How to Pack for an African Safari

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If you’ve been hearing the call of the wild a little bit more than usual lately, it’s not that surprising. Disney have been busy producing live action remakes of their beloved animated classics, and none of them have looked quite as exciting or enticing as 2019’s The Lion King.

We may all be familiar with the film’s story of a young lion finding his place in the circle of life, but the narrative is only part of what makes this movie so memorable. A big part of this film’s appeal lies in the striking African landscape in which it’s set, and the exotic and beautiful animals that call the Pride Lands and the surrounding savannah home. And the chance to see these lions, hyenas, warthogs, meerkats and more up close and in real life is tempting more Australians than ever to fly across the Indian Ocean towards an African safari holiday of their own.

When it comes to planning an African holiday, the first step is to decide which national park you’re interested in exploring. Thankfully, there are a number of tours available that will provide you with a front row seat to Africa’s Big Five. Kruger National Park in South Africa is a very popular choice, and other Africa tours will take you to Chobe National Park in northern Botswana, or to the UNESCO World Heritage Site-listed Okavango Delta – the choice is yours!

Once the ‘where’ part of your trip is sorted, the next question is, “How do you pack for an African safari?” Fear not, these tips have you covered.

What to Wear

Deciding what to wear on a safari is an important task – much more important than perhaps some people realise. Choose poorly, and you’ll find yourself sweltering in the savannah heat, or too cold to enjoy yourself (yes, it can get very cold in the African wilderness!). The key is to prioritise comfort over fashion, so leave your fancy attire back in town and instead opt for loose-fitting, lightweight items.

The ideal safari clothes will be earth-toned, such as khaki and tan, as these will allow you to blend into the environment a bit better. Bright colours will ensure you stick out like a sore thumb and potentially scare away wildlife. It is also best to steer clear of items in blue or black and blue stripes, as these tend to attract biting insects, such as disease-carrying tsetse flies.

It’s also absolutely essential that you pack a windbreaker and at least one warm fleece, as early morning or night game drives can be rather chilly. And whatever you do, don’t forget a hat! There’s no hiding from the African sun on safari holidays, and nothing will ruin your adventure faster than a disastrous sunburn.

Suitcase or Backpack?

As important as knowing what to pack is deciding which bag to pack everything into. Some safari expeditions require transportation on small planes or vehicles that may have strict luggage restrictions, so it’s best to leave bulky or cumbersome hard-cases or large backpacks behind. Instead, consider compact suitcases or a lightweight duffel bag that will easily fit into small compartments. You’ll also want to bring along a day pack to carry all of your valuables and essentials during the day.

All the Little Things

Next, it’s time to plan your toiletries and first aid kit. Every camp or lodge will have at least a basic first aid kit, and most safari vehicles should have one too, but there’s absolutely no harm in bringing along extras. In addition to whatever personal toiletries you think you’ll need (again, comfort over fashion, so only bring the essentials), consider packing both sunscreen and after-sun cream, antiseptic gel, insect repellent (30% DEET or above for anti-malaria use), antihistamines for bug bites and allergic reactions, diarrhea medication, Band-Aids, painkillers and tissues or wet wipes. If you are prone to motion sickness (or if you’ve never been in a small charter plane before), anti-nausea tablets are also not a bad idea.

If you’re bringing a camera, be sure to pack extra batteries and a second memory card (imagine having a herd of elephants walk out in front of your vehicle and your camera battery dies!). It’s also wise to pack a waterproof/dust-proof bag or cover for your camera. Additionally, a small pair of sturdy binoculars will help you get the most out of your safari, while a head torch will come in handy after dark.

And Finally, What Not to Pack

Aside from bright clothes, it’s best not to pack camouflage or military-inspired clothing for southern African countries, with these items actually prohibited in Zimbabwe. Drones are not allowed in camps in East Africa, and as Kenya and Rwanda are polythene-free countries, plastic bags are illegal. Finally, think about leaving a hairdryer at home, as most camps’ electrical systems won’t support too many appliances. Remember, a safari is about getting away from city life for a short while and immersing yourself in the wild, and if that means having frizzy or unkempt hair in some of your photos – well, hakuna matata.

Hero image: Lion in Kruger National Park, South Africa. Credit: serena_tang | CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Maddison is a freelance writer specialising in adventure travel. She has written for titles in Europe, Asia and North America, and is currently planning her next escape to somewhere mountainous.

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