Packing for an Overland Trip
This post is probably somewhat boring to anyone who is not planning on travelling in the near future. However, if you ARE considering doing an overland trip, I compiled a list of items that I thought were useful for the trip, including some things that I didn’t pack but should have.
Headlamp: If you are traveling to southern Africa in the winter, a headlamp is essential. Our days began between 5am and 6pm and ended around 6pm. This resulted in packing and unpacking tents and supplies in darkness. Because the days were just as short at a Minnesota winter, there was a lot of time spent in darkness. The days are very short. Thus, the headlamp is essential for walking around at night, using the bathroom, showering, packing, setting up the tent, etc. Also, be sure to bring batteries!
Gloves: I did not pack gloves, but would have really liked work gloves or garden gloves. Pulling mattresses and supplies off of the truck dries out the hands and gets them dirty. Wrestling with a stubborn tent mangled the skin of my hands. By the end of the trip, my hand were dry, cracked, and permanently caked with dirt. They looked like the hands of an old sailor or mechanic. A pair of work or garden gloves will keep your hands clean and protect them from scratches and the enormous amount of dirt on everything. I would definitely pack gloves if I did it again!
Lotion: I never really care that much about dry skin. It is something I hardly notice. I never wear lotion on my hands or body. During the trip, my skin became disgustingly dry. Skin peeled off like snowflakes, but far less gentle and pretty. My skin took on the texture of a crocodile. I eventually bought some lotion, but it was a losing battle against the arid climate. Namibia, Northern South Africa, and parts of Botswana are pretty much deserts or desert-like Karoo climate. I have never lived in a desert or spent time in one, so I was not at all prepared for the extreme dryness of my skin.
This is me sans lotion.
Warm Clothes and a warm sleeping bag: I was also unprepared for how cold it was. While planning the trip, I had checked out the temperatures of each place. These temps seemed warm enough. However, I learned a few important lessons. 1. A high in the 70s doesn’t matter if it is only at that high for an hour or two and the rest of the day is closer to the daily “low” temperature. 2. It feels colder at night when you are sleeping (and not moving around). 3. Wind and dry air make everything feel colder. 4. Deserts are cold at night. 5. Don’t underestimate African winter. 6. Everything feels colder when you can’t retreat indoors for warmth (in other words, a cool day here might be punctuated with time inside. There, because the truck is not heated or air-conditioned, a person is always exposed to the ambient temperature conditions). I eked by, using the clothes I had to layer. However, there were a few very cold nights.
This didn’t feel very tropical.
A Cheap Rain Poncho: I packed a cheap rain poncho. It only rained once (on the first night…though it was a significant and terrible rain). I used the poncho again at Victoria Falls (then threw it away to save space in my bag…yes, this was wasteful, but I needed to shed some items..). The poncho saved me from packing an umbrella or actual raincoat. Since most of the trip was through dry areas, the cheap poncho was all I needed.
Wetter than it looks.
A Clothesline and Clothespins: I packed a Bungee cord, but an actual clothes line would have been much more useful for hanging hand washed clothes.
Bar Shampoo: To save space in my bag and avoid travelling with bottles of shampoo, conditioner, and detergent, I purchased an all-in-one camping bar soap which boasted that it could be used for shampoo, soap, and detergent. It was called “All Natural Trail Soap” by Trascentuals. The soap dried out my hair, making it feel like straw. This added to my overall feeling of dryness. However, I liked the scent, that I didn’t have to worry about packing numerous soap items, and that it came with its own plastic container. Fast Drying Microfiber Towel: Since we never stayed in one place very long, a regular towel would have became moist and smelly. The microfiber towel that I brought dried very quickly, stayed fresh, folded compactly, and was unusually warm for how thin it was. The towel was about $15, so not too spendy and worth it!
Powerbank: The truck is available for charging phones, mp3 players, cameras, etc. However, it is only available when it has stopped for the night. This means that everyone scrambles to charge their devices. Sometimes the outlets might be full. Further, once the truck is shut off for the night, there is no ability to charge things. Thus, I found it useful to bring a power bank. This allowed me to charge my items more frequently.
Packing Cubes: Overlanding involves a lot of packing and unpacking, often in the darkness. Packing cubes makes it easier to find certain items. For instance, I put all of my leggings and bottoms in one cube. In another cube, I kept shirts. In a smaller cube, I kept socks and underwear. This made packing and unpacking far easier. Though, even with the cubes, I seemed to always be losing things. I bought really cheap packing cubes, so a few of them broke (zipper busted). Don’t buy the brand “HiDay.”
Padlock: This is useful for the lockers on the truck. Every passenger was assigned a locker for their items.
Handkerchief: Handkerchiefs are often worn by cowboys, farmers, gangsters, anarchists, and bank robbers. I am not really badass enough to pull off the handkerchief look, but I wear them anyway. I found mine incredibly useful for a variety of reasons. 1. While in Namibia, the truck filled with choking dust. I was wearing a handkerchief, which I pulled up over my nose and mouth to protect myself from the dust. 2. Bad Smells: it is always useful to have something to protect against a bad smell. 3. Cold Wind: a handkerchief can offer some protection against cold wind (which occurred in open vehicles while looking for wildlife). 4. Bad hair: You can cover up bad hair with a handkerchief. 5. It is an easy to pack accessory that pulls an outfit together! Diva Cup: Periods are never really fun when travelling…or really, ever. They are especially not very fun when you are in a vehicle for many hours and are unsure what the bathroom conditions will be at each stop. I found that a diva cup is useful, since it can be used for longer without leaking and does not require special disposal, such as pads and tampons. The downside is that it is harder to sanitize it while travelling.
She-Wee: I packed a female urinal, but never used it. I never used it because the places with the worst bathroom conditions were also the places without running water. I didn’t want to haul a urine soaked female urinal around all day, waiting to rinse it off. Still, it is kind of fun to have…if nothing else, it entertains the imaginations of fellow travelers. Maybe some hardcore camper out there would find it useful. Someday I will whip mine out….and use it proudly….peeing as freely as any man. Until then…
The Wildlife of Southern Africa by Vincent Carruthers: This book offers a good overview of the most common birds, mammals, reptiles, plants, and fish of Southern Africa. It helped me construct my list of species I had spotted and gain quick knowledge of the natural environment.
A Stargazing Guide: I deeply regretted that I did not pack a southern hemisphere stargazing guide. In fact, the very first thing I did when I arrived in Windhoek was download a starmap and some astronomy books to my tablet. Namibia is a great place to stargaze, since there is endless sky that is uninterrupted by light pollution, buildings, or trees. Furthermore, people in the northern hemisphere do not get to enjoy many of the unique constellations of the southern hemisphere. Once I downloaded a guide, I did my best to familiarize myself with the southern hemisphere’s sky. Don’t miss out on the Southern cross, constellations named after scientific instruments, the center of the Milky Way galaxy, and Magellan cloud!
Unfamiliar foods, bumpy boat rides, long days on the truck, long periods between meals, etc. can upset a person’s stomach. So, when I travel, I always bring ginger chews with me. I find that they settle an upset stomach and ease motion sickness. I didn’t get sick on this trip, but I did chew on ginger candies when I had mild stomach upset.