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What to pack for a water-based conservation trip

· Travel

Since I started taking sailing trips, I have become much more effective at packing. It’s actually kind of a miracle, because I used to always be a ‘but what if I need this?’ person. When you have to pack to live in a small space, you learn to be brutal because you quite literally cannot take all that stuff with you.

The most surprising thing is that packing light has lots of unexpected benefits. Negotiating the airport is a breeze with just hand luggage but, even if you don’t go that far, a light hold bag is much easier to manhandle to bag drop. Plus, no excess baggage fees (or, as has happened to me before, unpacking and repacking to redistribute the weight in your bags AT the check in desk – not a good look). When you arrive at your destination and there isn’t someone to help with your bags or you don’t want to pay someone to, you can carry it easily yourself without looking like a packhorse. During your trip, it also means that getting ready takes half the time. ‘Which dress should I wear? Oh the only dress I brought with me that rolls up super tiny and doesn’t require an iron’. ‘Oh, this is a smart beach trip? Sorry I only have one pair of short shorts and I don’t care’.

This last point particularly appeals to my lazy, do-girls-really-have-to-spend-that-long-on-that nature. Of course, sometimes when baggage size is not restricted, the trip requires a variety of outfit choices from casual to super smart to modest semi-casual, and temperatures from 40 degrees to jeez this is freezing air conditioning, and I’m going for a few weeks (oh hey Dubai), I still overpack. In fact, overpack suggests I give it much consideration, I actually just chuck it all in and hope for the best.

However, for my most recent two-week trip to Mafia Island, I packed carefully with weight in mind. The impetus was my final flight. To get to Mafia Island from mainland Tanzania, you have to take an internal flight on a tiny propeller plane. The weight limit for hold baggage for these flights is 15kg. I don’t know if you’ve ever paid much attention to how much your luggage weighs, but that is not much. The aim of this particular trip was whale shark conservation and yoga, so I also needed to pack some more ‘specialist’ items, too.

Packing for whale shark conservation on Mafia Island, Tanzania

Hand luggage / cabin bag

Packed into an Aquapac 25L Waterproof Backpack – also used this on the whale shark tours to keep my day kit dry

  • Small bag (Peak Design Field Pouch) for on-land day trips
  • Vaccination Record
  • Printed information about flights, places I was booked to stay, other relevant documentation
  • Water filtration bottle so I could drink the tap water (from Pure Hydration)
  • GoPro Hero4 (charging cable, 3 x spare batteries, 3 x memory cards, waterproof case)
  • Cash in US $
  • iPhone in Catalyst Waterproof case (and charging cable)
  • IPad, preloaded with videos (useful when my plane seat had a broken entertainment screen for 7 hours)
  • e-reader (Kindle Paperwhite and charging cable)
  • Sketchbook (Fabriano Artists Journal)
  • Art materials (pencils, pens, pastels, ink and brushes)
  • Notebook and pen
  • Lightning connector headphones
  • Malaria tablets (generic malarone)
  • General medication (ibuprofen, anti-diurectic, antihistamine)
  • Sunglasses

And also in the hand luggage, in case my main bag was delayed:

  • 1 x bikini
  • 1 x shorts
  • 1 x tank top
  • 1 x underwear
  • Flip flops

Main luggage / hold bag

Packed into a 70L Polar Stuff High and Dry bag with dedicated ‘wet items’ section built in

  • Packing squares to organise my clothes
  • Phone/ camera floating wrist strap (Catalyst lanyard to reduce the chances of losing my phone over the side of the boat)
  • Coral Watch Chart (for citizen science monitoring health of coral reef)
  • Wetsuit boots (for wading to and from the boat)
  • Books for local school
  • 2 x Bikini (Made from ocean plastic by Davy J and Deakin & Blue)
  • 1 x Swimsuit
  • 3 x Sarong (Tanzania is a muslim country, so sarongs are great because you can use them over your shoulders or to cover your legs over shorts)
  • Rash vest (mine was too tight for the weather conditions, I ended up wearing a yoga top into the sea instead to avoid jellyfish stings!)
  • 2 x Swim shorts (Finisterre and Patagonia)
  • 3 x Shorts
  • 1 x Dress
  • Yoga clothes (I shouldn’t have bothered taking these, I did yoga in my clothes for the whale shark tours)
  • Yoga Mat (Yogo Ultralight Yoga Mat is the smallest and lightest one I could find for travel)
  • 16 x Underwear
  • 4 x Bras
  • 10 x T-shirts
  • 1 x Jumper (wore this on the plane)
  • 2 x Leggings / Harem Pants
  • 1 x Slip on Shoes (Toms)


  • Marine-friendly suncream (Aethic SPF40 – the only coral-safe suncream I could find that was nut and coconut free)
  • Insect repellent
  • Bite zapper (Lifesystems Bite Relief Click which helped me reduce itching and swelling)
  • Lifeventure All Purpose Soap (I love this stuff, it can be used for anything when you're travelling and it's also antibacterial, pH balanced and biodegradable)
  • Hard Shampoo (Lush Jason and the Argan Oil)
  • Hard Conditioner (Lush Jungle)
  • Hair Oil (I can't keep my hair under control without it)
  • Hairbrush (ditto)
  • Toothbrush and toothpaste
  • Deodorant
  • Mascara (the only makeup I took with me and I only put it on for the plane ride home)
  • Moisturiser
  • Plasters (my mum insisted I took these).

Confession, as you can probably tell, I still packed far too much. I didn’t need my excess of yoga clothes. I mostly wore the same shorts. But there were three things that I wished I’d brought that I didn’t… antiseptic of some kind for cuts and grazes, a loose-fitting rash vest and swimming leggings. There were a lot of jellyfish in the water and about half of our group, including me, got stung.

However, my bag was light. I even got an enthusiastic thumbs up from the Coastal Aviation baggage guy when I handed him my bag and he weighed it before my propeller plane flight. I’m calling that a win, don't you agree?

You can see my evolving Pinterest board for packing for island trips here. Also I'd love to hear your packing suggestions in the comments!

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