Packing for an overland safari can be a daunting prospect as you’ll most likely be travelling through a number of countries, each with its own climate, customs and a whole host of activities on offer.
Whether you’re on a 2 week or 2 month trip, the spectrum of temperatures you’re likely to come across is vast, so it’s always good to check the season that you are travelling. For example, night time temperatures in Zambia in May can get really cold, but in September it’s really warm. The Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania can be really cold due to the altitude, but Dar es Salaam, a few hours drive away on the Tanzanian coast is much warmer at the same time of year.
The great thing about overlanding, is that you tend not to have to carry your backpack much so you can get away with taking a bit more stuff! However whilst I think it’s important to have your bases covered, you’ll also want to leave some room for the amazing souvenirs such as jewellery, paintings and wood carvings you’re sure to pick up on your travels.
Having spent around 4 months on overland trucks at one time or another, here’s my packing list for overlanding in East & Southern Africa. I’ve included everything here, but obviously there will be some things you won’t need.
The weather can be unpredictable, the temperature variable and what’s appropriate in one place, may not be appropriate in another. Many parts of Africa, especially East Africa are very conservative in their approach to dress, whilst in others it’s completely appropriate to wear whatever you want. For instance in a very local place such as a market or village where there aren’t many tourists it is advisable to cover your knees (shoulders are usually ok). However at touristy places or in a big city you will often see African women in very western style dress. Shorts (but not hot pants) are generally ok anywhere tourists are found. If in doubt, look around you. What are the local women wearing? Follow suit.
Whilst you don’t need to dress like you’re ‘on safari’ at all times, muted colours such as beige and green (bush colours) are recommended for game drives and black or dark blue should be avoided in areas where Tsetse flies are likely to be present. But I’m not a massive fan of beige so I do wear brighter colours too. But leave the camouflage at home.
- Warm fleece/jacket – Never underestimate how cold it can get in Africa at night or on early morning game drives, and chances are you’ll be spending a lot of time outside.
- Raincoat – The weather can be unpredictable so it’s a good idea to have a lightweight waterproof jacket in your daypack.
- Sarong/Scarf – A sarong is a great way of covering your knees or shoulders. Local women wear these as skirts, over their clothes to protect them and use them in a variety of other ways.
- Dresses – I usually like to have at least one nice dress for the occasional evening out, often a maxi dress. I also like to get dresses and skirts made by a local tailor which is a great way to help the local economy.
- Leggings – These are really good to take because they’re really comfortable and warm for evenings and also great to wear under a shorter dress so you don’t offend anyone.
- T-shirts/vest tops – I like to take a couple of each, usually cotton.
- Lightweight long sleeved shirt – Good to keep your arms protected from sunburn or mosquitoes at dusk/dawn when you are in a warmer place such as Tanzania.
- Linen or lightweight trousers – These are really versatile, good for colder evenings and to keep you cool in the day.
- Shorts – A couple of pairs of shorts are good to have for hot days travelling on the truck, white water rafting or on the beach. I’d leave the short shorts at home though.
- Jeans – Not an essential, but the first time I went to Africa I didn’t take my jeans and really regretted it. They will be too warm if you’re just going to East Africa, but will come in handy in Southern Africa.
- Pants/knickers – I take about 7 pairs. You’ll usually have time to do some washing at least once a week.
- Bras – I take a normal bra and a sports bra with wicking properties (draws moisture from the skin) for when it’s really hot, so you don’t end up with a nasty sweat rash. For those ladies with a larger bust (I don’t have this problem) sports bras are particularly good for coping with those ever so bumpy African roads.
- Socks – Good for those cold mornings on safari to wear with your trainers. I have been known to wear them with flip flops too (I’m sorry) as it keeps your feet protected from those pesky mosquitoes at night.
- Swimsuit – There are plenty of campsites with pools, lakes and beaches along the way and you will want to swim in that lovely, refreshing cool water. My friend Kate likes to jump in with all her clothes on – to wash them. She’s disgusting but I love her.
- Beanie hat – Good for the cold mornings.
- Sun hat –Baseball cap
- Pyjamas – Remember you’ll probably sharing a tent with someone you don’t know!
Whilst I wouldn’t recommend taking all the shoes below, they are all good options. I just usually take a pair of trainers and 1 or 2 pairs of flip flops depending on the length of my trip as I have a tendency to break them and end up with a hair tie holding my shoe to my foot – not a good look.
- Trainers – Good sturdy training shoes are good for cold mornings and evenings in the campsite, when walking through the bush or when the conditions underfoot aren’t so great.
- Flip flops – Great for general wear, the bathrooms, pool, beach etc.
- Casual sandals – If you want something stronger than flip flops, there are a number of good makes you can buy. Check out Teva or North Face.
- Nice sandals – Not essential, but nice to have if you go out for a meal. Flip flops will usually be fine for anywhere you are likely to go on an overland tour.
Backpacks are generally easier than a suitcase for an overland safari. They’re lighter and fit better in your tent. Before you buy your backpack shop around to see which ones feel more comfortable and have a think about whether you want a traditional backpack that opens up at the top, or one than zips all the way down.
- Backpack – Mine is a 60l + 15l Gelert Jet-Set Backpack. It has a smaller bag attached to a bigger bag. The smaller bag detaches and can be used as a handy daypack. The bigger bag zips all the way down so it’s super easy to find everything I need.
- Daypack – I use the 15l smaller backpack that comes with my larger pack during the day. This is just the right size for holding my camera, water, suntan lotion, lightweight jacket etc.
- Handbag – I use a small cross body handbag with a zip which contains a few essential items such as a small amount of money and camera when I don’t need my daypack or on nights out. You can buy this type of bag in many places in Africa.
- Eagle Creek Packing Cubes – These are one of my favourite travel items. They help keep the stuff in my backpack separate, tidy and easy to find. Stuffed with clothes they can also be used in place of a pillow.
- Wallet – I carry 2 wallets. A small one that I have on me at all times with a small amount of cash. The second is a bigger wallet that I keep the bulk of my cash, travel documents, passport etc.
Your truck will usually have a safe or lockers where I would suggest that you keep most of your money and passport until you need them.
- Money pouch – When I’m travelling on my own and don’t have a safe to store things in, I usually don’t carry the traditional money belt that goes round my waist. I have a very clever money belt that hooks onto my belt and down my trousers. Make sure you have any cash you need handy though. Reaching down your pants in public is hardly attractive.
- Medium size padlock – Trucks usually have individual lockers so a padlock will keep your stuff extra safe.
If you’re just going for a couple of weeks, you might want to take everything with you just for ease, however if you’re going on an overland as part of a larger trip, just start with the basics. Despite what you think, you will always have chance to buy things en route as there will be plenty of chances to stop at Shoprite (think Africa’s version of Walmart/Tesco) where you can pick up whatever you need. If you’re on a really tight budget or if there’s anything specific you want, stock up before you go.
- Toiletries bag – I take a canvas or plastic wash bag with separate compartments and a handle so that I can hang it up and keep it off the shower floor.
- Toilet paper – I like to take a couple of rolls, just in case, keep one in your day bag. To save space, remove the cardboard in the middle (don’t forget to recycle).
- Toothbrush and toothpaste.
- Toothbrush guard/holder – Keeps your toothbrush clean whilst travelling. You can buy these at your local pharmacy or Nomad Travel Stores.
- Razor – If you’re going for short amount of time – wax, it’s just easier. If you’re going for longer, take a razor, but be prepared that the showers are often cold, so the less time you have to spend in there the better.
- Soap – I use Dove Fragrance Free soap wherever I go. I use it to wash my face, body and have even used it as shampoo.
- Deodorant – Roll-on without a strong fragrance is best.
- Shampoo/Conditioner – If you can get away with a 2-in-1 great!
- Nail scrubbing brush – No matter how hard you try, your feet, nails and hands will be dirty. This helps a bit!
- Nail polish – Your nails will be dirty FACT! Dark coloured nail polish will help you to disguise disgusting nails. I tend not to use this as I can’t be bothered with the fuss, but a lot of my friends do. If you can live with the dirt, go without!
- Facial moisturiser – I use one with SPF to protect my skin.
- After Sun Lotion – In the dusty conditions, skin can get dry.
- Foot moisturiser – Walking around in flip flops in the dust eventually gets the better of your feet and cracks begin to show and sometimes can be painful. A really thick, strong moisturiser applied as often as you need really helps to keep those feet soft and crack free.
- Lip balm or lip salve. If you’re prone to cold sores one with SPF is best. I take a small tin of Vaseline.
- Hair brush – just pack the littlest one you can get away with.
- Hair ties – Your hair will get blown all over the place in the truck and on safari so unless you want a tangled mess, keep a few spares.
- Make up – Waterproof mascara and blusher is all I take.
- Suntan lotion – Suntan lotion is hard to find and expensive in Africa so I’d stock up before you go. You won’t be out in the sun all the time, so you don’t need more than a few bottles.
- Face protector – One of my FAVOURITE is Clinique Super City Block SPF40, 40ml. It protects your face from the sun and I also use it instead of foundation. It gives your skin a lovely sheen, is lightweight and doesn’t block pores. It lasts for ages too, one bottle would be enough for a 2 – 3 month trip.
- Baby/wet wipes –Great after a long day on safari when you’re covered in dust, or you just can’t get a shower or wash your hands, these are the next best thing.
- Hand sanitizer – You often stop for lunch without being able to wash your hands so this will help keep you bug free.
- Tampons/sanitary towels.
- Sanitary disposal bags – sometimes you can’t dispose of sanitary items where you are (if in the bush) take these and then place in a rubbish bin as soon as possible.
- Nail clippers.
I don’t usually take my own mosquito net when overlanding as mosquitos are rare in tents, just spray in a bit of Doom (bug spray) before you go to bed. All of the rooms/dorms that you stay in should have mosquito nets. But if in doubt take your own.
- First Aid kit – I carry a small but comprehensive kit with bandages, needles, plasters, blister plasters, syringes.
- Anti-malarial tablets.
- Hand sanitizer – One of the main reasons people get ill on the road is simply due to not washing their hand properly.
- Antiseptic cream.
- Insect repellent – Choose one like Jungle Formula which contains 50% or more Deet. I’d take 3 or 4 bottles for a long trip. Just be careful not to get it into your eyes or mouth – OUCH! Or on any of your plastics/camera.
- Anti-histamines – If you have sensitive and pale skin like me and tend to react quite badly to mosquito bites, taking an anti-histamine can reduce the swelling.
- Birth control pills.
- Rehydration sachets.
- Diarrhoea tablets.
- Any specific medication you need.
- Tiger Balm – Great for putting on bites.
- Computer – Not essential and there will be lots of internet stops. If you can get away without having a computer, don’t take it.
- Head torch – One of the most essential items on an overland trip, used when cooking dinner, to checking for animal outside your tent. Get a strong and bright one.
- Camera – On safari you’ll want a good zoom. I use a Sony bridge camera, but if you can stretch to an SLR with a good lens, I’d recommend you do so. A smaller point and shoot camera is also great to have too.
- Adapters – In some countries in East and Southern Africa they use British plugs, in others they use European plugs so take one of each.
- iPod & headphones – Great for those long drives.
- Chargers and spare batteries – For all of the above.
- Phone – Just take an old phone. If you’re in a country long enough, pay as you go sim cards are available everywhere and cheap.
- Travel tickets.
- Insurance documents.
- Visas – All countries on an overland African safari will allow you to obtain visas at the border. If you are crossing independently by any other route, check with the relevant embassy.
- Copies of all of the above – keep separate from the originals.
- 2 x spare passport photos – you may not need them but they’re good to have just in case.
- Yellow Fever Certificate – required for entry into certain countries.
You will need a mixture of money. Whilst travellers cheques are safer, they are hard to exchange and you can be charged a higher rate. I take a mix of dollars, GBP and my cards. You cannot get most of the currencies you need outside Africa, but there will be plenty of opportunities to exchange money when you are there and your tour leader will advise.
- Dollars – Good for paying for some excursions and visas.
- Your own currency – Whether this be Euros, GBP or Dollars – saves you getting stung on the exchange rate twice.
- Visa card – Whilst Visa is widely accepted, Mastercard is not, so please take a Visa card and let your bank know where you will be going so they don’t block your cards.
- Local money – For paying for souvenirs, drinks and anything you might want to buy locally.
- Sleeping bag – I use a 4 season sleeping bag which was great at keeping me warm in colder areas such as the Ngorongoro Crater and Kilimanjaro.
- Silk sleeping bag liner –When we were in warmer areas such as coastal Tanzania, I just slept in my sleeping bag liner, with my sleeping bag underneath me as an extra bit of padding. It also helps keep your sleeping bag clean and fresh and can be washed as you go.
- Roll mat – Some companies provide you with a roll mat, so check before you go. I recommend a Therm-a-rest which will keep you nice and warm.
- Towel – A quick drying microfibre one should do the trick.
- Book/Kindle – I very rarely read when I’m travelling but it can be a good way to pass the hours on the road.
- Cards – Fun to play with your fellow travellers and great for those pesky drinking games.
- Notebook & Pen – To capture all those amazing moments and quotes.
- Pens – If you’re going to take something for the kids, take pens. They need them for school. Do not take sweets!!!
- Duct/Electrical Tape – Always useful to repair things – ripped bags, mosquito nets etc.
- Universal plug – Something I don’t usually take but would come in handy for washing clothes.
- String – Can be used as a makeshift washing line or to fix a fallen mosquito net.
- Travel wash – Take a small container of travel wash to begin with. You can also pick up small sachets of washing powder on the way.
- Belt – Handy if you have a secret money purse (see below) , or to keep your pants up if you lose weight!