Packing for any destination is already a challenging endeavour on its own – trying to look like an appropriately dressed human being while not paying for excess luggage or freezing to death is not an easy puzzle to solve. However, those heading over for a Kenya safari trip face some even larger challenges – long gone are the days when safari trips were all about the khaki shorts and binoculars only!
No matter if you’re going to Kenya to witness the great wildebeest migration or to take a closer look at the big cats, you need to do some appropriate planning, as the complete lack of doing so might easily end up ruining your amazing safari trip.
Elephants seen on a safari in Kenya. Photo by Alan
To start with, take into consideration the weather conditions and climate.
Most of you are probably aware of this, however, since repetition is the mother of learning, Kenya lies on the East African coast and the equator passes directly through it. Despite that fact, this doesn’t mean that the weather is always dry and hot – actually, if you go there during the rainy seasons (March-June/October-December) you’ll be in for an unpleasant surprise if you don’t grab a rain jacket.
Make sure to get informed beforehand about typical weather conditions and the average highs and lows of the time you’re going to be traveling at. It’s a safe bet to say that carrying a light sweater and an extra pair of socks might come in handy when the mercury drops during the night, no matter the season. It's important that you plan your Safari trip out properly and know everything about the time you are visiting Kenya, including weather to expect, animal behaviour and so on.
Next thing you should pay attention to are the colors of your clothing. Don’t wear black colors, especially not black and blue as those not only attract additional heat during the day but may also be tempting to the tsetse flies, which pose incredible health risks. Stick to lighter colors; if you’re not a fan of the khaki style you don’t have to wear it – go for other neutral tones. However, be prepared that everything you own and wear during your trip will get dirty and it will get dirty a lot!
Last but certainly not least is the style of the clothing you’re going to bring. Remember that Kenya is a conservative society and not the best place to parade around in a tank top even on a blistering hot day. Instead of that, opt for some more modest clothing that will cover your shoulders and legs (at least knee-length) at all times. A lot of the lady travelers decide to buy a sarong, which has proven to be extremely useful during the safari trip and later on, it stays as a rather nice souvenir.
A sarong is perfect for the weather. Photo by Daniel
All of the clothes packed for your Kenya safari trip need to be lightweight and preferably, long-sleeved. The long sleeves are there to shield you not only from the sun (skin cancer is not a joke!) but from the bugs as well –, those little things are rather fierce.
Layering never goes out of style. Bring clothes that would allow you to easily layer up or down depending on site conditions. A good addition would be a light rain jacket – even if it never rains on your trip, you’ll very likely to get a good use of it during colder evenings and chillier mornings.
Depending on the type of safari you’re going to do, you can decide on a number of clothes you’ll bring with you. It’s one thing if you’re staying up in a fancy lodge where you’ll get a wardrobe and the chance to unpack but it’s completely different if you’re camping in a tent somewhere and have to carry the heavy load with you at all times.
However, no matter where you stay, there’s one rule that applies to everyone for sure: bring your old clothes! Pack things you’ll be comfortable with being completely ruined. Don’t go on lavish shopping trips before your safari trip – long gone are the Hemingway days. After spending days in the African savannah, your clothes would be dirty, sweaty, stained, and let’s say, in a generally bad condition no amount of Vanish would be able to wash away.
For all of the first-timers out there, it’ll probably be tempting to try and recreate this ideal African savannah picture, where you get to pose in front of a giraffe with your hardcore hiking boots strapped on. Unfortunately, reality is bound to hit sooner or later and you’ll soon realize why everyone wears runners nowadays. Runners are cheap, comfortable, and won’t take much space in your suitcase. Opt for something light and made out of breathable material – your feet will thank you later!
The typical safari hats made famous by Borsalino
Okay, so all jokes on the safari cliché put aside, you really are going to need a brimmed hat. See, you’ll still be able to do that pose in front of a giraffe! While it’s not the fanciest thing in your closet, a brimmed hat does the job it’s supposed to do and as a matter of fact, it does it very well. The African sun is strong and fierce; no amount of sunscreen can save your face from being burned like a nice brimmed hat will do it.
Extra tip: apparently, the wind likes to play its little jokes on you and your brimmed hat (and who doesn’t, really?) so get one with a strap.
This is where you’d like to pay special attention to while packing – consult with your family doctor before leaving and don’t leave things to chances. Bringing a First aid kit is a must because, in all fairness, you’re going to be out in the wild. There should also be room in your luggage for some antidiarrheal drugs and antihistamines, as well as some malaria prophylaxis – it’s highly recommended you take those during your travel even if you don’t feel directly exposed to the threat of malaria. Do remember to get yourself vaccinated for Kenya before you travel!
Although not technically medicine, bug spray and sunscreen are there to protect you and your health. Take larger amounts of both as they can be pretty pricey in Kenya and sometimes, with a lower quality, and apply them daily during your trip.
As far as your cosmetics bag is concerned, you might want to do a few adaptations there as well. Skip the large shower gel bottle and bring a bar of soap – it’s lighter to carry around and you can use it to wash some stains off your clothes if needed. Ladies should be aware that personal hygiene products to which they’re used to may either be not available in Kenya or come with a higher price. Be on the safe side and grab whatever products you use before you leave.
Last but certainly not least, apparently, it’s a very smart move to grab a roll of toilet paper and carry it around at all times with (or on!) you. Now, that’s something I would have never assumed!
This one is going to be hard on the tech-lovers but try and carry as little electronics as possible on your Kenya safari trip. Leave your fancy smartphones and tablets at home, as they can easily be damaged considering the travel conditions. You can either carry an old cell phone from home or buy a cheap one once you get there. Your phone should serve its most basic purpose during a safari trip (calls and messages only) – that Instagram feed can wait until you get back.
If you’re worried about missing out on the picture taking, then bringing a camera is a must! Though make sure it’s fully charged before leaving or if it runs on batteries, then grab a few extra with you.
A flashlight, with a set of extra batteries, has proved to be extremely useful if you’re spending nights on a camping site. Even if you have tour guides with you for most things, maneuvering around a dark tent in the middle of Africa still needs some basic form of light.
Other things you should include (but not limited nor mandatory) are:
A safari in Kenya can definitely be a unique and once-in-a-lifetime experience.
However, be prepared that you’re going to spend some time in an environment that’s very different from the one you’re used to at home. Always and at all times be respectful toward the locals you encounter. If you wish to take a picture of someone, approach and kindly ask for permission – not everyone is comfortable having their picture taken. Remember that Kenyans are genuinely nice people, who would be more than happy to help you and make you get the best experience during your safari trip.
If you feel touched by the living conditions you witness and wish to help further on, contact organizations and make a donation there rather than giving money to local children. That way, you’re not just encouraging locals to keep on begging and you’re addressing the real problem. We have a list of charities we support here . If you really feel like giving something to someone, you can give some of your safari clothes or other gear to someone, though make sure it’s in a usable state – giving a ripped and dirty shirt is no help whatsoever and it is seen as offensive.
So, that’s it! Choose your travel options, make a nice little planning list, start ticking some of those things off and you’re ready to start packing for your big African adventure!