Let’s Pack For a Game Drive

You’ve rocked up at the safari lodge in a whirlwind. Do you even remember gulping down that fruity welcome drink, signing some forms, being shown how the safe in your room works or the rundown of your itinerary? Nope. That’s because you’re on safari now, and being on safari is so darn exciting!

All you can think about is getting out there on that game drive…

But what on earth are you supposed to bring? It’s something I’m asked about often and I kind of feel I’m pretty qualified to talk about it. So here are my suggestions, sweet Safariosophers. And take a deep breath now, because this list is exhaustive…

Don’t want the commentary? That’s cool too! Scroll down here and now to the bottom of the post for the no-frills LIST.

Binoculars

This again? I cannot ever ever ever ever ever ever ever stress this one enough. Binoculars. BINOCULARS. If your 4:30am wake up call has left you dazed and confused and you forget to brush your teeth or put on shoes, none of that matters. Just grab the binoculars. Your safari experience is going to suffer without them. I’ve stuck it here at the top because binoculars are really the only ‘absolute need’ on a game drive. The rest are all optional extras.

Water bottle

Any good safari lodge will provide you with water bottles, but the very best will encourage the use of fun reusable ones. Bring along a REUSABLE bottle and fill it with fresh water from the lodge before the drive. You’re in the WILD, so put the environment first. I always encourage my guests to drink continuously because dehydration under this hot African sun is a reality.

Camera

If you want to document your safari with photos, stick with a good camera and zoom lens. My advice is to have a lens attached that you won’t need to change on the drive. I tend to panic when I catch guests changing lenses in their seats! They fall on the ground ALL THE TIME (the lenses, not the people). A safari vehicle just isn’t the place to change lenses. Also, Africa is dusty and very unfriendly to cameras. That said, bring a little baggie or rain jacket for your camera to keep it protected if things turn stormy. And batteries! Charge them before a game drive, or bring spares if you can’t. Take note though, that the ONE DRIVE where you forget your camera is going to be the one where a lion and a leopard fight over an aardvark carcass.

Sunglasses

Must be polarized and stick to your face nicely. The added bonus is they’ll keep dust from your eyes too!

Hat

But one that won’t blow off! As unsexy as little dangly cords under your chin are, they might keep your hat on when it counts. Hats are usually lost in that moment when a cheetah’s been spotted miles away and your guide has to MOVE!

A Buff

Why not try a Buff rather than a hat? I keep one with me on game drives because the thing can act as a hat or a headband or a hair tie, keeping the elements (and my wild hair) out of my face. On dusty days a Buff can be pulled over your mouth and nose. They’re pretty kick-ass and can make your safari way more comfortable.

Wet Wipes

I carry wet wipes with me on every safari. They’re great for cleansing away the dirt and sunscreen before a sundowner. That little ritual has actually become one of my favourite moments on any game drive. Bliss.

Kikoi

Kikois are awesome and a safari essential as far as I’m concerned. They work as a blanket, a coverup, a sunshade, a scarf, a headscarf, a camera cover, a camera stabilizer, a towel or a jacket or anything else. These cute and colorful Kenyan cloths are really useful on a game drive.

Emergency Medication

You don’t need to bring along a whole First Aid kit because every safari vehicle should have one. You’re already more than covered on the gauze and BandAid front. What you do need to bring are a few meds or girly hygiene essentials you could see yourself using in an emergency. Your guide isn’t allowed to give you medication and this includes Imodium, painkillers, rehydration salts or motion sickness pills. I like to prepare for anything that could strike me quickly out of nowhere on a game drive. It all fits into a small pouch (see the cute one below) and gives me peace of mind. Also, if you have any existing medications, bring these along for emergencies and make sure your guide or traveling buddy is aware of them and how they work.

Lip Balm

Safaris kill lips! I’ve found that normal Chapstick or LipIce tubes don’t cut it out here and I need Vaseline or Carmex to keep my lips from cracking. I usually end up using lip balm several times on a game drive.

Sunscreen

But not a huge bottle. You should always be applying sunscreen before the game drive to let it soak in and you should top up every hour at least. The sun here is brutal. I carry a small stick of sunscreen to apply to my face if I can feel the sun is still getting to me.

Reference Books or an iPad

This one is optional because your guide will have reference books about birds and mammals and reptiles and all sorts of fun things, that they’ll be happy to share. But I’ve found that a lot of safari guests like to follow along with their own bird books or mammal apps. It’s a great way to get interactive with the environment and it really impressed me when I see someone has taken the initiative to bring a guide book or two.

Notebook and Pen

This one always makes me happy. Recently I’ve been noticing how many safari guests are bringing along a notebook to jot down some of the facts I’m giving, or note which animals they’re seeing. I love this! A small notebook and pen takes up almost no space, so you might as well. Also, bring along an animal checklist if your lodge has supplied one. They’re good fun!

And finally…

A Nice Bag To Stick It All In

The bag shouldn’t be too big, especially if you’re on a busy vehicle. As long as it fits the essentials, it should be fine. I love my big Longchamp tote because it holds everything and it’s waterproof and can be wiped down easily when it gets dusty. Lots of my female safari guests have discovered the same and bring tote bags. A great man-bag or backpack is equally awesome. I’ve had people show up with gigantic hiking bags or technical backpacks which just aren’t necessary for a game drive.

What are your game drive essentials? Feel free to let me know if I’ve missed one!

So now that we’ve covered the basics, I think it’s important to talk about the stuff that you DON’T need, to save you from drowning in clutter when you should be enjoying a giraffe.

What not to bring

Bug Spray

This one’s going to be controversial. If you’re worried about malaria, by all means bring the spray to stay safe. Just be aware that aerosols sprayed on a game drive can be potentially harmful to other people on your vehicle and maybe even to wildlife. I recommend spraying before the drive and not on it. Also, the buggies you’re most likely to encounter on a drive are things like flies and mopane bees and other little things that are going to buzz around and land on you whether you’re wearing bug spray or not. I never bring the stuff on a drive. Bushwalks are a different story, as it can sometimes help to deter ticks.

Snacks

Unless your lodge is really stingy, there are snacks on board and there will be a designated snack stop. Snacks usually entail noise and litter as things are unwrapped and fruit cores are thrown out. Some even argue that snacks can attract biting insects or hungry animals. My recommendation is to leave the snacks at the lodge. With all the food you’re fed on safari, you don’t need them! The obvious exception are medical conditions where you might need a snack in a hurry.

Headphones and Music

Ugh. Eye roll. This should really go without saying, but over the years I’ve had numerous safari guests bring headphones and music along on a game drive. It’s distracting for other guests and makes you miss out. Thumbs all the way down.

Cellphone

Just about everyone brings their cellphone on a game drive. But why, when a safari is your brief shining chance to escape the cellphone for three hours? Every guide will tell you to switch off the sound or stick your phone on airplane mode for the drive (especially if you want to take photos with it). Occasionally someone slips through the net and I’ll hear, “I can’t hear you, I’m in Africa… in AFRICA on safari… you’re breaking up… WHAT… I can’t hear you because I’M IN AFRICA!” Leave. The phones. Behind. Also, in just the past six months my guests have had 11 iPhones drop from the vehicle during game drives. I’ve found a further two on the roads. Luckily, all have been recovered but not always intact and in a couple of cases it meant missing a rare animal because we had to turn the drive around to ‘track’ phones instead of leopards.

A book to read

Novels are for the poolside, not the Land Rover.

Money/wallet

Leave these behind! There are too many chances for them to fall off the vehicle or go missing on a game drive. On a bushwalk last year I found the tattered remains of a hyena-chewed wallet with wads of cash nearby. Luckily the drivers license was there too and all made it back to the right hands. But the risk is too high. Leave that stuff in the safe.

Leatherman

Seriously, on your game drive, there is never going to be a situation where your Leatherman saves everyone’s lives. You don’t need to bring one. Again, it’s something that could get lost too easily. African soil eats Leathermans like candy.

Flashlight

A flashlight is a burden to carry on game drives and an ethical guide won’t let you use it to light up animals at night anyway.

Your room key

Most lodges have a facility where you can leave keys at reception if you lock your doors while on game drive. Leaving it behind is safer than worrying about losing it on a safari.

And that’s that! Anything you always feel the need to leave behind? I’d love your own experiences and input here. Share them in the comments y’all…

So you’ve made it to the list! Here’s the packing list for a typical safari game drive.

Binoculars

Reusable water bottle

Camera

Sunglasses

Hat

Buff

Wet Wipes

Kikoi

Emergency meds

Lip balm

Sunscreen

Reference books or iPad

Notebook/pen/checklist

And put it all in a bag!

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