What to pack for an African safari

The ultimate guide on what to pack (and not to pack) for an unforgettable safari…

You’ve dreamed about an African safari for as long as you can remember. You’ve watched (and re-watched) Out of Africa too many times to count. You’ve overcome the myths of travelling to this often-misunderstood continent, you’ve researched your destination down to the last detail, and you’ve finally booked your highly anticipated safari of a lifetime.

Now, it’s time to pack. For many first-time safari goers, this is the most daunting part of the adventure. What to pack for a luxury safari, what to wear on safari, what to leave at home—all valid questions and ones I get asked often. Preparing for your African safari should be an overwhelming “I-can’t-wait-to-get-on-that-plane” kind of exciting, so let’s take the unnecessary stress out of packing for it.

15 myths about travel to Africa

If this is your first time travelling to Africa, let’s clear up some of the common misconceptions…

Firstly, size matters

Choosing the right luggage is crucial and can make or break your African safari. Be sure to thoroughly investigate the exact luggage restrictions for every flight you will be boarding. While the international flights have generous luggage allowance, it is important to note that there are strict weight and size limitations for the smaller aircraft that link out to the remote safari locations.

The exact weight allocation varies slightly across destinations, but typically between 15 and 20 kg (33 and 44 lb) are permitted per person, which often includes your camera equipment, handbags and additional carry-on items. And, yes, they do check, so pack as lightly as possible to ensure a hassle-free journey.

As important as the weight, is the type of bag itself. Hard-shell cases are not ideal and, for the most part, soft-sided bags are required on the smaller aircraft. Some of the more active adventures, such as the gorilla trek, will require a sturdy and waterproof backpack. For most safaris, a lightweight, soft-sided duffel bag is the norm. If you have a lot to pack, some people choose to forego the wheels—they add unnecessary weight when every kg counts.

&Beyond’s range of exclusive Thule soft shell luggage is the perfect travel companion and is accepted by all &Beyond’s preferred flight providers. Visit our Travel Shop to browse.

Photographers, and the like, with heavy equipment can pay for excess baggage, the cost of which varies across carriers. It is advisable to request this at the time of booking. For long-haul travellers with onward journeys that simply cannot stick within the restriction, speak to your travel specialist or safari operator to discuss options. Often, suitcases with items not needed for the safari leg of the journey can be left behind with the operator and returned post-safari. Again, this depends on the operator, so do your research (and bring extra luggage locks or cable ties).

Bringing the correct luggage and packing lightly are the golden rules for every safari. I speak from experience, having had to purchase an emergency soft-sided bag at the check-in desk of a very busy Nairobi airport, then (rather ashamedly) rifle through my belongings to unpack and repack in front of a long queue of onlookers. I also didn’t have an extra lock or cable ties, so had to just leave my belongings and hope for the best. It only has to happen once, and you’ll never make the same mistake again.

Safari essentials

Not sure what to wear on safari? Here are two important tips: (1) neutral colours and (2) layers, layers, layers. Contrary to popular belief, there’s no need to purchase ten sets of everything in khaki. And while you may want to channel Meryl Streep’s Out of Africa elegance, you might look a bit out of place. Remember, you’ll be spending long hours in an open (or semi-open) vehicle, under the harsh rays of the African sun, so aim for comfort above all else.

Colour is key

The general rule of thumb is to wear neutral, natural, earthy tones that blend in with the surrounding landscape (green, grey, brown, khaki, etc.). While this is not strictly enforced on safari vehicles, it is the preferred dress ethic, and certainly a requirement for nature walks. So, leave the hot pink, fluorescent yellow, and loud, colourful prints at home (or save them for wearing around the privacy of your suite and private plunge pool).

You may want to leave the whites at home too. Besides white standing out from the natural colour palette, it is also next-to-impossible to keep clean while on safari. And if you don’t get dusty, are you really on safari?!

Lighter colours are cooler, whereas dark ones absorb the heat. And if you’re packing for a safari in East Africa, another rule of thumb is to avoid navy or royal blue clothing. It is believed that tsetse flies are attracted to this hue, although my tsetse bites begged to differ. As a side note, many operators in East Africa will provide handy flyswatters on the safari vehicles to help shoo the flies.

Lastly, be careful with camo prints. Camouflage clothing is not recommended for travel in Africa and is in fact illegal for civilians in some African countries.

Pack light

Another packing hack I swear by is the packing cube. I have them in varying shapes and sizes and they are game changers when it comes to organising and grouping everything in your suitcase and carry-on. They also really help to maximise your limited luggage space.

Obviously given the weight restrictions, it is crucial to pack as lightly as possible. As a serial over-packer myself, I have learned to pack light over the years, yet still manage to bring items that never get used. Less is absolutely more when packing for an African safari.

As a general rule, bring three or four outfits that you can mix and match and you’ll be fine (with a mix of long and short sleeves and long trousers and shorts). Aim for lightweight, breathable and quick-drying fabrics.

Another packing game changer is that most safari camps and lodges provide a complimentary (or minimal cost) laundry service, enabling guests to pack light. Simply place your clothing in the laundry bag provided and it will be lovingly laundered, ironed, folded and placed on your bed at evening turndown (or the next morning, if the weather is inclement). Best to just double check this with your travel specialist/safari operator beforehand.

For cultural reasons, the laundry service in some destinations respectfully excludes ladies’ undergarments; however, laundry soap is available in most suites for guest convenience.

Lastly, if you’re prone to a bit of retail therapy, do leave a bit of extra space for any safari mementoes you might like to take home (unfortunately the same luggage restrictions apply to return flights).

 

Pack for all seasons

There is a misconception that it is always hot in Africa. While the summer days can indeed be scorchers, the mornings and evenings—regardless of season—can be chilly, especially in an open safari vehicle pre-sunrise. And high-altitude destinations such as Tanzania’s Ngorongoro Crater have unpredictable weather and surprisingly brisk temperatures. Do your research to ensure you come prepared.

Think four seasons in one day—and this is where the layers come in. Bring a selection of long-sleeve, short-sleeve and sleeveless tops, as well a few light scarves (for warmth or sun protection) and one of those handy lightweight puffer jackets or a fleece for winter (and a hoodie/light jacket for summer). As someone who feels the cold, in the heart of winter, I wear a winter jacket, lightweight puffer and fleece on the morning drives, which gets a lot of heckling, but rather be warm).

Most safari operators will provide blankets on the vehicles (year-round) and hot water bottles on every seat for those winter mornings. If you feel the cold, I highly recommend bringing a beanie and a pair of thin gloves for winter safaris. During the summer months, a light rain jacket is handy; however, many lodges will supply ponchos on the safari vehicle and umbrellas in the suites. &Beyond vehicles even have a two-headed honeymoon poncho for the romantics.

A word to the ladies: summery dresses and skirts are fine for around the lodge and the pool, but believe me when I say there is no delicate way to scramble on/off a safari vehicle, with fellow guests, and your ranger, standing below. Also handy to note is that game drives can get very bumpy, so some women prefer to wear sports bras.

Toss in a few more essentials, like a cap or a sun hat (one that can get battered and wrinkled in transit), sunglasses, swimming costume, flip flops or sandals, and closed shoes with good tread for nature walks (ones that can get dirty and don’t forget socks in the case of ticks). If you don’t plan to get off the safari vehicle for a walk, flip flops are also fine for game drive (depending on how cold the mornings are).

Hiking boots aren’t necessary unless you’re doing a lengthy walking safari or gorilla trek (in which case, waterproof is recommended and make sure they’re broken in first). Bandanas and light scarves are also great for shielding the sun and dust.

Dress code

A lot of guests enquire about dinnertime dress codes. While some guests will opt for nice shirt and slacks for dinner, others will opt for jeans. There really is no formal night-time dress code, so long as you are comfortable. As for the ladies, I personally wouldn’t recommend a dress or skirt in the evening—as romantic as the dinner settings are, the mosquitoes will find you, so I wouldn’t suggest bare legs in the evenings.

There is ample time after the evening drive to return to your suite, shower off the day’s dust and freshen up. A security guard will escort you from the vehicle back to your suite and will ask what time you’d like to be escorted back for dinner.

Personal amenities

Once again, it really helps to do some research. Ask your travel specialist or safari operator for their suggested packing list (scroll down for &Beyond’s checklists) and ask ahead about certain items. For example, at &Beyond lodges, shampoo, conditioner, body wash, scrub and lotion are provided in convenient glass-pump bottles. This premium and organic product range is supplied by a leading spa and skincare company and inspired by Africa’s ancient natural healing botanicals.

A word to the ladies with long hair, I often travel with a small bottle of heavy conditioner, just in case. The African sun, wind and dust can do a number on your hair.

Don’t forget to pack strong SPF sunscreen, after-sun and lip balm. Some lodges will provide sunscreen in the suites and most rangers will have it readily available on the safari vehicle. These items can also usually be purchased at the lodge, but it’s a good idea to bring your own and to use them often.

If you are on specific medication, keep it in a safe place as it isn’t easily replaceable in remote bush locations. Hand sanitiser is readily available, and many lodges will also provide insect repellent. If you are travelling to a malaria area, then be sure to ask your physician about malaria prophylactics (some people swear by them; others opt not to take them), and non-drowsy motion sickness tablets/bracelets are also handy if you get queasy on small planes. Bring some allergy meds if you suffer from pollen, dust, etc. and some antihistamine in the case of bug bites.

Equipment

This is a no-brainer for the photographers, but in addition to your standard camera equipment and lenses (in a waterproof/dustproof bag), an extra memory card and spare, fully-charged camera battery often come in handy. Inevitably, it will be when a lion pride is on the hunt that your battery will die (again, I speak from experience). A light scarf or kikoi is helpful for shielding cameras from the sun and dust, and lightweight tripods are great for night/astro photography.

Binoculars are crucial, but again, do your research. Guests visiting &Beyond lodges enjoy the complimentary use of a pair of SWAROVSKI OPTIK binoculars for the duration of their safari. It is one pair per room, so if you’re a couple of birders or bino hogs that don’t like to share, then do bring a second pair. The SWAROVSKI OPTIK universal VPA (variable phone adaptor) isn’t provided, but it’s a great tool to bring along.

Torches are another useful item worth asking about beforehand. Most lodges will provide them in the suites. Security guards carry torches to escort guests to and from their rooms at night, so no need to have your own. If your night vision isn’t great, an added cell phone torch or the torch from your suite are handy.

Most lodges have universal plug points and USB ports in the suites, but it’s advisable to bring the right plugs/adaptors just in case. A USB splitter with multiple ports is convenient for charging multiple devices and a small battery pack is also handy for keeping devices charged during game drives (some vehicles do have plug points, but this is not the norm).

Bring a well-stocked kindle or a good book, along with some headphones and playlists for the flights, road transfers, afternoons by the pool and those sporadic, but unavoidable ‘Africa-time’ delays. Many lodges have Bluetooth speakers in the suites, but in my humble opinion, when you’re in the bush, the sounds of Mother Nature are far more enchanting.

There is no need to bring a bird book unless you’re an avid birder. Most guides will have their own bird, mammal and tree books on the vehicle and will pass these around to guests at sightings. At &Beyond lodges, guests also receive a convenient Guide’s Journal with beautiful illustrations of the flora and fauna—great for jotting down a list of the wildlife witnessed on your safari.

Don’t forget

It would be remiss not to mention the obvious travel essentials: passport (check the entry requirements, expiration date, number of blank pages, etc.); required Covid documentation and face masks, sanitiser, etc.; travel vaccinations (where necessary); plane tickets; visas (where necessary); credit cards; travel itinerary; and travel insurance. Bring an extra copy of your passport and important travel documents just in case.

As always, don’t pack any valuables in your checked luggage and keep the essentials (such as medication, ID and travel documents) in your carry-on in the event of lost or delayed luggage.

Carry some USD in small denominations for tipping porters, transfer drivers, etc. When it comes to tipping your guide, tracker, butler, housekeeping, etc., this can be added to your bill upon checkout, or you can bring cash. Ask your travel specialist or safari operator for their tipping guidelines.

Leave behind

Now that your packing list is sorted, just make sure you bring an unbridled sense of adventure, a sense of humour and a dash of patience. There’s nothing quite like going on safari. As the saying goes, “Everything in Africa bites, but the safari bug is the worst of all.” Once bitten, you’ll want to return, again and again. There’s simply no such thing as too many safaris.

A few items to leave at home:

  • Diet (‘lodge podge’ is a real thing; the food is irresistibly diet-breaking)
  • Snacks (no need to bring game drive nibbles; you’ll be well fed)
  • Stress, deadlines, laptop (unless you absolutely must connect to work)
  • Jewellery
  • Camouflage clothing (illegal in some African countries)
  • Plastic bags (banned in some African countries)
  • Hairdryer (most lodges provide; ask them prior to departure)
  • Drones (some destinations will confiscate, and others won’t allow them for wildlife security monitoring reasons, as well as the privacy of fellow guests; best to leave them at home unless you have permission and the necessary paperwork resolved prior to travel)

But first, music…

Here’s an African playlist to get you in a safari state of mind while you pack for your adventure of a lifetime.

Apple Music

Spotify

YouTube Music

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