Was there ever a bigger packing nightmare than having to prepare for a month away from home, where three of those weeks would be spent in the tropical paradise that is the Seychelles followed by a (vastly different) wintery long-weekend away in the Drakensberg mountains? Okay yes, there probably was.
But, faced with this prospect a few days before I was set to leave Cape Town induced a fair amount of panic. How does one fit a pair of flippers, a snorkel and mask set, hiking boots, bed linen, a month worth of clothing including warm, chunky winter things and all the meds and snacks (because you can never be too prepared) into just over 20kgs worth of luggage?
You put on your big-girl pants as well as your organizational thinking cap and GET. IT. DONE. Because all it takes to overcome a packing nightmare and a pending nervy b is a bit of diligent pre-planning, a lengthy list and a couple of artfully arranged, aesthetically-pleasing flatlays (and maybe a glass of vino for the nerves). So, here are some packing tips from someone (me) who loves to have the most organised suitcase:
1. Think about the activities you’ve got planned
I knew I wouldn’t be doing much “going out-out” i.e. to a fancy club or a fine-dining restaurant, so party clothes were out (I was v. upset I had to sacrifice all my glittery t-shirts) and the more casual items were in. With a couple weeks worth of working with animals, hiking, and beach bumming ahead of me (sounds tough, right?), it was going to be more of throw-on-a-quick-pair-of-shorts-and-sandals-over-your-bikini than a lipstick-and-high-heels kinda holiday.
2. Check the weather forecast
After a spot of googling, I discovered that, between the Seychelles, Durban and the Drakensberg, the weather would be a wild combination of 30-degree heat, full sunshine perfect for beach days, midday thunderstorms, and lots of rain as well as freezing-cold mornings in the mountains. That’s a lot of different weather patterns to prepare for, but it helps being equipped with that knowledge before you start chucking things into your suitcase. Raincoat, beanie, sunscreen and flip-flops it is, then.
3. Versatility is key
The items of clothing that you can get the most wears out of for different occasions and seasons are your go-to. In my case, that typically means I pack a bunch of activewear. Not only are they super versatile, but they’re also comfy AF. A nice pair of running shorts can be worn for an energetic day of sight-seeing or to the beach, and I often wear my black gym leggings as an alternative to jeans. Also, when you’re on an island holiday, bikini tops double up as bras (and are so much comfier than their underwired counterparts, am I right or am I right?).
This tip goes hand in hand with selecting your most versatile travel items (whether it’s clothing or 2-in-1 shampoo and body wash). Imagine a suitcase full of clothing where you could literally pull out ANY two items and be able to put them together without looking like you’ve escaped from the circus? THE DREAM. I mean, I know I’m an outdoorsy gal but I still love me some fashun and want to look at least vaguely well-put-together.
Selecting a matchy-matchy capsule wardrobe for traveling is fairly easy for me because most of my existing closet (besides for that bright pink full-piece costume that I actually cannot wait to wear) consists of varying shades and textures of black, grey, olive green and denim. And, maybe some other neutrals. Anyway, try to stick with basic colours or a general tone that works for you and it may make your packing life a little easier.
5. Wear your heaviest items during your flight…
…because it’s normally a bit chills on the plane anyway.
6. Be sensible about the shoes you take
This is like a mantra I have to repeat to myself when getting organised for a trip (“Do not pack the sparkly shoes. Do not pack the sparkly shoes. DO NOT PACK THE SPARKLY SHOES, EMMA!!”). I almost always pack eight different pairs and almost always end up wearing just two of them. This is such a problem because they’re typically the heaviest items in your luggage. So, I tried to apply the whole ‘versatility is key’ thing here, too. I planned to pack a pair of go-with-everything flip-flops and a pair of multi-purpose-and-go-with-everything closed shoes as my basis. Then I added only the shoes I knew I needed (and could afford, weight-wise).
7. Little bags are your space-saving friends
This might sound like a weird tip, but I always find it helps save space (which is v NB when you have minimal room to work with) when I organise my bits and bobs into separate little bags or purses that zip closed. I usually have one for my chargers, one for my meds, another for make-up, one for undies and so on. Another way to save space with the little things is to put your socks inside your shoes. I also roll my clothes as opposed to folding them. This not only saves space, but also prevents your clothes from getting too crumpled. It’s a trick my dad taught me when I went on my first two-week long school trip, and I’ve been doing it (and working packing miracles) since.
8. Now that you’ve got a grasp of these tips, plan your packing
I do love a good list. A hand-written one, especially. A nice long list of everything you need (and think you’ll need) makes it so much less frustrating when it comes down to actually putting the things into your suitcase, and helps (slightly) to curb my tendency to overpack (especially on the shoe-front). Don’t forget to tick things off your list as you go.
9. Make a flat lay
Okay so you don’t actually have to make a pleasing-looking flatlay. Let’s be honest, my clothes and other paraphernalia definitely didn’t look this orderly before packing #IDidItForTheGram.
But, that being said, it does help to lay out your clothes on your floor or bed (and even arrange them in possible outfits) before actually rolling and packing them away. This helps gauge how much you have, and whether you need to chuck a couple more things out or (this basically never happens) have the space to add that extra sparkly item you probably don’t need but still want in your luggage JUST IN CASE.
On that note, here are some things I cannot travel without:
1. THE K-Way down jacket –
Yes, ‘the’ is meant to be capitalised, because if you’ve been to Cape Town recently, you’ll have noticed that almost everyone is sporting one of these bad boys. It’s my ultimate just-in-case item when I pack (and basically whenever I leave the house for long periods of time) because it’s light and can be squished into a tiny space in my bag without coming out crumpled afterwards. It’s also super warm, without having to wear a million layers underneath.
2. Notebook & pen
For a travel writer, this is a no-brainer. I like to keep hand-written notes on content ideas while I’m out and about, and also to record in words those special moments even cameras can’t capture.
Actually, make that multiple cameras. I often get admonished for seeing things too often through the lens of a camera. But, part of the enjoyment of experiencing a new place IS being creative through photography, and considering all the creative opportunities.
4. A good book
Nothing makes me feel like I’m on holiday more than having one of those “If you want me to put this down you’re gonna have to wrestle it from my iron grip” kinda books to read. For this trip, I’ve brought along I am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes. I’ve already started reading it and it is phenomenal.
6. Hand & lip conditioners etc
These little tubes and pots are lifesavers for cracked skin, especially when I’m jumping between different climates (#JetSetter #JokesNotReallyJustSometimes).
…because ya never know when ya gonna get hungry (make that HANGRY). I’ve got a special spot in my suitcase (and my heart) reserved just for paleo bars, granola bars, fruit and nut mix and a leeeeettle bit of chocolate. I’m making it sound like I’m preparing for an apocalypse (I’m even low-key surprised myself that I haven’t got some tinned tuna and crackers in there too) but #YOLO and #SnacksAreLife.
As I’m writing this, I’m hanging out at Sam’s place in Durban. She’s one of my fave people EVER and we’re going on this mega-adventure to the Seychelles together. And, if I made it through this leg of the journey with my luggage within weight restrictions, I must be doing something right, right?
Tomorrow, we fly out of South Africa and to the island of Mahe in the Seychelles. From there, we head onwards to a speck of an island called Curieuse, where we’ll be participating in a volunteer marine conservation programme – working with sea turtles, sharks and giant tortoises. I cannot wait to get there and to share the experience with you lot (because I love ya)! In the mean time, follow the journey on Instagram.
Until next time. xx