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Expert Packing Tips from a 14-time Bushtracks' African Safari Veteran

Packing for an African safari is always a challenge, and Bushtracks often takes last-minute calls from guests seeking help packing their bags, which is understandable. You’ll be away from home over two weeks, traveling in places where it is hard to pop out for extra socks or your favorite brand of sunscreen.

Maximum weight limits for luggage can be as light as 33 pounds per person in East Africa, or 41 pounds per person in Southern Africa. Here, one of Bushtracks’ most well-traveled safari-goers, Cynthia Tuthill, shares her secrets for packing everything she needs for her safari into a single carry-on:

Wear Your Safari Clothes on the Plane

We pack everything in a small backpack, rather than use the duffel bags which Bushtracks supplies, which would need to be checked. We love not having to check any baggage!

We wear one set of safari clothes (colored beige, khaki, green, or brown) on the plane.  This not only saves packing space, but leads to rather fun conversations (typically starting with “Are you going on safari?”). Here is what I wear:

  1. T-shirt

  2. Long sleeve shirt (with sleeves that roll up; for example from Exofficio)

  3. Vest

  4. Zip-off pants

  5. Hiking boots (or light-weight walking shoes in safari colors would be fine, too)

  6. Safari hat (a Tilly-style is fine; I love the leather one that we bought in Namibia on one of our trips!

Pack Fewer Clothes, and Use Laundry Services at Camp

We have found that no matter how long the trip, we only need a few items of clothing since all the camps wash, dry, and press your clothes daily (most camps can get clean clothes back to you even if you are staying for only 2 nights; my packing list allows me sufficient clean clothes to wear when I hand over the ones to wash). Here is what I pack (in addition to what I’m wearing on the plane):

  1. 2 long sleeve shirts, 1 t-shirt

  2. 3 socks, 3 panties, 1 bra

  3. 1 pair zip-off pants

  4. Bathing suit

  5. Light-weight jacket, gloves, warm cap

  6. Pajamas

  7. Flip flops (for wearing around camp)

Cythia Tuthill is dressed and well-prepared for a safari in Africa

Pack Small Amounts of Toiletries for Carry-On

In order to carry on our luggage, we each have one 1-quart stiff reusable clear plastic bag, with the following liquid items:

First plastic bag, with everyday use items (which I place in the bathroom in each camp)

  1. Travel contact lens solutions

  2. Hair conditioner (3 oz) (I have found that most camps provide shampoo)

  3. Mouthwash (3 oz)

  4. Sunscreen (3 oz) (also, most camps provide lotion)

  5. Toothpaste (3 oz)

  6. Toothbrush, floss

  7. Stick deodorant (3 oz)

  8. Comb

  9. Neosporin (I use this on my lips at night, to prevent chapping)

Second plastic bag, with backup items

  1. Travel contact lens solutions (1 additional bottle for each 3 weeks of the trip)

  2. Mouthwash (one additional 3-oz bottle for each week of the trip)

  3. Sunscreen (one additional 3-oz bottle for each 2 weeks of the trip)

  4. Toothpaste (one additional 0.75-oz tube for each week of the trip)

  5. Cortisone for bug bites

  6. Cough suppressant

Other Non-Liquid Toiletry Essentials for Camp Are Packed Separately:

  1. Spare contact lenses

  2. Ciprofloxacin

  3. Ibuprofen

  4. Sudafed (no Benadryl in Zambia), allergy tabs

  5. Dramamine

  6. Tums, Imodium, Gas-x (if needed)

  7. Sore throat lozenges

  8. Hydrating powder tablets

  9. Clippers, tweezers, emery board

  10. Q tips

Flat Lay of items Cynthia Tuthill packed for Africa

My Must-Have Safari Items

  1. Binoculars (with a small red light on the harness, for jotting notes during night drives)

  2. Bird book

  3. Kindle (with books about Africa)

  4. Tiny notepads (2 per week) and pen on a pull-out chain hooked to my vest; I carry these on drives or walks, so that I can take notes about what we are experiencing

  5. Journal (to write longer stories from my notes, during siesta)

  6. Headlamp

  7. 2 pairs reading glasses

  8. 2 pairs sunglasses

  9. Cell phone (for use in airports, at least, even if there is no reception elsewhere)

  10. Chargers and cords for phone, kindle

  11. Vitamins/meds/garlic/Malarone (anecdotal evidence shows that garlic helps cut down on tsetse bites; DEET does not help so we don’t bring it, as we don’t travel where there are mosquitoes and DEET can dissolve plastic on cameras and binoculars)

  12. Metal water bottle (some camps provide them, but if you bring your own you can use it in the airports too)

  13. Goggles (my husband has one set for day and another for night, since he is sensitive to dust getting in his eyes)

  14. Lightweight carry bag for souvenirs

  15. For camera gear we bring one “point-and-shoot” (primarily for landscapes), one SLR with a large lens (we rent a 100 – 400mm Canon), and a small video camera (with a “dead cat” to cover the external microphone, to cut down on any wind noise). We also bring a small tripod for selfies and a monopod for walks and on the safari vehicles; and of course all the memory cards, chargers, cords, and country-specific adaptors for the various cameras.

What NOT to Take on Safari

I would never bring: “American” style t-shirts with logos; short shorts; clothing that is dark blue or black (attracts tsetse flies!); bright colored clothes (i.e. non-safari colors) … our guides have told us that not dressing in the typical safari colors can decrease the experience as it can startle animals (and other guests) and isn’t therefore “respectful” of the type of trip we are on.

For more great safari packing tips and information, please email or call one of our expert safari planners at: 800-995-8689.

The first version of this article was posted on 8 Jul 2014.


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