What To Pack for Your African Safari
Unless you are a seasoned traveler, packing for your African Safari can be anything from lightly perplexing to confoundingly problematic!As a well-versed professional packer myselff, I have learned that there are numerous shortcuts that can be taken to prepare your luggage to ensure that you don’t exceed excess yet are not caught without a vital item in the middle of the Serengeti.Many items – such as your tickets, sun screen and clean underwear! – may be self-evident, but with so many travels smudged into our dog-earred passports, my Travel Designers and I have become acutely adept at knowing exactly what to bring, what to leave behind and how to pack with the utmost efficiency.So whether you are packing for a weekend away, a business trip or your next big adventure, don’t open your suitcase without first reading my seven best tips for filling your bags.
Beginning your packing two days before your departure may seem like an adequate time frame. After all, filling a suitcase can be achieved in a matter of minutes. Yet it is strongly advisable to consider your packing a week, two weeks, even several months in advance. By considering the type of adventures you may be undertaking, you will soon discover some of the more uncommon items you may require. This advanced planning will allow you the opportunity to research your destination, discuss your needs with friends and your Travel Designer, grow accustomed to new items, such as cameras, and reconsider everything you are taking and some of the things you may have forgotten. Allocate a spot in your home as a collection point for all of your essentials. Most clothing can wait, but travel toiletries and cosmetics, specialized equipment or apparel and other items can all be gathered in advance. With this overview of all of your essentials, you are better able to assess your necessities.
KNOW YOUR GEAR
Journeying to unique and unusual destinations on your safari often requires some more specialized equipment. Buying some sturdy hiking boots in advance will allow you the opportunity to find a style that best fits and suits your needs. As I have advised so many clients, breaking your boots in is absolutely vital. Blisters, though small, can ruin an otherwise wonderful vacation. By taking your new boots on several test hikes – at least half a dozen, short to start with and getting progressively longer – you will soften the fabric, making them more comfortable, malleable and better fitting to your foot. A camera is an imperative item on your packing list. You may already have a good-quality camera, but if not I highly recommend investing in one. Smartphones now have excellent capabilities, but you will often end up disappointed by the inferior results. You don’t need a $10,000 zoom lens or top-of-the-range camera to capture your adventures; seek some advice from your local store, explain your needs and find the best model for your budget. Then take the time to get to know it. Take it on walks, experiment in a wide range of conditions and settings, shoot the family dog in action! Become familiar with the necessary settings and comfortable with photographing so that when you happen upon a leopard perched in a tree with a fresh kill you will be ready to capture it perfectly.
DOCUMENT YOUR JOURNEY
Our modern lives are filled with entertainment and distractions. Fly camping on the Makgadikgadi Pans is breathtaking, but it is also blissfully bereft of these interruptions. While there may be walks, game drives, talks around the campfire and other activities, you are also afforded the opportunity to enjoy the serenity of free time. Journaling is a wonderful way to wile away those moments of quiet repose and adds an exquisite dimension to your documentation. If you are artistic, incorporating sketches adds yet another aspect to your travel nostalgia. Your photographs may capture a moment, but the nuances of a day on safari reach far beyond the visual. You don’t need to diarize like Steinbeck or craft a Pulitzer-winning tome, but a few lines on each day or experience will provide a far more experiential reflection of your vacation. Again, smartphones possess some excellent features for this, though I find them rather small and fiddly. Better is to take a tablet, which also doubles as your library, backup camera, document wallet and cinema. Personally though, I enjoy nothing more at the end of a day than the tactile experience of handwriting my daily memories by gaslight. It’s just so… ‘safari’!
Remind yourself, then remind yourself again, that you are only going for two weeks, not two months. Of course, the length of your adventure will vary, but over-preparing and overpacking is something we have all been guilty of. While you don’t need to be too sparing of your comforts and possessions, you will be grateful for minimizing when traveling between camps or managing your airport transfers. Your accommodation will invariably provide many of your toiletry needs, but if you can find a travel-sized body wash it’s always handy to have a backup plan! Toothpaste can be very messy but again, it may well be provided. I have recently discovered chewable toothpaste tablets and they are wonderful. Not only are they waste-free, they are also so easy to use, even mid-flight, and with or without a toothbrush.With clothing, consider multiple purposes from the same garment. For men, swimming shorts, such as Patagonia’s wide range, are lightweight, quick-drying and incredibly versatile. For women, bikinis also work well, though I highly recommend you use only for swimming and undergarments – cultural differences should always be considered.Nights do get cold, even in Africa, but you don’t need a wardrobe of evening wear. Camping stores offer a variety of jacket options, some with multiple uses or layers, and thermals can be used as lightweight t-shirts in the day or warm base layers in the evening. These multi-use items will help you drastically reduce your clothing quota.
As touched on above, you can often utilize the same garment or object for several purposes. Some clothing brands offer zip-off safari pants – comfortable walking pants that unzip at the knee to become shorts. These work wonderfully when setting out in the cooler early morning on an expedition that lasts into the hotter middle hours of the day.A sarong or large headscarf is an incredible asset to have on safari. You can bundle it up as a light pillow, use it as a towel, wrap it around yourself for a little privacy if changing, gain respite from the midday sun with a head covering, use it as a scarf or shawl in the evenings… for a simple strip of fabric, a sarong is a wonderfully versatile lightweight addition to your hand luggage.Similarly, a lightweight backpack can provide numerous uses. Rather than opting for a sturdy hiking backpack, which will be bulkier and heavier, opt for a lightweight, compact pack. You won’t be hiking up Everest, so choose a pack that is versatile and capacious yet collapsible and stowable, such as this one from Patagonia.This will be perfect for day trips, transfers, game drives and any other small excursions, as well as your carry-on luggage.
REALIZE YOUR NEEDS
Talk to your Travel Designer. You may well be venturing into the great unknown, but you will do so in good hands and with the vast majority of your requirements adequately catered to. No, you won’t need a camping stove or full safari khakis; you only have one head, so three hats won’t be required; and any accommodations we book for you will almost certainly provide you with towels and linen.So often, we pack items for the ‘just in cases’ of travel, items which invariably return home completely untouched and unused. With a firm grasp upon these expectations and rationalities, you will find your packing list greatly reduced, comprising only items that you will use frequently and be grateful for having brought.That said, it is likely that you will be in the wild at times during your journey. The one item I can highly recommend is a flashlight, or better yet, a small head lamp. With minimal lighting when the sun sinks below the horizon, this small investment will be used extensively throughout your safari experience, especially when nature calls in the middle of the night!
TRACK YOUR GEAR
There’s nothing worse on any journey than for your bags to arrive when and where you do. The challenge of lost baggage can be significantly eased with a geo-tag such as Apple’s AirTag. These handy little gadgets link to your phone and can be traced anywhere in the world, at least enabling you to locate your baggage, or wherever you stash your tag. This also provides added security on the move, whether during transfers or in the unlikely though challenging event of theft. AirTags can easily be popped in a bag, attached to your keys, or even put on a pet’s collar, so their usage reaches far beyond your travel plans.
YOUR SPA ON THE GO
Cosmetics can take up a disproportionately large amount of our baggage. As I have already mentioned, much will already be provided, and decanting into smaller bottles for large items such as shampoo is well advised.There are, however, three particular items that I highly recommend to male and female travelers alike. Moisturizer may seem somewhat ‘unmanly’, but after a long flight, a dusty day under the sun or too much time spent in a hot sea breeze, a refreshing moisturizer can offer relief and respite to dehydrated skin.Likewise, a face mist spray – or as I like to call it, ‘my shower in a bottle’ – is wonderfully refreshing at any time during your trip, especially after a long-haul or short internal flight. Even on a game drive, a quick spritz can reinvigorate the senses and feel like a refreshing dip on a hot day.The third and final product is a lip balm, preferably with a reasonable SPF rating. Again, dehydrated skin, particularly on the lips, can be uncomfortable, even painful, so keeping your lips nourished and hydrated will help you feel fresh and more able to focus on the wonders around you, rather than being distracted by your discomforts.By bearing these simple tips in mind when considering your packing, you will save yourself time, money and osteopathic bills for your aching back! And however adept you may well be, do contact your Travel Designer a week or so prior to departure. There may well be little things you have forgotten, but they will also have an acute knowledge of your destinations, offering an insider knowledge of the finite details.