First things first – you are going on a safari. That is awesome! Congratulations. Planning a safari in Africa is exciting and overwhelming. For many, this will be a once in a lifetime experience, which means you’re likely to feel pressure when making every decision a trip like this entails. Which region of Africa should I visit? Which parks? Private or shared? And, of course, what should I pack?
Obviously, there will be many other items you need to pack. So many lists will tell you the exact clothing, camera equipment, and toiletries you need to pack. Here are 10 things I just don’t see as often or consistently on all of the “must pack” lists that I think need to be:
1. The Right Luggage
Depending on the airlines you’re using, there can be very specific luggage requirements that are likely different from what you’re used to on other national and international airlines. If you’re flying smaller airlines in Southern Africa, they will have a 44 pound limit per person. If you’re flying in East Africa, duffel bags are required, as opposed to hard shell luggage, and the weight limit is often even more restrictive. Please note: always confirm specifics with your airline as they can change these parameters as needed.
When in doubt, pack a duffel bag and forgo the wheels. Hard shell wheeled luggage is generally between 8-12 pounds, whereas a duffel bag can be sub-1 pound depending on the size.
2. An Adapter
When you travel to a different country, especially a different country on a different continent, you need to confirm what adapter you’ll need. In South Africa, your best bet is the Type M plug adapter which will allow you to use any 230 volt appliance or device. Also, be mindful that the voltage is different in South Africa, which means you will need to bring a power converter if your device isn’t dual voltage.
This is the one I got, but definitely do your research and pick the best one for you.
Many lists will talk about camera equipment, and yes I think camera equipment is a must, but so is a pair of binoculars. Binoculars aren’t just awesome at zooming in closer to see things, but can also really enhance the details of what you’re seeing.
8×42 or 10×42 is what is generally recommended for both bird and mammal viewing. For me, I recommend the 10×42, since it’s a great balance of a higher magnification and portability, as well as good light quality, and still able to be held steady. I’d also recommend that you think about weight and space regarding the binoculars, since weight is often a concern while on safari.
10×42 means that the binoculars have 10x magnification, in comparison to what you can see with the naked eye, and an objective diameter of 42mm. 10×42 is best for bird watching and seeing the Big 5 on a safari. They have higher magnification, good light quality but are still easy to hold steady.
My recommendation: Nikon 10×42 ProStaff Binoculars
The Nikon Prostaff 3S binocular really covers all of my above recommendations and at a fairly reasonable price.
4. Wide-Brimmed Hat
Really, the style doesn’t matter that much. You’ll really want something to keep that sun off your face, though. You see some guides just wearing a baseball hat, so don’t think you need to go super fancy. Pack whatever hat you find most comfortable that will also protect your face.
That being said, I do recommend opting for a hat with an under-chin strap since those open-top vehicles can be pretty windy. Bonus points if it’s a hat that can just be crushed within any luggage packed.
5. Face Wipes or Wet Wipes
Biodegradable wet wipes will be your best friend during the very dusty safari experience. They really come in handy for everything, from a quick de-dusting to hand sanitizing to impromptu toilet paper if you’re on a safari bush walk and an emergency bathroom situation occurs.
If wet wipes don’t fit in your luggage, think of bringing a hankerchief or bandana or buff to help with dust (and still work as emergency toilet paper just in case!).
6. Ziploc Bag(s)
You’ll never realize how important a couple Ziploc bags can be until you realize you don’t have any. Now, I try to reduce my plastic usage and understand if you do the same. That being said, I reuse my travel Ziploc bags over and over again so they have become more of a permanent staple in my travel gear. They are great for storing important documents, travel journals and pens, maps, etc. Even the book you’re reading.
7. Spare Pair of Sunglasses
OK, sunglasses are on every “pack for safari” list, but what I don’t see people recommend enough is how important it is to bring a spare pair. Especially on a long trip. With multiple excursions per day for the average safari dealing with a wide variety of light situations, sunglasses will come on and off as you go. It will be easy to lose or accidentally damage your sunglasses. And you’ll want sunglasses. That South African sun is no joke. Your eyes will thank you for bringing your sunglasses.
8. Spare Batteries and Memory Cards and Portable Charging Ability
As I mentioned earlier, you already know every list is telling you to bring a camera. I’m a photographer. Bring your camera! But don’t forget to bring spare batteries and memory cards for anything that needs such things. Space chargers, portable chargers. You won’t have a Target next door to grab something from. Make sure you bring spares of those kinds of things that if you forget, you are really out of luck.
9. Cashy Money (and Envelopes)
Cash really is king and you’ll want to have cash on you. Depending on where you’re going, many places will readily accept US Dollars, but it’s smart to confirm preferred currency and be prepared. International airports will have bank and ATM access, but again, better to be prepared.
Also, keep in mind, tipping is customary in Africa. Of course not obligatory or mandatory, but considered appropriate to show your thanks and appreciation for a job well done with a cash gratuity.
Want to budget your money and deal with tipping in a low-stress way? Bring small envelopes so you can prepare your tips the evening before and then give them out as needed to all of the staff members who have aided in your great experience, such as your trackers, guides, spotters, wait staff members, transfer drivers, etc.
10. A Day Bag
This is an absolute must. You’ll want a small day bag where you can pack your daily essentials, as well as money and any important travel documents. This will also allow you to more effectively layer, depending on the size of the bag. A light down jacket can usually pack fairly compactly and be stored in a small day bag when not using it. Same with a portable charger, some wet wipes, etc. Many of the goodies we discussed in this list, actually.
There you have it. 10 things I think need to be on every must pack list for Africa. Have other items you don’t regularly see on safari packing lists but you think are also must pack items? Share them in the comments.