Packing advice for your safari vacation
We’re usually all about dog friendly travel here, but our bucket list safari in December of 2022 was decidedly NOT a dog friendly trip. However, it was one of our most popular #TeenyTinyErnieBernie series ever on Instagram as curious folks followed along on our journey! This trip to Kenya and Zanzibar required a lot of planning and forethought and research, so this post will share a bit about how to pack for this adventure.
ABOUT THE TRIP
We spent 8 days in Kenya including time in Nairobi, at Lake Naivasha, and at a safari camp in the Masai Mara before heading to Zanzibar for 3 days of relaxing beach time.
For this trip, we used Kensington Tours, to create our dream itinerary, and our destination expert took care of all the details. It was so nice not to have to worry about organizing ground transport or coordinating in-country flights, and the hotels we stayed at were just spectacular.
Kensington’s staff on the ground in Kenya and Zanzibar took great care of us. We’d love to travel with Kensington again in the future and would highly recommend them for anyone looking at private guided travel, especially to destinations where you feel like you need some extra help in planning. Fair warning though - bucket list travel ain't cheap!
We were limited both in terms of luggage weight and baggage style for this trip because we were flying on small Safarilink planes to connect to our various destinations within Kenya. Because of the limited size and space on these planes, passengers are limited to 15 kg (33 lbs) of baggage total.
Personal item and any larger luggage must combine to be under this weight per person. These 12-seater planes also require soft-sided luggage - think backpacks and duffel bags - for easy squishability. Wheels and hard sided suitcases are not permitted!
We chose to carry our bags with us the entire trip rather than checking them at the airport. Figured it was better to be self sufficient and have everything you need, especially when relying on multiple connections and tiny planes. I was concerned about the weight limit (15 kilos) but our bags were never weighed. We were well under that, but being carry-on only helped. On our return journey, we traveled through six different airports. If we’d have checked our bags, we never would have seen them again!
Knowing that we’d need to be economical with our packing, we spent a lot of time planning out what clothing and gear we would bring for our 12 day trip. We were ultimately so pleased we’d spent the time and energy to really think through this piece of the trip - our clothing worked perfectly for the conditions and climate, we looked the part, and we had no issues with our luggage! I used a Kelty 50L backpack and a Kipling cross-body satchel (my day bag when I studied abroad in Rome once upon a time), and Ben carried his weekender Flight Bag and messenger bag from Frost River.
Here’s my clothing packing list for 12 days:
3 pairs of pants (2 outdoor/hiking, 1 cotton jogger - all Athleta)
2 button down shirts (Columbia PFG - nice to have UPF built in!)
Skort for resort/pool wear
1 white tank top, 1 short sleeve shirt
1 sundress + 1 romper
2 sports bras + 1 regular bra
Multi-use scarf (Lululemon)
6 pairs underwear
2 bathing suits
3 pairs socks
Raincoat + Midweight Jacket/Fleece
Light hiking boots + Chacos
Stetson + Baseball cap
Ben’s packing list was similar, but swap the skort and sundress for a nicer button down shirt and some athletic shorts.
I debated between bringing hiking boots and travel sneakers like Allbirds, but I was so glad to have had the extra ankle support and rugged stability of my hiking boots when we did our walking safari on Crescent Island (and when I was walking through the bush to pee on our game drives). I thought it would be annoying to have to wear the bulky boots for our travel days, but I loosened up the laces before we got on our long flights and it wasn’t that big of a deal.
We had gotten some mixed advice leading up to the trip about whether or not to wear neutrals, but when we were at our camp and going on game drives, it was clear that “safari colors” were the right choice. Light performance fabrics and earth tone colors were good for keeping cool and hiding dust/dirt.
Our guide confirmed that while most animals don’t see the full spectrum of color (like dogs - mainly blues to yellows), some would notice and potentially be frightened off by bright apparel. And yes, you’ll look like a tourist in the airports (as the Delta Sky Club agent asked us in Minneapolis with a wink, “Cape Town or Nairobi?”), but why not lean into the adventure a bit?
The camp where we were staying offered laundry service for the duration of our stay. Many camps do this knowing that visitors are limited in terms of what they can pack. Simply put your dirty items in the provided bag or hamper and fill out a form. Items were whisked away while we were on our morning game drive and returned folded and dried with turn down service in the evening. Magic!
A note: I had been prepared to hand wash underwear since many camps won’t launder that due to cultural preferences, but our camp was happy to wash anything we put in the basket. (We double checked with camp staff that this was appropriate.) We had brought along soap leaflets for any sink washing needs, but didn’t use them. They’ll be handy for camping or future travel.
We also brought quite a bit of non-clothing gear for our trip:
Printed Documents: Itinerary, Visas (required for Kenya & Tanzania), Vaccine info (Covid + Yellow Fever), Passport Copies
Cash for tipping (USD was preferred in Kenya, which was convenient!)
Medical Kit: basics + malaria meds
Camera and extra SD cards
Personal tech: Kindles, Airpods, etc.
Travel cribbage board
Binoculars (2 pair)
Small notebook & pen to record daily sightings
Of course you're going to want to capture photos of the amazing animals and beautiful scenery, but when it comes to cameras, don’t be fooled by pictures of people toting around gigantic lenses and fancy camera bodies. You can get plenty of zoom and capture great animal photos without a 15 lb camera.
Unless you are already comfortable with sophisticated camera equipment (and have the luggage space/weight to pack it all), skip the DSLR with 17 lenses. We used a point and shoot Canon with a 40x zoom and it worked perfectly to capture what we were seeing without a ton of fuss.
Don’t rely on just your phone for photos. Yes, iPhones take beautiful photos but the zoom wasn’t powerful enough to get sharp photos of animals that were far away. I mainly used my phone to capture video, which gave extra context to what Ben was capturing on the camera. The camera could have done video too, but that takes up a lot of storage space.
Ben was good about trimming and deleting photos he didn’t want or like, but we still ended up with over 800 photos on the camera at the end of 12 days. All of this fit on one 512Mb SD card, but we had a backup just in case. Be sure to bring an extra camera battery since the camera will be turned on a lot!
Something we didn’t bring along was reusable water bottles. We always travel with water bottles, but for this trip, we just didn’t know if we’d have access to good places to fill them up. We figured we didn’t want to be burdened with them going unused and taking extra weight/space.
Throughout our trip, our guides and hotels provided bottled water, occasionally plastic bottles but more often glass flip top bottles filled with filtered water & reused. Mahali Mzuri provided personalized water bottles (a very bougie touch!) that we could take on game drives and brought home as souvenirs. Your mileage may vary.
As you plan for a safari, you may find it helpful to look at both the websites of the places you’ll be staying (hotels, camps, etc.) and at sites like TripAdvisor to see pictures of what other people wore on vacation. Camp locations or travel at different times of year may call for slightly different clothing than what we wore, so use these alternate sources to round out your packing list. Many camps will include a packing list on their website too - another good thing to cross-reference as you prepare for your trip.