What to Wear Out There: Safari Packing Tips from the Expert

By Leslie Woit January 16, 2015

A member of the Micato founding family, Joy Phelan-Pinto wears many hats: chief creative officer, style czar, and packing expert, having been to more than 123 countries throughout her career. We recently sat down with Joy to pick her brain about the Three Cs of Safari Style – comfortable, casual, colour sensitive — and other tips for packing like an expert for an African safari.

I’m ready to pack. Where do I begin?

The hardest part is not to over pack. The tendency to over pack stems from thinking you’re going to be changing your clothes more than you are. Often on safari you’re too busy, you’re getting back late from the afternoon drive, or you don’t want — or need! — to change for dinner.

You’ve been known to encourage a policy of “light luggage, light heart, lots of bangles”…

Absolutely! Of course it depends on the camps—for some of the elegant, owner-hosted camps, I’ll usually pack a dress—but dressing for dinner is generally unnecessary. Safari is much more relaxed than many think. My method of “dressing” for dinner is to pile on a few extra bangles and maybe a Maasai beaded necklace.

How’s the weather?

Kenya and Tanzania are the lands of eternal spring but there is more variation in Southern Africa. But since the weather varies little throughout the year, and it’s rarely all that hot, I take one pair of shorts, maybe two, since I know that for the 6am game runs it’s cooler and I’m not putting shorts on. Convertibles can be a great alternative, too. I also pack one or two casual skirts and one dress. The rest are blue jeans and khakis.

About the khaki, will I feel foolish in all beige?

Does it have to be Marlin Perkins in head-to-toe khaki? No! But will you feel like a local in khaki? Yes. All the old safari hands in Africa wear khaki. The walking safari guides will definitely encourage you not to wear bright colours and studies have shown the animals notice bright colours. It is absolutely true that in East Africa lions will shy away when they see red, instinctively fearing you’re a Maasai warrior with a spear.

Joy and Dennis Pinto by tree stump
Joy Phelan-Pinto and Dennis Pinto on Safari in Africa.

What do you take in the game drive vehicle?

Juggling a purse and a camera on my lap in a vehicle can be awkward so I always carry a collapsible bag or backpack to hold all of my stuff in one place on the vehicle floor. And I have neck cord for my sunglasses.

What items have you packed that you could have done without?

Too many shoes! The type of shoe is more important the quantity. When you’re sitting in a vehicle for stretches of time, you want something comfortable. If you’re like me, you may be jumping up on the seats to get a better a view of the ellies just off the road in which case you’ll want shoes you can easily slip on and off. For me, clogs are indispensable. And you don’t necessarily need great walking shoes every day, although hard-soled shoes are important. I learned this dancing around a camp fire with a Samburu chief when a one-inch thorn from an acacia tree went right through my sneaker sole into my foot…

Fold or roll?

Not only am I a roll-it person, I’m a stuff sack person. Any small bag would do but I strongly advise against using plastic Ziploc bags since they take 700 years to disintegrate. Stuff sacs are readily available, even on Amazon, and can be used forever. I put everything into colour-coded sacks— socks are blue, underwear is red, etc., making it it simple to find what you’re looking for in a small space. I learned this from travelling with children: three days into a trip they’ve turned the suitcase into a hurricane and I end up forever repacking the whole bag to get it all to fit back in.

What about electronics?

We’ve got that down to science. All the cords and chargers go into one stuff sack – the yellow one, for the power of the sun. The other indispensable item we travel with is a power strip. Outlets are never in a convenient spot in a hotel room and this way you won’t forget a cord hidden somewhere the room, and you only need one adapter plug for the wall.

I’ve heard contrasting views on taking donations for school children?

We discourage handing out gifts directly to children, but giving school supplies such as pens and pencils to a school, church or tribal elder to distribute is a lovely gesture. Having a Polaroid camera to share photos with the kids is fun as well.

We’ve found the gift the children most appreciate is the company of our travellers, which is why we build a visit to the Micato-AmericaShare Harambee Community Centre into virtually all of our safaris. The interaction is an amazing experience for the children and our guests.

What’s the last step to your packing?

Once you’ve packed, remove one thing from each pile — then you’ll have space to shop. I do my best shopping in Nairobi: from jewelry to art, there are interesting colours and creations from unique artisans to tribespeople who all go there to sell where they can be closer to the distribution centres. You don’t regret what you did buy, you regret what you didn’t buy!

If you’re still struggling with how to pack or what to pack, call our Safari Experts at 1-800-642-2861.  If you need to flush out your wardrobe and are looking for tried and tested safari clothing and accessories, have a look at the Micato Safaris online safari shop.  

Lala Safari! (Safe travels, in Swahili)

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