African Elephants swimming across the Chobe River, with tourists on safari watching on, Botswana

Essentials for Heading on an African Safari

Heading on safari is a wonderful thing, but it’s not as easy as a stroll in the park, or even hopping on a jet to Paris or London. When you’re heading into the wild to see lions, giraffes, and rhinos, there are some things to keep in mind to make sure your trip goes as seamlessly as possible. This is why we’re reminding you of some handy essentials to consider when heading on an African safari.

There are few things as incredible as seeing majestic animals like lions and elephants in the wild, so you don’t want anything detracting from that experience, whether an illness, poorly-chosen clothes or gear, or choosing the wrong company to travel with. Luckily, we at Goway are old pros at safari. Heed our advice and your safari has a great chance of being a once-in-a-lifetime adventure.

Pick the right travel partners

This goes for both travel companies and travel companions. For travel companies, you don’t want to make the mistake of picking the wrong company to explore with. This isn’t to say there’s a rash of poor safari tour companies out there wanting to prey on people’s desire to explore the African savannah, but not all companies are made equal. You want a company with a tried-and-true record of success in providing African safari vacations, one that understands the physical requirements of heading on the trip and won’t mislead you with what to expect or how to prepare.

Don’t shortchange yourself here: a bargain safari sounds good, but in reality, there are some trips that you don’t want the economy-class version of. Rest assured, we consider the customer experience above all else at Goway. Travel with us and you’ll have your worries assuaged. As well, Goway will help you sort out any of the arrangements regarding getting a visa and planning all the necessary connections. We help take the stress out of an adventure like this.

It’s also key to travel with the right people on a safari. If your proposed travel companion isn’t one for the outdoors, you should perhaps consider travelling with someone else, as safaris are all about experiencing the majesty of nature and engaging with incredible wildlife. Ditto for someone who doesn’t like mornings. While you don’t have to be a morning person to enjoy a safari, you need to be able to get up at the crack of dawn so as to catch animals before they lie down for their midday nap. An early rise on an African safari is inevitable.

Smiling couple with at map on bonnet of jeep looking at view, Africa safari

Dress properly

Africa is not one country, and the whole continent does not share one climate. Depending on where you head on safari, you’ll need different clothing to ensure you’re comfortable in the bush. Don’t assume that every place you head to will be warm. For instance, if you head on gorilla treks in the national parks of Uganda, you’ll find that the climate can get cold and wet. Thus, versatility is key. Pack clothing that you can easily layer, in order to beat the draft, or take off if it gets too hot.

You also want to dress for sun cover. There are few things that will ruin your safari more quickly than a nasty case of sunburn. Pack a hat and a jacket, and even a light scarf that can help shade your shoulders and the back of your neck against the sun. If you head into the jungle and find yourself cold, the same scarf can end up warming you up and protecting against the wind. Dress smart and your African safari will be much more enjoyable.

Father and child on African safari vacation enjoying bush view

Don’t over pack

While you want versatility in what you bring on safari, you don’t want to overdo it. You do not need a fashionable outfit for every conceivable occasion, nor do you need extra gadgets that are most certainly supplied by your game lodge or completely unnecessary in the bush. Trust that bringing the essentials will tide you over.

Also remember that many of the game lodges you visit on safari will require you to connect by private flights in small airplanes. These airplanes have limited room in their cabins, so it’s key to make sure you bring luggage that actually fits in your mode of transportation. If you have to choose between a soft case and a hard case, choose the soft one, as it’ll allow you more flexibility when packing into small planes and jeeps. As well, porters will do most of the work transferring your bags to the game lodges. Don’t unduly burden these workers with oversized bags carrying goods you don’t need.

Take advantage of your fancy camera

If there is ever a trip on which to take incredible photos, this is the one. While it is essential that you don’t over pack, it also makes sense to take advantage of your expensive DSLR camera on an African safari. Safaris are all about game viewing, and as you watch lions feasting on a recent kill, elephants bathing in a waterhole, or antelopes running across the savannah, you’ll want to capture that image forever. A cellphone camera will do in a pinch, but a high-quality manual camera will make sure that you get the best shot possible. There’s no better time to fancy yourself a National Geographic photographer than on safari.

Photographing Elephants in Africa

Bring cash

While Africa has long pioneered the ability to pay for goods with a mobile phone – for instance, M-Pesa has been powering mobile payments for almost a decade longer than Apple Wallet – the continent is still very much a place where cash is the main currency. Local economies thrive off the cash that tourists bring, and ATMs are few and far between. Many places don’t offer credit or debit card payments, and don’t even get started on Bitcoin. That’s why it’s important to bring plenty of cash, doled out in small denominations, when heading to game lodges. As well, tips are expected for most every kind of service in Africa. Whether it’s the porters, bartenders back at the lodge, or your bush guide, you should tip these people for the service they provide.

Take malaria pills

There’s a misguided idea that Africa is full of disease. This is a harmful stereotype that paints the entire continent with one broad, retrograde stroke. That being said, there are still chances of catching malaria in some parts of Africa. Although there are some side effects, including the possibility of having some trippy dreams, malaria pills will ensure that you won’t get the deadly disease and have your trip ruined by avoidable illness. As well, be sure that you start taking the medication before you arrive, as it takes time to kick in. Also make sure you’re up-to-date on your necessary vaccinations. It’s best to check with your doctor to talk over any health issues for upcoming trips, so be sure to put a doctor’s visit on your to-do list prior to heading on your African safari.

Take it easy on the alcohol

If you’ve never been on safari before, you might be surprised by how freely the alcohol flows in between game drives and in the evening. Most afternoons end with sundowners, where finger food and cocktails are enjoyed in the open air as the sun sets and you’re encouraged to mingle with your fellow travellers about the day’s adventures. The setting can be conducive to overdoing it. Combining an abundance of alcohol with early mornings and long days spent in the bush can be a recipe for bad headaches and dry mouths. That’s why it’s important to be moderate with your alcohol intake.

You want to have fun and mingle with fellow travellers, but drinking water should be your main source of hydration after long days spent outside. A bad headache and extreme dehydration will make your game drives unpleasant, to say the least. An African safari is an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for many people. Don’t squander it by nursing a permanent hangover.

Kariega Private Game Reserve - sundowners on game drive

Travel in the dry season

There are no bad times to go on an African safari, but the dry season is your best bet to see the Big Five. The dry season between June and October in Tanzania and Kenya is especially conducive to animal viewing as it’s when the Great Migration takes place. As well, in general, the dry season makes it harder for animals to hide in the vegetation, and the lack of rain makes it a lot more pleasant to traverse the landscape. The waterholes and rivers also attract animals looking for water, so it’s a lot easier to have wildlife sightings in the bush during this time period. Although June and July can get especially busy, it’s often worth it to see the incredible movement of wildlife that takes place.

Jeep migration safari in the Masai, Kenya

An African safari is an experience like no other, one that rewards you with wildlife sightings, incredible landscapes, and the company of gracious hosts. You want to make sure nothing derails this journey of a lifetime. Heed our guide and your safari will be truly unforgettable.

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Aren Bergstrom
Aren Bergstrom

Globetrotting Editor - You might say that Aren was destined to become a Globetrotter after his family took him to Germany two times before he was four. If that wasn’t enough, a term spent in Sweden as a young teenager and a trek across Vietnam, Cambodia, and Thailand confirmed that destiny. An independent writer, director, and film critic, Aren has travelled across Asia, Europe, and South America. His favourite travel experience was visiting the major cities of Japan’s largest island, Honshu, but his love for food, drink, and film will take him anywhere that boasts great art and culture.

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