So, you’re booked into your exciting African group tour adventure and the only thing left to do is to pack. Often, this is when the excitement really starts to build, but so too does the confusion of what to add into your suitcase and what to leave at home. To help you out, here is our guide for what to pack for your travel in Africa.
Most avid travellers swear by the beauty of packing light, and this is a principle that certainly applies for travel in Africa. Although there’s no harm in adding a few home comforts to your suitcase, you also want to make sure that your luggage is easy to carry and store so you can spend less time worrying about your belongings, and more time focusing on the adventures!
Plus, it leaves more room for the great souvenirs you can pick up in the stores and markets at your destination. If you absolutely do not want to compromise and pack light, just be aware of the internal flight weight limits on luggage and if you end up buying too much you'll just have to add an extra bag at check-in!
One hot tip for packing for your African group travel adventure is to make sure your bag is well organised so that you can easily find what you want, even if it’s an early morning start in the darkness. We love packing cubes for this as they are a great way to separate tops , shorts and trousers, although one recent guest used them to separate outfits by destination - top marks for planning so well in advance!
It’s also a good idea to devise a plan for keeping dirty and clean clothes separate – although you’ll get plenty of chances to wash your clothes, you don’t want the dirty items all mixed up with the clean ones in your suitcase.
Despite what you may have seen on television, there’s really no need to arrive in Africa dressed like David Attenborough or Steve Irwin! Of course, if safari chic is a look you want to try out, go right ahead – but for most people, comfy casual will be just fine. ‘Comfy’ is definitely the operative word for when you are on safari, as you want to wear clothing that is comfortable whether you’re seated in a jeep for a few hours. Ladies - a sports bra could become your best friend in these scenarios as it can get a little bumpy! We recommend wearing lightweight, breathable fabrics, and some sturdy shoes that will protect your feet from both the elements and blisters. Whatever shoes you pick, be sure to wear them for a few days before you set off on your big adventure so they are worn in before you go!
Depending on what season you’re visiting in and what you’ll be doing, you may also need to bring some warm clothes. Don’t be fooled into thinking that Africa is hot 24/7, 365 days per year – it can get very cold overnight, especially in places like the Ngorongoro Crater rim or Cape Town during winter, so you will definitely want the odd jumper, even if it is just for the early morning game drives before the sun warms up.
If you’re travelling during wet season (or planning a trip to Vic Falls during high water), a light rain jacket or a pocket poncho is also a good idea!
There’s no reason you can’t show off your personal style while on safari, however we recommend avoiding bright colours as they can scare off the animals. Muted tones such as pastels and beiges (see, a little bit of a Steve Irwin influence!) are good options. Some African countries are quite conservative, so it’s a good idea to check on the customs of the country you are visiting and if that's the case then keep tops covering the shoulders and bottoms covering the knees. A shawl can definitely come in handy for adding a little bit of modesty to any outfit, plus it can keep you warm or add a pop of colour. If you don’t already have one at home, many African markets sell gorgeous colourful fabrics which make stunning shawls, as well as great souvenirs. Shawls can also be useful for a bit of sun protection or you may want to throw in a lightweight shirt to keep the sun from burning your shoulders, particularly on a river safari where shade is almost non-existent.
We do recommend keeping your favourite jewellery safe at home especially if it is valuable to avoid the risk of something getting lost, damaged or stolen. There is usually a safe in every hotel so if you cannot bear to leave it at home then there is a level of security, we just know how upsetting it can be to lose a trusty favourite.
You might also want to add in one nice ‘going out’ outfit into your bag, so you can glam it up a bit when visiting more metropolitan places such as Cape Town. After a few days on safari, it can be a nice feeling to slip into something stylish, however if you’d prefer to keep the relaxed holiday vibe going, that’s fine too.
It is absolutely possible to pick up pretty much all essentials such as toothpaste, shampoo and hand sanitisers from stores in most African countries, especially near tourist areas. However, expect the range to be quite limited in smaller towns, so if you have specific brands or needs, it may be better to bring them from home.
If you can’t go without your beauty products (a safari can be a great opportunity to go au naturel), you might also like to bring your favourite products from home. Again, while you can find bits and pieces in the stores in Africa, it’s probably safer to bring your own products from home to avoid breakouts or makeup disasters. Likewise, you might want to bring a stash of your own feminine hygiene products since those supplies tend to be pretty limited as well.
One absolute must have for everybody is plenty of good insect repellant. Forget about lions, the most dangerous (and annoying) animal in Africa is the pesky mosquito, so you’ll want to keep them at bay. Be sure to pick up some that is right for you, and if you can't stand the tropical strength insect repellants on the market, we love love love Incognito as a brand of natural repellants and find for us they work really well. Either way get ready to apply it liberally every day. Likewise, add on a good layer of sunscreen to avoid any painful sunburn ruining your fun and photographs!
Gadgets and Gizmos
Sticking with our plan of packing light, we recommend avoiding the temptation to throw in every whizz-bang electronic you own ‘just in case’. However, there are a few essential gadgets that should probably make their way into your suitcase.
A camera is a definite must, since the photographic opportunities in Africa are truly mesmerising. Don’t be surprised if you suddenly turn into a photography enthusiast, even if it’s never interested you before! While zoom lenses and DSLRs are a favourite of camera pros, a good point and shoot with a decent zoom lens is good too. A smart phone can do in a pinch, although the zoom can be limited to get those great wildlife close-ups. We are big fans of the Panasonic Lumix TZ60-TZ90 range as they pack a punch when it comes to zoom but are small and compact to carry.
You’ll probably also want to bring something like a phone or tablet for staying in touch with friends and family and posting your amazing safari snaps! WiFi is pretty widespread in most of Africa, although it may be a tad (or a lot) slower than you’re used to. You can also consider picking up a local SIM card if you’re staying in one spot for a while and looking for a cheap way to stay in touch.
Binoculars might be a quintessential part of any safari get-up, don’t worry if you don’t have any to bring with you. As a special welcome to Africa, we like to include these as a gift for those on our group tours – meaning you’ll be ready for those closeups of the amazing safari sights. They really are a must for all African safaris!
If you're heading out for some independent travel but don't want to spend too much on your own pair of binocs, check out the Helios Sport Deluxe 10x25 .
To keep everything charged and ready to go, we recommend bringing a multiple USB charger and if you have lots of things to plug in also bring a small extension lead or a multi-plug, as this means you'll only need one mains adaptor per country (or a universal one) and there a few different types of plugs are in use in Africa. In a push, you can pick these up in most tourist towns, but we do recommend bringing your own.
Another essential is a way to access your money, as this can be a little more difficult than you may be used to at home. There are definitely ATMs in Africa, but other than South Africa, they are not as abundant as many Western countries and some of them may not actually have cash in them! Therefore, we recommend bringing some cash (kept in a secure pocket of your bag), as well as a couple of cards. It is useful if these cards are different – I.e. a Visa and a Mastercard – as not all ATMs or EFTPOS machines accept both types. Plus, it’s good to have a backup option if you lose one. We also like the currency cards that are out on the market these days which allow you to load your spending money ahead of time, then withdraw or spend as you go and keep track of the transactions in an app.
Other Useful Essentials
There's a few little things we would recommend throwing in if you have some room. A pocket torch is extremely useful as most people are surprised by how dark it gets both in the bush and some of the smaller towns. We also love a good splash proof bag (think old school swimming bags) to keep your things dry in case of rain or for visiting waterfalls. A good book is great to enjoy during the day between game drives (or a kindle if you are an avid reader to get more books packed into less space). Finally - don't forget a sun hat / cap of some kind as the African sun can be pretty strong!
Don't worry - everyone who books onto a group tour receives our ideal packing list and lots of advice. - it's what we are here for!
You really don't have to take anything special or spend lots of money if you don't want to! If you just want to book and go, you can turn up in Africa with the basics of your existing wardrobe, toiletries and an adapter so you can keep things charged. We don't believe in unnecessary spending on top of your trip, but we do want everyone to have the best trip they can so for you if that means just rocking up, then you'll be fine. If you enjoy the extra bit of shopping to get some new bits and bobs and want an excuse for a new gadget here or there, then go for it! Looking perfect and having the perfect stuff is not what will make your trip the best holiday you've ever had...it's about you being there in the first place!