As soon as you've booked your safari, the question arises: Oh dear, what do I need to pack? Well fear not, here are some insider tips from experienced travellers that should make your packing - and comfort on your safari - a whole lot easier!
Packing to go on safari can be a challenge. You want to be sure you don't bring unnecessary goodies. But you also don't want to be left short - or missing some essential item that will add to your overall comfort and enjoyment.
The bad news ...
Most people over-pack. Weight limits can be a challenge from the get-go. International airlines have baggage allowances of 23 - 32 kgs (50 - 70 lbs) and domestic airlines and light aircraft (especially the 'hoppers' you'll be using if you're going to a remote safari destination) will limit you to 15 - 20 kgs (33 - 44 lbs). That's for everything: toiletries, clothes, cameras, batteries ...
The good news ...
Most safari lodges are well aware of this and offer a laundry service (sometimes complimentary), so you won't need to bring that many clothes.
The basics ...
1. If you're going on safari in Botswana, a soft, duffel-type bag is way easier to manage on the small aircraft flights between camps.
2. A day bag/small backpack to keep all your valuables safe - and be your constant companion on safari - filled with your daily essentials (more about that further on) is essential.
The clothes …
The golden word here is layers. Layers of clothing work best: on cold winter mornings, an open safari vehicle can be freezing cold. Wear several layers that you can peel off as the day warms up – then replace if needed when the sun goes down. Muted, earthy colours blend in better than bright colours. That doesn’t mean you have to go out and buy a whole new wardrobe – the odd colourful item is not going to frighten away all the wildlife.
The must haves:
- Long-sleeved shirts (men & women): protect you against the sun, wind, insect bites and scratchy branches on early morning and evening game drives. Pack at least two.
- Light, loose t-shirts/golf-shirts/cami-tops. Four or Five of them.
- Shorts with zip-on/off pants legs: a great and simple way to make an instant adjustment to weather changes.
- Thick fleece or sweater and windbreaker for those chilly mornings … and chillier evenings. During winter months, throw in some warm gloves, a scarf and beanie too. NB: even in summer, you’ll need warm clothes to protect against the wind chill on early morning and late afternoon open vehicle game drives!
- A light, rain-proof jacket or plastic poncho – rains in Africa can be very sudden and very soaking!
- Comfy walking shoes – proper, worn-in ones, if you’ll be going on bush walks. But there is no need for heavy hiking boots.
- Sturdy sandals with thick soles for game drives and walking around the camp. Africa has big thorns!
- Swimming gear – most lodges have pools and it’s a great way to cool down.
- Most lodges provide towels but bring at least one small hand towel of your own.
- Wide-brimmed sunhat with a cord that ties it on, or a scarf that can wrap over it to prevent it from blowing off on open vehicle game drives. A baseball cap is also popular, and a smart trick is to clip the cap to your collar using a short string or ribbon, so it doesn't blow away in the wind.
- Good pair of anti-glare sunglasses.
The secret weapons …
For everyone: a kikoi/sarong/beach wrap, preferably the non-see through type. It has 101 uses – from a wrap to a skirt to rolled up as a pillow, used as a scarf, a light sheet, a tablecloth, a picnic blanket, a sling … you shouldn’t leave home without one.
For women only: a sports bra. Some roads are seriously bumpy and/or corrugated. A well-fitting sports bra will go a long way to giving you the support you need for a more comfortable journey.
A good pair of binoculars is a must have. They don't have to be the most expensive type, but avoid the very cheapest ones - they usually have poor image quality and poor alignment. Also avoid the tiny 8x25 sports binoculars. A great option would be a pair of 8x42 such as the Nikon Monarch 5 which is not too expensive, but good quality.
The toiletries & meds …
Bring your favourite toiletries, preferably dispensed into handy-sized travel bottles. Most lodges supply complimentary toiletries like shampoo, conditioner, shower gel and body cream. Don't carry these in your hand luggage unless the container is less than 100ml. And pack them inside a ziplock bag in case they leak on the flight. A good tip here is to squeeze out some air and close the containers so they have some negative pressure. Less chance of a leak at high altitude.
If you’re on any medications, please make sure you have ample supply for the duration of your safari! A small pill box in your day pack with a few days’ supply is always a good idea in case you’re separated from your main bag for any reason.
If you’re visiting a malaria-risk area, please ensure you have the right prophylaxis – consult your GP or nearest Travel Clinic for the most up-to-date information and options.
If you wear contact lenses, remember to bring more than enough solution - the wind and dust can quickly make your eyes feel dry and scratchy. And consider bringing a spare pair of glasses if your eyes are irritated by dusty conditions.
The basic medical kit …
A good idea for whenever you leave home. Don't overdo it, most lodges, tour guides and safari vehicles carry an emergency medical kit:
- Travel sick tablets
- Antiseptic cream
- Antihistamine tablets and cream
- Headache tablets
- Eye drops
- Anti-diarrhea tablets
- Rehydrate sachets
- Strong insect repellent – Tabard and Peaceful Sleep are two well-known locally-available brands
- Sunscreen with high SPF, especially for your face
- Lip balm (preferably with SPF)
The Cameras …
You’ll be thankful afterwards for taking a good quality camera with a zoom function for those incredible safari moments. A 300mm lens is usually adequate for wildlife photos. Bring plenty of memory cards and batteries, as you don’t want to run out of these. You’ll also need a dust-proof (preferably also water-proof) bag to keep your camera goodies safe and dry. Don’t forget to read Onne’s earlier blog, 12 Wildlife Photography Tips for your Next Photographic Safari for some great advice.
The Other Goodies …
A good torch/flashlight and/or headlamp with a spare set of batteries. Some camps only have generator power until a certain time. A visit to a bathroom in an unfamiliar place in the dead of night without light could be a hair-raising experience!
For women: consider bringing a "shewee" - a very handy little plastic device that makes urinating in the bush so much easier.
The Yellow Fever Card …
Vital if you’re travelling to certain countries like Kenya or Uganda (your tour agent can advise you). Unless you carry a medical exemption, you’ll be expected to show it at the airport upon entering or leaving countries where there is a risk of Yellow Fever.
The Green Backs …
Depending on your safari destination, there are many areas where cash machines are scarce. It’s a good idea to travel with some US$ cash, in small denominations (US$1, 5, 10 and 20 should do). More recently, there seems to be a preference for crisp, recent bills (no later than 2010).
The Fly Traps …
If at all possible, avoid dark clothes, especially dark blue and black – even jeans. They are known to attract all the baddies – flies, mosquitos and tsetse flies for starters. And tsetse flies (more common in central Africa) won’t even be deterred by a healthy dose of insect repellent if you’re wearing these colours.
The Drought …
Apart from sunscreen and lip balm, bring some skin moisturiser. Especially if you’re from a ‘softer’ climate, African conditions can be harsh, making you feel as though your skin is suddenly a few sizes too small.
The Power …
Again, although most lodges do try & supply international power adaptors – some even have a range as wall plugs! - do bring your own. It’s frustrating when you can’t use or recharge your equipment. The plug type will depend on which country you're visiting.
The Day Bag …
This easy-to-carry companion can contain all your valuables and daily necessities. Take it with you on every game drive.
The Leave Behinds ...
Pith helmets, flack jackets, high tops and bad attitudes ... these are definitely past their sell-by date.
What are your thoughts? Was there any item you found invaluable on your safari that we haven't mentioned? Anything you'd like to add? Or delete? Please let us know in the comments below ...
About the author
A 'word smith' or copywriter with over 25 years experience, love travelling, wildlife and conservation; fascinated by alternative energy, alternative building and alternative health. Consummate reader and traveller, both internationally and southern Africa. Have two remarkable daughters that continue to amaze and teach me daily. Consider myself privileged to live on the best continent on the planet.