If you’re reading this, then chances are, you are likely contemplating an African safari which will probably include a flight in a light aircraft, at some point. That means you face the rather daunting task of trying to pack everything you need into the correct size piece of luggage. If you think this is impossible, you’re not alone- this is probably one of most common complaints that I hear from people coming on safari. I recently had the very frustrating experience of taking someone on safari who had decided to leave their SLR camera and 300 mm lens at home and that is what prompted me to write this article. Your agent will have given you a guideline on what size and weight of luggage is permitted and you need to stick to this but you should have no problem coming in under weight and the more important consideration is making sure that your bag is “squashable”
Every Bush Pilots nightmare is the Samsonite suitcase and if you bring one you may find yourself boarding the aircraft with your belongings repacked into a garbage bag and waving farewell to your suitcase. The luggage has to fit into the belly pod of the aircraft and if your bag cannot be squashed through the small opening then it will be left behind! The best safari bag on the market at the moment is the North Face “Base Camp duffel” which is virtually completely waterproof, dustproof and bulletproof and has the added advantage, of only being available in hideously bright colors, so it’s impossible to loose! So now we have a “squashable” bag but what should be in it?
The first thing you need to know is that most safari camps, even in the remotest areas, have a cheap, same day laundry service (check this with your agent). If your camp has a laundry service then you only need three or four changes of clothing and please bear in mind that a safari is not supposed to be a fashion parade – the Lions are not going to care about your sartorial elegance or lack thereof. Typically I pack 4 shirts, 3 shorts and one pair of trousers – you can get by on three shirts but on travel days you can’t get laundry done so I always pack an extra change. You may prefer trousers rather than shorts- trousers with zip off bottoms offer the best of both worlds. Modern, nylon fabrics are perfect for trousers and shorts but I prefer cotton shirts for their breathability in the heat and these days I wear long sleeved shirts for the extra sun protection they afford. In winter, against the cold, I carry a windproof jacket which I wear over a fleece or “puffy” jacket and in the summertime, I substitute a waterproof, light jacket and sleeveless “puffy” body warmer.
In winter I always carry a beanie (I don’t have much natural insulation on top these days), a pair of gloves and one set of thermal underwear – don’t underestimate the cold in Africa. If I had a nickel for every time I warned people about cold only to hear the age-old response “ Oh- we’re from Nebraska- we know all about cold!” Now there’s not a shadow of doubt in my mind, that Nebraska is much colder than Africa but I’m also fairly certain that the good people of that fine state, do not to get onto the back of an open truck, at five o’clock in the morning, and go driving around in subzero temperatures! If you plan to be here during the cold season you need to bring warm clothing but the good news is that usually by 9 or 10 o’clock it’s warmed up to the point where you’ll be comfortable in shirt sleeves and shorts. Another frequent question is about what color of clothing is suitable and it’s best to choose earthy colors, they don’t show the dirt and help you to blend in out in the bush.
I usually bring two pairs of shoes, one pair of sandals such as Tevas or Keens to wear around camp and a pair of trail shoes/boots to wear in the Bush. A couple pairs of socks, a couple of changes of underwear, something to sleep in and hat and the list is complete. There is really no need to bring much more than this; it is seldom that I find myself wishing that I bought anything else. I have never bothered to weigh this, but I would doubt that it came to even half of what the standard weight allocation would be aboard a light aircraft. In addition to this, I carry a daypack which I take with me on game drives and this contains an assortment of the things that I need to have on hand while out on Safari.
Apart from camera equipment and binoculars I carry sunscreen, a small medical kit, a head torch, nylon poncho in case of rain, cleaning equipment for the camera, spare batteries for the camera, spare memory card for the camera, water bottle and I always have cotton Kikyo handy in case the sun becomes a bit too much! Apart from a good pair of Polaroid sunglasses I also carry a second set of clear glasses, to wear after dark, on the way home. There is often a lot of dust and insects flying around after dark- you can keep your sunglasses on and protect your eyes, but then you don’t see much! I also carry a small roll of duct tape and a bunch of cable ties which are handy for securing the zip on your bag on moving days, especially if were going through a large airport. I carry an ultra-portable laptop for photo editing along the way, which is an optional extra- personal toiletries and any medication you need rounds off the list. Just for good measure add a decent book and an mp3 player for long flights you should be good to go.