I have been fortunate enough to have been on safari many, many times to a variety of countries across the African continent.
It therefore goes without saying that I have learnt sometimes from bitter experience the do's and don’ts of what you need to pack for your safari vacation, to make your stay that bit extra enjoyable and this can make a huge difference to your overall experience and for many what is a once in a lifetime journey.
All of your travel documents, tickets, passports, visas, money, credit cards and travel insurance. Take an extra pen, as you may well need this for form filling at airports. Also if you are hiring a car at any stage, don’t forget your driving licence, which must include a photo.
I would also suggest that you pack a change of clothes & essential toiletries in your hand luggage, just in case you’re main luggage goes astray.
For me I would never travel without my camera, taking plenty of spare memory cards and batteries, as you'll take more photos than you ever thought possible, especially if this is your first safari. A 100-400 zoom lens makes all the difference for photographing wildlife and birds.
You might also want to take a tripod or monopod. A waterproof bag might also come in handy, not only to protect from the rain, but also the dust. Also remember your chargers and plug adaptors, (which are readily available at international airports).
Another essential to get the most out of your safari is a decent pair of binoculars as these can make all the difference. I would recommend Swarovski 10 x 40 binoculars.
Whilst many of the safari camps provide flashlights, I would certainly recommend packing your own and either a mini Maglite, a LED Lenser P7 torch or a head torch is perfect. If you’re into the stars and are taking your iPhone/iPad, then download the Celestran Sky Scout app before you travel.
There are also a variety of apps for birdwatchers and wildlife enthusiasts. An iPad loaded with good books and magazines is perfect in case of any flight delays. Using the sound recording on your device is great fun if you have a lot of wildlife around your camp/lodge at night.
If you are going to be making phone calls, then purchase a local sim card for your mobile cell phone, but check first if the camps have mobile reception. Also not all camps have Wi-Fi, so do check before you go.
In terms of medication, make sure you’ve visited your Doctor/travel medical practitioners with plenty of notice and have purchased your malaria medication or any vaccinations if required. Do also make sure that you take your up-to date vaccination certificates.
Also pack some Imodium, insect repellent (Jungle Formula is highly recommended), Antihistamine (for bug bites/stings and allergic reactions), high factor sun protection cream – I recommend Nivea SPF30 (some are available with insect repellent), lip salve and after sun.
Also pack personal toiletries. A small amount of washing powder might come in handy as although most of the camps offer laundry services, they often won’t wash underwear. Take plastic bags for dirty washing, although note that some countries in Africa, such as Rwanda and Kenya prohibit all plastic bags. Pack a basic medical kit (headache tablets, plasters, antiseptic cream, rehydration salts, hand sanitizer etc.).
If you wear contact lenses, do carry a pair of glasses in case of dust irritation. Also polarizing sunglasses come in handy.
Whilst almost all camps provide shampoo, not all of them provide conditioner and if you have long hair, it can get quite knotty in the open game drive vehicles. Also pack hair ties.
If you are taking any medication, then make sure you take a copy of your personal medical prescription to accompany your medication.
For the ladies, a small amount of makeup might come in handy as however casual a safari is, one doesn't have to forfeit this! In terms of hairdryers these are sometimes provided, but often they can’t be used in the camps due to the voltage of the generator.
With regards to clothing, choose very carefully what to pack as many safaris include small planes which have very strict luggage restrictions. A soft sided duffle bag is required for the light aircraft, ideally one which is hardy, waterproof and lockable.
Remember to pack for hot days and cool nights which means that layers are ideal for game drives, plus khaki and neutral colours are better for the bush. White or bright clothing is not recommended.
A good cap or hat with a drawstring (to avoid it blowing off and into the bush) is essential. Short pants, (x 3), T-shirts (x 4/5), long-sleeved cotton shirts (x 3 or 4), trousers/long pants ( x 2), quite a good idea to have the zip off ones so that you can start off with long ones and then end up with shorts).
Jumper / sweater and raincoat (a very warm sweater/fleece/down jacket is advisable for early morning/ late afternoon/evening game drives although blankets and sometimes even hot water bottles are provided in open Land Rovers).
Underwear and socks, swimming costume, as many of the camps have plunge pools, Kikoi/wrap and flip flops (for the shower), Pashmina or cashmere shawl, plus gloves for the winter months, sports bra (there are bumpy roads!), walking shoes (trainers for gentle walking and hiking boots for a full on walking safari), sheepskin slippers as its always wonderful to take off walking shoes and keep toes toasty by camp fire! A pair of fleecy pyjamas for the winter months are perfect. A few pretty scarves don’t take up much room, but can liven an outfit up.
For me the one thing that I always travel with is my mini Hungarian goose down pillow (I can sleep anywhere if I have this, and it squishes right down).
Whilst you will be well fed on your safari, sometimes a packet of Murray mints or similar goes down a treat on a game drive or when flying. Also remember to always stay well hydrated and so take a squishable water bottle.
A holiday notebook always comes in handy to write down where you’ve stayed and what you’ve seen. A pack of playing cards might be useful if you have any delays or some spare time in between game drives. If you’re into painting then take a small set of watercolours. You can always leave these behind at a local school.
Having also run safari camps, I was always absolutely thrilled when a guest left behind a magazine or book, so do be aware of this!
Take some postcards of where you live as your local guide/camp staff will be absolutely fascinated to see where you come from.
Many safari camps and lodges now support local community initiatives in and around the local areas. Therefore do ask if you can bring any school supplies, medical supplies, clothing or other light objects that will help these projects.
Remember you’ll probably only wear half of what you take!
Last but not least, take a sense of humour not to mention a spirit of adventure!