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How to Plan for an African Safari

If you’ve ever wanted to go on a South African safari, this post details the logistics, how to plan and what to pack and expect. 

I’m back in the US, though I have no idea what time it is. It’s going to take a few days to recover and adjust to this time zone and lifestyle again. I really wanted to get this post up for you guys yesterday, but let’s just say, the struggle is real.

We took a red eye 16 hour flight back earlier this week, and fortunately, I was able to get some sleep. While I have some more specific recaps detailing our trip to South Africa, I thought it would be fun to share some helpful tips about safari’s.

You can read part 1 of our South African Safari in Kruger National Park and part 2 in Zimbabwe and Victoria Falls.

You know, in case you ever get the itch or urge to go on one or plan a trip to Africa! Also, if you want to see a fun video chronicling South Africa, here is one my sister made.

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What To Pack for an African safari with Text Overlay | Bucket List Tummy

This trip truly was the trip of a lifetime. More details to come, but today, we’re discussing some key points about safari’s in general. And of course, how to pack for them!

If you’re like me, you have no idea what to pack or think beforehand. I was googling everything weeks before – the weather, the food, the animals, what to wear, what not to wear, what vaccinations are needed, bug spray preferences, etc.

So much that I hope to break down in this post for you.

How to Pack Accordingly for a South African Safari

This one deserves a full post on its own. It can be hard to totally gauge what the weather will be like, as there is always unpredictability. But, you want lightweight clothing and layers.

I actually ordered quite a few things on Amazon beforehand. This hat is great for keeping your face protected from the sun and bugs. I ordered a few shirts like this (pictured below) and this because they were light weight and airy.

Stay away from blue as the color seems to attract tsetse flies

You’ll also want to get yourself a good pair of compression socks for the long plane ride. They will help with blood flow and movement.

husband and wife on south african safari

I felt like I could have done a better job packing. It was much hotter than I realized.

If I could do it over again, I would have brought more summer-type clothing, a few long sleeved shirts and jackets for layering.

These pants are great because they unzip into shorts. Forget style, safari’s are all about efficiency.

I’d also recommend packing sunglasses, sunscreen, insect repellent, a rain jacket, boots (for thick grass, deep mud), heavy socks and binoculars for sight seeing. And of course, lots of snacks (obviously).

Sometimes, you’re out on the safari’s for 3-4 hours.

While we usually had a half way stopping point for either coffee or cocktails and some light snacks, it’s best to be prepared with your own things to eat as needed.

How to plan for an African safari

Lastly, if you don’t have an Audible membership, I HIGHLY HIGHLY recommend it. You’ll want some stories/books to listen to on the plane, throughout travel and even at night. 

Make Sure you Stretch

You will be sitting alot, for safety reasons!

A safari is not your typical “active” vacation, as I discussed in the post all about South African safari trip planning. Most vacations for me revolve around activity – running routes or walking through cities, but that was not the case this time around.

You’ll find yourself sitting in a “safari van” for the majority of the time looking out at the animals.

How to plan for an African safari

How much you sit may vary depending on what part of Africa you travel to, and how you’re traveling. For us, we stayed at private game reserves, where animals could basically walk up to your rooms if they wanted to.

That being said, it was dangerous to expect to go exercise outside. A gym wasn’t always available and even if it was, it was pretty limited.

Additionally, they are entering summer in Africa right now so mid-day temps were in the 90’s and dry.

So, exercise wasn’t a huge part of this trip, due to both the animals and risk of bugs/diseases.

How to plan for an African safari

Like I said, this may vary depending on what regions you go to and what’s accessible for you. But expect to sit a lot and move when you can. I found that some jumping jacks, air squats and light stretching on the floor helped reduce some of the tightness from sitting.

I would even consider some hotel room style workouts and yoga to do in your room. I take this with me everywhere for stretching and it’s very portable. 

I would definitely advise getting a workout in the day of your long flight though – your body will thank you later.

Invest in a good camera

Iphones will work, but consider the chance of a lifetime you’re embarking on. Something that can help capture those memories in a beautiful way. I used my Nikon camera.

You can also find reasonably priced refurbished cameras if you don’t want to spend an arm and a leg. Or, you could also hire a photographer as another option. Among my family of 8, three of us had nice cameras, and we all used our iphones.

One thing I hadn’t thought of ahead of time but would have come in handy were a good pair of binoculars.

Fortunately, the drivers and our tour guides had some that we passed around, but would have been nice to have my own pair.

How to plan for an African safari

Research South African Safaris Ahead of Time

Research on all fronts. Find out what vaccines you have to get and medication precautions.

For example, we were in a malaria risk area but not a yellow fever risk area. So, I took malaria pills (that were safe for pregnancy), and invested in proper bug lotion. Had any of us gotten sick, we were prepared with antibiotics for diarrhea.

We also had to get some other vaccines, like Hepatitis A, B and typhoid fever. Allow enough time ahead of time to meet with your doctor or go to a Passport Health clinic, which may be cheaper.

I’d also recommend researching the area. I think I could have benefited from doing some more research ahead of time, about the country, animals and culture.

It would have been nice to have a stronger appreciation of how rare some of the species are and what to expect beforehand.

Elephants drinking from water hole in South Africa

Definitely learn the Big 5 – the elephant, rhino, buffalo, lion and leopard, and why they earned that name.

Obviously, you’re going to learn a ton while you’re on your safari. We hired a specific tour guide going in, which I’ll discuss a little more in the next point.

The safari guides are very knowledgeable about the animals and everything about them in the habitat, so they will be quite helpful in helping you understand what you’re looking at.

But I think you’ll have much more of an appreciation if you can have some knowledge beforehand.

Consider a Tour Guide

There’s so much to know and learn. If you’re making the investment and time to go on a safari, you want to do it right!

If it’s within your budget, I’d definitely recommend hiring a tour guide or someone who can help you plan things and make the transition a little more smooth.

You’re traveling from another country, so there’s so much to think about. Having someone local in the country you’re traveling to, or familiar with it who has traveled there frequently can make your life so easier.

How to plan for an African safari

This person can make sure you make the most out of your experience and hit up the memorable spots. They may know the best places to stay and eat, when is the best travel season, and the best time/places to find certain animals.

They can also worry about the minor details (like, what happens if it rains, or booking a hotel close to the airport if you have an early flight, or the language barrier).

We ended up having someone help us plan our entire trip. He goes on safari’s with families, so he is very familiar with the culture and people of South Africa.

He organized most of our accommodations and daily activities so we didn’t have to spend time researching them, planning them, wondering what was worth it, etc.

Be Flexible About Food

One of my favorite of the 10 intuitive eating principles.

By this, I mean what you’re eating and when you’re eating.

You can’t exactly go out to restaurants of your choice when you’re out in safari land. I assume most places will be feeding you. I never worried about a meal.

However, we had to conform to their normal meal times and options and eat what was served, which I had no complaints throughout except that it was so much food.

We were often eating a large lunch before our afternoon game drive, after still being full from breakfast. Dinner would sometimes go until 10pm, right before bed, before waking at 5am for the early morning game drive.

Timing was not what I was used to, but that’s what we had to do. This is probably relative to all of the sitting and inactivity, so it was difficult to eat it all.

How to plan for an African safari

I also ate so much meat on this trip that all I want are veggies and grains this week.

All in all, I think this is a DEFINITE MUST DO for anyone with a bucket list. Or, anyone who enjoys travel and seeing the world.

Never did I think I would even have the opportunity to travel to Africa. Now that I’ve scratched the surface, I want to eventually go back to places like Egypt, Tanzania, Morocco and more.

How to plan for an African Safari

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  1. Hi Cous,
    Loved your sister’s video, had seen it on FB but just watched it again because it was so neat! I think your parents need to go into show biz! I went to Haiti again this past June, and a lot of the same suggestions applied. If I were younger, I might put Africa on my bucket list, but there are a few other things I’d love to do that might be a bit easier for me to handle!
    I trust you are doing well, and cannot wait to see pictures when your little girl arrives. Please give Ed my best, and have a wonderful Christmas! Sending you all much love!

  2. I was in Egypt last month! Highly recommend it.

    Quick note — I would be careful about referring to countries in Africa as “Africa”… that would be like going to France and calling it “Europe”. Just a thought!

  3. Looking forward to all of your recaps – tentatively planning for my Africa trip in spring of 2019. I can’t wait – the pics look amazing!

  4. Africa is now on my bucket list, Sarah – it looks awesome. And your sister’s video was amazing and so cute and funny!

  5. Wow! I can’t wait to hear more about this trip…it looks like such an amazing experience. Also so great you got to do this before your little one comes making it a little harder to travel for a while.

  6. It looks like you had an amazing trip! When I went to West Africa last summer, I experienced some of the same situations, especially packing snacks and being flexible with food. Thanks for sharing these tips and promising to share more in the next few weeks!

  7. Although I’m not always a tour gal; I think I’d want to have a tour guide there, because it seems like I would miss so much if I didn’t have a tour guide. And I’m glad you brought all those snacks; I’m sure those fueled you for hours of sightseeing. This truly is such an unforgettable trip; that must have been SOOOO cool to see all those African animals, that you usually only see in zoos here.

  8. Geez louise. Those pictures Sarah…. breathtaking.

    This truly is an incredible, once in a life time thing for anyone to do. What an AMAZING adventure for your family to have taken. You guys are soooo cool for making this happen! Not many people can write a post entitled “how to plan for an African Safari!!” Haha!!