How to Pack like a Safari Pro
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If you struggle when it comes to packing for a safari, believe me when I say you are not alone! For a free packing guide and some home truths on traveling in Africa, read on.
I am a woman so I get it. I completely understand the need to take 14 pairs of shoes on a 7 day trip. I understand the importance of 2 outfits per day for each season. And I am totally with you on taking enough lotions and potions to cover every skin and hair emergency you may have. The last suitcase I bought can fit 2 full grown adults with ample space to be able to do somersaults simultaneously. I am not embarrassed to admit that I am probably one of the worst packers in the business. This and the fact that I am a complete shopaholic and have to buy clothes, shoes and curios from every place I visit (I tell my husband I am supporting local economies) means travelling lightly is a very foreign concept to me.
But when your travels involve connecting from one lodge or camp to another by light aircraft, travelling lightly is not only necessary it is mandatory (unless you are wealthy enough to charter your own plane just for your luggage, in which case you can stop reading now.)
In case you don’t believe me below is a photo of the baggage pod on one of the most recent planes I travelled on, in this case in Kenya.
But a Cesna is a Cesna and a Grand Caravan is a Grand Caravan and that cargo hold, she don’t get any bigger. So when you are told by your travel advisor that on your 2 week trip to Africa, you are only permitted to take 15kg of luggage, in a soft sided bag with no wheels, please know they are telling the truth, regardless of what your baggage allowance is on your international flights. Oh and that 15kg is inclusive of your hand luggage. Not possible, I know.
Actually it is totally possible, because on my last trip to East Africa, I managed to fit everything I needed into the duffle bag below and I still ended up taking too much!
I kid you not, I came back with unworn items of clothing and a lot of them. Why you ask? Why? I will tell you why.
Safari lodge owners are not mean. They know you are limited in terms of how many outfits you can bring, so generally speaking laundry is included in the accommodation rate, worst case scenario there will be a charge but there is the opportunity to have your clothes washed, dried, ironed and ready for the next day. This does mean not wearing something different every day, but this is where the skill of mix and match comes into good use and to be honest no-one cares.
Going on safari is not a fashion show! Yes of course you still want to look your best as you have selfies to post and I am totally on board with Safari Chic! However on a one week trip this equates to 2 pairs of shorts/pedal pushers/clam diggers/capri pants or whatever you choose to call them, 2 pairs of long pants, (you get a bonus point if you have long pants you can convert to shorts!) 5 t-shirts/vests/strappy tops/shirts/muscle tops/polo shirts, 2 sweaters and underwear for each day. Optional extras are a pair of jeans, a skirt or dress and a pretty blouse. The colour of your garments is pretty important too. Bright colours are not recommended for obvious reasons- they draw attention to you and scare off the wildlife you came to see. But then neither is white, blue or black – the latter two attract tsetse flies, (they bite like a bitch, so you will thank me later!) So this leaves olive, green and khaki (pronounced KAA-KEE.) Think earth tones or neutral colours that blend in with the natural surrounds. Whatever you do, do not go to the opposite extreme and deck yourself out in head to toe camouflage, leave this for the military. Another fashion faux-pas whilst on safari is to wear animal print. Just don’t!
I know what you are thinking – what am I supposed to wear to dinner?
So here’s the deal. When you return from your afternoon game drive it is generally nighttime, the lighting at game lodges is subdued, and no-one can see your Gucci halter neck dress and again no-one cares. There may be times (hopefully more often than not) that your afternoon game drive is so exciting that you literally make it back to the lodge in time for dinner, meaning no time to change into said Gucci number! You are going from game viewing vehicle to table, as is everyone else. Still no-one cares. Monotone colours are recommended for your safari attire in order to blend in with the surroundings, in the same token you will also want to blend in with the rest of the guests, and not be sticking out like a beacon of light in your shiny, blingy, totally-not-safariesque-dress! Safari life is casual, regardless of how upmarket your lodge may be.
Still not convinced?
Well let’s address the fact that going on a game drive in terms of temperature is either one of two things, hot or cold. During the heat of the day you want to be wearing breathable, natural fibres which repel sweat and odours – cotton falls into this category. During the cold times (think early morning and late evening) in addition to your longs, you will be provided with a blanket. I love the blankets on game drive vehicles and always try to snag two for myself! One to sit on and wrap around my back and shoulders, and the other to place over my lap and pull up to my chin. (I really don’t like the cold okay!). The point here is that wrapped in a blanket no-one can see what glad rags you have on underneath! And… all-together now…no-one cares.
If you are like me and you find that your toiletry bag alone can weigh about 4kg, I have fabulous news. Those kind lodge owners I mentioned earlier are aware of this fact too. So they provide pretty much everything you will need – barring your La-Mer anti-wrinkle-anti-oxidant-super-powerful-booster-eye-gel. You get told you need to pack bug spray and insect repellent if you go on safari. Wrong! You will find a can of each in your tent or chalet or room, usually next to the torch. Besides the basics like soap, shampoo, conditioner and body lotion many lodges also provide you with sunscreen, lip salve and a hairdryer and that is just in the room. I have been on vehicles that are equipped with sunscreen, hand sanitizer, tissues and mints along with the obligatory bird book and binos. So literally all you need to pack is your toothbrush, toothpaste and deodorant. I even completely forgo makeup on safari. Again I have reasons for this madness. Hot days translate to beads of perspiration forming on your brow which translates to make-up smudging and running off your face, a waste of good make-up and not an attractive look. The subdued lighting (think lanterns) means no-one can actually tell whether you are face-painted or not. My favourite reason is that I like to go au naturel every once in a while and give my skin a break and going on a safari just happens to be the best time to do this.
So boom, I have just offloaded about 10kg of unnecessary weight. If you are even savvier at packing light you can get away with just cabin baggage and this makes a world of difference when you land in your destination at 6am and don’t have to stand trying to spot your bag on the carousel with the rest of the plane. This takes a lot of stress out of wondering a) if your bag has even made it and b) if you are going to miss your connecting flight. I am all for stress-free travel!
So in order to help make your safari stress free, I am sharing what I call “My Essential “Pack like a safari Pro” Packing list”
- Neutral coloured, lightweight, breathable, comfortable, loose-fitting, quick drying shorts, shirts and long pants. These days you can buy safari gear that is UV-protective and is even treated with insect repellent.
- Comfortable walking shoes, hiking boots or running shoes –just how sturdy is dependent on the level of activities such as hiking you will be doing on your chosen safari. By comfortable I also mean sensible. I am most comfortable in flip flops, but these are just as impractical on a game walk as stilettos.
- Flip flops. I know I just referred to them as impractical, but they are great for when you are relaxing around the lodge, going to the pool and especially for slipping into after a long hot game drive, to give those tootsies a bit of a breather.
- Sun hat
- Beanie (cold ears are no fun)
- Underwear and socks
- A sports bra (something else you will thank me for later!)
- Light rain jacket or windbreaker
- Pajamas (or not)
- Camera and charger
Basically everything else is optional.