Ten Most Important Things to Bring on Safari

My time in Africa changed my life forever. My experiences there became the basis not only for my book, Life Safari, but for the entire concept I teach of the Big Five for Life. There is nothing quite like an African safari adventure.  It is an adventure like no other.  Here are the top ten things to make sure you bring with you when you go. 

#1. Sense of Adventure and Awe
Going on safari in Africa is not like going to a zoo, or to Disney’s Animal Kingdom, where the animals are sort of — on demand.  On safari, this is the real deal.  The animals are out there living their lives in the wild, and you are trying to find them.  That means sometimes you don’t see much for a while.  It also means, sometimes you come around a tree, and standing right in front of you is an eighteen foot tall giraffe, which is so big that as it walks past you, you can actually look up and see the underside of it’s stomach.  Or you round a bend and find yourself in the midst of a herd of African Buffalo who are a little ornery because a lion just tried to attack them.  That’s the beauty of safari; you never know what you’re going to experience, or when it’s going to happen.

There is also a different pace to life in Africa.  Neither the animals, nor the people are frantically running around like the world is on fire.  Life moves in a more tranquil fashion, a pace more in harmony with nature.  This is a good thing, although to some type A personalities who get frustrated when the line at Starbucks takes more then four minutes to get through, it can take a little getting used to.

Here’s the trick, at any time during your experience when you start to feel a little out of sorts, take a long deep breath, look around, and think to yourself “I’m in Africa.  I am in Africa!  How cool is this.”  Then just marvel at everything around you.


#2. Good digital camera or video camera
You are going to see some amazing sights on your trip.  Sights which you’ll want to capture so you can re-visit them later.  If you don’t have one already, invest in a good digital camera, or video camera.  Most newer cameras of either variety have the capability to take both still and video shots, so you won’t need two cameras, just one good one.

I also recommend taking two of the largest memory storage device you can buy for the camera.  For example, if it’s an SD card, take the biggest Gig storage they have. I recommend two because when you are out on safari you won’t be able to buy another one, so if it gets broken, or malfunctions in some way, you’ll have a backup.  Plus it enables you to take lots of shots without worrying about running out of disc space.  You can always go through and delete the extras, but you certainly don’t want to have a lion walk right in front of you carrying a baby giraffe, click the button, and get the “No More Memory” message.

I will throw one note of caution to you regarding cameras.  I’ve seen people get so engrossed in taking photos of the animals, that they don’t really experience the animals.  While I absolutely think it’s great to get some memorable shots, don’t forget to collect some life experiences as well.


#3. Journal
Experiences are interesting in that as you go through them, you think you’ll remember them forever.  Two or three years later you remember the major points of the experience, but not much else, and by the time five years has passed, you can barely remember the highlights.

In truth, you haven’t forgotten any of it, you’ve just buried it under all the new stuff that’s happened, and so you can’t easily recall the details of the experience.  What’s amazing though, is that if you take a few minutes each night on safari to journal about your experience, then five years later when you read it, not only will you remember everything you read about, but all kinds of other memories spring to life as well.  It’s almost like you are priming the memory pump and the rest of them flow through the same tube.

Without the journal entries to get the pump going though, the tube pretty much stays closed, and that’s a shame, because when you re-live an amazing experience, you get many of the same joys from the re-living, as you got from the actual experience.

As a side note, you’ll find as you are going through your safari experience and looking for the African Big Five, that you’re likely to gain some clarity about your own Big Five for Life™.  As my friend Sam Horn says, “Muse it, or lose it.”  In other words, you want to write down your epiphanies when they happen, or you just might forget them.  Having the journal handy guarantees you’ll have a place to jot them down.


#4. Animal Spotting Guide
You will be amazed at how many new animals you see on safari.  One of the fun things to do is to figure out what exactly you are looking at, or just saw, and note it.  An excellent way to do that is to carry with you an animal spotting guide.  My favorite kind of guide is one that’s about the size of a magazine, but with only 20 pages or so.  I like this size guide because the pictures or illustrations of the animals are bigger, so it’s easier to quickly glance and see whether you just saw an Eland, a Bushbuck, or a Thomson Gazelle.

I recommend getting one that is in color because many of the differentiating characteristics of the animals are their colors, so a black and white guide isn’t nearly as effective.   Keep a pen or pencil handy, and each time you see a new species, put a little check next to it with the date, and maybe the location where you saw it.  It makes for another great keepsake of your safari experience.


#5. Appropriate Clothes for the Weather and Circumstances
It snows in Africa.  Many people don’t realize that.  Depending on the time of year, elevation, and specific country you are in, the weather can range from below zero to over one hundred degrees Fahrenheit.  There is typically also a large temperature difference between the heat of the day and the temperature at night.  Before you go on your trip, do some research and find out what the typical weather is like for where you are going, and at the time of year your trip is taking place.

As a general principal I take some kind of a sweatshirt or jacket with me no matter where I go on my travels.  Very few times have I gone an entire trip without needing it at least once.

I’m also a huge fan of special travel pants that have two unique characteristics.  The first is that they zip off at the knee, so that with a quick unzip on each leg, your pants become shorts.  A great way to pack less, but still have the right clothing for warmer and cooler situations.  The second feature I look for in my travel pants are double zip, or double Velcro pockets.  Basically, it’s like a pocket within a pocket.  (I’ve had special custom ones designed for me that have double Velcro and a zipper, which is great also.)  The purpose of this feature is that it makes it practically impossible for you to get pick pocketed, or for something to randomly fall out of your pants pocket.  I take these with me every time I travel, because then I never have to worry about my money or passport.  I always have them with me, and they are always secure.


#6. A Tilley Hat
The story of me and my Tilley hat is an entire article in and of itself.  Suffice it to say that after having backpacked around the world on $40 per day with my wife, the concept of paying $72 for a hat seemed a bit outrageous.  Having gone on to purchase the hat and put it through some serious tests in the Amazon Jungle, China, and Mexico, and Peru, I am a customer for life.  This is quite frankly a travel necessity.  It floats, you can crush it in a pack and it comes back to form almost instantly, it stands up to the most unbelievable torrential rain storms (see Amazon Jungle), and the protection from the sun is superb.  Trust me, you will never buy another hat after you try one of these. You can find them at the Tilley Company Web Site.



#7. Medications — Malaria, Shots, and Others.
While going on safari now is worlds apart from the pith helmet days of the 1800s, you still need to be very careful about protecting yourself from diseases.  A few shots and perhaps some malaria pills will do it, so my advice is talk with your tour operator and see what they recommend, and then follow it.  If you are going on a long trip without a tour operator, or if your tour operator suggests you contact your local medical center, I recommend doing a search on the web for- health services for travelers — and whatever major city you are in or close to.  Where I live there is a specific office set up specifically for travelers, and they are able to pull up a list of what I need for each country I travel to.

Cipro, which is an antibiotic, is often prescribed for travelers as a form of treatment for food poisoning.  Ask your doctor about that as well, and it’s a good idea to always have a few Imodium, or similar over the counter medication on hand.

In terms of other medications, bring whatever you need with you.  You can’t count on being able to refill any medication while on your trip.


#8. Snacks and Water
By this I don’t mean bring snacks and water from home.  This is a tip for once you are already in Africa and getting ready for your safari rides or treks each day.  Depending on the type of adventure you are on, you might be out for long periods of time.  Sometimes it’s planned, and other times it isn’t.  My wife and I have literally gotten up at 5:30 a.m. and because we were having such an amazing experience, not returned to our camp until sunset.  That’s a long time to be out and about without food or water.  As a general rule, I suggest carrying a liter of water for each person and enough snacks to last you for three to four hours.  If you know you are going to be out all day, double that.

When you are out on the savannah it isn’t like you can take a quick trip to the drive through to solve your case of the munchies.  Even with all inclusive luxury safari lodges, it never hurts to be prepared.  An energy bar or something similar is easy to carry and lasts you for a long time.


#9. Someone Important to Share the Experience With
Your time on safari will be a life-changing experience.  I’ve never met anyone who felt otherwise.  There is just something so amazing about being out among the animals, and the nature, in a place where human history dates back more than three million years.  It is an energy all its own.

You can certainly enjoy the experience while running solo And better to experience it on your own, than to not go because you don’t have someone to go with. That said, it’s a pretty amazing thing to be able to share it with someone important in your life.  It is certainly an experience that will be a permanent bond between you and whoever you go with.


#10. Binoculars
Many of your animal experiences will be up close and personal- so up close that you have no need for binoculars at all.  There are other times though, especially when you are on walking safari, when the binoculars give you a chance to see things you couldn’t with your naked eye.  Even with the animals that are up close, I often like to look through the lenses and check out the specific features of the animals, like the patterns on leopards, or the trunk of an elephant for example.

I don’t recommend bringing small little binoculars.  They just aren’t powerful enough for what you want.  I’ve tried them, and much prefer using a good professional series type.  Many tour operators have them available for guests either for rent, or as part of your package, so check into that.  If not, I’d recommend picking up a pair.


#11.  Although not in the top ten, hiking boots, sunscreen, insect repellant, a very thick paperback from your favorite author, and an LED head lamp are permanent parts of my travel pack as well.

About John P. Strelecky
John is the best selling author of numerous books including Life Safari. He has done many lengthy adventure trips including an almost year long trip around the world backpacking excursion with his wife. For more about John, visit the page about him.


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