Wearing a safari hat and taking photos of elephants in Chobe National Park Botswana

Ultimate African Safari Packing List: 24 Items I’m Glad I Had

Last updated Feb 7, 2023 | Packing Lists, South Africa

Aw, the African safari. No matter if it’s your first or tenth safari trip, the safari drive is exhilarating and new every time you set foot in that jeep. What you pack is very important in order to make your experience comfortable and memorable. My husband and I have done two safaris: one in Chobe in Botswana and one in Lion Sands in South Africa. Here are my ultimate 24 items on my safari packing list that I was glad I had. 

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Lightweight, Breathable, UPF 50 Safari Clothes

Wearing our safari clothes at Chobe National Park

Safari packing list essentials: sporting our lightweight sun protective clothing at Chobe National Park

Struggling to figure out what to wear on your safari trip? You are not alone. I had no clue where to begin, so I consulted Google. The websites that came up all showed the same clothing. Khaki colors, lots of pockets, boxy styles. Blah. 

Then I started to search for companies that specialize in travel and outdoor activities like fishing, camping, and hiking. Ok, now I was on to something. 

Check out these companies below. They offer a much more attractive aesthetic but also fit into the “safari category.” Instead of khaki/brown colors, I focused on finding clothing in soft greys, olives, light pinks, and light blues. 

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Anatomie

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Orvis

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ExOfficio

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Prana

I have a whole article dedicated to the best women’s safari clothing. Included are multiple examples of what I actually wore. Don’t miss it if you are struggling with outfit ideas. 

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Safari Scarf

Photographing a rhino while on a South Africa safari at Lion Sands River Lodge

Photographing a rhino while on a South Africa safari at Lion Sands River Lodge

Three reasons why you need to put a scarf on your safari packing list: 

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WARMTH

Our morning safaris were cold! It was in the mid-50s°F in the mornings when we went at the end of September. The Lion Sands River Lodge did provide warm blankets in our jeep, but you need to layer up!

The scarf comes in handy to give you that extra layer of warmth around your neck. There was one very cool, windy morning, in particular, that I even contemplated if I should have brought my beanie and gloves. Check the weather and consider a few more cold-weather accessories for your trip if it looks like it is going to be chilly.

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DUST

Remember, at least in South Africa, you are sitting in an open-top jeep fully exposed to the elements. If you get a little dusty, the scarf comes in handy to do a quick wipe-off. It also doubles as a wipe for your camera lens if you need it.

With that being said, this is not the time to bring your expensive silk scarf. You do not want to ruin your good stuff. Loft tends to have good-quality scarves in fun feminine colors that are affordable and washable.

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SUN PROTECTION

You will feel that sun on the back of your neck. The scarf also serves to protect your skin from UV radiation.

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ALTERNATIVE TO THE SCARF: NECK GAITER

If you anticipate your safari location will include eating a lot of dust, consider a neck gaiter. It is a piece of bunchy UPF 50 fabric that can be worn in multiple ways: a headband, neckerchief, face mask, hood, hair tie, and the list goes on. It helps to block the sun, give you warmth, and keep dust off your face.

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Safari Hat

Wearing a safari hat and taking photos of elephants in Chobe National Park Botswana

Wearing my safari hat and taking photos of elephants in Chobe National Park Botswana

Your skin will literally cook if you do not bring a hat.  Please put this on your safari packing list. There are so many great cute options out there. Can you tell I work in dermatology?

My favorite is my packable J.crew hat. It “squishes” down nicely in my luggage. I’ve used it all over the Caribbean and for two African safaris: Chobe in Botswana and Lion Sands in South Africa.

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Safari Shoes

Brown safari boots

Courtesy of Shutterstock. Safari boots? Nope. Not needed on the safari packing list.

Note I said safari shoes NOT boots. Unless you are doing a walking safari or trekking through the forests of Rwanda looking for gorillas, you do not need clunky boots. 

Most blogs will tell you that you need them. I disagree. Plus, why pay for something you are going to use once, and then it just sits in the closet? 

I brought three pairs of shoes for our safari experience. Remember you need to pack light! Those little planes taking you to your safari destination are tiny and have weight limits. 

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#1- TRAIL RUNNERS

Trail running shoes work great as part of your safari outfit. They are lightweight, have a little bit of tread for rougher terrain, and can double as a running shoe for the gym (if your lodge has one) or a spontaneous hike (if other locations like Cape Town are part of your itinerary). We also hiked Lion’s Head in Cape Town, so my trail runners worked out great for both situations. 

The Saucony Peregrine is a great choice and comes in fun colors.

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#2- SLIP-ON STREET SHOE

Have I told you how much I love my Rothy’s??  I own too many pairs that I care to share. I am just that person who finds a favorite T-shirt or shoe and then buys them in all colors. 🤦‍♀️ They are stretchy, super comfortable from day 1, they keep their shape, and they are washable!

Ok, so how does this amazing shoe work into your safari outfit?

Sometimes my feet just needed a break from socks/trail running shoes (I hate wearing socks!). I wore Rothy’s The Sneaker on two days of our safari. If they get dusty, remember you can wash them! Also, they work out as a great shoe just lounging around the safari lodge.

The only time I would not wear these is if you are going on a walking safari or if you are going on an evening safari drive (the mosquitoes will find your ankles). Also, remember no black or dark blue colors (I assume this would apply to shoes too!) in certain African countries due to the tsetse fly.

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#3- COMFORTABLE SANDALS

My favorite go-to travel sandal is my Cole Haan Anica sandal.  I wore these sandals around the safari lodge, going to the spa, and for dinners when I wanted to dress up an outfit a little bit. They were a great way to give your feet a break at the end of a long day.

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Light Puffer Jacket

Our safari ranger and tracker at Lion Sands River Lodge

Wearing my light puffer jacket with our safari ranger and tracker at Lion Sands River Lodge

Of course, the decision to bring a jacket will depend on the time of year you are going. When we went to South Africa in September, the mornings were chilly! Layer, layer, layer. 

I brought my Uniqlo lightweight puffer jacket that had a durable water-repellant coating. It also rolled down into a little pouch, which made it easy to pack.

My exact Uniqlo jacket is no longer available, but Amazon is now selling a comparable option with excellent reviews and a good price point.   

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Polarized Sunglasses

Wearing my Ray- Ban sunglasses in New Zealand

Wearing my Ray- Ban sunglasses 

Love polarized sunglasses! They reduce eye strain and cut down the glare especially when you are looking for animals in the distance on your safari. 

My favorites are my Ray-Bans. I did not take a photo of my sunglasses while on safari, so I included the one I took while we were in New Zealand. 

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Bathing Suit

Swimming in Devil's Pool at Victoria Falls on the Zambia side

Swimming in Devil’s Pool at Victoria Falls on the Zambia side

If your safari lodge has a pool, don’t forget the bathing suit! We did one of the most epic experiences I have ever done … swimming in Devil’s Pool on top of Victoria Falls, the world’s largest waterfall! So I was already planning on bringing a bathing suit. 

I wore the Voda Black Envy in a one-piece. FYI, when we were in Saba Sand at the end of September, it was too chilly to swim in the lodge’s pool. Check the weather before you go. 

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Lots of Underwear

The reason I’m telling you not to skimp on the underwear is that some lodges will not launder them due to cultural reasons. You may want to check with your safari lodge first before deciding on how much to bring.

The alternative is to bring a little packet of laundry detergent and hand wash them in the sink and air-dry.

There is a thing called “travel underwear.” My husband swears by the ExOfficio men’s boxer brief. It is made of quick-drying, breathable mesh fabric and has been treated with an odor-reducing antimicrobial treatment.

Speaking of undergarments, some women suggest wearing a sports bra because of the “bumpy” safari jeep ride affectionately known as the “African massage.”

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Small Daypack

Chalkley Treehouse at Lion Sands River Lodge in Sabi Sand

Chalkley Treehouse at Lion Sands River Lodge in Sabi Sand

You will need something to hold your stuff on the safari jeep. My husband and I found these small daypacks from Zomake on Amazon that fold up into a small pocket size to easily store in your luggage. They are lightweight and come in multiple colors.

I used the daypack to carry my camera, lenses, GoPro, hat, sunscreen, a sweatshirt, water bottle, binoculars, wet wipes, and a little brush. It is washable (wash on a delicate cycle and then air dry). This is important because it will be sitting on the bottom of the jeep floor and may get dirty. I would not bring an expensive bag for the safari because of that reason.

I practice what I preach! The photos above show the Zomake bag we used daily. After one of the afternoon safaris at Lion Sands River Lodge, we had the incredibly unique opportunity to sleep under the stars at Chalkley Treehouse in the African bush. Wow, amazing!

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Binoculars

Using binoculars to scan the Chobe River in Botswana trying to find some animals

Using binoculars to scan the Chobe River in Botswana trying to find some animals

When we did a day trip to Chobe National Park in Botswana, binoculars were NOT provided.

When we did a safari with Lion Sands River Lodge in Sabi Sand in South Africa, binoculars WERE provided.

So, check with your safari lodge first if they provide binoculars because that may be one less thing to bring! They are super helpful when you are trying to scan the distance trying to pick up any movement to find an animal. We purchased a cheap pair of binoculars off of Amazon that did the job.

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Soft-sided Suitcase

Travelpro Platinum Magna 24_ Expandable Rollaboard in Sienna

Travelpro Platinum Magna 24 Expandable Rollaboard in Sienna

Why a soft-sided suitcase? 

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LIGHTER

Safari vehicles do not have much space, and those little safari planes cannot carry too much weight. We took South Africa Airlink from Cape Town to Skukuza Airport in Sabi Sand, and our weight limit was 20 kg (44 lbs). I have read some countries have an even lower weight limit of 15 kg (33 lbs).

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SMALLER AIRCRAFT SUGGEST IT

If your safari lodge transport is one of the small propeller planes, then it is highly suggested to only bring a soft-sided duffel. Some airports (like Skukuza Airport) allow you to store your main luggage for free and then you can transfer your “safari clothes” into a duffel for the small plane ride.

South Africa Airlink Baggage Requirements

South Africa Airlink Baggage Requirements

The plane we used to get from Cape Town to Lion Sands River Lodge via the Skukuza Airport was small, but it was not one of those small propeller planes. I was able to bring my trustworthy durable soft-sided Travelpro Platinum Magna Rollaboard that I have had since 2013 when we started to seriously get into travel. The name of the line has now changed from Platinum Magna to Platinum Elite. 

The TravelPro brand is a flight crew favorite. It was even featured in the movie Up In The Air with George Clooney. It also has a Lifetime Limited Worry-Free Warranty.  

Since 2013, I have traveled to 30 countries and have had to perform a repair only ONCE. When I was wheeling my luggage around in Rome, I took it across several sections of cobblestone (oops, this was my fault) which damaged one of the wheels. Because I had purchased from the Travelpro Platinum line, the wheels were covered under the lifetime warranty.

Travelpro Platinum Magna 24 inch Expandable Rollaboard in Sienna

I’m not joking. I really have had this suitcase this long according to my Amazon order history!

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Poncho or Rain Jacket

Wearing ponchos during a downpour while hiking Macchi Picchu in Peru

Wearing our ponchos during a downpour while hiking Macchi Picchu in Peru

I rolled the dice and did not bring a poncho or rain jacket for our safari excursion, but I should have. Weather is unpredictable. You never know when it may suddenly change and you end up soaked like what happened when we were hiking around Machu Picchu in Peru. Luckily, our guide was kind enough to provide ponchos for us.

If your regular jacket also serves as a rain jacket, great! Otherwise, buying a cheap packable poncho from Amazon will do the trick.

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Deet + Permethrin

Sawyer Permethrin spray and Repel Deet roll-on stick

This is a must on your safari packing list: Sawyer Permethrin spray and Repel Deet roll-on stick

Malaria does exist throughout Africa! Forget the lemongrass, citronella, and mosquito bracelets. You will need the strong stuff. The travel clinic I saw before our trip advised a Deet concentration of 30%.

Higher concentrations of Deet do not mean it will work better but it will last longer. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Deet concentrations of 50% or higher do not offer a substantial increase in protection. CDC recommends 20% Deet or greater.

Now you can apply this bug spray in a lot of different ways: sprays, wipes, lotions, or a stick. My preferred method of applying is the roll-on stick or spray. Why? Because it is portable, does not drip, and it will not get all over my fingers and hands. 

The other way you can fight off these mosquitoes is by spraying Permethrin on your clothing and allowing it to dry. A lot of hikers swear by this ingredient. The highly-rated Sawyer Premium Permethrin Insect Repellant can last up to 6 weeks or 6 washings. You can spray it on clothes and outdoor gear without damaging or staining them.

Other common-sense measures to avoid mosquito bites are wearing long-sleeved shirts and pants, avoiding dusk and dawn if possible, and avoiding standing water where they like to breed.

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Quick-drying Travel Towel

Quick drying microfiber towel

Quick drying microfiber towel

You are going to get hot, sweaty, and dusty. Sometimes you need to wipe your face or your camera lens or your lap because of that drink you just spilled while bouncing around in the safari jeep.

I would highly advise getting a multi-use travel towel that is lightweight, super absorbent, and compact.

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Best Camera Your Money Will Buy

Canon Rebel DSLR camera

Do not forget this safari packing list item: Canon Rebel DSLR

We bought a Canon DSLR camera several years ago and then just stopped using it because it was heavy and a pain to lug around. Plus, the iPhone kept coming out with better and better cameras making it easy to get amazing shots while traveling.

However, I promise you that taking photos on your iPhone while on a safari will not cut it. The safari is the one travel experience you do not want to leave your DSLR camera behind. A fair amount of shots you take will be from a distance, and you are going to need that telephoto lens.

After taking photos again with our DSLR camera, I was reminded of how I initially fell in love with this camera. The photos you take are so crisp and sharp. I have included the same shot of two lionesses taken with both the iPhone and DSLR camera to show you the difference in what you can achieve. Pretty drastic if you ask me!

2 Lionesses eating a giraffe while on safari drive in Sabi Sand in South Africa

Canon DSLR: 2 lionesses chowing down on a giraffe while on a safari drive in South Africa

Lionesses eating a giraffe while on a safari drive in Sabi Sand South Africa

iPhone: Same shot but using an iPhone instead. You can see the iPhone photo becomes “grainy” with longer distances

We have been using a Canon Rebel camera for the past several years, which is an affordable, entry-level DSLR camera. Overall, we have been happy with the quality of the photos it produces.

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DSLR Lens

Canon camera lenses

Canon camera lenses

We brought 3 lenses for our safari trip. As seen from left to right:

  • Wide-angle lens
  • Normal lens
  • Telephoto zooms lens

The wide-angle lens came in handy for those panoramic landscape shots. We were also able to get an amazing photo of Chalkley Treehouse (as seen below), an incredibly romantic experience we booked while on safari.

Lion Sands Chalkley Treehouse

Chalkley Treehouse: photographed with the Canon Rebel DSLR and wide-angle lens

A telephoto zoom lens is a must for your safari experience! As seen from the photo below (left), there is no way we would have gotten this close-up shot of the cute little turtle hitching a ride without this lens.

The photo below (right) shows you how close up you can get (which is not very close!) with an iPhone without looking pixelated. As you can see, it makes a huge difference! 

Turtle hitching a ride on a hippo in Sabi Sand South Africa

Telephoto Lens: Turtle hitching a ride on a hippo in Sabi Sand South Africa

Turtle riding a hippo in Sabi Sand South Africa

iPhone: Turtle riding a hippo in Sabi Sand South Africa

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GoPro

GoPro Hero

GoPro Hero

The iPhone is ok at taking videos, but my GoPro definitely surpasses it in video quality. With its stabilization (important for bumpy jeep rides) and wide-angle views, it worked great for our safari drives.

As mentioned earlier, we had the unique opportunity to sleep under the stars in a treehouse at Lion Sands River Lodge in Sabi Sand, South Africa. I took awesome video footage of our treehouse experience with the GoPro, as seen below.

YouTube video of the Chalkley Treehouse taken with the GoPro

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Sunscreen with Zinc Oxide

Elta MD UV Clear sunscreen

Elta MD UV Clear sunscreen

The African sun is no joke. One of my favorite sunscreens is Elta MD UV Clear. It has zinc oxide that rubs in sheer on the skin. It’s not oily, so don’t worry about breakouts. 

This little skin protector should definitely be on your safari packing list!

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Water Bottle + Gatorade Packets

Embrava Water bottle and Gatorade low sugar packets

Embrava water bottle and Gatorade low sugar packets

You do not want to get dehydrated and faint. Safari drives are long (usually 3 hours in the morning and afternoon), and you will be sitting under the hot sun. Bring a water bottle or ask if your safari lodge provides one for the drive. Our lodge, Lion Sands River Lodge, provided every guest with a water bottle for their use during their stay.

The other item I always take on trips is low sugar Gatorade packets. They are great if you feel dehydrated or had a little too much wine the night before. Just add to water and shake. I call it my “Hummingbird juice” because if I am feeling a little bit off, it usually perks me back up.

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Disinfectant Wipes

Purell Disinfectant Wipes

Purell Disinfectant Wipes

Even before the COVID-19 craziness started, we have always carried disinfectant wipes. Great for plane rides, before and after eating, hiking, or for safari rides when you feel dusty and need to wipe off before you eat an energy bar for a snack. Don’t leave home without them.

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Medicine Cabinet

Allegra, Motrin, Tylenol, Fabric bandages, Meclizine, Malarone, Azithromycin, Clobetasol cream

My medicine cabinet I bring for trips

I tend to bring my own pharmacy for every trip, so I am prepared for all situations and ailments. The below items are what I personally included on my safari packing list. But PLEASE CONSULT WITH YOUR DOC OF WHAT YOU SHOULD/SHOULD NOT TAKE.

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Imodium + Azithromycin

Traveler’s diarrhea is no joke. Ask your travel clinic for an antibiotic in case it hits you, and you are stuck out in the middle of the African bush. Also, I haven’t had to use Immodium often, but it comes in very handy if you are in an awkward scenario like sitting on a plane or a jeep for hours on end. Be prepared.

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Malaria Pills

Always check with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on what countries in Africa are affected by malaria and what the recommended medications are for malaria prophylaxis.

There are several choices including Doxycycline, Malarone (Atovaquone-Proguanil), Mefloquine, and Tafenoquine. Check with the travel clinic to see which one is right for you. I personally take Malarone 1-2 days before my trip, continue throughout my trip, and for 7 days after my trip. Doxycycline causes photosensitivity, and Mefloquine can cause weird dreams. So far, I have not had any weird side effects with Malarone.

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Motrin + Tylenol

Great for fevers, headaches, and aches and pains! My body does not bounce back like it used to. Sometimes you need a little extra help to function. Thank you Motrin and Tylenol!

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Meclizine

Some experience nausea and motion sickness if they are in a car or boat. If you are one of those people, nondrowsy Meclizine may help.

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Allegra + Benadryl

From seasonal allergies to large swollen bug bites, Allegra has you covered, and it is non-drowsy so you will not fall asleep as that massive lion decides to make his appearance right in front of your jeep.

Benadryl is great for the same reasons, but it makes most people drowsy. It might be best to take it around bedtime when you may want that little extra help sleeping anyways. 

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Topical Steroid + Low-Dose Steroid Pack

Consider asking your travel clinic for a topical steroid and a low-dose steroid pack if you are like me and get massive reactions to mosquito bites. I tend to swell up and form huge blisters. It’s great to have these meds on hand if that mosquito happens to find that one inch of skin that is uncovered.

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Melatonin

My husband travels internationally frequently and swears by melatonin for jet lag and insomnia. I never took it until I developed severe insomnia right before our Africa trip. Looking back, I was probably not sleeping because I was worried about our upcoming activities which included swimming in Devil’s Pool on top of the world’s largest waterfall and shark cage diving with great white sharks.

Melatonin was my saving grace not only for my insomnia before this trip but also for jet lag. Luckily, the safari experience was at the end of our trip, so we had already acclimated to the time zone. But it certainly helped at the beginning of our trip that we started in Victoria Falls.

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Fabric Bandages + Bactroban Ointment

You are bound to get a few cuts or blisters. Ask your doc about a prescription for Bactroban ointment, which is great for Staph infections.

Also, do not get the “budget” bandaids. Bandaids are like toilet paper; you’re going to notice if you opt for the cheap stuff. I love the heavy-duty fabric bandages that stick until you rip them off. It is worth the extra dollar.

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White Noise Machine

LectroFan white noise machine

My LectroFan white noise machine twisted closed

LectroFan white noise machine

My LectroFan white noise machine twisted open to reveal the Bluetooth speaker

I get it. Most travelers will think this is a weird item to have on an ultimate safari packing list, and some may think this item is a little diva-ish. That is ok. I am going to tell you why this makes #22 on the list.

The older I get, the more I realize how important a good night’s sleep is. When I was in my 20s, I could pull all-nighters and bounce back the next day. Not anymore.

Need to drown out the street noise from the Airbnb you just rented right next to the highway? What about drowning out the noisy neighbor above you in your condo? Or what about trying to muffle the roaring from the lion who has decided to alert everyone he is there?

And this is where my favorite travel product comes into the picture. Weighing only 3.5 ounces, LectroFan Micro (the latest version is called the Micro2) is my best sleeping buddy. 

It also has a BlueTooth speaker, which you can sync with your smartphone to play your favorite music. 

And, yes I used this amazing machine in our safari lodge! Thanks to the LectroFan, I was able to feel rested when I got that 5 am wake-up call from our safari guide letting us know to get ready for the morning safari!

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Female Urinary Device?!

As I started to pack, I began to think how in the world does a female go to the bathroom while out “in the bush?”

When I performed a quick Google search, I actually found there is a contraption called a female urinary device. It is a funnel-shaped device that forms a seal so you can urinate without it going down your leg. You can use it camping, at concerts, and even while on safari!

I could not bring myself to buy one, but if someone has, I would love to know in the comments below if they actually used it and liked it.

I decided I was not going to the bathroom on our safari drive. I accomplished this by hydrating like crazy 1 hour before our safari drive (so I would not get dehydrated) and then going to the restroom one more time at the lodge before getting on to the jeep. Then I was nice and comfortable. I still don’t get how females use the restroom in the trees when camping without urinating down their legs. More power to you!

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Thank You Notes

Thank you note cards

Thank you note cards

Your safari guide and tracker puts in long hours. They get up well before you do and go to bed after you. They spend 6+ hours with you sharing a wealth of information and finding some of the most amazing wildlife you will ever encounter.

I know the safari lodges cost a small fortune, but consider showing a little love and appreciation by writing a short thank you note and providing an appropriate tip. It will be much appreciated by the staff.

Final Thoughts on the Safari Packing List

Wow, you got through my ultimate safari packing list! Well done. If you are like me, I had no idea before my first African safari what items made sense to bring and what items to leave. I really hope this detailed article helps you navigate that process. Enjoy this incredible life experience! 

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Any safari packing list items that I missed? Questions on what to bring?

Let me know in the comments below!

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