Eight Items to Not Forget Before Going on Safari
by Leon van Wyk
Safaris vary greatly in length, expense and places visited. In the majority of cases, however, a safari is by no means an inexpensive undertaking, and for most people it is something for which they have saved and taken time off. To avoid disappointment, one needs to be properly prepared for a safari. This will greatly increase the chances of deriving maximum enjoyment and benefit from what could be a life-changing experience.
The following list is by no means exhaustive – one can go on and on – but it is hoped that it will make the important planning phase of the safari as smooth and seamless as possible.
(1) Check Passport, Visa and Vaccination Requirements Well in Advance
It goes without saying that the passports of all travelers need to be valid. They must not be about to expire! Some countries require visas, so it is essential to know well in advance whether the countries you are visiting have such requirements. In some cases, visas can be arranged well in advance, and in other cases they can easily be purchased at the immigration stations / border posts. If possible, get the visas in advance! Passports need to have a certain number of blank (unstamped) pages next to each other. We suggest that, to be safe, your passport has at least six (3 back-to-back) such blank pages. Make sure also that you are aware of the vaccination requirements for the countries you are visiting, and if you have been vaccinated, ensure that you have the certificates for these vaccinations among your travel documents.
(2) Check Luggage Weight Restrictions for All Flights
International flights on large, commercial airliners are usually fairly generous with the amount of luggage that passengers may carry. Even if the weight is exceeded, it is usually still possible to pay a fee to be allowed the excess baggage. Chances are, however, that in getting to final safari destinations, there will be flights on light aircraft, where in some cases it is more important to carry a lighter load of luggage. Be aware of the restrictions for all the flights, so that you can plan accordingly. Sometimes airport hotels or other stopovers offer luggage storage facilities. There may be a need, in some instances, to arrange for extra luggage to be road transferred to certain destinations.
(3) Do Some Research on the Places to be Visited
Use the Internet or any other literary sources to read up as much as possible about the places you are going to visit. This will help build up in your mind what you might expect to see and do and can certainly help you plan accordingly. I cannot over-emphasize the importance of the planning phase of a trip. Looking forward with eager anticipation to what lies ahead is fun, and it lengthens the overall enjoyment of the safari!
(4) Medication Requirements
Depending where you might be travelling through Africa, you may require certain vaccinations like Hepatitis A or Yellow fever. Make sure to double check which ones you may require as you could be denied access into the country without the relevant jabs. It is strongly recommended that you plan properly for your medical requirements for your safari, and take with you sufficient quantities of all chronic medication as well as non-prescription drugs that might come in useful for any of the common ailments that might befall any of the travelling party. Common aliments are stomach issues often caused by malaria medication or from an overload of delicious food, and an antihistamine cream for insect bites to name a few. Most lodges and camps do have First Aid kits, but it is often easier and less frustrating to have your own supply of appropriate medicines. It is always better to be over than under prepared.
(5) Camera Gear and Binoculars
Different safari-goers have vastly different requirements in terms of photography. Some are content to take photographs and video clips using their cell phones (and with the advancement in technology, very pleasing results can be achieved), while others carry so much photographic gear that it outweighs the rest of their luggage! Know your anticipated level of photography, and plan accordingly. If you are purchasing new equipment for the safari, it is well worth putting in the effort to get to know your equipment before you travel. Large lenses can certainly be desirable, and there is no substitute for good quality glass, but for some people a simple bridge camera with a good zoom is more than adequate. A good zoom or telephoto lens is usually a great asset on safari. If weight restrictions are an issue, bear in mind that some lodges and camps can arrange for the hire of photographic equipment. Find out about this in advance, and if you are interested, it is usually worth booking early to avoid disappointment. A really good pair of binoculars makes a huge difference to your viewing pleasure, and the best advice here might be to take the very best you can. A good pair of binoculars, such as 10 x 42 in one of the top brands, is something you could treasure for the rest of your life. Again, lodges and camps often do have binoculars available for guest use on safari, but in most cases, these might not be of the highest quality and may have seen a good deal of wear and tear.
(6) Clothing and Footwear
No matter where you are going, and what time of year it is, be prepared for unseasonal weather! On the back of an open Land Rover, the temperature can change quite dramatically in the space of a couple of hours. Always pack something warm. Since weight is an issue, and since a safari is not a fashion parade, it is not necessary or desirable to take vast quantities of similar garments. Layers work well. One good heavy jacket or coat is suggested, as well as a couple of fleeces or light jerseys. Usually it is best to have relatively neutral-coloured, non-flashy clothing. Beanies and gloves are good in winter. Hats or caps are always recommended, but they are usually also obtainable at most camps. Sunglasses are important, and it is suggested that you pack a spare pair.
Give good thought to the footwear you plan to take on safari. Comfort and practicality are more important than fashion. If it is likely that you are going to be doing a fair amount of walking, comfortable walking shoes are essential. It is not always necessary to have expensive hiking boots, as sneakers can be suitable for moderate levels of walking. Think about it carefully, consider the expected weather conditions and activity levels, where you might be walking, and make your choices accordingly.
It is worth mentioning that most camps / lodges you are likely to visit offer a 24-hour laundry service. Knowing this, one can greatly reduce the quantity of clothing to be packed.
(7) Money Matters
A safari can be expensive, and in most cases will be paid for up-front. There will, however, invariably be extra costs along the way, whether for purchases from local curio shops, gratuities for guiding and camp staff or a host of other possibilities. It is worth finding out what currencies are accepted in the countries you are visiting, and if necessary, availing yourself of sufficient cash in the appropriate currency. Foreign currencies might be welcomed in some African countries, but it is good to be prepared, whether with sufficient cash or credit card. Avoid embarrassment by having this aspect covered in advance.
(8) Contact Details for Emergencies
In most cases, when you are travelling for any length of time, there will be somebody “back home” who will be your contact person keeping an eye on things, whether at home or at work. Don’t forget to give this person details of your travel itinerary, so that he / she knows where you are at any particular date during your trip. Contact details of destinations should be given, particularly if you are likely to be unreachable on your cell phone or by e-mail for any length of time. Admittedly, with advancing technology, more and more places have Wi-Fi and cell phone signal, but there might be times when you are out of range. You do want to enjoy your safari, and might not want to be contacted daily, but do let the people back home know how to contact you in the case of emergency.
As mentioned, this list of hints is by no means exhaustive, but it is hoped that it will be of some benefit in the weeks and months of planning that precede your safari. Enjoy!