Packing for a “Luxury” African Safari

One of my readers asked me what did I pack for an 18-day African Safari, which had a luggage size & weight restriction (soft-side, no-wheel, medium canvas duffle – combined with carry-on max weight 33 lbs).  First off, I can say most (but not all) of our fellow travelers ignored the size and weight information without any added fees/downside. However, here’s some tips on what to pack, and what not to pack, if you’re thinking of a long trip of this sort (third world, wilderness safari, limited luggage, high end accommodations).

Things you might not think of that really came in handy: a small flashlight; an extension cord multi-plug strip (many places only had charging stations in the main lounge – everyone fighting for a few plugs made our US multi-plug power strip popular); tissue or toilet paper (many places, including “bush stops” don’t have it – I carried mine in a small zip-lock bag to make bush stops a leave-nothing-behind experience); a non-electric alarm (many on our trip had at least one morning of no wake up “call” which starts the morning off on the wrong foot; of course, the good wake up call in tent camps came with fresh coffee); cash in small un-damaged bills (ones and fives; the local markets all took US dollars but not worn ones; no-one gave “change”); a camping clothes-line (I did use the laundry services for shirts and pants a couple of times – it was hot and dusty and the laundry charges were small, but washed my own underthings out in the sink & hung to dry overnight); small collapsible tote (we ended up using it for a number of different things); duct tape (another traveller needed this to fix a luggage disaster and it took awhile to locate some).

Standard fare for a trip: camera, charger, extra battery, electric converter, good pair of binoculars, security pouch, travel documents (confirmation numbers, emergency phone numbers, copy of passports/visas/credit cads; I put a copy of the itinerary in each of our bags); small day pack (to hold the camera, binoculars, pullover, scarf).

A limited amount of Clothing: 2 lightweight, long-sleeved camp shirts; 4 quick-dry, short-sleeved T-shirts; 3 lightweight zip-off hiking pants (the kind that convert to shorts); 2 fleece/pullovers; 4 pair breathable socks; 4 hand-wash (quick dry) underwear; 3 sports bras (essential for bumpy roads!); 1 pair of good walking shoes/trail runners (not hiking boots)/1 pair running shoes or keens/tevas/1 pair flip flops. On safari they recommend all clothes to be in the infamous khaki or olive color; I added in some lilac & peach color. And travel wearing one piece of each item!

Additional Clothing: Wide-brimmed hat with strap (essential!); 2-3 Buff/bandanas (dust control, also essential); 1 pair sleeping clothes; 1 pair gloves; 1 rain jacket/all weather jacket; bathing suit; minimum jewelry (buy something local; leave home the good stuff). My bald hubby added a warm hat – good on cool mornings.

Other essentials: 2 pair reading glasses; 2 pair sun glasses; small bottle sun protection lotion; hand sanitizer/wet wipes; insect repellant (we pre-treated our clothes as well and I do think it helped); a small toiletries kit (deodorant, lip balm, razor/shave cream, toothpaste, floss, mouthwash, nail clippers, nail file, emery board, tweezers, small scissor, Q-tips, minimal cosmetics); a small first aid kit (ours had band-aids; an elastic wrap; anti-diarrhea pills; topical cortisone cream; anti-biotic ointment; ibuprofen; allergy medicine; sore throat lozenges); even smaller day-kit to carry (mine had 2-3 hand sanitizer wipes, 2 bug repellent wipes, ibuprofen, Pepto, Bandaids, tissues, emery board, extra hair ties). Yes, I used almost everything in our kits over the 3 weeks, either for myself or for a fellow traveller.

Things I liked having: Safari wildlife book, journal + pen (helped me to capture what I experienced each day); a lightweight pashmina/scarf (mine was cotton and it served as both warmth and color).

Things I didn’t need (and wished had not taken up space/weight): Reading books (There was very little downtime and when there was, I napped!); Soap, shampoo, conditioner, lotion, washcloth (All the places we stayed were well supplied); extra toothbrushes (was warned about potential of rinsing toothbrush in sink forgetfully…but I put bottled water at sink handle and never an issue); SPF body lotion (I was covered 95% of the time and only needed face product); water bottle (every location provided complimentary bottled water in the rooms, and it was widely sold as well; too many airport security checks these days to try & carry water onto the plane!). When you are limited on space/weight, leave behind these things for souvenir buying space/weight!

Don’t forget your daily medicines and Malaria prophylaxis.

If you’re planning a village visit, bring pens/pencils/notepads for village children. One woman brought nail polish for the village women and another brought ball caps for the village men (yes, she was one which disregarded weight/size limits)!

A few folks planned their “leave behinds”. One woman gave away a shirt every time she bought a new one; another left her well-stocked first aid kit on the last day. We gave our extension power cord to a camp towards the end of the trip.


Yes, I survived for 20 days (trip plus travel days) on that limited amount of items, which seems like a huge list but all easily fit into the medium sized duffle.  And it felt good to be able to carry my own luggage (if I needed to).  And nobody noticed I was wearing the same clothes multiple days.


Picture Credit:  Me!  Serengeti, 2017


My African Adventure

We just took our “honeymoon stage” retirement trip this month – an 18 day African Safari in Kenya and Tanzania.   As it coincided with our 25th wedding anniversary, I did call it our second honeymoon. It was a bucket list item for me, similar to our first honeymoon.   That one was to visit castles in Germany and Austria with the highlight being Neuschwanstein. My homebody hubby truly loves me to take on this second big adventure with me.

Most retirement books will highlight the first 6 months of retirement as the honeymoon where you are “supposed to take” that once-in-lifetime trip, complete your honey-do lists, and live a bit like everyday is a vacation day. Everything is wonderful because the reality of the day-to-day living hasn’t completely registered.

Of course, I’ve been retired for 3 years, but I’ve always been a late bloomer.   So I’m still doing many of the things most people do in year 1 retirement – downsizing & and taking that big trip.

Some retirees take up travel as their primary retirement lifestyle. But we’re homebodies; I had to really acknowledge that fact because I admire the travelers. I admire the adventures they go on, the new sights and foods they experience.   But I hate travel – so many aspects of it stress me out, and hubby even more so.

So how did two homebodies manage on the Big Trip? My Africa Safari highlighted many of the new habits I am trying to instill for retirement.

  • Learning is a life-long commitment – be curious, ask questions. In our group jeep, I became the un-official question-asker of our guide. And yes, the folks in the jeep were happy I did – we learned so much about animal behavior and the local culture.   Our guide even complimented me on “being actively engaged” on the trip – he loved sharing his knowledge as much as we loved hearing it. I didn’t do much research prior to the trip, but am intrigued now to learn more about The Great Rift Valley, Oldupie and The Great Journey, and the Maasai culture.
  • Slow down and breathe. The thing about animals in their natural habitats…they show up when they want to or not at all. Quite often hubby and I would say: “It is what it is… and it’s all good”. That said, we were also extremely fortunate in our sitings – we had wonderful guides who really understood animal behavior and put us in positions to maximize opportunities. Even then, many times it was a waiting game.   I learned to trust our guide when he said we’d hang for a bit to see what might happen, or said he was going to move us and to “hold on”.   And then, in some of those moments, I forgot to breathe.
  • Stop inferiority comparisons. Every person’s safari experience will be different.   It is completely about timing to catch a moment of animal nature. Yes, others from our group in other jeeps saw things we did not. I had to fight the “I missed it” feeling and focus on what I did see. And I did see some amazing things: the “Big Five” in both Kenya (White Rhino) and Tanzania (Black Rhino); lions hunting and chases (no kills); bull elephant fighting; cheetahs, hyenas, and leopards with their recent kills; 21 lions before 9 AM one morning (yes, I counted!); and more zebras, wildebeest, cape buffalo, and antelopes than I could count.
  • Have fun – enjoy the moments. Kenyan roads are an experience unlike any other. They use speed bumps to control traffic, and potholes are common. If you’re not bouncing up, you’re bouncing down.   Unpaved roads, where we spent a lot of time, are even worse – rutted and rocky and dusty.   I just “went with the flow” and viewed it as a very long amusement park ride.   The washboard effect became an “African massage”.   Windows were open to the breeze until “dust coming” was yelled out and then laughingly slammed shut.
  • Don’t be afraid to fail. I tried on “spotter skills”.   Yes, I spotted a number of ALT’s (that’s animal-like-things, a true term on safari that refers to rocks, bushes, and tree limbs that look like animals), but I also got thrilling high-fives from our guide for a leopard spotting and a rare, daytime Verrauex owl spotting.

I realized about mid-trip that I was smiling a lot.   Some of the new experiences that brought on those smiles:

  • Nights without electricity. When the generators are turned off, it is truly dark in the tent/room.   I don’t think I’ve ever experienced true darkness – the kind where you can’t see your hand in front of your face. (A flashlight is essential if you need the bathroom in the middle of the night!)
  • A night sky full of stars when there is no ambient light. At one tent-camp, we looked through a telescope at Jupiter’s moons and Saturn’s rings.
  • The scent of dry grass in the morning dew or the fresh smell of the hot trees on the breeze coming in the open safari jeep windows mid afternoon (our guide did not believe in using the AC).
  • Seeing a mirage on the endless plains of the Serengeti; something I had only read about before.
  • Celebrations by the Kenyan and Tanzanian people. They bring such infectious joy to their singing and dancing. Our travel agent knew it was an anniversary trip and passed on the word. During the trip we were celebrated 4 times at various camps.   On other nights, there was a birthday and a “repeat visitor”. Each time the celebration was joyous – I think they were looking for a reason to sing and dance!
  • Sleeping in a mosquito-netted four-poster bed, in a tent in the middle of the Serengeti, guarded from the animals by Maasai warriors.   It doesn’t get much wilder for this girl from Ohio.

Yes, I am happy to be home.   And yes, I am even happier we did it!

What wild adventure will you be taking, either in your honeymoon stage or later?


Picture Credit: Family Portrait by Tim Doyle, Serengeti, 2017