FYI, If you’re heading to Thailand or another beachy destination, check out Anita’s travel guide here.
I wound up on a safari in South Africa without much safari guide research and without referencing a safari packing guide. It was only two weeks before flying out that we planned accommodations and activities on the journey from NYC to Abu Dhabi to Cape Town to Londolozi Varty camp near Kruger National Park and back to Johannesburg and NYC. If this sounds like a lot, it is. Especially considering all this spanned about eight days.
We booked a deal ticket on Etihad Airways a few months before our trip. We ended up upgrading our ticket to business class for the flights. The option well worth it considering our flight path was so lengthy. I consider myself fairly well traveled, tucking away over 30 countries visited around the world in my early to mid-20s. This was my first time going to the African continent, however. I wish we had more time to stay and explore, but the terms of the ticket confined us into a fairly short length of time.
The Safari Guide on How To Pack:
Golden rule of adventure travel #1: bring enough to survive, but not enough to weigh you down! The many transfers meant I didn’t want to check luggage. In fact, in all my years of travel, I only checked my luggage once (my very first trip). I’ve gotten very efficient at packing.
Golden rule #2? Stuff rolled up socks, undies, and bathing suits in shoes.
Golden rule #3: Bring appropriate camera gear. First thing first. Are you carrying camera gear? If you’re going on a safari, most likely you are. I rent a lot of my equipment, and typically rent a camera body and lens to suit the destination I’m visiting. In this case, I brought a Canon 7D Mk II (quick AF capabilities) with a 100-400mm lens on top of it. That’s in addition to my two standard lenses. There is no way I ever check my camera equipment. If we’re doing the math here, I already said I don’t check my luggage, and I baby my gear by carrying it closely to me (aka, it’s my personal item). That means I have a handbag and a carry-on to work with for a multi-city and multi-purpose trip.
Which brings me to Golden rule #4: Choose appropriate luggage. I only recently acquired a rolling bag (all thanks to my husband and his wedding gift thoughtfulness)! For years, I used a regular shoulder strap, unstructured, duffel carry-on due to its versatility. It’s easy to stuff it to the brim, and if it doesn’t fit in the overhead, I simply open it up while people are boarding, take out the bulkier items from the top (tip coming up) and collapse the bag a little bit to make it fit.
I still use my husband’s duffel bag on short weekend trips. For this journey, I didn’t bother with my roller either. Primary reason is because my roller is a custom Louis Vuitton that I didn’t want to take chances with. The other reason is that we had several small (i.e. 4-6 seater) transfers that had luggage restrictions. I chose a canvas backpack for my toiletries and camera equipment first. I lined the sides of the bag and the equipment with bubble wrap. Then I further padded with a large lightweight blanket scarf I used for the chillier evenings.
My primary bag was a soft-side duffel I didn’t mind getting a bit scruffed up. Depending on the luggage, a little bit of scuff and rough edge is extremely appropriate.
Clothes to Pack: Unless you’re spending a significant amount of time in a major city and are planning on going out often, don’t bother with glamorous clothes and shoes. I spent several days in Cape Town and felt very appropriately dressed in jeans, a change of tops and some slip-ons.
You don’t have to go all out in old-school safari outfits, but focus on bringing earth-toned clothing to better blend into the environment. You’ll be in a jeep most of your safari stay, so your shoes won’t get too much wear.
There’s laundry service, so you can always get fresh clothes. Your main goal is to minimize the amount of luggage you have to carry! For the safari, make sure to bring:
- 3 or 4 shirts, depending on the length of your stay
- 1 pair of jeans
- 1 pair of khaki pants
- a wide brim hat (for the sun)
- 1 pair of sneakers
- light waterproof jacket
- large scarf to wrap yourself in on chilly mornings and evenings
- light jacket for layering
If you’re worried about your luggage being overstuffed, fold up your bulkier items into a jacket or large scarf and place the “package” toward the top of your suitcase. When it comes time to stuff your carry-on into the overhead compartment, open up the zipper and take out the wrapped pack. Put it under the seat in front of you. This has been my lifesaver on smaller planes with not much space in the overhead.
Where To Go:
As I mentioned in the beginning, Londolozi Varty camp was our primary safari adventure hub. Located on a private reserve in Sabi Sands, Londolozi has several camps with different lodges. The prices of the camp lodges vary slightly, with some being more private, secluded and luxurious. Ours was a relaxed option that provided plenty of views, a private plunge pool on the deck, and plenty of monkeys to steal from our mini-bar. I’m ashamed to admit I encouraged the behavior by throwing a cookie on the ground and running inside when one tried to intimidate me.
The feel is easy and laid-back, harkening back to adventurous spirit of exploration. The reserve, established in 1926, leads wildlife conservation efforts and supports the local economy through its efforts. Expect to relax by a bonfire in the evenings and to mingle with other adventurers in camp.
Your safari experience is highly dependent on the guide. A good guide will keep eyes peeled for the smallest of animals and track the behaviors of the game. Luckily, our guides were out of this world! No exaggeration. Well, maybe a slight exaggeration, but how’s this for a scenario? On a ride back to camp from an evening safari viewing, in pitch black with nothing but shrubs and trees around, our guide managed to spot a small chameleon blending into a tree branch of one of the trees on the side of the road. While we were going 20mph. That’s a little bit superhuman.