I’ve wanted to explore Africa since May 13, 2013, the last day of Him and I’s Big Trip, a six-month, round-the-world adventure. Three years later, on May 27, we flew to Cairo.

Africa – particularly the pyramids and safari lands – had prominently featured on our Big Trip itinerary, but our dwindling travel fund and the deterioration of the Egyptian political situation prompted us to end our journey in Istanbul. Turkey certainly didn’t disappoint, but I’ve been humming a certain Toto tune ever since.

I started researching East Africa safaris last year and eventually pinpointed Tanzania as the prime go-to wildlife destination. Him and I made the booking in March: eight nights in Tanzania and – because it’s on the same continent –a five-night flyby in Egypt. Our plans included touring the Great Pyramids of Giza, witnessing the Great Wildebeest Migration and photographing every species of animal we came in contact with.

An airline lost my sister-in-law’s suitcase when she flew to South Africa in 2008 for a safari. And as our trip required eight separate flights (San Francisco to Seattle, Seattle to Frankfurt, Frankfurt to Cairo, Cairo to Istanbul, Istanbul to Kilimanjaro Airport, Kilimanjaro Airport to Addis Ababa, Addis Ababa to London, London to San Francisco), I wasn’t exactly confident about any checked luggage keeping up. So I ordered a new carry-on bag, an American Tourister “llite Xtreme Spinner 21.” *

Here’s what I stuffed into it:

-1 African wildlife Audobon guidebook

-1 Lonely Planet Tanzania guidebook

-1 Lonely Planet Egypt guidebook

-1 headscarf (for entering mosques)

-1 cooling neck scarf

-1 rain jacket/windbreaker

-1 zip-up athletic jacket

-1 pair of flip-flops

-1 pair of Merrell Moab Ventilator hiking shoes

-2 pairs of lightweight cotton sleep shorts

-3 “spaghetti strap” athletic shirts

-3 dry fit shirts

-3 pairs of cargo pants

-4 button-down shirts

-1 polo

-1 maxi dress

-1 swimsuit

-1 super-dorky hat

-11 pairs of underwear

-5 sports bras

-2 “normal” bras

-6 pairs of socks

-Prescription eyeglasses


-1 toiletry bag containing all that crap pictured (and more)*


Stay tuned for the scintillating follow-up to this post, “What I packed in my camera bag.”

cargo pants

Stuffed to the brim

*While a 21-inch suitcase technically falls within standard American airline carry-on baggage limits (22 inches), this spinner is actually about 24 inches long with the wheels. It will likely pass muster on domestic flights operated by American airlines, but in Europe, where it seems everything is smaller, airlines are much more strict. At Seattle-Tacoma International airport, a persnickety Lufthansa employee patrolled our gate with a hand scale and informed about half the passengers (including me) that they would have to check their bag due to weight or size violations. Following my personal encounter, I proceeded to remove almost all the toiletries (the heaviest items within my suitcase) and stuffed them into my cargo pants.

She didn’t say I had to be under a certain weight, I reasoned.

Matt graciously squeezed the remaining toiletries and the three guidebooks into his much smaller suitcase.

*I’m going to spare you the intimate details of what I packed within my toiletry bag and simply mention some essentials that could be overlooked. In no particular order: Imodium, Pepto Bismol, Tylenol, sunscreen, plenty of hand sanitizer, face wipes (for all the safari dust), insect repellant lotion with DEET, small container of laundry detergent (for hand washing small unmentionables in lodge sinks), extra contact lenses (it’s dusty out there!), earplugs, tissues, SPF lip balm, small first aid kit.