My European packing list might have you fooled, but the truth is that until I’ve experienced a destination for myself, I’m Googling “What to wear in XYZ” like the rest of you. Which is exactly why I found myself staring blankly at my suitcase in January.
A sampling of my search queries:
“what to pack on a safari”
“safari packing list”
“What do I wear on a South African safari?”
So now you know. While I’m a pro in the realm of vacation itineraries, vacation fashion still eludes me -- until I get back from a trip, that is. You know how travel memories are most fresh before you’ve settled back into the routines of work and home? The magic lingers. And since I’m still replaying scenes from my dream destination (did you know South Africa was meant to be my honeymoon?), today I’m sharing packing tips with you while I can still remember what worked, what didn’t, and what I wish I would have thought to take along.
Traveling in Africa poses a different set of circumstances than in Europe. Despite that, I still recommend sticking to my favorite packing rule ever:
The 5, 4, 3, 2, 1.
(That’s five tops, four bottoms, three dresses and shoes, two bags and one of each accessory. Stick to neutral colors. Details below!)
5 SAFARI TOPS
Choose a mix of sleeveless, short sleeved, and long-sleeved shirts, depending on your destination. South Africa is coldest in June, with an average daily high in the mid-50s (Fahrenheit). Botswana and Namibia are similar. If you’re heading out on an East African safari, temperatures will rarely drop below 70 degrees.
I recommend a layering tank, a couple button-up shirts (denim or neutral colors), and a couple v-necks or classic t-shirts that can be layered or worn alone. Think comfort and versatility.
4 SAFARI BOTTOMS
You’ll want shorts. Can they be chic? Yes. Should they be breathable and comfortable? Absolutely. You’ll be sitting for long periods of time on game drives.
You’ll also wear pants. More than one pair. Linen pants are beautiful for lounging around the lodge, but they wrinkle easily. There’s a reason khakis inspire images of traditional safaris. You’ll want lightweight, breathable cotton pants, regardless of the style. Pants will protect you from bug bites, high grass, and leather vehicle seats blistering under the sun.
Jumpsuits can work well too, especially if made of a sturdy (but still breathable!) cotton.
3 DRESSES AND 2-3 SHOES
Will your trip includes wine tasting, dining experiences, or exploring nearby cities? I recommend packing dresses. You won’t want to wear a dress while scouting for lions, but you’ll welcome anything breezy and cool when you're at the lodge or out and about. Research local culture to avoid modesty faux pas (bring a cute utility jacket or lightweight scarf as cover-up options).
I’m bending my own rules for advice on shoes. You don’t really need three pairs. Two will do. The most important shoes you will pack will be your safari boots. Find a pair you love because you will wear them on drives, for sundowners, trekking to dinner at the lodge, and more.
The second pair of shoes should be sandals. I hate using the word “sensible” here, but… they should be just that. Flat. Comfy. Bonus points for fashion, but it’s not a necessity by the pool. As for your optional third pair of shoes? If you plan to visit vineyards or cities, choose whatever versatile footwear you appreciate on a summer day.
Like in my packing list for Europe, I say you only need two bags. A small crossbody purse is essential, but a larger tote can come in handy depending on your itinerary. I grabbed my large tote to take with me on game drives and have my camera, scarf, sunglasses, sunscreen, water bottle, etc. easily accessible.
1 OF EACH ACCESSORY
You will need a jacket (utility jackets are durable and fashionable), a hat (the sun on the African landscape is no joke!), a big pair of sunglasses (protect your eyes!), and a swimsuit. Yes, stick to just one if you can. Though the lodge pools are breathtaking, I found myself spending my leisure time relaxing in my bathtub or on the deck with a glass of wine.
Of course you also need plenty of light, breathable socks and underwear. You will get dirty and sweaty, and what's worse than running out of underwear?
The most important things to remember when packing for a safari? Versatility, durability, and comfort. Choose clothes in white, brown, tan, and green to mix and match easily -- while still looking safari-worthy for the ‘gram.
Final words of wisdom: If you’re planning to invest in a safari piece, let it be your boots. They will be on your feet every day. Don’t forget your hat or sunglasses. And go enjoy the magic of seeing Africa at its wildest, gorgeous best!