Yes we may not all have been Boy Scouts and Girl Guides in our time but this is most certainly something we should all adhere to – Lord Baden-Powell would have been proud!
If you’re about to leave on a two week safari into the African bush, you won’t have the opportunity to buy extra things you’ve forgotten, so planning and smart packing is a must. Before you travel, here are nine critical steps that I recommend all travellers take into consideration:
Passports and Visas
African countries have very stringent rules about passports and visas, how much validity time your passport may still have after entry date, and how many blank pages are required.
Each country you enter requires two blank pages, so if you are visiting several countries, they need to be accounted for. Also taking into account whether there are enough contiguous pages allowing entry visas to be awarded.
Your visa is especially important and must in most cases be applied for pre travel – leaving enough time to organise this either through an embassy directly, through a specific visa company service or online.
It is bureaucracy and needs to be adhered to, otherwise you could find yourself being turned away before a foot is set on African soil. Some countries have been known to change their rules at short notice so I always recommend you ensure you have at least a year remaining on your passport, and check requirements again before travel.
The colour of your clothes
You may wonder why the colour of your clothes is so important and why you cannot take your favourite bright pink shirt on safari with you, or why I advise people against wearing blue and black to various areas of certain countries – it’s not because I’m against looking smart or standing out, but rather it is best to blend in.
Tsetse flies BITE and are attracted to blue and white, alongside black and red which can possibly promote a settling or “entry response” – the easiest way to avoid them is to avoid those colours!
Whilst out on game drives or game walks, neutral colours are always best, so in practical terms wear shades of green/khaki/brown, colours that may not enhance your own natural colouring, but certainly provide you with camouflage as you edge closer for that up close and personal encounter.
Sometimes the easiest or only way to travel between safari areas is to fly by light aircraft. These scheduled or charter flights restrict one with the amount of space available in the luggage hold, (i.e. a lot smaller than your average Boeing!)
New safety regulations are strictly adhered to and therefore a maximum of 12 to 15kgs per person in soft sided canvas bags (no wheels) is the limit.
I will admit that 15kgs is certainly not a lot to go on, but bear in mind that most lodges and hotels can do laundry and therefore the old adage of one on, one off and one in the wash is something to try to aspire to.
Binoculars and Camera Equipment (and protective cases)
I could think of nothing worse than heading out on a morning walk or game drive, being witness to the most incredible sighting of the day and not being able to capture that moment for all eternity all because I forgot my binos, did not recharge my camera or worse still, accidentally dropped or broke my camera in the sheer excitement of it all.
Protective cases, extra batteries, recharging units all come hand in hand with camera and binos, they were made for a reason, don’t get caught out! All hotels and most lodges have the facilities to recharge your camera equipment, use them wisely!
It’s also worthwhile knowing the environment you’re visiting. If you’re going gorilla trekking in the Congo, you should ensure that all your camera equipment is suitable for humid and possibly very wet environments. However if you’re going to the desert, dust can be a problem ….
Vaccinations and certificates
Most African countries require all visitors who have passed through a country which have yellow fever to provide a certificate of vaccination upon arrival.
Some countries or specific activities may require you to have more vaccinations such as TB, measles, Polio and tetanus depending on the activity. Check online and with your doctor and ensure to book vaccinations enough in advance.
Of course one hopes that this will not be used, but should you need to change plans/ or cancel at the last moment, or have to rush back home, travel insurance is vital and a complete necessity.
Most important is medical and repatriation travel insurance and to give your travel specialist the details. In fact it is becoming the ‘norm’ that a majority of safari camps will not accept final booking confirmation without knowing and having the details to hand of your travel insurance. Medical facilities may be expensive and not adequate enough, so one must have extra coverage.
Africa is essentially a year-round destination, but when and where you choose to travel, and what you are wanting to see, are all very much dependent on the time of the year.
For example the winter months in Southern Africa from May-November are the best for game viewing whereas for East Africa, you may want to avoid April, May and November because of the rains – but there are exceptions to this too.
Attitude and a sense of adventure
Africa is all about attitude - having the right attitude, an open mind and most definitely a sense of adventure! The minute you step off your international flight, take a deep breath and let Africa take over. Africa works in its own time and in its own way - and why change it.
Close encounters with wildlife whilst on foot in Zambia, learning about different cultures in Kenya, bicycling through townships in South Africa, it all has character, you are here to explore and learn about different peoples, sceneries cultures and wildlife, embrace it!
Know the local customs and laws
This is essential – knowing the local laws can ensure your safari runs smoothly. Some countries have laws and customs that might surprise you. For example in Rwanda, plastic bags are illegal - the country is incredibly clean - so if you want to take a bag for your ‘incidentals’, I recommend a small cotton bag.
In most African counties, it is not recommended to take photos or video of uniformed services, border controls, government officials or government buildings, and many local people do not wish for their photograph to be taken – you should always check with your Guide first. Ethiopia too has its own customs such as which hand to eat with.