Before you hit the road check out some useful tips and tricks for smooth and happy travels in Africa. Here are eight of a gazillion insights gleaned from our collective decades of experience on safaris in Africa...
Tip #One: Be open to change - adopt a flexible attitude
Adopting an open and flexible attitude when travelling is key to enjoying the journey with all its surprises, personalities and challenges, especially in Africa. One of our most legendary travel gurus, Bronwyn, advises:
"Attitude, attitude, attitude. A good attitude and a smile go a long way!"
Tip #Two: Do as many of the optional activities as you can
Take advantage of as many of the extra activities as you can afford. You usually have the chance to do all kinds of cool extra stuff on safari, so try to budget for it. The lodge pool and bar are bonus features, but they are not the real highlights - you are, after all, out in the sticks for a new experience!
Some safaris include more activities than others for various reasons, so take a closer look at the day-by-day itinerary or ask your tour company (hopefully that's us) what's extra and what's included.
Tip #Three: Go digital
Take a tablet (iPad) and earphones for the long drives on overland trips. Don't get stuck playing Sudoku ad nauseam, when you could be watching movies or accessing safari apps on your smart phone or tablet. Having your music and entertainment handy is also a great way to take a break from socializing when you need time out to daydream on the road.
Safari apps can help you to get more out of your safari, providing a treasure trove of information and nifty functions. There are some awesome safari apps out there that enable you to do stuff like save your wildlife sightings to maps and share your phenomenal pics on social media. Leave the dog-eared field guides and tatty maps at home people.
A decent cell phone with a kickass camera also makes you quicker on the draw for those easy-to-miss wildlife sightings and action shots.
Tip #Four: Do some homework and get prepped...
Firstly, read your itinerary and pre-departure information - these documents are packed with useful info, so you will miss out if you ignore them like small print.
Then, speak to your travel consultant who also has a wealth of useful knowledge to share. It really is better to know some things upfront, like this pointer from Bronwyn:
"Make sure you have given us your insurance details and emergency contacts."
Next, Google and read up a bit.
Knowing what season you are travelling in, for instance, will help you prepare for conditions on your safari. Getting some background on your destinations will not only get you excited, but also give you an idea of what to expect and what activities are on offer, where. Confusing Cape Town's beaches with Bazaruto Islands can be disappointing, if you are looking forward to snorkelling and swimming in warm waters. Similarly, it helps to know that game viewing on the Serengeti plains of Tanzania is very different to the experience in Namibia's Etosha Park and the Okavango Delta in Botswana.
Tip #Five: Join the global village and take it easy
Don't get caught up in group politics, especially on the larger overland safaris. Being amiable and considerate should keep the wheels of diplomacy turning smoothly. No need to worry too much though - most people are on safari to explore and have fun, so peace generally prevails.
Practice being cosmopolitan and curious. Bronwyn's sound advice:
"Chat to everyone, especially the crew. The driver and cook have as much to add as the trip leader. Locals too."
A diverse safari group makes for interesting conversations - a great chance to learn more about foreign places and people, and discover new things. While appreciating the nuances of unique cultures and accents you can sharpen your listening skills, concentrate on speaking more clearly and make great friends in the process. The different ways in which we say the same things can be pretty hilarious!
Here are two great reads about travelling in a group: "Solo safari: why joining an African tour on your own could be your best holiday ever" and "How to travel with strangers, and love it" by well-travelled writer, Jo Duxbury.
Tip #Six: Supplement your special diet
If you are a vegetarian, you'll be fine (ish), but if you're a vegan, go prepared (especially for the meals stops along the way). A bit of foresight and planning for vegetarian eating will go a long way on safari. Dried fruit, nuts and a few healthy snacks are worth carrying if you're a herbivorous feeder, especially of the vegan variety. If I could relive my last trip, I would take soya / rice / almond (fill in the vegan substitute for milk) powder with me. Don't overload on fresh fruit, because it won't stay fresh for long in the African heat and probably won't make it over borders and vet fences (particularly in Botswana). Plus, the bulky fruits take up too much space, don't travel well and attract wild animals, like monkeys and other primates.
Religious coffee drinker? I am. If a good cup of coffee is an indispensable part of your day, then take a top notch instant coffee along, or even a mobile coffee plunger. This is of course unless you love Nescafe, Ricoffee and other instant coffee-chicory concoctions, which will leave the coffee-snob pining. As a dedicated coffee consumer my advice to fellow coffee lovers on budget safaris - take a small coffee flask (thermos) or hardy French press and some 'real' coffee.
Tip #Seven: Wonder off a little by yourselfie
You can take time out and explore on your own a bit. Along the way there are opportunities to break away from the pack, when there aren't activities planned. Taking time to be on your own and reflect gives you a chance to absorb the many amazing people, places and things you encounter on safari. Travelling in a group is simultaneously challenging and marvelous, particularly if you're not a hyper-social person. Venturing off on my own from time-to-time has added adventure to my safaris and given me a breather.
Be sure to inform your guide of your wonderings to avoid raising alarm and getting lost.
Tip #Eight: Travel light, but smart
Pack smart with the aim of keeping your baggage to a minimum. Keep in mind that baggage restrictions are often imposed on small aircraft flights, so check the limitations for fly-in safaris. The hands down winner on the must-pack list: a sarong, also known as a kikoy. Our top travel consultants (Bronwyn, Claire and Ingrid) all agreed that the sarong is a must-have on safari.
Listen to our experienced traveller, Bronwyn, when she says:
"a sarong is always useful as a towel, head covering, shawl and skirt."
One of our finest travel consultants, Ingrid, recommends taking a small fleece blanket. The fleece blanket, like the handy kikoy, is multi-functional item, as Ingrid explains:
"It doesn't take a lot of space, but is a winner for those early morning game drives or in the truck when it’s chilly, or when the sleeping bag is just not enough at night, or when you need a pillow etc etc."
This packing tip is a real gem, courtesy of safari diva, Ingrid:
"Also handy to have for travel in Africa are wet wipes or hand sanitizer and pocket tissues ... for those ‘nature stops’."
To travel smartly and responsibly on safari, follow the wise words of Bronwyn:
"take pens and exercise books for kids along the route and not sweets and cash. Crew always have a favourite charity that they will introduce you too."
Useful things to have on safari:
- antiseptic cream (Zam-Buk for South Africans) ... for insect bites etc.
- sports bra for gorilla trekking safaris (heads-up from Bronwyn)
- mosquito repellent
- sunglasses and sun hat
- walking shoes & flip flops (sandals or thongs in Australian)
- lip ice / balm
- water bottle
Not so useful and could have left at home:
- needle and thread
- pocket knife
- evening wear (pretty shoes, nice skirts and formal tops/blouses)
- clothes that crease too easily
- cosmetics and jewellery
Things to consider packing more of:
- comfortable pants
- memory cards
- money :)
See more packing tips for safaris in Africa.
Oh, and one more thing... there are usually plenty of early mornings on safaris (good time for game viewing), so try to get enough sleep!