A savvy traveler’s guide to what you should leave at home.
A safari is a bucket list trip for so many people, but when it comes time to pack your bag—where do you even begin? There are countless packing lists available on the internet to browse must-haves, including Fodor’s own safari packing guide, but not quite as many tips for what should be left at home. From high-maintenance accessories to items that are downright illegal, here’s everything you shouldn’t pack for your safari adventure.
A Hard-Sided Suitcase
Most bush planes in Africa have weight and size restrictions due to limited space on the small aircraft. Hard shells and wheels add weight that can be easily avoided with a soft bag or backpack. Additionally, doors to load bags on bush planes are much smaller and larger, hard-side suitcases may not fit through the opening or in the allotted baggage compartment.
INSIDER TIPUsing packing cubes helps to organize a backpack or daypack, making it easier to unpack and keep what you’ve brought accessible and orderly.
Not only can drones stress out animals and disturb other guests in your safari vehicle, but they’re also banned by the government in Morocco and Madagascar. In countries where drones are permitted in Africa, there are lengthy rules and regulations to consider and understand before flying, including applying for special permits and hiring a private safari car. Be aware that drone laws differ in all African countries. South Africa’s national parks have banned drones altogether, while Botswana and Kenya’s national parks require registration and a pre-approved permit. Failure to comply with drone laws can carry a hefty fine and confiscation of equipment by local authorities.
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Disposable Plastic Bags
Not only are plastic bags banned in Kenya, Uganda, and Rwanda, but people who are caught bringing them in can face a stiff fine. The plastic ban in Kenya is said to be the strictest in the world, where hefty fines, in addition to jail time, are the punishment. Don’t risk it and make sure your in-flight liquids are in a reusable clear pouch and forgo stowing plastic bags for shoes, dirty laundry, etc.
It is the unspoken rule of safari that travelers do not wear camouflage, but why? For starters, it’s illegal in Ghana, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. Even where the government has not expressly forbidden wearing the print, it can create issues at airports and border crossings. Leave the camo garb at home and save yourself any traveling troubles.
Many safari camps run on a limited power supply or are run entirely “off the grid” in an effort to conserve energy, so high voltage tools like hairdryers, straighteners, etc., will either not work or will blow a fuse. While certainly not the case at every safari camp, it’s best to leave them at home and embrace your natural style.
INSIDER TIPGame drives can be windy and dusty, so long-haired travelers should consider a headband or hair tie to avoid annoyances and knotted locks.
Expensive or Fragile Jewelry
Traveling in and around Africa through airports, in safari vehicles, bush planes, and around camps can be a little hectic, not to mention unpredictable, so expect things to get bumped or knocked around. Don’t wear any jewelry or accessory you wouldn’t mind getting scratched or accidentally smashed if your safari vehicle goes off-roading to catch a glimpse of a rarely spotted animal.
INSIDER TIPSilicone rings are a comfortable option for people who are used to wearing a wedding band but don’t want to bring it traveling.
A Brand New Wardrobe
Plain colored, lightweight clothing is a great option for a safari. Don’t feel the need to go out and buy all new clothes–you certainly don’t have to invest in over-the-top expensive “safari” gear. Neutral clothing you likely already have in your closet, like breathable materials and items that will be comfortable for extended periods of time in game drive trucks, is perfectly acceptable. Most camp dress codes are relaxed, too, so comfortable casual is also a good rule of thumb for hanging around the boma, a gathering place for everyone in the camp to join in storytelling and merriment, at night.
INSIDER TIPWhile daytime temperatures vary throughout the year, bush evenings get chilly. Pack a sweatshirt or light jacket for dinner and night drives.
While annoying and potentially a threat in malaria-infected regions, mosquitoes are a reality in African countries, particularly while on safari. Because of this, most, if not all, safari camps are well prepared to combat against them and provide netting in rooms as needed for guests. Prior to travel, be sure to check in with your doctor for recommended vaccinations, at which time you will also likely be prescribed anti-malaria pills, which should be taken in conjunction with the use of a net for sleeping.
INSIDER TIPIf your travels take you outside a designated camp to a rural destination, contact your guide ahead of time to double-check sleeping arrangements and the need to pack your own net.
Too Many Clothes
At most camp locations, laundry services are provided and it’s included in the nightly rate at most luxury camps. Two or three outfits for game drives and two outfits for the evening are the perfect amount, regardless of how long your trip is. Choose pieces that are versatile and layer easily—think capsule wardrobe, safari-style. Camp laundry facilities are clean and reliable, and knowing this ahead of time can also help travelers pack into a smaller suitcase.
Blue or Black Clothing
Not only can game drives get hot, so wearing these colors only turns up your internal temperature, but in some regions of Africa, dark colors like blue, black, purple, and brown attract tsetse flies. Sometimes referred to as “tik tik,” the tsetse fly is a biting insect that feeds on the blood of animals and is known to carry diseases such as sleeping sickness.