1. We chose NOT to use Rubbermaid Action Packers. They weigh 10 lbs. empty, and you cannot pack them full and stay under 50 lbs. We heard that we should try Rubbermaid Roughneck bins, so we bought a pack of 12 on Amazon.com. They are a bit smaller, but the bins are more useful for storage at home in Africa than Action Packers. I drilled six holes (in the same place on each bin) around the sides and used cable zip ties to fasten down the lid. TSA did cut some open, but they used their own zip ties to refasten. I even put some ties in a ziplock just under the lid so they could refasten. Most bins were in a cardboard box, though, as well since we had shipped a lot of our pieces to Peachtree City ahead of time via UPS. We just went ahead and kept them in the box, and Mark at the home office banded the boxes for us as well. We did have some bins outside of a box, and they stayed together through the whole trip (we had been concerned about sturdiness, but Roughneck is good). We had also used some luggage straps as well, but if I had it to do again, I’d just go with the zip ties. After the bins were packed, I’d also thought I should have lined the bins with a heavy duty trash bag, but we didn’t have a problem without that. It may have been better without them for TSA reasons.
I definitely would recommend packing some of your things in some sort of bin because not all packed items lend themselves to soft-sided luggage. Our bins ended up only holding 40 lbs. average, but they were the right dimensions.
2. Besides bins, we packed the rest of our things in army duffles (ignore the saddle bag picture on the site–the item is the duffel). The size we bought held exactly 50 lbs. of clothes, and the dimensions of the bag were perfect. I recommend these. Some of the latches weren’t fastened quite right, probably by TSA, so I’d recommend adding a big keyring or small carabiner to the metal loop on the duffel for added reinforcement. I wish I’d done that. We didn’t mess with TSA locks or anything like that. Make sure you also buy a luggage scale.
3. We had an allowance of 20 or so bags, and we packed to the max. AIM was suggesting to pack less since so much is available in country. I disagree. Pack as much as you’re allowed, and more if you don’t mind some extra fees. Although many things are available here, it is very nice to have things already when you arrive. And everything is more expensive here. I feel that “one in the hand is worth two in the bush”, but it is true, shopping trips for us are a bigger deal since we have 3 small children. You may enjoy getting out and browsing the stores for what you need. We’re still using pretty much all rental items.
3. People had told me to bring tools, but I only brought a Leatherman. I wish I’d brought more tools, but a Leatherman is a necessity. You can get a good hammer, but I’m talking more about quality screwdrivers, wrenches and pliers. Don’t forget some good flashlights.
4. We’re very glad we brought our pressure cooker and hand stick blender. There are US outlets in the houses with 110 along with Kenyan outlets at a higher voltage. We brought some good knives. Put some kitchen utensils in your bag like a peeler and whatever else fits.
5. Many spices are available, but if you like some spice mixtures, bring those, e.g. taco seasoning, Mrs. Dash. Kool-Aid and Crystal Light are also easy to pack. I wish we’d brought more snacks, too. We lost a lot of weight right at the beginning because we were still trying to figure things out and learn how to cook with what we had.
6. We bought a new wardrobe before we came out, but our new pants got loose very quickly. You may consider buying an inch or two smaller waist in some pants. Hiking boots are essential. I’d also bring a good shell for the rainy season. You can get rubber boots here, though, but if you like your own pair, bring ’em. I also appreciate having my Crocs.
7. Make sure to pack any sports equipment you enjoy. We brought a lot of different kinds of balls.
8. Get whatever technology you want or need. The internet is pretty good here. We can stream and Skype pretty well. We appreciate having unlocked iPhones as well. We also have a Kindle, so that’s an alternative to packing lots of books. Don’t forget your camera. I have a backup drive for our computers, too.
9. I didn’t bring any camping gear, but it would have been nice on the men’s retreat last weekend. Camping gear is much more expensive here, though there are places to buy it.
10. We can drink out of the tap at RVA, but I still bought some of those filter bottles at AIM. They are a good price. I also packed Life Straws and some iodine tables just for trips out and about. We haven’t made any yet, though, really.
11. I would suggest any toiletry items and over-the-counter/prescription medications you’re used to.
12. Good, cotton socks and underwear are apparently hard to find. We brought plenty of our own.
13. If I could go back, I would have packed stuff in Tupperware containers, or even those disposable ziploc containers. You can never have enough. Also, we packed tons of stuff in Ziploc freezer bags, and we are still washing and using them (People do that here). I’d say bring as much of these items as you can fit.
14. We maxed out on carryons. We had our backpack and other allowed carryon. We were allowed a few extra things as a family, but we almost didn’t have enough hands.
15. If you like to mountain bike, it is worthwhile disassembling your bike and putting it in a bike box. Even if you have to pay the $200 for an extra piece of baggage, that’s a bargain if you enjoy riding at all, and you have a good bike.
There is a temptation to travel lightly since toting lots of luggage around airports is no fun, and you always worry about delays, transfers, rechecking and loss. We checked our luggage all the way through. We didn’t have to recheck along the way, and most of our luggage did get lost. But, they delivered it the next day to our front door at RVA. I had kept the baggage tags and filed a report.