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Advice: soft luggage for S. Africa safari w/small planes

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Mar 21st, 2012, 08:03 PM
  #1
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Advice: soft luggage for S. Africa safari w/small planes

Hello - I'm new to posting at Fodors, but I've enjoyed reading threads here as t have been preparing for my first ever safari! I am going in June with husband and 2 daughters ages 10 and 13. We'll be away from home (California) for 3 weeks. 1 night Johannesburg, 3 nights Londolozi, 4 nights Phinda, 4 nights Kwandwe, 3 nights Jeffrey's Bay (Husband is an avid surfer so this part is for him!) and 4 nights Cape Town. So we'll be taking 2 small safari planes (from JNB to Londolozi, then from Londolozi to Phinda) as well as several other flights within the country (Durban to Pt. Elizabeth, Pt, Eiizabeth to Cape Town).

I've been agonizing over what luggage we should bring. I know the whole weight limit (44 lbs) on the small safari flights (we're flying with Federal Air) and that it is supposed to ideally be soft-sided without wheels, etc. I have a hard time decision-making so I'd love thoughts on the following, which have become my top contenders.

1. Ebags Mother Lode TLS Weekender Convertible

2, Rick Steves' Convertible

3. Eagle Creek duffel, maybe in large?

I know these are all popular. I like the ability to carry the Rick Steves and Mother Lode on your back. But then I worry what second, smaller bag I'd take - I like to have a backpack with me on planes and then use it as a daypack at my destination. Not sure how to carry 2 backpacks at once through airports though! So I've looked at all kinds of smaller bags that I could carry on that also convert from backpack to over shoulders and am just getting totally confused! So I guess I'd also be interested in suggestions for the second smaller bag as well.

Thanks so much for any input!
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Mar 21st, 2012, 09:53 PM
  #2
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Oh and I've also become aware of another contender, though more pricey: The Tom Bihn Aeronaut
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Mar 21st, 2012, 11:40 PM
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Also check your air international carry-on requirements. Does LHR still allow one, and only one, carry-on bag?

regards - tom
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Mar 22nd, 2012, 07:07 AM
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thanks cary999 - I'm not going through LHR - Flying from SFO to Dubai, then from there to JNB. Emirates only allows 15 lbs for a carry-on and then I think a purse or something so we're probably looking at checking the larger main bag - soft-sided duffel or what have you - and then carrying on our backpack/messenger bag/whatever as I doubt we can get down to 15 pounds for the main bag. So my main concern is not that the main bag be able to be carried on but that it will be efficient in holding all we need for 3 weeks (though I know the lodges will do our laundry), able to be carried through the airports and fit in the small planes' luggage area.
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Mar 22nd, 2012, 09:23 AM
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Jane62, my camera bag is also a backpack, as is my Rick Steves bag. Sometimes I wear the camera backpack in front, or sling it over one shoulder. I also have the shoulder strap for the RS bag, so I can carry both bags in a variety of combos. I've packed in the RS bag for 3 1/2 weeks on safari, 3 weeks in Europe, etc. It holds a lot.
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Mar 22nd, 2012, 10:25 AM
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For 3 destination safari last year, including 1 ride in a very small plane, I was very happy with a 25" Eagle Creek bag, soft on three sides; plus a two piece High Sierra carry one. I packed camera, binocs and other valuables in the larger wheeled portion, stowed overhead on large planes, and used the zip on day pack for items needed on the voyage or to take aboard the jeep every day. Worked like a charm.
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Mar 22nd, 2012, 10:29 AM
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Just noticed that you are going SFO-Dubai on Emirates, as did we. We over-nighted at the airport hotel before flying on the next day, and the High Sierra arrangement was great for pjs etc.
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Mar 22nd, 2012, 12:18 PM
  #8
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Thanks to you both.

ShayTay do you have a link to your camera bag that can be used also as a backpack by any chance?

And Shouldbewriting, that's interesting that you did the same flight as we will do - you live in my neck of the woods then perhaps! We are doing the 9-hour layover in Dubai (they give us a free hotel room for nap/shower/meal etc.) and then on to JNB, then overnighting there before starting our safari. Do you happen to have a link to the two-piece High Sierra carry-on? I'm not quite sure what that is but I'm curious to see it. And then you checked the Eagle Creek under and carried the High Sierra on the plane? Thanks!
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Mar 22nd, 2012, 12:34 PM
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Just checked, and the High Sierra carry-on is on clearance at Sierra Trading Post.
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Mar 22nd, 2012, 12:42 PM
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I've carried the eBags Mother Lode bag on a few trips now, including Kenya/Tanzania, and love the dang thing. I liked it enough that my parents both bought the same bag when they joined my trip to Africa.

It packs like a rolling suitcase so it's easy to use, but is very light weight and you can pack a LOT into it. I was gone for just over 2 weeks and had no space issues. You do have to be aware of your weight though because with the internal and external straps you can put a LOT into each one and strap it down into size.

On the flights out, I leave the expander zipper closed so that it fits easily as carryon. Once I reach my destination I open that up so that the bag has more space inside. There's not more stuff inside so it only takes up another inch in height, but it's a bit easier to use as there's no pressure on the straps.

There were no issues getting the bags into the safari planes at all, even at the end of the trip when we had all expanded our bags and added items.

I use a messenger bag as a day bag so I didn't run into an issue with having two backpacks. However, it's easy to put your daybag on your chest (looks a bit silly but it actually works really well), sling it over your shoulder to the side of the main bag, or carry it by the top handle. Put your camera, computer, or anything else fragile and irreplaceable in your small bag and check the main bag when you need to.
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Mar 22nd, 2012, 01:25 PM
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Thanks, all! Iowa Readhead, thanks for the detailed info on the Mother Lode. I might get one each for me and my 2 daughters. My husband, ever the maverick (and cheapskate) wants to stick with something bigger he already has. Mind sharing what messenger bag you use? I've not used one before but it's starting to sound rather practical. There as just so many bags on the market, it's overwhelming!

And thanks, should be writing - I saw the 2 piece on Sierra Trading now - very nice, though I'm thinking of something lighter and without wheels for the carry-on.

I saw this backpack http://www.ebags.com/product/dakine/...uctid=10132571 which seems nice - has a little insulated compartment which seems cool (no pun intended). Not sure I'd use that feature in Africa but I'm sure I would at other times.

Also thinking about this other Rick Steves' bag as the smaller carry-on - it also converts from shoulder bag to backpack http://www.ebags.com/product/rick-st...uctid=10100435

So no one thinks the Tom Bihn (which costs more than 2x as much as the Mother Lode or Rick Steves bags) is better than those two? Some seem to rave about it and it is made in the U.S. but I'm not sure it's better!
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Mar 22nd, 2012, 02:05 PM
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I know what "they" tell you but it has been my experience that people mostly use wheeled bags and many of them are the size of a small car. It always makes me wonder why I worry so much about packing as I lug my non-wheeled duffle bag around while everyone else is rolling huge bags.

I know it's for the small planes and un-wheeled bags can squish in the luggage areas alot better than the big clunky bags and I guess they need some people following their rules or it wouldn't all fit. And someone I know had her luggage left behind because "there wasn't room on the plane" so it can happen. They also carry supplies on the small bush planes that use up some of the luggage space so the smaller, unwheeled bags work best then, too.

That's my rant for the day.

Back to the question, I have the LL Bean Adventure Duffles (one with and one without wheels) and they have worked well for over a dozen trips. I always check that one. You also have a choice of colors so your bags don't look like everyone else's. One daughter has the orange flowered one and mine is an orangish color. Very easy to spot being loaded on the planes. http://www.llbean.com/llb/shop/904?nav=ln-50 I use the shoulder strap to carry the duffle bag in and out of hotels and airports. The rest of the time the plane carries it or the staff at the camps carry it.

I use a rolling camera bag for my carry on (ThinkTank Airport Security, I think) and a backpack as my personal item. Then I also use the backpack to carry stuff on game drives. I carry more camera stuff than the normal person

So if you need new bags you have some good recommendations. And if your husband wants to buck the trend, let him. After you get there you'll realize all this worry over what to take was all silly. But we all do it so you are in good company.

Cindy
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Mar 22nd, 2012, 05:49 PM
  #13
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Ha ha, Cindy - I'm sure you're right that we don't really need new bags but I'm gonna get them anyway. My rolling luggage that I have and like may not really fit as much as these others I'm considering, and I'll just be less anxious going knowing I won't be the one whose luggage gets left! And the girls really do need new bags - all they have is junky little wheeled ones from Target. Cindy it sounds like you actually take 3 bags then - the backpack, the rolling camera bag and the checked bag. Interesting.

These are all great ideas though, and I love to obsess about every little detail when I'm planning a trip, apparently, so thanks for all the helpful ideas, everyone.

I made a trip to REI today while DD2 was at soccer practice (it happens to be 5 mins away from there) and found 2 NEW candidates for the smaller carry-on/personal item. In case anyone's interested they are:

http://www.rei.com/product/819711/os...:referralID=NA

and

http://www.ebags.com/product/sherpan...uctid=10115268

The latter was in the light blue and it was on sale for about $43 which is tempting!
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Mar 22nd, 2012, 06:37 PM
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For the two of us, we take two duffel bags, a Sierra Club backpack and a messenger bag for camera equipment. We take a luggage cart instead of wheely bags:

http://www.brookstone.com/compact-lu...:referralID=NA

It can handle the two bags and the backpack through the airports and it goes right into one of the bags when we are done. It works well for us. Best of both worlds - wheels and soft-sides bags.
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Mar 22nd, 2012, 06:39 PM
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The messenger bag I have is a Pacsafe bag that I've had for a few years. That's a good size for me as I can fit a lot in but it's still close to my body. I like that it can easily be swung in front of me in tight spaces, behind me when I need both hands clear or beside me for normal times.

From the photos, my bag is fairly similar to that second link.

As Cindy said, people often ignore the request/advice to take small, unwheeled bags. That's not necessariy a problem with the planes, but it can be a problem with a vehicle. Our bags fit fine in the back of the vehicle but bigger bags would have been a headache.
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Mar 23rd, 2012, 09:58 AM
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Here is a link for my Canon camera backpack.
http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/produc...ck_200_EG.html
The front pockets are handy when flying for your inflight "comfort" items or for anything you want with you in the safari vehicle. Also, it's small enough to go under the seat on the plane.
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Mar 23rd, 2012, 04:29 PM
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Thanks again, everyone - you all are awesome!
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Mar 25th, 2012, 06:26 AM
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Thank you for posting this question as I've been trying to figure out what to bring/buy as well. I appreciate everyone's recommendations!
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Mar 29th, 2012, 08:58 AM
  #19
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Update: I ordered 3 Mother Lodes (one for me and one for each of my daughters). A bit worried it'll be hard for younger daughter (just turning 10 on our trip) to carry on her back when fully loaded and it is heavier even empty than I expected. I looked at the weights and Mother Lode is actually 2 pounds heavier than the Eagle Creek medium duffel. So now I'm debating about switching. Driving myself (and my husband) INSANE! All the compartments are cool but just wondering if we'd prefer the lighter weight over that. I know Crosscheck told me she ended up liking the Eagle Creek duffel best of the ones she took, but she didn't take a Mother Lode. I will also look at the llbean one you mentioned, Sundowner.

I did get the Osprey messenger bag (called the Flap Jill) to use as a carry-on and I like it a lot.
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Mar 29th, 2012, 08:59 AM
  #20
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oh and I see shouldbewriting took the Eagle Creek too and was happy with it. But a lot of people love the Mother Lode. Ok I'll just shut up for now.
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