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It’s still the off-season for tour guides, a time when many go on adventures to destinations outside of our normal beat. I can only dream about it for the moment, but there are many tour guides laying on beaches in Cuba with Mojitos, and many more packing up for the last vacation before tour season begins.

I got in on the adventuring spirit recently with my friend and colleague Jennifer. She has gone off this week to the wilds of Africa. She will see Botswana and South Africa, enjoying a safari along the way. Before she went, we got together for dinner and I got the chance to poke around in her bag. I’ve never been on safari and I, as a bag packing connoisseur, was very curious about what to bring when you are packing for safari.

As you probably know, I am an evangelist for the packing light cause. While I think I’ve perfected the art of packing light for European travel, I had the vision of a steamer trunks carried by a servants when I thought of safari. Maybe I’ve seen “Out of Africa” too many times. I was surprised to see that the only luggage Jennifer was taking was a standard Rick Steves rolling bag and a large purse. I wondered how she would fit her mosquito netting, binoculars and rhino tranquilizer darts in that small of a bag. As it turns out, she didn’t need to bring much. The safari company provided everything she would need for a comfortable stay, so she just needed basic things. 

I’ve been guilty of making fun of the travelers I see in Italy wearing cargo pants, pocketed vests and safari hats. Most travel accessory companies sell that stuff to people who don’t need it. In this case, though, I finally learned why when packing for safari everything is khaki and has a million pockets. Jennifer explained that the safari company had requested she bring neutral colors, so as to blend into the scenery and not scare the animals. Of course!!

And the many pockets are useful because you can’t very well take a purse out into the savannah and you need a place for all of your gear. The clothing she chose was meant to be layered, and most of it loosely fitted, which I imagine would help in buggy situations and changing temperatures. The hat provides shade but also camouflage amongst the animals.

Her shoe choices were a bit of a surprise to me. I expected hiking boots. But she is also doing some city and wine country time in South Africa, so she brought her favorite standbys from European tour season. Her sandals are Dansko, a brand that all tour guides swear by for long wear and happy feet. I used to be a big fan but I’m off of Danskos, mostly because they are running small lately and don’t go higher than 12, but also because they are heavy. They are great shoes, though.  Her other pair were an older pair of brown walking shoes, relatively light and neutral. Both pairs were very well broken in.

Jennifer tends to be more organized than I am. I never write anything down, but she makes these great spreadsheets. She told me that she has a spreadsheet for every bag she’s packed in her tour guiding career! She writes it up in Excel and then annotates it by hand as she packs.

You can zoom in on her list, but here is the list I made as we unpacked her bag:

Packing for Safari List

  • 5 tank tops
  • 2 long sleeve safari shirts
  • 3 Short sleeved elegant t shirts
  • 2 long pants neutral colors roll up legs
  • 1 Capri pants
  • 1 pair shorts canvas
  • 2 shirts
  • 1 dress
  • 3 scarves
  • 1 fleece
  • Jeans
  • Long sleeved tshirt
  • Sandals
  • Walking shoes
  • Flip flips
  • Boots (leaving in Paris)
  • Hair headband in case no dryer
  • Belt
  • Watch
  • Necklace
  • Extra money belt
  • 2 bras
  • 7 underwear (thong)
  • Swim suit
  • Swim suit cover up
  • Deet
  • Binoculars
  • Camera
  • Kindle
  • Phone
  • Meds
  • Sunscreen
  • Toiletries kit
  • Spf lipstick
  • Safari hat
  • Neck pillow 

Everything fit like a nice puzzle once she repacked, she even had a bit of room to bring a local candy for friends. I did notice that she doesn’t use packing cubes, which I found surprising. She has her method, which is stacking clothes in neatly folded piles and efficiently filling in gaps in the remaining space. I could not pack like this. I’m too messy. This would be a big pile of wrinkled clothes by day 2. So we all have our ways. This is hers and works well for her.

Even if she doesn’t use packing cubes, she does use lots of sacks in her big purse. All of the little items that can get lost, like cords and medicine, have their own sack. She’s found little bags over time, many of them are the free make-up pouches that department stores often give away when you buy something. She puts all of the sacks, about 6 if I remember correctly, in a big black leather purse that she carries on the plane.

After our tour of her bag, I looked through all of her things and noticed one item that she brings which I don’t need…yet.

Reading glasses…in sunglasses form! Not only can she read in bright places, but she looks pretty smokin’ doing it. I don’t need readers yet, but I’m sure I will eventually. When I do I’ll be like Jennifer and I’ll do it in style.

Jennifer is on her way to Africa and I wish her a wonderful trip. She’s promised an update on how her packing went. I’ll let you know how it goes, how many lions she saw and if she comes back with any other tips for packing for safari.

AWS Staff

This post was published by the Adventures with Sarah team. Click here to find out more about the people that make everything at AWS happen.


  • Scott Greenwood says:

    Hi Sarah, your friend will have the time of her life, I’m sure. I did a recent trip 3 years ago to South Africa, Botswana and Zimbabwe (Victoria Falls). I did about 7 safaris, in about 3 weeks as well as a few days in the wine country of Stellenbosch. I went in April 2013 and bringing a fleece, or light, but warm jacket is a good idea, especially for the early morning safari’s as it can get quite cool. Even in South Africa. We had blankets in our jeep on the seats too. I live in Toronto, where it doesn’t get extremely cold, but cold at times i.e. we are having a big cold snap with record lows of about -5F feeling like -10 with wind chill, where it’s normally in the high 20’s F/low 30’s F this time of year.Your friend looks pretty ready to go. I had a camera bag and the Rick Steves rolling backpack too. That was pretty much it for my luggage.We did early, early (like up at 5am) morning safaris and an evening safaris at Madikwe Safari Lodge (Awesome!) near the SA and Botswana border, (recommended top 10 in Lonely Planet) in SA and Chobe in Botswana. I also did a tour ( I wouldn’t say it was a safari as it was a farm that was being slowly restored to it’s original land form with animals on it) near Capetown as well. The resorts, depending on how ‘classy’ you want to go, pretty much have most of the big stuff you’ll need, and some offer laundry service too. I had Reebok walking shoes and sandals and flip flops for shoes. ‘dry-fit’ type t-shirts, no jeans, but a couple of light Columbia pants and of course, my Tilley hat.

  • Therese Kenny says:

    That is so interesting, two ways to pack efficiently!! Hope she has a great time. Husband and I do several domestic car trips a year (we have grandchildren). When arriving at a Hotel I used grab one of those giant luggage carriers and lug everything I owned into the hotel every night. Now I pack a three or four day pack and only take it into the hotel. I leave a RS rolling case in the car. Since we are driving I cheat and throw extra shoes and coats in the back seat. This last trip I experimented with washing clothes in the shower, some were rejects. Getting ready for my September RS tour!! Something I always bring but seldom use, a flashlight, came in handy in Santa Fe. Power was out for 5 hrs!! Walking for coffee it was snowy and 12 degrees!!

  • Jill Krcatovich says:

    Thanks for all of your hard work on your blog, Sarah. I always learn something new. I recognize Jennifer who was my guide in 2014. I’m so excited for her trip & happy that she could make it happen!On my list for today is framing some of my favorite photos from my Best of Europe trip as well as the beautiful Venezia print that you graciously gifted me at Christmas time. 🙂

  • Nancy says:

    Been to South Africa twice and also Kenya and Tanzania. Be sure to pack a Buff scarf. Bought mine at REI. Repels insects. Keeps neck warm on morning and evening drives. A must.

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