Light Enough To Travel


After 18 months of volunteering in Rwanda, I shall soon be tripping off on a five week holiday on my way home. I will gradually be wending my way down to the bottom of Africa via some beach time in Zanzibar, a three day train journey across Tanzania, a four day canoe camping safari in Zimbabwe, more trains and, well, you get the picture. I will then fly home from Cape Town.

Having found generous friends to take my two suitcases home, I’m free to wander off with my backpack.  But what to pack? I’m not known for austerity and hate to be without my lotions and potions.  That said, I’m determined to join the ‘under 10kgs carry-on luggage’ backpacking fellowship while still packing a few little luxuries. Granted, I’m not going off for a year, but I think there is much the same for a short trip like this as well.

Below is my 10kg backpacking list (OK, it came to 10.2kgs) tips and links to sites I have found particularly useful. I remain unsure if I really need my rain jacket as I will be travelling in the dry season and I think one shirt may be too little.  On the other hand, my make up brushes, bronzers and two pairs of sunglasses are essential! I would love to hear your ideas, tips and comments on whether you think I have this right or not.

gadgets and general kit

gadgets and general kit

General Kit

  • Duct tape – uber useful for lots of things.
  • String – for makeshift washing line.
  • One adaptor for iphone and Kindle charging – mine isn’t fancy but will work in most places. I don’t have any other choice but you can buy more complex (but usually heavier) ones online etc.
  • Small pair binoculars – essential for birders like myself but optional!
  • Small camera – I dispensed with SLR kit some time ago.  I love photography but hate carrying all the kit when travelling around and the attention it draws to me.  I have a Canon Powershot S95  Fantastic little camera.
  • TWO pairs of sunglasses – I’m rather particular about sunglasses and HATE squinting (terrible for ageing lines!). I’ll wear the sport ones when canoeing and when sun is really bright.  Otherwise, I love my Ray Bans.  Both pairs have polarized lenses.  Essential in my book.
  • Head torch – don’t leave home without one! A must for power outs, reading etc.
  • Kindle – remember you can add travel guides to this.  I don’t hear the best reviews of guides on Kindles but there is no room for any actual books in this packing list.
  • iphone – after some consideration, I’ve decided to DHL my laptop home and keep my old iphone as my only ‘true’ gadget.  I have apps on it which will greatly enhance my travels.  These include a diary app called Day One to keep a record of everything along with photos, The Sasol Birds of Southern Africa guide, and Star Walk, for gazing at unfamiliar stars. Possibly the best app ever. 
  • On the subject of phones, I will also be getting an SIM which covers the countries I’m going to.
  • Eye mask and good ear plugs. 
  • A handheld fan. Oh yes.
  • Sleep sheet.

First Aid Kit

  • Antihistamine pills and cream for all those bity things and the reactions to them. I NEVER leave home without these.
  • Tea Tree oil – an excellent all-rounder anti-bacterial for cuts and so on without being a gooey cream which often helps infections fester.  I am planning on making little Fucidin H pouches of cream from drinking straws though (see 13). Mainly to see if it works.
  • A generic penicillin good for parasites and other nasties.
  • Malaria drugs if necessary.

    First Aid Kit

    First Aid Kit

  • Immodium Melts for emergencies – they work really fast. I don’t bother with rehydration sachets and all that malarkey. Coca Cola and a salty meal do the same.
  • Vitamins – If you get run down easily.
  • Pain killers/anti inflammatories
  • For women – you DO NOT want to get thrush or a urinary infection hundreds of miles from a pharmacy with infrequent access to the loo so get the necessary drugs. Some women chose to have little/no periods when travelling such as taking the pill all the time or having a coil fitted.  Otherwise, take tampons with you as a back-up as these are hard to find.


Make – up Kit – prettifying stuff (danger: indulgence section)

  • One neutral eye cream and an all-rounder palette eye shadow if you can’t bear to be without it.  Keep neutral. My eye palette has a highlighter for the whole socket and a brown that doubles as an eyebrow shaper. A little bit of sparkle is also nice for a beachy evening.
  • A small lip gloss and bronzer with blush keeps you looking fresh and dewy rather than dry and pruney.
  • If you can’t imagine life without a make-up brush (like me), keep to a minimum and either break off wooden handles or buy small travel ones.  I’ve kept one brush for blusher and eye sockets as well as a small multi-purpose and tiny eyeliner brush. Pah! To you scorners!
  • Touche éclat – do I need to explain?!
  • A few bits of jewellery. Nothing expensive that you will miss.  You are BOUND to buy stuff when you are away. Try and match things up.
  • A small travel perfume. Oh yes.
  • Body bronzy sparkly oil – really good on that dry skin!



  • Backpack is a Deuter Women’s Act Lite 35+10 that I bought on a visit to South Africa a while back.  There wasn’t much choice but now I’ve used it a few times, I can strongly recommend it.  Empty, it weighs just 1.4kgs. and it easily adjusts to your back length and is not easy for sneaky hands to get into. IMG_5887 It has all the usual features you’d expect from a mid-range pack but it doesn’t have a rain cover.  Some people like rain covers to foil nimble fingers more than as a rain deterrent. I have a lock and cable for mine so I can also tie it to things. It’s a longer thinner pack so when fully packed, it goes 11 cms over the usual allowance for length of 56 cms.  I’m not that worried as I can just wear some of my kit while boarding.
  • A light cotton shoulder bag (with a zip!) is really useful for when not needing your IMG_5889whole pack and can fold up easily into the pack.
  • A small bag to wear at all times for easy access and protection for cash and so on but try not to carry everything in one place.
  • I have packed clothes into a makeshift packing cube (it’s actually the bag my mosquito net came in).  It really does reduce creases in clothes so I put things like shirts and trousers in here.
  • The rest of my clothing and gadgets have gone into dry sacks. When rolled, they take a lot of air out as well as being useful for organising and not getting stuff wet… did I mention the canoeing?! 



  • Keep all sizes small (under 100mls and no more than 1 litre in total is the general rule). You can always buy more.
  • I LOVE Dr Bronner’s Magic Soap. It lasts for ever as you only need a few drops and it’s fine on your face, as a lather for shaving and even washing your clothes in!
  • Good sunscreen. I have a separate sunblock for my face as I burn really easily.
  • A small proper hairbrush is a luxury. No doubt. But I’ve tried those little plasticy ones and they make my hair stand on end.  I hate them.
  • A small mirror and tweezers to help you keep a check on turning into a swamp woman.


Clothes that match and have multi functions are best. Think about where you are going and how modest (men and women!) you might need to dress. Many cultures find things like scruffy hair, shorts and flip flops to be quite offensive. These should often just be for the beach.  I’ve mostly chosen brown, green, blue clothing due to wildlife watching when I go canoeing.  Light clothes and khaki are not a good idea. They also show up the dirt more.

  • One long sleeved shirt, quick drying, with collar – this shirt will be great when canoeing.
  • One long sleeved T-shirt for fending off mosquitoes and the sun (I like Craghoppers NosiLife.
  • Three short sleeved T-shirts for general wear
  • Versatile active wear trousers that convert to shorts – I’m not a big shorts wearer as they can often be inappropriate when travelling so this will do.
  • Thin cotton (Hammer Time!) trousers with elasticated bottoms– not my regular choice but great for when on the move and using toilets you’d prefer not to drag your trouser bottoms on…
  • One pair of leggings – really versatile and double up as bed wear.
  • Long skirt – I live in this skirt and it goes with everything. It’s not a real pack down item but what the hell.  In general, skirts are way better than trousers – see above re toilets…
  • Halter neck red dress – this is definitely a luxury item as it has a lot of material in it but will be perfect for ‘beach to bar’ in Zanzibar.
  • A thick fleece for chilly nights (which can be layered up with T-shirts and rain jacket)
  • A small cardigan to compliment most tops
  • Two vests with support – great for hot nights!
  • One swimming costume – a bikini would take up less room and dry faster but I would rather die than be seen in a bikini
  • A cotton sarong that doubles up as a towel.  Travel towels make my skin crawl but most recommend these.  I’m happy with my sarong as it has three roles; towel, sarong on beach and leg cover when canoeing
  • A long versatile scarf to use as head covering or layering or sarong (if real sarong being used as a towel on the beach.
  • A rain jacket – probably good of windy/wet on the Zambezi!
  • Five pairs of knickers
  • Two pairs of socks
  • Two bras – not cotton as cotton can rub when you get hot and sweaty. Not pleasant.
  • Shoes – flip flops are a must, my Keen waterproof toe protectors will be perfect for canoeing and general use and bumpers (Campers) for when it’s chilly.  Due to canoe shoe needs, sadly, there’s no room for pretty little sandals.  Otherwise, these would definitely be in there!
  • And one hat!  One with a brim is best.

Great links

Never Ending Voyage

Lost Girls World

Lonely Planet