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Have you ever booked a last minute trip and found yourself completely unprepared? Find out what this traveler learned about the importance of planning when packing for a trip abroad!


7 Packing Tips for a Volunteer Trip to South Africa

Written by: Jenna Gonneau


“The day has finally arrived. My bags are packed, I’m ready to go…” Just two weeks ago I booked my trip, and now I’m en route to South Africa…”

This is a short clipping from a journal entry I wrote almost two years ago. When I wrote it two years ago I was nothing but excited and ready to leave my small bubble behind. Now when I look at it I laugh and think, what a dummy! I planned a whole Africa trip in just two weeks?! Not only was this my very first trip going anywhere alone, this was a trip abroad.

A trip leading me half way across the world, with only a rucksack and the name of the place I was staying. This is what I learned:




ripped skinny jeans


Being spontaneous is great, but two weeks is a very short time to plan a three month trip. Just saying!


A Canadian summer, shockingly, can get pretty hot. So, keeping this in mind, I packed for what I believed to be African weather. I mean, when you think Africa, you think…hot, no? I had all shorts, and tank tops nicely rolled and packed away. I brought two pairs of flip-flops, my sunglasses, and of course I packed my fedora.

I did, however, think to check the weather in Cape Town before boarding the plane. Oh, it’s winter over there? Sure, I’ll roll a pair of jeans, two long sleeves, a scarf (which I thought would also do wonders as a headscarf, patting myself on the back for that one) and a tuque (you know like a winter hat eh?) As I packed these things I laughed at myself, as if I’ll need these things in Africa.


Maybe look past the 14 day weather report of the place you’ll be visiting.


Lets go back two years to when I first board the plane to Africa… A light t- shirt, my black jeans rolled at the bottom, my chucks and my hair tied back, my flight aura. Let me set things straight, I was traveling to Africa to volunteer as a soccer coach for underprivileged children in a small township outside of Cape Town…I was told to “dress down.” No jewelry, no watch, no “nice” clothing, nothing that makes you stand out…nothing that makes me stand out? Tricky. I stuck to packing the clothing I typically wouldn’t wear.




tank top / chino shorts


Always pack a wardrobe that is interchangeable.


It makes everything a little bit easier; cuts the amount of clothes in your sack, helps you organize outfits and when you have to be up before the sun while the other volunteers get I sleep in, you have a better chance of matching in the dark…take my word. I finally arrive in Africa. I get to the Cape Town airport, and right away I am welcomed by that African sun. It was nearly 8 in the morning, and the high had already reached 30 degrees.





Pack an outfit suitable for the weather at your final destination in your carry on. A quick change and freshen up does wonder.


A few weeks went by and my not so typical wardrobe was surprisingly working out. My days and outfit changes became routine pretty quickly. My morning surf meant my one bathing suit I packed with my full-body wetsuit (which took up more than half of my sack, but was needed so you make sacrifices sometimes). Then a pair of shorts, matched with a tank top was my staple during the day. I packed three pair of casual shorts, beige, jean and black, simple but versatile. When it came to coaching the kids and playing soccer in the heat, I stuck to the signature lightweight sport gear (Adidas or Under Armor would be ideal). When the sun went down, it did cool off some, but I was still able to pull off shorts and a t-shirt.




Ibex Shak Lite Hoodie


Stick to the basics when it comes to t-shirt and volunteering, especially in Africa.


A simple white or black v-neck can go a long way. If you sweat a lot, maybe stay away from those fifty shades of grey…

Like I mentioned before, it was getting into the winter season (June to the end of August). As the weeks passed, I started to realize I had to start layering my clothes. My shorts and tank tops were no longer cutting it. The temperatures started to drop dramatically, when the sun wasn’t out, that tuque and scarf I laughed at for packing, were no laughing matter.





Africa does get cold.


During their winter season, don’t be shy on the warmer clothing. I’m talking sweaters, trousers, socks…

The temps dropped to about 7 or so at night. We had no heating where I stayed, so pajamas are also an important thing to focus on while packing.




yoga pants


Always make pj’s versatile.


I brought pj’s that I could use if I wanted to go for a run.

But again, remember why I was in Africa. I wasn’t there to impress. Although ladies, don’t underestimate a great pair of yoga pants… I might have been a little unprepared for my three month stay in Africa, but I definitely learned a few things when it came to planning ahead and packing. My adventure might differ from yours, as mine was on the ‘rougher,’ side of things, but being over-prepared is much better than wearing an outfit on repeat a few times a week.



Do you have any tips for a Volunteer Trip to South Africa? Comment below!


For more packing tips to South Africa, please read the following:


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