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What to Pack for An African Safari, According to Trip Organizers

Written By Karen Iorio Adelson

Packing is hard. Especially when the destination might involve giant mosquitoes or Instagram-worthy hiking trails. What do frequent travelers to these spots — the ones who best know how to prepare for the conditions — put in their suitcases? We’ll be tackling this in our series “The Trip List.”

Going on an African safari and spotting animals like lions and zebras in their natural habitat is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Since it’s not something most people do very often, it’s also not the easiest trip to pack for. For those lucky enough to have a safari in their future, we’ve rounded up a group of experienced tour guides and travel planners (with hundreds of safaris collectively under their belts) to help you out.

“People always overpack. I think that’s the biggest mistake,” says Deborah Calmeyer, founder and CEO of the safari trip organizer Roar Africa. She explains that, in terms of clothing, you generally just need a few casual pieces, as there aren’t many occasions to dress up on safari. Most lodges also offer laundry service with a quick turnaround time, so there’s no need to pack a new outfit for each day of your trip. Instead of prioritizing style, safari experts say to focus on layering, as you’ll spend most of your time outdoors on game drives in open-air vehicles. It might be chilly when you leave your lodge in the early morning but heat up quickly when the sun comes out. “If you’re out after sunset when the temperature drops, those layers will come in handy again,” says Calmeyer.

Before you start packing, learn the luggage requirements of your particular trip, which will determine how much you can bring. Even if you fly to Africa on a major international airline, once you’re in the bush, you’ll travel from site to site on small aircrafts with limited space. “The portal leading into the luggage compartments is quite small, and the bags have to be smushed and manipulated into these little cargo areas,” explains Kota Tabuchi, the managing director for African travel at the trip-planning consultancy Travel Beyond. Depending on your destination, weight limits can range from roughly 33 to 42 pounds, with lower limits more common in East Africa and higher maximums generally seen in South Africa. Choose a soft duffel bag (check your airline’s rules to confirm whether wheeled bags are allowed), as you can’t bring hard-sided luggage on many small planes.

You’re likely going on safari to encounter wild animals (especially the big five: lions, leopards, rhinoceroses, elephants, and buffalo), so don’t scrimp on binoculars and cameras that will help you get the best view and capture the best memories of your sightings. Here, our experts share their top picks for the gear that’ll make your trip comfortable and memorable, plus everything else you’ll need for a perfect safari.

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October 20, 2023

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