When going on a safari holiday for the first time one of the key considerations is always what to pack? If you are anything like me then there is a high chance you will over-pack by working on the ‘what-if’ principle. Now, I have done around 40+ safaris, and to be honest…I still take too much!! However, I have learnt over time what I need to take and what I am likely to use the most so I have pulled together some of my key thoughts below
There is a tendency to think when going on safari for the first time that there is a need to go out and buy a bunch of new and expensive safari specific stuff ready for the trip. This really isn’t the case. In fact the locals continually find it amusing when tourists turn up all looking identical to each other in their brand new Indiana Jones inspired outfits! If you already have outdoor-wear then it is more than likely this will be perfectly fine. The only rule to try and stick to is no bright clothing, and this is because you are trying to blend in so as not to alarm the animals! Greens, Greys, Blacks, Browns and Beige are all good. They won’t stop you going on safari in your fluorescent yellow jacket, but it is safe to say you will stand out….and you may get some confused looks from the resident elephants!
I usually take the following:
- 2-3 pairs of trousers. I take Craghoppers Kiwi Pro-Stretch trousers, as the stretch element makes them extremely comfortable for getting in and out of safari vehicles. In addition, they are lightweight and they dry very quickly in the African sun if they get wet. Any type of walking trousers, leggings or cargo trousers are absolutely fine, as long as you are comfortable! The one thing I would not recommend is jeans as you are likely to get very hot, and they take forever to dry.
- 4-5 Plain T-shirts. I simply buy cheap 100% cotton t-shirts in khaki/brown or black. You used to be able to get great ones cheap in good old BHS, but these days I find M&S and Asda usually have what I need. I tend to stick away from beige, because you will get covered in dust, and these are harder to get clean again. Your clothes shouldn’t get ruined on the trip, but I would not recommend taking your favourite designer t-shirt – the lions never appreciate your effort anyway!
- 2-3 Long sleeved tops. These really are essential to protect from the mozzies. I am one of the people that they like to eat alive, so as soon as it is heading for sunset I ensure that every bit of skin as possible is covered. I tend to opt for basic long sleeved cotton tops or isocool activity tops to keep cool, and I change out of my t-shirts. However cotton blouses/shirts over t-shirts are also completely sensible. One thing I would stress is natural fibres if possible, otherwise your skin may get agitated in the heat. Personally, I don’t see the need to invest in the mosquito repellant clothing, but this is a personal choice. I completely cover my skin (including face) in repellant and put the clothes on top, and so far have only had the occasional bite.
- 1 fleece – It is likely that wherever you do safari it will get chilly in the evenings. A zip up fleece is great as it is easy to carry and put on when needed.
- 1 Padded Jacket – I always take one of these because they are extremely lightweight and you can stuff them into pretty much any space in your luggage. They are great for keeping you warm, and are waterproof to some extent too, if you do get light rain on your trip. I have a great one from Mountain Warehouse that cost less than £40. If you need to invest in anything, then one of these jackets is my recommendation. The safari drives that leave before sunrise really are VERY cold, and layering up is your best option, so you can gradually de-layer as the sun (and heat) rises.
- 1 pair of trainers – Ideally you want a pair of closed shoes ie trainers for your trip. This is to stop bites on your feet, and they make it easier to get in/out of the safari vehicle. I usually take Sketchers Go Walks, as I think they are the most comfortable shoes ever invented! They will get dusty so if you take black ones they are unlikely to return in pristine condition. If you are doing any bush-walks or hiking you will definitely want to consider something more sturdy such as a walking shoe, to provide extra protection for your feet from both uneven ground and potential bites.
- Underwear – If you want to pack light then you do not need to take underwear and socks for everyday of your trip because you can easily hand-wash items and get them dry outside in a couple of hours in the afternoon heat. Although I should confess I never take this advice and always pack plenty…….I remain of the view that life is too short to wash pants on holiday!
- Hat – Most places will recommend you take a hat, and this is sensible advice to avoid getting sunstroke from the African heat, which depending when/where you go it can be incredibly intense. Personally, I don’t wear a hat as I find them too hot! I do however wear a bandana/headband to keep my hair out of my face because when travelling on the safari trucks you will get blown about.
- Swimming Costume – If your lodge/camp has a pool there is nothing more inviting after a game drive than a refreshing dip in the pool……if the elephants or giraffes aren’t drinking out of it at the time of course!
- Torch – these are always handy! When you will use it will depend on your accommodation. Some places only have electricity during certain hours so you may need it in your room/tent early morning or late evening. You may also need it to get back from the restaurant/bar to your room in the evening. Across popular African Safari Destinations daylight hours are almost consistently around 6am – 6/7pm so it is likely to be dark when you head to bed. Most lodges/camps will insist you are escorted back to your room after dark, but it still helps to have your own torch. If your lodge recommends being escorted, you should ALWAYS take this option as it is for your own protection, as the lodge staff know when there might be animals in the area, and they know what to do in this situation.
- Hot-water bottle – Kind of a luxury this, but they are pretty light to pack and depending on the time of year you go it really can get cold – particularly in South Africa. You almost always have a kettle in tents/lodges so it is easy to fill….and you can even take them on the early morning safaris.
- Water bottle/flask. I have recently invested in a couple of the ‘chilly bottles’ but there are numerous companies that produce high quality flasks that guarantee keeping your water cold, or hot for 12/24 hours. I have used mine for water, juice and coffee – depending on my mood on any given day. These are ideal for safari because any drink in plastic bottles will soon heat up on game drives. Also – it is far better for the environment to top up your flask with filtered water from your lodge. Win/Win.
- Mosquito Repellant – Lots of it! I always use a minimum of 50% deet, but this is purely because they LOVE me! Be warned though – this stuff can be strong. I used 100% deet a couple of times and it literally dissolved my flip-flops, so I do worry what it does to me skin!
- Sun-tan lotion – Factor 50 if possible. In East Africa you will be closer to the equator, so you absolutely need a high factor. Even in Southern Africa the temperatures can get very high and you really don’t want your bright red nose scaring off the wildlife
- Toiletries – If you are staying in mid-range/luxury accommodation it is likely that basic toiletries will be provided. However, I still take as a minimum miniature toothpaste, conditioner (I have crazy hair), shower gel and facial cleanser. It gets really dirty on safari and your face will thank-you!
- First-aid Kit – You will be a long way from anywhere on safari so it is useful to have a few basic items with you. If there is an medical emergency your safari company will of course get you the help needed, but these are just useful things to take.
- Diarrhoea tablets – African stomach is a real possibility, as your body adapts to different temperatures and different conditions.
- Painkillers – for minor aches & pains
- Bandage and tape – As someone who tore their ACL in Ethiopia I can confirm bandages are not as easy to come by as you would hope! I spent 2 days with my knee tied up untidily in a pashmina, that did very little good. I have taken a bandage on every-trip since!
- Antiseptic wipes/cream – as small as possible, but really useful for keeping scrapes and open bites free of infection.
- After-bite/bite zapper/anti-histamine – purely for relief of the itching if you do get bitten!
- Safety pins – 101 uses – although in my experience most often used for broken zips!
It is important that you check with your tour operator what type of luggage you are able to take, as in some areas it can be restricted. If you are doing an overland tour it is likely that you will only be able to take a soft bag and there will be fixed dimensions because luggage has to go into an individual locker. If you have an internal flight on a small aircraft (Botswana/Tanzania/Kenya particularly) you are likely to have a maximum 15/20kg luggage allowance and again only soft bags will be allowed. They are not being difficult – the aircraft is simply not equipped to take more weight than this, and in some planes rigid suitcases just do not fit in the plane.
At the end of the day it is purely down to personal preference, but I hope some of these tips prove helpful. If you can keep the weight of your luggage down, I would recommend it because most safari holidays involve staying in several places so you will be ‘living out of a case’ and having to transport your luggage several times. That said if it is something you really do want/need don’t be afraid to take it. Sometimes little luxuries are essential on holiday, and safari is no different!
*In case you are wondering about the title……my friends have recently pointed out that my wardrobe is now 75% Mountain Warehouse! As I wrote this article I realised they are not wrong! Most of the things I suggested have been purchased at MW! What can I say…they always have really good deals online, especially if you also look for vouchers, and the quality of the stuff is really good value for the money.
**Other retailers are available and I am receiving no endorsement from any of the companies/brands stated on this page**