What To Pack For
Africa and Middle East
Your B&R Safari
The first time I went on safari as an adult, I forgot to pack my insect repellent, malaria tablets, and mosquito net. Needless to say, my days and nights were…a little bit unpleasant, to put it mildly.
That was about 25 years ago on the Kunene River, bordering Angola…in a time well before the arrival of Google and intelligent packing advice.
Savvier these days since that first brush with the wilds, I’m happy to share what I’ve come to experience as essential items for a trip to the bush. Hopefully, with the aid of this list, you’ll get to spend more time pondering the fact that a giraffe has the same number of neck vertebrae as a human, rather than obsessing over what you forgot to bring.
There’s a broad range of safari experiences on offer these days. Your final checklist will depend on the nature of your safari – is it a walking safari, under canvas, incorporating a river trip, lodge based, five-star luxury or a grassroots eco-tourism experience? Outlined below is a guideline of essentials that will cover the basics.
Bring The Necessities
Remind yourself as you go through this packing exercise that when you get to your final destination, you’re generally going to be miles away from the nearest anything. Packing the right gear is essential as you’re not going to be able to just pop out to pick up contact lens solution, for example. (Most boutique lodges now have small shops with a limited selection of most forgotten items, but be sure to stock up and pack accordingly!)
The Lighter Weight, The Better
Also keep in mind that if your travels involve a small light aircraft, there is a serious weight limitation involved and you may be down to an overnight duffel bag. The same applies if you’re on a horseback or canoe safari. Read the fine print to understand the various modes of travel your safari may entail and the weight specifications for luggage. In most of our trips, the weight limitation on light aircraft is 20 kilos (44 pounds) per person in soft-sided luggage.
Baggage is bondage
Your best bet is to go with a soft duffel bag. Your luggage may need to go in the nose of a small light aircraft or cram into a bin. It needs to be durable and flexible—forget the wheelies; small and compact is needed. A small daypack is indispensable to keep your belongings together.
Above All, Binoculars
Get your hands on a good pair of quality binos. Don’t rely on the lodge, your guide or fellow travellers to share theirs whilst out on a game drive. Be sure to try out the binoculars if you’re buying a new pair—take them outside and focus on something way off in the distance. Get some advice (I prefer to test out in-store) and be sure you are comfortable with the price tag of your purchase, based upon your needs. I’d say that 8×32 is a good magnification for general safari-viewing and birding.
What To Wear?
You’ll need to do some research on the season of your visit. Winter and summer temperatures can vary drastically in most safari destinations (this may seem obvious to some, but not all African countries sit on the equator). The common denominator across all seasons is to have long-sleeved shirts and pants for the early mornings and dusk. This is when the mosquitoes are at their most active and your clothing plays a huge part in the defence against those piercing proboscis.
A word on colour – insects are attracted to dark colours (blacks and dark blues—the tsetse fly’s favourite colour) and bright colours can equally attract, distract or scare off any number of mammals. There’s a reason people wear khaki or lighter colours, as they blend in with the bush, that’s the idea. You can’t go wrong with earth tones. (Avoid white, though, as it’s like a flag to the animals).
Natural fibres, such as cotton, are generally more comfortable and durable than synthetic gear in tropical climes. One other thing—camouflage clothing is not a good idea either. (There are enough poachers, hunters and army types roaming the continent, and camouflage is not a fashion statement in Africa, it’s a painful reminder of a violent reality.)
A good sun hat—not a baseball cap, but a quality, broad Tilley-type hat with a neck cord so you don’t lose the thing in high winds or when your Land Rover tops 40 miles an hour. They’re also great for keeping bugs and flies out of your hair.
A good pair of sunglasses are vital—your eyes will take strain without them, not to mention the bugs you’ll have flying into your eye sockets. It’s a good idea to have them attached to a neck cord too, as most of your time will be spent taking off your sunglasses to raise the binos to your eyes and vice versa. It’s much easier to drop them around your neck so you won’t lose them, or in my experience, have a baboon bounce off with them (they love shiny objects).
A good pair of comfortable, closed-toe walking shoes is essential for your game drives and walks. When walking around your lodge or camp, lighter sandals or Teva-type shoes keep your feet cool. Pay attention to the quality of your footwear—good soles are very important and should be thick enough to stop thorns from piercing your shoe! (Flip-flops are just a bad idea for being out and about in the bush.)
Quick Checklist for What to Pack
Some lodges have a dress code, but this is quite liberal, with some restrictions on shorts and swimsuits in the evening. It’s best to pack hardy, durable clothing.
-Sun block (SPF 30 or higher), sunglasses, wide-brimmed hat, insect repellent, lip balm
-Blouses/shirts with long sleeves (even in summer, they will protect you from the sun and from mosquitoes)
-Khaki, green, beige and neutral colours
-Shorts or a light skirt
-Cotton pants or safari trousers for evenings and cooler days
Small flashlight or reading light
A real joy of the African night is her stars. If you’re at a camp or lodge that’s off the grid, they’ll have a ‘lights out’ policy by around 10 p.m. in the evening as generators produce noise pollution. If you’re a nocturnal bookworm, I need say no more…a small flashlight or even headlamp will do.
Game-viewing takes place in the cooler hours of the day—the early morning and late afternoons. The hours between are perfect for racing through novels or journal reflection. There’s a lot of ‘downtime’ on safari – besides the experience of the safari and wildlife itself, I’m always grateful for the space in the day to nap, read or write without any nagging feeling that you should be doing something else. Pack magazines and softcover books or load up your Kindle.
Try to source some ‘natural’ products that are effective. As a rule of thumb, I try to steer away from things with ingredients that I can’t spell. I’ve experimented with various local products, including a basil and lemongrass lotion that did wonders for mosquitoes but attracted a fair number of curious bees. Otherwise, products with DEET are recommended for malarial areas; use what you are accustomed to or prefer.
Be sure to contact your physician or a travel clinic well in advance of your travel dates to obtain professional medical advices and discuss up-to-date vaccination requirements for the areas you are visiting.
Have sufficient USD currency on you to tip lodge guides, trackers and staff. Some lodges allow you to settle tips by credit card, but just verify that this is possible. There may also be curios or handicrafts in the area, assume that credit cards aren’t accepted and settle in cash. Across Africa, USD currency notes need to be 2009 series and later. Banknotes dated earlier than 2009, or torn and tattered currency will be rejected.
Other odds & ends
Be mindful to carry a full supply of any medication you’re on (including malarial prophylactics); sufficient toiletries whilst remembering that most lodges provide the essential soaps and shampoos; sunscreen (non-scented); an extra pair of glasses or contact lenses if you can’t see without them; extra memory sticks, camera batteries, chargers and all things camera and phone-related.
Be sure to remove any wrapping (such as plastics) when packing new purchases. Keep in mind that whatever you are taking in your bag, should return with you, including used batteries, empty toothpaste tubes, etc. Waste disposal in remote safari destinations is often done through burning. Don’t leave your plastics or anything that can’t be burnt. What is generally appreciated, though is to leave your used reading material and magazines for local lodge or camp staff. So you can leave a little more than just your footprints…