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Photographers- How did you deal with luggage limits on safari?

Photographers- How did you deal with luggage limits on safari?

Jan 24th, 2011, 07:15 AM
Original Poster
Join Date: Sep 2005
Posts: 1,282
Photographers- How did you deal with luggage limits on safari?

My husband and I are planning our first safari in Africa this fall. We have been trying to stick to a drive only trip because of luggage limitations on the smaller planes with all of our camera gear. (12-15 kg pp, depending on airline)

How have you dealt with the limitations?
heymo is offline  
Jan 24th, 2011, 07:53 AM
Join Date: Mar 2009
Posts: 159
Where are you heading? That will help work out a solution etc.
lbj2 is offline  
Jan 24th, 2011, 09:45 AM
Join Date: Nov 2004
Posts: 14,440
I believe Heymo is looking at a safari in Kenya, based on our previous exchanges.

Looks like Zambia is back in the running again too.
atravelynn is offline  
Jan 24th, 2011, 09:54 AM
Join Date: Apr 2006
Posts: 622
Heymo, this is a great question. I have always recommended buying additional seats to satisfy the weight restriction, or just reducing your weight with your camera gear as well as your clothing. Almost all locations in Africa can do laundry for you on a daily basis, and I have found there is little benefit to bringing more than 3 days worth of clothes with me.
andybiggs is offline  
Jan 24th, 2011, 09:54 AM
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Oops, I forgot to also mention that you can take charter flights, but this obviously increases the cost quite a bit if you are only a group of 2.
andybiggs is offline  
Jan 24th, 2011, 11:33 AM
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Thanks, all!

atravelynn- I put Zambia back in the mix as a possibility becuase it is a safari that only has 3 locations over 13 days. That is appealing as opposed to 8 locations in 14 days on the driving Kenya tour. The good part of the Kenya trip is it's private...The detractors of the Zambia trip is the luggage for one and having to share a vehicle with 6 people all trying to get the best position for photography.

Andy- I'm quite familiar with your photography and if our budget would have allowed we would have most definitely booked a trip through you. You said try reducing the weight of your camera gear...what in your opinion would be a good set up to bring? I'm planning to rent a 100-400 4/5.6, and own a 24-105mm L.Also looking into buying a carbon tripod to reduce the weight as well...
heymo is offline  
Jan 24th, 2011, 11:49 AM
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Sorry lbj2- I didn't answer your question properly. We had been considering a 14 day trip to Kenya from Wild Trek Safaris that included:
3 nights at El Karama in Laikipia,
2 nights at Samburu Lodge,
2 nights at Elsa's Kopje,
1 night at Sweetwaters Tented Camp,
1 night at Flamingo Hills,
2 nights at Keekorok,
1 night at Elsamere,
1 night at Ol Tukai and then back to Nairobi for our flight home.

The Zambia trip consists of 1 flight Lusaka/Mfuwe
2 nights Kafunta River Lodge
3 nights Island Bush Camp
1 night Kafunta River Lodge
1 flight Mfuwe/Lusaka/Royal
4 nights Kasaka, Lower Zambezi
1 flight Royal/Lusaka

There is also a NOrth/South Luangwa trip that consists of:
1 flight Lusaka/Mfuwe
2 nights Kafunta River Lodge
3 nights Island Bush Camp
1 flight Mfuwe/North Luangwa
3 nights Mwaleshi North Luangwa
1 flight North Luangwa/Mfuwe
2 nights Kafunta River Lodge
1 flight Mfuwe/Lusaka

I stand corrected on the length of the Zambia trips...they are 11 days (10 nights)
heymo is offline  
Jan 24th, 2011, 11:54 AM
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If you fly from Wilson Airport to the Mara they may or may not catch your overweightness (new word?). If they do and your guide is still with you he may be able to convince them to disregard or lower the fee. On the return from the Mara to Wilson, nothing is weighed.

The only time I was caught at Wilson, my regular luggage was way overweight and I also had the heavy camera bag plus a backpack. They don't weigh for the charter flights that I am aware of.

I was also singled out at the main airport in NBO with overweight carry on. There was a guy weighing luggage as you approached the line for checking in. He put a sticker on my carryon and told me to pay for excess luggage. I didn't know there was a special place to do that so not knowing any better I left the sticker on and got in the line for the agent at the desk. I pointed it out to her and she had me go to another place and pay a fee ($60.00 if I remember correctly) and then I got back in line with my receipt. I should have just removed the sticker because they didn't care about the weight. Just the money. And I don't think anyone would have known that I removed it.

I have flown commercial African flights:
Johannesburg to Maun (and return) two or three times
NBO to Kigali in Rwanda
Kigali to Entebbe in Uganda
Entebbe to NBO
JNB to Windhoek in Namibia and return
No problems on any of those.

It's really a crap shoot and getting on the plane with my camera gear is the only thing I worry about when traveling to Africa. If I'm remembering correctly, my backpack and rolling camera bag (Thinktank International) weigh 30 to 35 lbs plus I have a checked bag with my clothes, etc.

It should be easier for you with your husband to share the weight.
sundowner is offline  
Jan 24th, 2011, 12:21 PM
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I love Zambia. My favorite camp is in Zambia. But for a first trip to Africa where the goal is serious photography, I don't think Zambia is the best solution. Zambia's big draw is its wonderful walking safaris. Walking is usually done for about half the day, if not more. There are not the numerous photo ops of animals and certainly not predators on walking safaris. You might be able to do all driving and forego the walking, but what a shame that would be.

The trip that includes North Luangwa, where my favorite camp is, has even fewer photo ops, as N. Luangwa does not have the amount of wildlife of S. Luangwa or East Africa. Granted, the terrain and landscape is lovely. But you are paying for vast remoteness and seclusion and experiencing the bush on foot without the interference of other people/vehicles. So those should be the things you value most if going there.

Certainly wonderful photos can be taken in Zambia and the safari experience in this country is exceptional. But if the goal is many professional quality shots I don't think Zambia offers as many opportunties as Kenya. At least not for a first safari. If the goal was remoteness and seclusion and being active, or if those things were even very high on the prioritiy list, then Zambia would win over Kenya.

Also, it is more expensive for a private vehicle in Zambia, which is one of the biggest factors for professional quality photos. The guests you do walks and drives with may not want to wait for a long time for the right light. In the vehicle if they move around, there goes the crisp shot. None of this is a problem for visitors wanting really good or even outstanding photos, but for the serious or semi-pro, it could be one big headache.

Finally consider temperatures in Oct. I believe that was your month of travel.



I know none of this post has helped on packing your cameras into the plane.
atravelynn is offline  
Jan 24th, 2011, 12:30 PM
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Heymo, if your Kenya trip is a private trip are you able to change the itinerary and customize it?
3 nights Laikipia
3 nights Samburu
3 nights somewhere
5 nights Mara
I don't know the drive times/logistics to know if this is even possible but you shouldn't have to change countries and share a vehicle to get a good itinerary.
sundowner is offline  
Jan 24th, 2011, 02:23 PM
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heymo, here's a relevant bit from a short report I made on a trip to the Mara last Sept.:

"I encountered a weight restriction problem for the first time in my Africa travels. SafariLink limits luggage to 15 kg, which my photo backpack alone weighed, and in this case they decided to weigh everything I had. After a bit of discussion, SafariLink charged me a nominal price (<$20) for my other luggage, so it worked out just fine."

sdb2 is offline  
Jan 24th, 2011, 02:30 PM
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The charge for overweight isn't all that much... maybe $2-5 per Kg (not lbs), so depending on how much over as the sdb2 comments, should be doable.

But then it's a matter whether there's sufficient space on a plane for excess luggage. I know that in Botswana and even Namibia when most transfers are by light aircraft it's not unusual for excess items to be sent on a later plane, so be aware.
sandi is offline  
Jan 24th, 2011, 02:31 PM
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We use two large Lowepro backpacks for all of our camera equipment (including our two Canon lenses which weigh a ton). We sacrifice from our regular luggage to make sure we can bring all of our camera equipment. Anything non-essential stays home. I've come to terms with a hair dryer being a non-essential item...no where to plug it in the tents anyway!

And we've always been instructed to use soft sided bags as well for luggage.
loru100 is offline  
Jan 24th, 2011, 02:32 PM
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I was just going over my packing list last night and fretting about weight myself. My agent has advised me that the flights in Zambia have a 15 kg limit plus 7 kg for hand baggage. I've got a spreadsheet with rough numbers on it, and it looks like I can make it. Still, I've got over 20 lbs. of camera gear and about 22 lbs. of regular luggage.

Canon 5D
Canon 7D
Panasonic LX3 P&S
24-105mm lens
100-400mm lens
Batteries & Chargers (3 different cameras with different chargers and batteries!)
Cleaning supplies and equipment
Filters and Accessories

iPad with Camera Connection Kit (good weight savings over Macbook)
Portable Storage Device
Chargers for everything

Daypack with Padded Inserts to protect everything
Kinesis Safari Sack (unfilled)

So, one change I recommend is to leave behind the tripod. Not that useful in a vehicle safari. Bean bag is better - just buy the beans on location. I also saved a lot of weight in my luggage with the iPad - books/notebooks/guidebooks have to live on the iPad. Books add a lot of weight.

I am thinking of picking up a 70-300 DO lens for walking safaris since it's so lightweight.

Luggage-wise, I'm figuring on only 2 changes of clothing. A duffel bag is best since it's the lightest luggage. A lot of rolling suitcases weigh 7-10 lbs. empty. Can you get by on only one pair of shoes? Shoes are heavy.

So, on one hand you can try to lighten your load to the bare essentials. Another strategy, though expensive, is to buy more space on the airplanes.

The third strategy is to get around the rules.

Wear a photographer's vest. These aren't weighed as part of your luggage as long as you're wearing them. You can stuff a lot of gear into a photographer's vest. 1-2 camera bodies, a lens or two, your binoculars, and the next thing you know you're wearing 10 lbs. worth of gear.

Don't look like you're carrying something heavy. Especially avoid making your luggage look bulky or overstuffed. Don't moan and groan when lifting your pack. Pretend like it's light as a feather even if it's killing you. Just all around avoid looking like somebody who's luggage should be weighed. I don't think I've ever been approached to have my bags weighed, though I've seen other people suffer that fate.
lifelist is offline  
Jan 25th, 2011, 04:17 AM
Join Date: Mar 2009
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Hi Heymo,

My initial reaction would be to focus on the East Africa itinerary for the reason that Lynn has mentioned. I do not have any experience with that part of Africa, as I have my time in Southern Africa.

Looking at the camps that you have chosen in Zambia, I feel your budget and photographic interests would be better suited to East Africa -

There is a good chance of of enjoying a private vehicle in Kenya for the same price as a shared vehicle safari in Zambia. In Zambia, you will have to pay a couple of hundred dollars a day extra for a private vehicle (a must for most photographers)

Check out Lynn's trip report on her last safari:


In my experience, photographic opportunities can be limited in South Luangwa compared to other destinations and requires a lot of patience. It is not somewhere that I would recommend for a first timer.

Your agent hasd also selected walking camps in Island Camp and Mwaleshi, which although offer a great experience and not recommended for photographers.

In terms of luggage allowance, the only flight in Zambia that I could see causing an issue would probably be to N. Luangwa - normally taken in a small cesna.

The flight to S. Luangwa and Lower Zambezi are normally in larger planes - think 20-30 people and costs for excess baggage is minimal.

I am sure more people can help with the Kenya portion, though my initial reaction would be to cut the number of locations to 2 or 3 and spend quality time at each.
lbj2 is offline  
Jan 25th, 2011, 04:21 AM
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I would also add, Andy suggests purchasing extra seats, which is good idea depending on your budget.

You will lose photographic time when travelling between destinations - so a 14 day safari may actually work at 10 or 11 if you are driving long distances.

It a balance against cost that you have to decide upon.
lbj2 is offline  
Jan 25th, 2011, 05:23 AM
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Thank you all for your helpful insight. I believe we are going to try to stick with our original plan of not using smaller flights and try to figure out locations we might want to cut out and extend time at others.
heymo is offline  
Jan 25th, 2011, 07:31 AM
Join Date: Jan 2011
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I've only been once so I don't know how common (or uncommon) it is but flying from the US to Amsterdam and then onto Tanzania, I never had a single problem with my photo gear...and I had roughly 40 pounds of it. My bag converts into a backpack so I used that as my carry-on and always wore it as such when boarding any of the planes to make it look as if it wasn't heavy. I had far more gear than clothing.
Even when we hopped onto the little charter plane to get back to Arusha, the pilot never looked twice as my luggage but I hear that is strongly dependent upon where you are.

The idea of a vest is a good one, though. Then when you get onto the plane move the items back into your bag of choice.
KezerPhotography is offline  
Jan 25th, 2011, 08:21 AM
Join Date: Apr 2005
Posts: 5,215
About buying an extra seat to have more carry-on, or, to have more room for yourself to stretch out. I have heard of it, never tried it. But also heard that the airline if they wish and the flight is full sell that seat to another passenger. Yes, even after you bought it. Strange and not fair you say?? Well, remember we are talking about airlines.

heymo - I echo the others about photographing wildlife on the Zambia portion. I have been on two safaris in Zambia at Robin Pope camps, as well as others to Kenya, Bots and South Africa. The Zambia camps Nsefu and Tene Tena, South Luangwa, were ok but not as good as Kenya or South Africa for wildlife photography.

For my photo gear I take a carry-on a slightly smaller than the max size allowed as to not raise suspicions about it. Even though it is crammed solid full and weighs over 30 lbs. And it has wheels, wheels are the secret to walking 2 miles through airport terminals!!! Also, probably no need to say it but never put in checked bags any camera of ANY kind nor anything that looks electronic. Chances are slim that you will get it.

regards - tom
cary999 is offline  
Jan 25th, 2011, 09:20 AM
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Thanks Kezerphotography and cary999. I really do appreciate you sharing your personal experiences.
heymo is offline  

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