Preparing for an African Safari

Cub with full grown male lion

Lions. Cub checks out dad. Photograph, Krylov1991 – iStock Photos.

We’re going to Zambia on safari!¬†

It’s such a huge bucket list trip for me that I don’t know how to express what a big deal this is. I’m still pinching myself.

Ten years ago, a dear colleague who taught at my college talked about his trips to Africa with his wife. They’ve been so many times now, they’ve lost count. Bob told me — when you’re able to go on safari, we’d say, take Robin Pope.

Zebra sighting. Walking in the bush in Zambia.

Zebra sighting. Walking in the bush in Zambia. Photograph courtesy of Robin Pope Safaris.

Robin Pope grew up in Zambia in the 1960’s. He began doing safari work in 1975, and ten years later, launched his own business, Robin Pope Safaris with his first camp at Tena Tena. In 1991 Robin Pope began offering walking safaris — the very first of their kind in Africa. Today, the company has ten different camps and lodges they either own or use to put together a variety of safari options tailored to their guests’ interests.

I signed up for the Robin Pope Safari (RPS) newsletter, never thinking we could really be able to do a trip to Africa. Every week, the “It’s Monday” newsletter came in. Some weeks I had the time to read it, and I would daydream about what they were doing. It’s one of the happiest things that arrives in my email inbox each week.

Last fall, my sister Carolyn and I started talking about doing a safari trip in Africa. We both did research, looking at many companies, and finally decided we liked Robin Pope best for us. Deciding factors for choosing Robin Pope Safaris: very small safari groups, great reviews, beautiful camps and lodges, variety of itineraries offered, and of course, the advice from my friends Bob and Andrea.

Overview video of Robin Pope Safaris:

I was very interested in Robin Pope’s walking safaris, but since my daughter Catherine is only eighteen, we could not do a complete mobile walking safari (must be 21 years old). We could, however, do a three day bush camping experience in the Luangwa area as part of our trip. Catherine is a girlie girl– I look forward to seeing how this goes! ūüôā

Room at the Tena Tena camp of Robin Pope Safaris.

Room at the Tena Tena camp of Robin Pope Safaris. Photograph courtesy of Robin Pope.

Luangwa River Bush Camp with Robin Pope Safaris.

Bush camping with Robin Pope along the Luangwa River. Photograph courtesy of Robin Pope.

We’ll be on safari for 12 days in Zambia, with three nights each at the RPS permanent camps: Tena Tena, Luwangwa River Camp, and Nsefu — all very luxurious and comfortable. I am perhaps most excited about the three nights we’ll out doing mobile bush camping. I can hardly wait!

Videos from Robin Pope Safaris on their camp at Tena Tena and mobile bush camping:

Health Concerns, Travel Insurance, and Medical Evacuation Insurance for Africa

Health and safety while traveling abroad need to be, must be, high our priority list.

Before choosing our African safari, we visited the U.S. Department of State to review current information on the countries we were considering. Look up the country you are considering on the government website, and the State Department lists all requirements for entry (visas) and exit, current health information and suggested vaccinations, and any security concerns. Visit the State Department website for information on any country you might visit.

To get vaccinations, consult your own physician first –It’s imperative to know whether you have other health issues you need to discuss before getting vaccinations. If your doctor does not do this kind of vaccination work, he or she may recommend where you should go.

Live oral Typhoid vaccine. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

Live oral Typhoid vaccine. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

I used¬†Passport Health¬†that has locations around the United States. Downside to using Passport Health: to use your health insurance, you will have to put in the claim yourself afterwards — ¬†Passport Health will not do this. You will pay them upfront, and vaccinations are expensive. My sister, who lives in Austin Texas, found that Austin Regional Clinic has a travel medical RN on staff, and they do take insurance. It’s worth doing some internet homework to see what your local options are.

Catherine gets a shot

Catherine takes her medicine :). While shots aren’t fun, vaccinations for travel in Africa are crucial.

Update: My daughter Catherine and I visited Passport Health yesterday. With her vaccination records, the only shot she needed was Tetanus. Medication for Malaria is oral; I pick that up at the pharmacy tomorrow. We opted for the oral version of the Typhoid vaccine because it will remain effective for up to five years, while the shot only lasts two years.

I was the unlucky one ūüė¶ — I needed three shots: Tetanus, an update for measles/mumps/rubella, and Hepatitis A. Today, I feel like a mule kicked my left arm!

Other questions to consider: Do you have medication that has to be kept cool?

My sister does — an injectable medicine. Although it can be unrefrigerated for several days, we couldn’t go two weeks.¬†We contacted Robin Pope Safaris on this question, and they have refrigeration and ice everywhere we will stay. Talk to your safari company ahead if this is a concern for you. ¬†*** Update: Robin Pope Safaris were great about providing space in the refrigerator in the permanent camps, and an ice chest when we were doing full-on bush camping. Very easy, and Carolyn had no problems. One note: if you use syringes, either bring a sharps container to dispose of the needles with the camp staff before you fly home, or bring the needles back out with you.

The next question: what if you become ill just before or during your safari?

Perhaps the single most important purchase you’ll make prior to any trip is your insurance purchase. I think reading through the page from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) may be one of the most important three minutes of time you can take before traveling abroad anywhere:¬†Travel Insurance, Travel Health Insurance, & Medical Evacuation Insurance.

Travel insurance is ALWAYS an important consideration when you’re taking a trip, particularly an expensive one. You just don’t know whether something beyond your control will occur that will prevent you from taking the trip.

I’ve¬†purchased trip insurance directly from both¬†Allianz Global Assistance¬†and¬†Berkshire Hathaway¬†in years past. Both have great reputations, and each company’s website makes it super-easy to get an immediate quote. ¬†Like always, do your homework, read reviews, but these are two good companies as a starting point. When you’re doing research for your safari, be sure to get insurance quotes from a couple of companies because this is definitely part of your trip cost, and you want to be aware of it upfront.

We also bought air medical transport insurance through MedJet Assist. If something happens while you’re abroad and you are hospitalized, they will¬†arrange medical transport for you to get you to your home hospital. There are different purchase options — you can buy it for a single trip, or enroll in an annual membership program, which is what I did since I travel often. There are many medical evacuation insurance options out there to review and consider. Others possibilities to review: Allianz Medevac, IMG Sky Rescue, Frontier MedEx, and American Express.

Because American insurance companies rarely cover treatment in hospitals outside the US, patients may have to pay thousands of dollars upfront before getting treatment. Medical travel insurance isn’t that expensive, and it’s such a risk to travel without it.

From the CDC:

“Although travel health insurance will cover some health care costs abroad, the quality of care may be inadequate, and medical evacuation from a resource-poor area to a hospital where definitive care can be obtained may be necessary. The cost of evacuation can exceed $100,000. In such cases, medical evacuation insurance would cover the cost of transportation to a facility where adequate care can be provided. Medical evacuation companies may have better resources and experience in some parts of the world than others; travelers may want to ask about a company‚Äôs resources in a given area, especially if planning a trip to remote destinations. The traveler should scrutinize all policies before purchase, looking for those that provide the following:

  • Arrangements with hospitals to guarantee payments directly
  • Assistance via a 24-hour physician-backed support center (critical for medical evacuation insurance)
  • Emergency medical transport to facilities that are equivalent to those in the home country or to the home country itself (repatriation)
  • Any specific medical services that may apply to their circumstances, such as coverage of high-risk activities

Even if an insurance provider is selected carefully, travelers should be aware that unexpected delays in care may still arise, especially in remote destinations. In special circumstances, travelers may be advised to postpone or cancel international trips if the health risks are too¬†high.” — From the CDC website, article by Rhett Stoney

If you have pre-existing conditions will you be covered by trip insurance? This information from Allianz on this question is typical, but you want to read and understand this issue with each insurance company you consider.

Elephant sighting in the Luangwa River preserve.

Elephant sighting in the Luangwa River preserve. Photograph courtesy of Robin Pope Safaris.

Packing for an African Safari

Now the trip is imminent and we’re working on packing.

Packing for a safari in Africa brings a whole new meaning to concept of traveling light. How heavy I pack varies widely depending on the trip. When I camp, things are pretty simple. When I go to Europe, I never manage to pack quite as light as Rick Steves recommends — I mean, I’m a woman. I like clothes and shoes.

My family is launching off on the biggest trip, in terms of distance to travel, that we’ve ever made. And we will carry less clothing and stuff than we ever have in the past.

Pelican hard case 1560LFC for camera and laptop. I considered this — great case, but simply won’t work on the safari I’m going on. Pelican 1560LFC Laptop Case With Foam

To complicate things further, the US has banned laptops, tablets, and camera equipment¬†in carry-on luggage coming from Turkey and some middle eastern countries. This happened months after we booked our air. We are flying Emirates business class through Dubai, something we are very excited about doing, but it means that ¬†I’ll have to check my camera gear and laptop on the flight home.

Pelican cases for laptops, cameras and video equipment have a great reputation (Pelican 1560LFC Laptop Case With Foam), but won’t meet the requirements for the Proflight¬†Zambia flight¬†we’ll take from Lusaka to Mfuwe. I may invest in a Pelican case soon though, because I expect to see similar bans on laptops and camera gear coming for all overseas flights in the near future.

Luggage must be soft sided. Duffel type bags recommended.

  • Checked luggage limit: 15kgs (33 lbs.)
    • Total dimensions of luggage may not exceed 157 cms. (61 inches) Add the length, width and height of your luggage to obtain its total dimensions.
  • Carryon 5 kgs (11 lbs)
  • Proflight Zambia will allow passengers to share weight allowances (which means between my sister, myself, and my daughter, we’ll share 45kgs for checked bags and 15 kgs of hand luggage. This will help with our camera gear. Check to see whether your flight company allows this).

Camera crews that come into Africa often buy extra seats on the airline to accommodate additional heavy luggage.

Tenba Shootout 24L backpack. Capacity: 1-2 DSLRs with 4-6 lenses, plus flash and accessories.

I’ve opted for¬†a Tenba 24L backpack for my DSLR. It will come with me on the airline on the way there, and travel back as checked baggage. I’ve owned a Tenba messenger bag for my camera for over two years now. It’s rock solid and looks as good as it did when I bought it. You’ve gotta love bags like that. ** — I’ll report back after the trip on whether is was successful. Update: This worked perfectly! I checked it on Emirates for the flight back to the United States, and all of my camera gear arrived home with no problems.

My daughter and I are each bringing a Patagonia 60L Black Hole Duffel. I’ve had the smaller 45L version for awhile, and love how tough and protective it is, while being very lightweight. Here are a variety of duffels to consider, some with wheels, from Patagonia, The North Face, High Sierra, and Eagle Creek, that might work on your African safari.

Patagonia Black Hole Duffel bags in the 60L size.

Patagonia Black Hole Duffel bags in the 60L size. 15-oz 900-denier 100% polyester ripstop (50% solution-dyed) with a TPU-film laminate and a DWR (durable water repellent) finish. Bluesign approved.

Original packing list, per person: Updated July 11, 2017: Revised packing list, post-trip
  • 3 sets bush colored safari outfits: shirt + pants (or shorts)
  • 2 sets evening camp clothes: long sleeved shirt + pants (1 set worn on plane)
  • 7 pair undies
  • 2 bras (1 worn) — we did sports bras
  • 4 pair socks
  • 2 sleep shirts
  • 2 pairs shoes (one worn)
  • small flashlight
  • sunscreen
  • bug repellent
  • extra pair of vision glasses
  • broad brimmed hat
  • sunglasses
  • Jacket (carried on flight)
  • toiletries and makeup
  • medications
  • copy of passport
  • copies of travel insurance
  • binoculars
  • Small daypack (we used REI Flashpacks 18L and 22 L that squash down to nothing)
  • 4 sets bush colored safari outfits: shirt + pants (or shorts)
  • 1 sets evening camp clothes: long sleeved shirt + pants (1 set worn on plane) *** No one “dressed up” for dinner in our camps, they simply donned clean clothes post shower. Review your itinerary. If you are going to Livingstone, you might want something dressier. Check with your safari company.
  • 7 pair undies — you will need to wash your own underwear
  • 3 sports bras (1 worn) — you will need to wash your bras, which take longer than undies to dry.
  • 5 pair socks
  • 2 sleep shirts
  • 2 pairs shoes – hiking boots and tennis shoes (one worn)
  • small flashlight
  • sunscreen
  • bug repellent
  • extra pair of vision glasses
  • broad brimmed hat
  • 2 pair sunglasses
  • Jacket (carried on flight)
  • toiletries and makeup
  • medications
  • copy of passport
  • copies of travel insurance
  • binoculars
  • pair of sandals or flip-flops
  • Small daypack (we used REI Flashpacks 18L and 22 L that squash down to nothing — these were perfect, both on our walking safari days, and for game drives)

Colors to avoid: black and blue colors attract Tse Tse flies. Do not wear any camouflage — only the military wears this. White — not a great idea; it gets dirty easily, stands out in the bush, and may attract mosquitoes. No bright colors OR light colors for bush walking — it’s best not to stand out if you’re looking for animals. White and cream stick out like sore thumbs in the bush, and should be avoided. Stay with khakis, natural greens like olive, and sand colors. Bring flat, comfortable walking shoes. Hiking boots are not necessary on drive-only safaris, but if you are doing ANY walking, you should have hiking boots that protect your ankles from often severely uneven terrain. Additionally, if you are in parts of Africa with thorn trees, those thorns can easily puncture the sole of regular tennis shoes. Seek advice from your tour operator for specific guidelines.

Most safari companies will not wash underwear, so be prepared to wash it yourself.

Never used packing cubes? This video on eBags Ultralight cubes shows why this packing strategy works so well.

Never used packing cubes? This video on eBags Ultralight cubes shows why this packing strategy works so well.

I have used packing cubes to organize my luggage for years. It makes SO much difference whenever I’m looking for something — particularly in a duffel, where otherwise your clothes and toiletries quickly become a jumbled mess. Since weight is a major consideration, a bought a set of the ultra lightweight eBags cubes — that way I am still organized, but I know the cubes haven’t taken much of my weight allotment. Update: These Ultralight cubes were perfect! During our bush camping, they moved camp every night, which meant we had to be packed every morning VERY early. The cubes made it a snap to put things back together quickly.

Obviously, it is extremely important that you really know how much your luggage weighs. This is not something you want to guess at — the “gee, it seems light enough” gage is not good enough. If you do not own a luggage scale, get one. They aren’t expensive, and it just makes so much sense. Luggage scales by eBags, Travelon, Lewis N. Clark, Victorinox, and others.

We’ve practiced packing, and we are as prepared as we can be. I’ll update this article upon return from Zambia with lessons learned.

Silhouette of giraffe on the savannah at sunset

Photograph, Kanoke_46, iStock Photos.

*** I have affiliate marketing relationships with eBags, Amazon, and Allianz¬†but this will never affect my reviews of products. If it’s a mediocre or shabby product, I’m going to tell it like it is. If you buy a product or service by clicking on an affiliate link, I will get a small commission, at no extra cost to you, my reader. This helps support the writing and photography work I do. Many thanks!

 


29 Comments on Preparing for an African Safari

  1. Good for sharing!.love those photos:-)

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Good info. We are leaving for 5 weeks through Africa on two safaris in a few days and like all tips available.

    Like

    • So happy to hear it — and I’m sure you’ll have an amazing time. Send me a message when you’re back — I look forward to hearing about your trip. My biggest thing on the bush, is that if you’re walking, pick colors as much drab olive, brown, sand, any shade of dirt possible. You don’t want to stand out from the landscape in any way.

      Like

  3. Viva Safaris // July 18, 2017 at 3:22 pm // Reply

    Such a fantastic experience – enjoy!

    Like

  4. Eat Well Explore Often // June 12, 2017 at 8:34 am // Reply

    What a great comprehensive guide on what you need for a safari! Its still on my bucketlist so I’ll have to keep all these things in mind when I end up going. Have a wonderful trip!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. So happy for you and you’re so prepared! If we ever go to to a safari, we will do luxury lodging as well! Good that you check if there’s fridge to keep medication cool – my husband has medication to be kept cool as well and that’s always something we need to keep in mind when flying and visiting foreign countries. Also, I didn’t know that that black and blue colored shirts are to be avoided!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, we’ve learned a lot getting ready for this trip. We’re looking forward to all of it — and will let you know what we think of RPS (Robin Pope Safaris).

      The color of clothing obviously makes a big difference — one reader below didn’t know about blue and black, and took those color clothes on a trip to South America — and they were mosquito magnets . . .

      Like

  6. Thanks for a very solid consideration list. For us, our hep sequence took three shots, and you need to have the first two for protection. If you are unsure about the effectiveness of a previous sequence, they will want to run a tarter check, which will increase the required lead time for your shots.

    We are also a big fan of technical underwear. They are much easier to sink wash while on travel. There are even brands out there that claim two weeks solid wear without washing based on their advanced anti bacterial, anti microbial properties. For us, this just means the sink washing will be more effective.

    We can’t wait to hear how this trip turns out. It sounds magical.

    Liked by 1 person

    • On the Hep A vaccine, I will have to have a booster, but not for 6 months, and I’m good to travel now. It is a good thing to keep in mind though, depending on where you’re going, that the vaccines may have to be given over time. Smart to find out before booking a trip.

      Technical underwear, eh? I’ve considered getting some, since we will be washing ours ourselves.

      Will report back on the trip and the Robin Pope Safari outfit!

      Like

  7. This sounds so exciting. Have fun and take loads of photographs. Look forward to reading your post after the safari.

    Like

    • I have to back for a second Hepatitis booster, about six months from now. Good thought about the tech undies — we are planning to wash them ourselves.

      I’ll report back when we’re home :-).

      Like

  8. So exciting! Can’t wait to see pictures and hear how it goes. I love all this practical planning info – super helpful!

    Like

  9. This is so exciting! Have fun in Zambia! African safari is on my bucket list and I can’t wait to read your post on it after you return from your trip.

    Like

  10. Very useful information. I wish I’d had something like this before I went to the Amazon rainforest — where we quickly learned that mosquitoes are drawn to black and blue, too. But it was too late. Good to know about wearing camouflage, too!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I didn’t realize how much blue clothing I had until I started pulling things out for this trip. ūüė¶ I didn’t realize those colors were such bug magnets until I began reading. How was your trip to the Amazon?

      Like

  11. jenruizwriter // June 5, 2017 at 11:44 am // Reply

    Interesting that they have that age restriction, I wonder why. And you were so prepared health-wise! I’m with you in that Africa seems like a far off dream, would love to go one day!

    Liked by 1 person

  12. mycountryepoque // June 3, 2017 at 6:11 pm // Reply

    Tempting and exciting. I hope you will all have a wonderful holiday. Zambia is one of the most beautiful country in Africa. Have fun!

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Both Zambia and Botswana are amazing. I went last fall and did a 7-part write up in my blog (that’s how much I loved it). There are so many different and amazing animals to see, so my recommendation is to be sure to tell your guide what animals you are most interested in, and the guides are usually very happy to focus on those animals. For me it was big cats and we saw many.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. This should be an exciting trip. Have fun and take lots of pictures.

    Like

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  1. Our African Safari in Zambia – Ann Cavitt Fisher

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