Packing for an African self-drive safari can be daunting and intimidating. Tourism Update has simplified this task by finding out what to bring (and what to leave at home).


There are many benefits to self-drive, including complete freedom and flexibility of movement. Often, however, travellers making their way on their own over-pack, concerned they might be caught off guard without an essential item or a guide to rescue the situation.

Not necessary, says Tim Bouwers, Managing Director of Bobo Campers. His advice is to always pack as light as possible – not only because most self-drive safaris limit one to a motorhome, SUV or 4x4 vehicle during the trip, but it is also important in getting to Africa. “Different airlines have different weight allowances,” he says. “Extra weight is heavily penalised.”

This is especially true for the small aircraft used in Africa to get to the more remote destinations from where some self-drive safaris kick off. Passengers are often limited to as little as only 10kg to 15kg per person, including camera gear. Added to that, storage in a motorhome, and especially a 4x4, is marginal, and it becomes essential to only take what is required, says Bouwers.

“Keep in mind that there are plenty of laundromats where clothes can be washed, while all hotels have laundry services. Rather take a day in the middle of a trip to have laundry washed at a laundry or hotel,” he says.

Tracy Payne of Go2Africa says soft luggage is also advised. “Bags that are soft can fit into small holds more readily, and are easier to manage compared with the hard-shell suitcases that can sometimes not be accommodated.”

“Soft bags or foldable suitcases can be stowed away easily in the vehicle,” says Bouwers. “If you are travelling with a hard-cover case with wheels, it is always best to enquire from the rental company if you can leave the suitcase there until your return.” He says often the depot from where a self-drive safari departs will keep suitcases in storage on condition that the vehicle returns to the same depot.

According to Christiaan Steyn, Marketing Manager for Drifters Adventours, a division of Tourvest, soft bags or back packs are a must for travellers. “For each tour, we provide clients with a general packing list that reminds them to bring basics like closed shoes, water bottles and a hat.”


Comfortable clothes in neutral colours and natural fibres are best for safaris, says Payne. “Many people think Africa is always hot, but some areas can be cold at night and in the morning, so it is recommended to include a fleece or jacket.”

More important, says Steyn, is to consider the time of travel. “When going on tour in winter you need to bring warm clothes, especially for the evenings. It can get cold in places like the desert and guests need to be prepared.” This includes bringing beanies, scarves and gloves.

Don’t bring too many clothes – a couple of shirts, shorts and some long trousers should suffice. Pack a bathing costume if you are going to have access to swimming facilities. Flip-flops are always a good travelling essential and if hikes or walks are on the cards, then a pair of well-worn walking shoes and good socks will suffice for most leisure walks.

Sunscreen and a hat are non-negotiables, says Payne. “Items such as high heels, perfumes and hairdryers are not essential and can be left at home. Also, many lodges’ power supplies cannot handle hairdryers and other hair-styling tools.”

Bouwer says a good rule of thumb is to leave behind anything that requires hanging up in cupboards, like a suit. “Buy items like toothpaste, shaving creams, sunblock and deodorants at your destination. Sunglasses are also a good thing to pack.

Miscellaneous items

Leave your camping gear at home, says Bouwer. “It is all provided for and there is no need to bring a host of camping stuff.” Items such as GPS units and children’s car seats can also be left at home as they are all available through the vehicle rental companies.

“Don’t carry too much cash, and certainly do not show your bulging wallet at markets or populated areas,” says Bouwers. “Credit cards are accepted just about everywhere and can be used to draw money locally if necessary. If you do use a credit card, keep it in sight when handing over.”

Other items to remember are the usual tourist items like cameras, travel documents and possibly an iPad for the itinerary and searching for things to do. A smartphone will also do.

When travelling, always make sure you know which regions you are going to and what the medical requirements are, says Barba Gaoganediwe, Head of Destination Promotions and Marketing for the Gauteng Tourism Authority. While much of South Africa is malaria free, there are malaria-prone areas, and it is advised to always consult a doctor or a travel clinic about the most suitable malaria prophylactic.

Also, wear long-sleeved tops and trousers at night when mosquitoes are more active, says Payne. “Some research shows they may be attracted to darker colours, so stick to neutrals like green, grey, brown and khaki, and use eco-friendly repellent.”

One should also be extra careful when travelling with babies or young children, says Bouwers. Sometimes the doctor will advise against taking babies into these areas and it is best to check before making the trip.” Mosquito repellent can be purchased locally, along with a citronella candle or two. Travellers should ensure they notify their medical aids if they will be travelling to malarial areas, says Bouwers.

According to Gaoganediwe, travel clinics can be found across South Africa should a traveller be in any doubt about an area or region they will be going to. “A basic first aid kit for your vehicle will suffice,” he says.

Other items to be sure to bring include any prescription medication. “Prescriptions can be filled at pharmacies across South Africa,” says Gaoganediwe. A multi-plug adaptor, a headlamp (as many tents can be quite dark) and a refillable water bottle should also be packed.