) has been replaced three times in the last two years by three different airlines, thanks to air handlers luggage was damaged.
So once you have a bag that’s light, soft, strong, strong enough, and roomy enough, it’s only a matter of time before it gets damaged by an airline or their handlers.
Apart from that, the volume of your bag must be taken into account. My large duffel bag has a 71 liter capacity, which is about average. There are some excellent duffel bags, especially those designed for scuba diving or adventure activities, that offer more space, but remember that a well-packed soft bag is better than a loose one because it prevents your belongings from rolling around and being damaged, and your gear bag. cosmetics or bath products from knocking over and spilling their contents on your clothes.
A wet bag is a great idea for cosmetics and I always take the extra precaution of placing it in a regular grocery bag and tying the handles tight to prevent unwanted spillage.
I decant things like shampoo and moisturizer into small containers, or buy them in small bottles to start with (The Body Shop, for example, has some great little bottles of products that are great for travel).
At the end of the day, your choice of bag 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 it’s secured with decent locks or, failing that, cable ties. Never put anything of value in it (jewelry, cameras, computers, cell phones, etc.) and if it is damaged by airline baggage handlers, be sure to stand up for yourself and have it repaired or replaced.
Have a good trip!;)