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Luggage and Packing

While the days when you needed a hundred porters and the gross national product of a small nation to outfit your safari are long gone, there are still a few unique factors to consider when packing for your journey.

Luggage If you're one of the rare people whose itinerary does not include any transfers in light aircraft, you can use your normal luggage - please take a look at the Packing section on this page for tips on clothing and other items you may wish to bring on your trip.

Otherwise, you'll want to do first things first, and make sure you have the right luggage before you start packing. The aircraft used to move between camps are small and light, and have very limited luggage space. Many of the types of luggage commonly used on city holidays are not suitable for these small planes.

Bags must be entirely soft-sided. This means no wheels or frames. Please take this rule seriously - we have seen people's luggage left on the runway when they ignored it! If your luggage cannot fit on the plane, you will either need to go without or pay for a separate plane to bring your luggage (at considerable extra expense). The size limit for luggage on light aircraft transfers is:
  • 25 cm wide x 30 cm high x 61 cm long (this is 10 in wide x 12 in high x 24 in long)
You may have up to two bags. However, your total luggage weight cannot exceed the maximum allowed (see below).

Note that although the baggage compartment is 30 cm (12 in) high the doorway is only 25 cm (10 in) high. If you have a 30 cm (12 in) high bag, don't pack it so tightly that it can't be squashed a bit - otherwise your bag may be damaged when the pilot tries to force it into the compartment.

Many of our American clients have found that the Adventure Duffle Bags from LL Bean make good safari luggage. As an added plus, they come in a wide range of funky colours - pick an interesting one and it will make identifying your bag among the pile of black duffles on the tarmac much easier! The large size is fine if it's not stuffed to the brim; the medium size fits easily within the limits.

The total weight limit for luggage (whether you have one or two bags) on light aircraft transfers is:
  • 20 kg (44 lb) in Botswana, Namibia, and South Africa
  • 12kg (26.5 lb) in all other countries
This includes carry-on luggage, which is limited to a reasonable amount of camera / video equipment. There is no overhead or under-seat storage on the planes, so your carry-on bag will need to sit on your lap.

These luggage limits may seem pretty strict, but remember that your soft duffle bag probably weighs quite a bit less than your normal rolling case. The dress code in safari camps is casual, and most safari camps will do your laundry on a daily basis which cuts down drastically on the amount of clothing you will need to bring (note, however, that staff at many camps do not wash underwear for cultural reasons - gentle soap is provided for doing your own laundry). Camps in Southern Africa and some camps in Tanzania also supply a full selection of toiletries (shampoo, shower gel, etc) so you can cut down on those as well.

The pilots will not take chances with safety, so if you have too much luggage you will need to either leave it behind or arrange for it to be flown to your camp in a separate plane at considerable additional cost. If you have extra bags that you won't need on your safari, it's possible to send them ahead to the next town within that country as unaccompanied baggage (at a cost of approximately $100 per person). Extra bags can also be stored at some airports.

People who absolutely must have more luggage (e.g. serious photographers with a lot of gear) should consider purchasing an extra seat on their transfers. This will allow you to bring up to 70kg (154 lbs) of additional luggage. Extra seats must be arranged in advance.

Given these weight restrictions, you may well find that you don't use the entire free checked baggage allowance on your international flights. To find out how this extra space can be used to benefit children in Africa, please visit our Giving More to Africa page.

Packing Tips In the near future we will be posting some recommended packing lists. In the meantime, here are some answers to the most frequently asked questions:

Do I need special clothing for my safari? The important thing is to bring comfortable clothing in neutral colours (tans, browns, and greens), and to dress appropriately for the weather. If you happen to have these colours in your wardrobe at home, you're set. There's certainly no need for 'safari suits', pith helmets, or the like, unless you enjoy amusing your fellow guests!

Avoid loud patterns, bright colours, and white. Above all avoid dark blue, which is the colour used for tsetse fly traps - this means no jeans. (Jeans are heavy and take forever to dry anyhow, so you're much better off without them.)

In general, we find that natural materials such as cotton, linen, wool, and silk do better in the bush than technical 'wonder-fabrics' (with the exception of outerwear). The hi-tech finishes that give many of the technical fabrics their special properties have a tendency not to survive the rigours of the camps' bush laundries, and there are occasional problems with artificial fabrics melting under coal-fired bush irons (though this is less common than it once was).

What sort of shoes should I bring? You'll probably want two pairs - a pair of sandals for lounging around camp, and a pair of comfortable closed-toed walking shoes for game-drives and bush walks (open-toed ones are an invitation to thorns and rocks - we don't recommend them). If you're doing a serious walking safari you will want to invest in some proper walking shoes. Remember to break them in before you go!

Do I need to dress up for dinner on safari? In our experience very few people dress up for dinner on safari, and those who show up in evening wear (we have seen this!) look rather silly. You may wish to keep a clean set of clothes to wear to dinner so you don't bring the dust from your evening game-drive with you to the table, but that's about it. Don't worry about wearing the same thing every night - the dining area is lit by lanterns and all of your clothing will be in the same colours anyhow, so it's unlikely that anyone will notice.

What about fine restaurants in Cape Town and Johannesburg? South Africa is a relaxed country with equally relaxed attitudes towards formal clothing. Julian has dined in the best restaurants in Cape Town and the Winelands (including Le Quartier Francais) and did not feel a need for a jacket and tie, much less a suit. A jacket (no tie) for gentlemen and the equivalent for ladies is the most you will ever need, and in the vast majority of cases you will be fine with a long-sleeved shirt and trousers for men and the equivalent for women. The one exception is if you are planning a journey on one of the luxury trains, which do have a dress code that requires a jacket and tie for dinner.

Do you have any recommendations for special gear?
Here are some items which may be of use:
  • People who find hot weather difficult to cope with may want to buy a Cobber, a small lightweight invention from Australia which uses evaporative cooling to keep you comfortable. They are sold by Tilley in the US and in the UK.
  • Anti-bacterial hand gel and travel packs of Kleenex to use for 'bush breaks' during game drives.
  • A supply of small Ziploc bags for disposing of rubbish is also handy for bush breaks. Never leave your rubbish in the bush!
  • 'Instant Facial' towels which lather up when water is added - very handy for sleep-outs and mobile safaris. Oil of Olay makes some nice ones.
  • A travel journal makes one of the best souvenirs. You'll experience a great deal on your safari, and even if you've never kept a journal before you may want to think about bringing one on this trip. It's a great way to keep track of your sightings and experiences.
Is there anything I should definitely avoid bringing?
Here are a few items that we recommend leaving at home:
  • Laptop computer - Unless you are on a dedicated photo safari where you will be reviewing photos daily with your instructor, we advise against bringing a laptop. Laptops are heavy, and many places do not have 24-hour power to keep them charged (thereby turning them into very expensive deadweights). They do not take kindly to the dust and bouncing around which often occurs on safari. On a more philosophical note, we have seen some people who bring laptops spend more time staring at the screen than enjoying the places they have come so far to see.
  • Hair dryer - Any place that will have enough power to run a hair dryer will provide one. Note that this does not include most permanent and semi-permanent tented camps. Don't worry - the lions will forgive your bad hair (just look at theirs!)
  • Travel iron / travel coffee maker - In addition to being heavy and taking up a lot space in your luggage, they are completely unnecessary. Your laundry will be thoroughly (perhaps too thoroughly) ironed by the camp laundry service. Tea and coffee are always available in the lounge at tented camps, and lodges will usually include tea and coffee making facilities in your suite. Some camps even offer 'tent service'!
  • Cologne / perfume - Insects will love it, and strong scents may upset animals which are downwind from your vehicle (not to mention the fellow guests sharing your vehicle). Please leave it at home! If you absolutely must bring it, please use very, very, very sparingly.
  • Safari suits, pith helmets, and the like - See above.
  • Anything camouflage - Camouflage clothing still means military in Africa, and you may have a hard time convincing suspicious border guards and immigration officials that it's a fashion statement at home. While problems aren't very likely, especially in the safe, stable countries where we send our travellers, we recommend that you save yourself the aggravation and leave it at home.
  • Too many pairs of shoes - One pair of feet does not require seven pairs of shoes. Shoes take up a lot of space in your luggage, and you won't want to be wearing your Manolos on your game drives!