How to Prepare for an African Safari

How to Prepare for an African Safari

Written by Shannon O’Donnell on

Shannon O'Donnell is a long-term traveler who has been on the road since 2008 and has lived everywhere from Southeast Asia to Barcelona, where she now calls home. She travels slowly and supports responsible tourism along the way, winning numerous awards for her work advocating for the communities impacted by travel and tourism.

How to Prepare for an African Safari

How to Prepare for an African Safari

Find out what—and how—I packed for my four-day Tanzanian adventure through three national parks.

As I arrived in Tanzania en route to my safari adventure, I was elated. I’ve traveled to many places and checked many items off of my bucket list, but a close encounter with African wildlife wasn’t one of them. This was on an entirely new travel level. I was embarking on a four-day safari trip through a trio of Tanzania’s national parks: Tarangire National Park, Serengeti National Park, and the Ngorongoro Crater Conservation Area, and I couldn’t wait. But, before I could enjoy the trip, I had to figure out how to pack for it.

The Bags & Organizers You'll Need

In terms of packing, the biggest part of readying yourself for safari is choosing the right bag. You want something large enough to hold the essentials and keep them organized, but compact at the same time, like the Global Companion Collection. Safari trucks are small, and you’ll likely be traveling with others, so space will be at a premium.

Inside the bag, organization is key. You’ll need to have your camera readily available for all the amazing sites and a travel adaptor so it stays fully charged and ready to go each day. I also recommend using packing organizers to keep your small items contained, so you don’t lose them in the depths of your bag. Use a set of silicone bottles to keep your liquids spill-proof, even on bumpy roads.

What Items to Bring Along

Safari times are organized around the animals’ sleeping schedule—the guides want you to see as many awake animals as you can—which means that you’ll likely be out on sunrise and late afternoon trips. On my trip, we woke at 5:30 a.m. for our sunrise safari. The savannah was still and cold at that hour, and once we were standing watch in the vehicle, the wind whipped across our skin, making it even colder. This is typical of a safari in any season, so make sure to bring the proper layers and place them somewhere within your bag that’s easily accessible on the road. That way, you can quickly grab your scarf when needed, or trade it for a sunhat as the day wears on. A loose-fitting, long-sleeved shirt will shield your skin from harmful UV rays during the warm days, and keep you warm during the cold mornings.

As my tour group spotted lions, water buffalo, and a slinking leopard on the Serengeti, as well as the so-called “Big Five” (lion, elephant, rhinoceros, buffalo, and leopard) in the Ngorongoro Crater, I realized how grateful I was for remembering sunglasses. They shielded me from the harsh glare of the African sun and allowed me to look far into the distance to scour the land for meandering animals without squinting.

The binoculars that one of my fellow adventurers brought helped us get a closer look at the rhinos, which weren’t feeling especially sociable and stayed far away from our safari truck. (The trucks aren’t allowed to leave their preset paths, so if the animals keep their distances, binoculars will be your best bet for seeing them.) Fortunately for us, we didn’t need the binoculars for the elephants—they were magnificent. Elephants in the Crater have long, beautiful tusks that graze the ground, a result of them being diligently protected from poaching by the efforts of the park’s sentries. Later, while enjoying a lunch picnic by a lake, we spotted the eyes of hippos above the water, and had a laugh each time they belched loudly, announcing their presence.

The moments flew by each day on safari, and because I packed well, my gear was well organized and easily accessible for the many unpredictable moments. It’s a bit of a hassle whittling down your safari packing list in order to get it just right, but once you do—and you put it all in the right bag—you’ll be well on your way to having an amazing, once-in-a-lifetime adventure.

Consider going on a safari in Tanzania during the dry season, between June and October. And for the ultimate packing list, click here.

What about you, reader? Have you ever been on safari in Tanzania or elsewhere in Africa? What was your experience like? And what would you recommend bringing along?

Related Links:

Packing for Classic Safaris

How to Plan a Budget-Friendly Safari!

What to Pack for a South Africa Vacation