You know how it is before any trip, you have no idea what to pack. And I am not talking socks and undies or your swimsuit, but the more out of the ordinary things that’ll make your life easier – aka essential gear for your self-drive safari. When you’re planning on driving yourself through the bush, the desert or to wherever as long as it’s away from civilisation there are a few things you won’t want to miss in your suitcase!
Guide books! What’s any trip without a good guide book really? They will be your everything and go to tool on a day to day basis. Are those lion or leopard droppings? Is that an Impala or Red Lechwe? How old are the rock formations on the right and where is the next campsite? Make sure you have a detailed guide book for the specific country you are in as well as a wildlife guide book including colour pictures and a bird guide (we didn’t think we’d be into that but there are so many beautiful interesting birds in Africa and its really cool to identify them). The ones below were spot on and should cover you together with some local maps that are bought best once there.
Camera + Tripod
I’d like to argue that a safari will be one of your most photogenic holidays ever. You’ll feel like a pro capturing amazing landscapes and stunning animals. To make your photos look pro though you need some equipment. While some might say the longer the lens the better and also the more lenses to swap the better, I think you also have to think practically here. If you don’t love photography more than you do your spouse but are just hoping to get some decent shots home to be proud of, a DSLR, a small tripod and a good zoom lens that goes up to 300mm are perfect (we used an AF-S VR Nikkor 70-300mm lens which gave us plenty of flexibility). That’s what we had and we are pretty darn proud of our snaps!
That you’ll need binoculars is probably no news to you, but they are in this list because: 1. you really shouldn’t forget them and 2. to point out the importance of having a decent pair each. I understand that you don’t want to break the bank buying binoculars, but having them is about as important as having a good camera. They’ll enable you to enjoy the moment! I am not an expert in this field but I found a great guide on what to look for here.
Torch + spare batteries
Can’t emphasize this one enough! That’s the one thing where we went wrong: thinking we could get through an African night with a phone light. Let me tell you it’s not a great feeling when you hear something rustling in the bushes but you have no means to find out what it is. Get a compact but powerful torch with spare batteries or that you can charge from the car.
All-in-one biodegradable soap
So practical! You can use it to wash your dishes, to wash your clothes and to wash yourself, wow I know! Since you’ll do all of that on your safari this is your go-to product. Instead of taking loads of different products, just take one. We used the basic camping product from Decathlon, but there are plenty of good and cheap alternatives to that. Make sure it’s eco-friendly to avoid damaging the nature you’ve traveled so far to see!
Just because they save so much space, they are so light and dry quickly. You’ll live in a 4×4 for a few weeks so you really want to simplify things where you can. That’s really just one of the little things you’ll appreciate that’ll make your life easier…
First aid kit
Better safe than sorry! In any national park you’ll be at best a few hours drive from civilisation so you’ll need to help yourself! Have some bandages, Antidiarrheal medication, antihistamines, antibacterial spray and basic painkillers. Also don’t forget some strong mosquito spray and sun screen, that might reduce the amount of times you need to use your first aid kit.
A warm sweater or fleece and long trousers
Kill two birds with one stone (just please not literally, respect the bush!). It gets quite chilly in the evenings, so you’ll need a long layer to keep warm, but it’ll also give you some extra mosquito protection.
That’ll help you from hanging your laundry, to tying up bin bags or bundling fire wood to securing jerry cans on the roof. I would have never thought we’d use simple DIY string so much, but it comes in handy a lot.
Best case scenario it’ll only function as a bottle opener for your beer when you watch the sunset while having a steak in front of the fire. Realistically though you are in the bush. You might need to tighten screws on your side mirrors or really just repair something at any time.
A journal and pens
A Safari is a total overload of new experiences and impressions. Even if you are usually not into travel journaling this is the trip where you might want to start. You’ll have so many unique experiences and sightings that you probably won’t ever have again – by writing them down you don’t only relive them but also make sure they stay in your memory for longer. I found a particularly nice one here that’ll make writing even more fun!
Ok, I use the term essentials loosely here. BUT we had our most jealous moments on safari, when we saw the couple on the campsite next door power napping in their hammock. We couldn’t believe we’d never thought of that! Every campsites has at least one tree and you have your car, so you can hang(mmock) around pretty much everywhere. Don’t forget you are in the bush though, one of you should stay awake. How about reading up on your viewings from the morning while your partner sleeps?
And tada this is the essential gear for your self-drive safari! Please also don’t forget your sense of adventure, humour and a lot of patience! Equipped with those goodies you’ll conquer the bush like a pro.
Before you leave…
You can read more about Safari in Southern Africa here:
Why we went on a self-drive Safari
15 things to know before going on a self-drive safari in Botswana
Essential Gear for your Self-Drive Safari
Kolmanskop: Namibia’s most deserted ghost town
That one Time on Safari when I got attacked by a Rhino (Part1)
That one Time on Safari when I got attacked by a Rhino (Part2)
30 Photos that will make you want to go to Botswana right now
Photo Diary of a typical day on Safari
25 Photos that will inspire you to visit Namibia
My favourite lodge in Namibia: RiverDance Lodge
Why you should add a visit to a Himba Village to your bucket list