African Vacation 2011, Part One: Packing for Africa

by J.D. Roth

Hello, friends! We’re not in Africa yet, but we soon will be. We flew to Washington, D.C., on Monday morning, and here we sit with a 24-hour layover before the flight to Johannesburg.

Last night, we joined Todd Landis (an old college classmate who now lives in D.C.) for dinner at Georgia Brown’s, which bills itself as “authentic, Southern low-country cuisine”. Having just eaten fried chicken at Portland’s Screen Door the night before, I had to compare the dishes. You know what? Portland’s fried chicken kicks ass on D.C.’s fried chicken. It’s true! But it was great to spend a couple of hours getting re-acquainted with Todd.

Note: To meet up with Todd, we took the free shuttle from the hotel back to the airport, then caught an express bus from the airport to Rosslyn Metro station and rode the Orange Line Metro a few stops east to get off near the White House. The public transportation was painless but slow; the roundtrip including dinner took us almost 6 hours!

We slept in this morning. Neither of us has been sleeping well, so it felt good to get nine hours under our belts. I had intended to exercise in the hotel’s gym, but I spent just five minutes doing some pull-ups, thrusters, and inclined push-ups. I spent most of my morning editing a video about what I packed for the trip.

Packing Light
As Kris and I travel more, we’re learning the wisdom of traveling light. Since our 2007 trip to England and Ireland, we’ve lived by the “carry-on only” rule. We never check bags.

Note: Okay, sometimes we check bags if the airline says overhead bins are full, but we never plan to check bags.

Each trip, we pack a little lighter. This time, for example, I only brought a couple of books. It may seem silly to bring any books at all, but you have to understand that I used to bring a small library. Now I’m just bringing what I think I’ll actually read. That’s progress. (Not enough progress, if you ask Kris!)

Our trip to Italy and France last fall taught me another handy trick for packing light: When possible, wear wool clothing. Wool doesn’t retain odors. You can wear a wool shirt for days on end and it won’t stink. It’s awesome. So, this trip, I have six wool undershirts. (That’s probably two too many, to be honest.)

Anyhow, here’s the video I put together documenting my packing list for Africa:

Some things to note:

When I get back from Africa, I’ll go through my packing list (and re-watch this video) to see which items did and did not get used. I did this after Europe, too, which is why I’m not taking the voice recorder. (I’m glad I had it in Belize, but really, it’s more trouble than it’s worth.)

Conscious Spending
If you watch the video, you’ll see that I’m packing things like a pair of $60 compression socks and five pairs of $20 travel underwear. Plus, my carry-on bag cost a small fortune.

Some of my gear is expensive; I’m okay with that. After several big trips, Kris and I are learning that we’re willing to pay for gear that matches our travel style. $20 travel underwear that dries quickly after being washed in the sink is awesome. My collapsible chopsticks may seem frivolous, but I find them handy.

A cheap bag that makes life difficult is no bargain, but an expensive bag that makes travel a pleasure is worth every penny. (I consider this an example of conscious spending — we’ve tried several bags each now, and have rejected some cheap gear that got in our way.)

Now, though, it’s time to close up shop and head to the airport. Our flight to Johannesburg awaits!

Updated: 08 February 2011

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