How Not to Pack for Southern Africa. Why do I keep getting it wrong?

Ella at Ant's Nest Safari Lodge in South Africa

I've been to Africa 3 times now and somehow I've never quite mastered packing for this wonderful continent. It's a lot harder than you think to get it right! So, I've compiled this helpful article of do's and don't's of packing to help you not fall into the traps that I did. I hope you enjoy, maybe laugh a little and ultimately come away feeling ready to conquer Africa in style!


Right, so when I first went to Africa I totally freaked out. I was going to be wild camping in Zambia and I hadn't the foggiest of what to wear. Researching Africa is quite scary. There's bugs, snakes, more bugs and more bugs! Plus, you don't want to offend the locals. You could say I went a bit overboard. I packed 2 sleeved shirts with mosquito repellent built in (I know right, sexy sexy!), 2 pairs of long trousers and a pair of very long unflattering shorts. The only remotely trendy thing I bought was my pair of converse, oh, and my pyjamas! My sunglasses were pretty cool too.

When I arrived, I felt so embarrassed. Everyone was wearing normal denim shorts and nice T-shirts or sleeveless tops and there I was dressed in long baggy shorts and a mosquito repellent shirt. I actually rolled my shorts up as high as they would go and wore my pyjama tops in the day.

The next issue was the temperature. I went away in June which is winter in Southern Africa. In the day it's hot but in the night it is absolutely freezing. I kid you not, you could turn into a block of ice. I was totally unprepared to find myself in these Antarctic temperatures. I slept fully clothed with as much layers as possible, huddled in my sleeping bag. It was not pleasant.

The next time I went to Africa, I vowed, I would be more prepared!

Yeah, if only it went as smoothly as I thought it would. The following year I went to Namibia, volunteering at a wildlife sanctuary. We were more around people as many locals worked at the sanctuary. I felt really cool, arriving with several pairs of shorts, many fashionable T-shirts and crop tops, one pair of leggings that I travelled in, 1 pair of jogging bottoms and 2 hoodies.

Let's just say I went too far the other way. One day, I was wearing a sleeveless top which showed a little bit of my bra on both sides and I got told in their words to "Change into a proper top." I had never thought the top was that revealing until that moment and suddenly I felt utterly embarrassed.

That wasn't all I got in trouble for. Although this was never mentioned to me directly, there was another girl who wore shorts that were similar to mine and she got told it was completely unacceptable to wear shorts like that because (again in their own words; please excuse the swearing) "the workers will want to fuck you!" I know you must be imagining the most skimpy shorts ever but they weren't too bad - not the kind that went up your bum! After that, I made sure to wear my longest pair of shorts (though no where near as long as the shorts I bought with me to Zambia) and to wear full-length T-shirts.

Ella trying a Tranquilliser Gun Naankuse Wildlife Sanctuary Namibia
Ella with Baboons at Naankuse Wildlife Sanctuary Namibia

That wasn't the only clothing booboo that I made when I went to Namibia. I seemed to have forgotten just how cold it could be at night and even in the mornings, up to around 10am. My one pair of jogging pants and 2 hoodies were practically glued to me. I really should have brought more variety, especially considering I was there for 2 weeks.

A side note but if you plan on looking after an orphaned baboon for the night, you need a zip-up hoody and I unfortunately didn't have one. I had to purchase one whilst I was there.

For my third trip to Africa, I was in South Africa on a riding holiday. I must admit, I mostly got it right. I was once again let down by not having enough warm clothes. It seems every time I visit Africa, I forget how cold it is in the night. Not gonna lie, even now, I'm questioning how cold it really was. No, it was cold!

I think to summarise, if you want to visit Africa, bring clothes which you feel comfortable wearing. You don't have to dress like you don't have a dress-sense. Shorts and T-shirts are absolutely acceptable. You just need to make sure that your T-shirts cover your stomach and bra and that your shorts cover your bum and preferably the top of your thighs. I'd strongly recommend bringing comfortable footwear that you can hike in if necessary and that you don't mind getting mucky. For lounging around, flip-flops and sandals are fine. Don't forget to wrap up warm for the evenings and mornings. Oh and don't forget your sunglasses!

Here's me dressed ready for Africa!

Ella at Ant's Nest Safari Lodge in South Africa

T-shirt and shorts are perfect for the hot days!

Ella at Ant's Nest Safari Lodge in South Africa
Ella at Ant's Nest Safari Lodge in South Africa

In the mornings and evenings, it's bets to wrap up warm!

Ella with Cheetah at Naankuse Wildlife Sanctuary Namibia

Camera Gear

This is something else which I struggle to get right. When I first visited Africa I brought my iPhone, a point and shoot camera and an entry-level DSLR. Unfortunately, I dropped my small camera in a puddle at the bottom of my canoe which killed it and realised that the DSLR was out of battery and it didn't have a charger. I was left with my iPhone that took awful photos.

The next time I went to Africa, I took my phone again but also brought a new DSLR camera with a fully-charged battery and charger in case it was necessary. This was a much better setup than last time but I felt rather limited by my 15-50mm lens, especially when on safari.

For my third trip, I bought a 70-300mm lens which was perfect. I also brought a GoPro with my so I could film whilst out and about.

So my recommendations would be to bring a DSLR camera, fully-charged and with its charger. Always clear your memory card before any holiday so that you have enough space to take pictures-galore! I strongly recommend a long-distance lens for safaris, otherwise you can barely see the animals in pictures. I use a 70-300mm and love it! Another must is bringing a spare camera - your phone will do. If anything happened to your main camera, you will want a back-up.


I hope you enjoyed reading about my terrible experiences with packing for Africa. Hopefully my embarrassing stories will save you the embarrassment of getting it wrong. Have you ever been to Southern Africa? What clothes and equipment do you bring?

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