Packing suggestions for January in South Africa

I just returned from 15 days in SA from Cape Town, Pretoria, Joberg, Soweto, a Game reserve, to small remote villages in Venda near Zimbabwe, to Krugersdorp/Cradle of Mankind…and here is what I did not use, what I wish I’d brought, and suggestions. I am a mid 50’s woman from California that tends to be a little high maintenance and this was my first time to SA . I don’t feel I found reliable packing suggestions online before I left. So here is what I found.

-Forget bringing any adapter from REI, or Amazon, etc that say it’s good for SA. None of ours worked that came from either India or the US. You can buy one there for about 1.60 USD

-You don’t need any water purifiers, even in remote villages. Bottled water is available everywhere and cheap. Drinking from the tap is fine in any bigger cities.

-I barely saw any bugs, much less mosquitos, so my giant can of permethrin was never used, I did use a travel size can of “ Off” on my bare legs but in two weeks , had three bites, from flies. No mosquitos, so I stopped taking Malarone as soon as I was out of Limpopo. You decide what’s best for you though. I’m a medical professional and would rather spare my liver. I felt the malaria mosquito problem was a little over hyped.

-Forget the packable raincoat, I never used mine. If it rains, it’s at a biblical level…no coat will save you. Plus it’s a hot rain, you won’t want a sticky thin waterproof shell. Just bring an umbrella, it covers rain and sun both.

-US snacks. No need. Snacks are cheap and everywhere. The tiny peanuts are delish too. I ended up giving mine to village kids. Try the dried mopane worms! They taste like dried fish snacks in Asian stores.

-Shoes. I brought slip on sketchers and fitflops that were not leather so I could wash them in the shower. The fitflops I basically wore for everything except one time I wore some sparkly sandals for a wedding, and frankly, I could’ve worn the fitflops

-Nice jewelry. Don’t. No one is ostentatious there except on TV commercials for the Dubai visitors. You will be a target for crime. As in, klunked over the head, strangled or armed robbery type of crime. I wore a simple timex watch, simple silver hoops and a plain silver wedding band. I did buy and wear some beaded jewelry from there…which is inexpensive and beautiful. Same for any purses etc. Save your designer attire for when you get home. Don’t wear fancy shoes either. Seriously.

-Clothing for women. SA women basically wear skirts, like bodycon types, that are just above, at, or below the knee…or they wear narrow leg long pants with sandals or thongs. They are more conservative, no short shorts or skirts, or revealing tops. The tops tend to be sleeveless or short sleeve. The most useful thing I packed was a thin cotton scarf that I could dress up my outfit with, cover my shoulders in the sun, cover my face if dusty, or even my head I’d needed. And I could hand wash it and it would dry all ready to go in less than two hours. This is what I brought that I actually wore.

Cotton lightweight shoulder scarf

1 pair pull on thin Khaki crop pants

1 pull on bodycon black skirt

1 knee length thin denim skirt

1 thin handwashable short sleeve shirt

4 sleeveless thin wrinkle free tops

2 thin nightdresses

3 bras, 6 underwear

A crossbody for the camera

A straw tote

A under clothing money belt

One sunhat ( foldable )

1 Swimsuit, coverup

A thin long khaki colored jacket which I used on morning safaris


Charger bank

Sunscreen ( a must) and small bug spray

Simple makeup


I brought three thin fuzzy hangers, some clothespins, and a 3 oz bottle of liquid Tide, so I could hang dry what I hand washed… that was super useful!

– Half my toiletries I never used. Bring one 3oz shampoo and conditioner. You don’t need more. Really cull the collection. For example, I didn’t use my fancy face creams or fuzzy headband etc.

-Hair dryer. My travel one didn’t work there and they have them if you ask. If it’s remote, and they don’t have one where you are staying … believe me, you don’t need it! Let it dry naturally or (if you are still too prissy) wear your sunhat. I brought a curling iron too for the wedding that was never used. It’s humid there. I did, however, use my anti humid hairspray ;-).

What I wish I had brought… a larger bag of nail polishes or lipsticks to give to the help along with a tip. They really appreciated small luxuries. The women work so hard there. They work all day and walk 2 hours back to their villages.

Make sure you have a lot of 20 rand bills at all times to tip as many as possible. Give more to the rangers, docents and cleaning ladies. Keep some 100 rands ( about 8 usd) and just quietly and randomly give to people you notice work so hard but probably never get tips.. like a man rebuilding a wall with his bare hands, or a young mother, or an older lady cleaning the dishes or mopping the restroom. The poverty is grinding, you can’t help everyone… but that doesn’t mean you can’t help someone. Don’t give candy or anything to kids if you don’t have enough for everyone, give it to the headmistress of the school if it’s not enough for all. Also, make sure to go to the apartheid museum, constitution hill and the prison… and prepare to cry. Apartheid is gone legally, but not socially. Make eye contact and treat the SA people with respect. Don’t be demanding or rude. They know our president called their country a s—-hole, BTW. Several mentioned it to me. They think our president is mentally ill, but their Zuma is even worse. Don’t confirm to them our country’s hatefulness. Show your appreciation for these warm hearted people who have been through so much and still live under such corruption. If you go to constitution hill, be prepared to be alarmed at the rhetoric used just prior to apartheid, being used today in this current administration in our country. There is no difference in the rhetoric of Trump, Bannon, and Miller than the old rhetoric of the architects of SA apartheid. First thing their government did was to create the illusion of “the other” and then isolate and denigrate. The government in SA were white Nationalists…. just like in our current administration. They wanted to take SA back to the way it was when Afrikaans and whites were on top. It’s an eye opener to any American no matter to which political party you ascribe. Their democracy is a fledgling one, complicated and unsteady. Make sure you have a docent explain the symbolism of their Supreme Court building, built from the bricks and barbed wire of the prison. Read up before you go on the history of South Africa. Understand the main 9 tribes, and visit the cradle of Humankind.

Open your mind, your heart…and pack light.

You will love South Africa.

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