Tanzania Safari – The Good, the Bad, the Unexpected and the Amazing! – What to wear/What to pack


What to wear, what to pack – probably two of the most often asked questions when planning to go on safari.  This can also have added difficulty if you are doing internal flights and are given a maximum luggage weight of 15 kg (33lbs) per person for everything, luggage AND carryon combined.  Now, we always travel with carryon only so are used to traveling light – but 33 lbs for EVERYTHING especially when carrying so much camera equipment, binoculars, etc. is daunting!!  We worked really hard to have everyone down to the 33 lbs.  In all honesty when we left home we were all about 34-36 lbs. each.  But, we discovered that while it is important to watch the weight and be mindful of it, they do not actually have scales anywhere on these airstrips and as long as you are not carrying too much oversized luggage you are probably fine.  That being said, I would still stay below 40 lbs and not push it.  In the end we were happy we had packed light – there was not anything we had left at home that we wished we had brought and having fewer items made it really easy to pack every time we moved.  Most camps will provide laundry service so no need to overpack.

I scoured Fodors, TripAdvisor and blogs to learn what to wear and pack.  I got all kinds of advice, for the most part all good.  The majority would say things like – “wear whatever you want, don’t buy clothes just for the safari, BUT do not wear white, black, bright colors, particularly bright blue.”  Considering that most of my wardrobe is black/white and bright colors I did not see how I was going to get away without buying new clothes.  I do own some khaki shorts and an army green jacket and I did bring those and they came in handy, but I did need to buy a few things as well.  Let’s start by discussing some of the things that are said, and discuss why they are recommended.

No black or white – basically this is because they can get dirty/dusty, particularly if you are driving in an open air vehicle.  If you will be in an enclosed vehicle for your game drives this is less of an issue

No bright colors – I have read that many animals can not see bright colors – only black and white so this is not so much for the animals.  Plus everyone always points out that the Masai wear bright colors so if you want to you can.  I just relate this to dressing to “fit in”, ie you would not wear a suit/tie or dress to go to the gym and you would not wear work out clothes to a wedding.  Not everyone you will see,  but the majority of people will be in neutral/khaki/nature colors as are all the drivers/guides.  I think one just feels most comfortable wearing this while out on safari so you do not stand out so much.  OTOH, we did push the envelope on this just a tad with peach tee and purple top…



No blue (particularly bright blue) – This one is important!!  Apparently, it is true that tsetse flies are attracted to bright blue – evidenced by the many blue tarps hanging on trees that are put there to attract the tsetse fly.  If you see Masai wearing bright blue (which they do), then you know you are not in tsetse territory!

Tennis shoes/trainers are fine – We found this to be correct.  Most of your time is spent in the jeep so any sport shoe is fine.  Even if you are doing a walking safari it should be adequate unless you are doing some real hiking.

Layers – Yes!Yes!Yes!  This is probably the most important thing.  Layer up in the morning when it is cold and then peel them off as it begins to warm up.

One thing that was never really made clear to me, but Carol, my friend/agent told me was that you can wear whatever you want in the camp – i.e. a bright shirt is okay at dinner or around camp to take you out of the color doldrums now and then.

Here is a list of  what I packed.  I wore everything on the trip EXCEPT an extra top I threw in at the last minute and an extra pair of sandals I brought.

Three camis in neutral colors.  Ordered online from J Jill.  Great layering piece and perfect for when it got hot. IMG_3851

Three long sleeve button up shirts that I could roll up the sleeves – colors – khaki, army green, eggplant.  Purchased from REI and one was found at Macy’s. IMG_3850

Three long pairs of hiking pants (one was zip off) and an extra pair of khaki shorts – Bought the pants at REI, Eddie Bauer and Prana, already owned the shorts.  Went with khaki colors and a dark gray.  We were there in June so not as hot – if going in warmer season would want more shorts. IMG_3848

A patagonia lighter weight fleece with hood and army green jacket – My fleece was the favorite thing I brought, it was the perfect weight for early morning or evening game drives to add as a layer.  Did not really need the jacket too much but was glad I had it for the few times that I did. IMG_3852

Three nicer tops and sweaters to change into for dinner – dressing up for dinner is really not necessary, but I do think it feels good to take a shower and get out of your safari clothes and put on something a little nicer for dinner.  I also brought a scarf which many had recommended and I was glad I did.  These were all clothes that I already had.  At the last minute I threw in another top but ended up never wearing it. IMG_3855

This is what I wore on the plane – skinny jeans, nicer t-shirt and long sleeve sweater.  I used the skinny jeans to wear to dinner each night with the nicer tops I brought. IMG_3857

These were the shoes I brought – flip flops, sandals, Toms, light weight trail shoes – I already had them all except for the trail shoes.  The flip flops were great for walking around camp during the day.  I brought the extra pair of sandals because I thought I might wear them for dinners but for me it was too cold at dinner time for sandals.  The Toms came in handy to wear at dinnertime when I wanted my feet covered but did not want to wear the trail shoes.  All of my sneakers at home are bright colors and I did not want to bring my heavy hiking boots (for weight purposes)  so I did go buy a pair of lightweight trail shoes.  These are Merrells and they were perfect!  I have already worn them a few times since coming home. IMG_3858

Tilley Hat – I already owned this Tilley hat and it was great to have. IMG_3859

Pajamas –  I just brought a long pair of lightweight pj pants, two short sleeve t-shirts and one long sleeve t-shirt.

Socks – Three pairs of ankle high hiking socks – helped protect my ankles from mosquitoes

Underwear – I brought 14 pair enough to make it through the entire trip.  I had read that in Africa they often will not wash your underwear.  Many suggest bringing some laundry soap and washing it in the sink, but frankly when on vacation that is not what I want to do so I brought enough to make it the whole trip with out cleaning.  However, the places we were staying all cleaned underwear so was not necessary, but I was glad I was prepared!

Camera gear – We had three of us with 35 mm cameras.  I had a little point and shoot but mostly used my iPhone to take pics and upload to social media when we had wifi.  For wildlife photography my husband had a Pentax K-3 body (35 mm) and a Pentax 55-300 lens which made it equivalent to a 450 mm lens which he said he used every bit of, particularly when in National Parks and you can not drive off road.  In addition, he did have other shorter lenses for pics of people, etc.  He also definitely recommends you bring a bean bag for throwing over the top of the jeep and setting your camera on to help stabilize it.  We brought a Safari Sack I (R420X) and a Gura Gear Anasi Weight Bag Sack.  The Safari Sack was a bit larger and provided more area to set your camera.

Binoculars – These are a must!!  We brought 3 pair for 5 of us, which seemed to work out pretty well, since some people were tied more to their cameras anyway.  We brought:  a Nikon 8×42 Monarch 5, a Nikon 8×42 ProStaff 7, and a Vortex 8×42 Diamondback.  The original plan was to purchase those, decide which we liked best and return two and get two more of our favorite.  It turned out too difficult to determine the favorite while at home and using it only on a limited basis so we just ended up keeping all three.  While on safari we determined that our favorite was the Nikon Monarch 5 – it seemed best for color rendition and its lightweight.

Other things that are helpful to bring even if you do not end up using them:  flashlight (we used a lot – if you wake up in the middle of the night it is pitch black in your tent), sunscreen, insect repellant, First Aid Kit,  day pack (helpful to have while in the jeep to carry whatever you might need), Immodium, Cipro (or other antibiotic), Malarone (anti-malarial), tylenol/ibuprofen, sunglasses, protein bars (I found these helpful on early morning drives before breakfast)

Makeup – I bring up this subject because a lot of people say not to bring makeup.  With early morning wakeups and most dinners by candlelight many people see no need.  I think this is a very personal decision.  I do not wear a lot of makeup, but to be honest I rarely go out of the house without anything!  It can take me just a minute or two to put on light makeup and I was glad I brought it and used it when I felt like it!!  I would like to note that I did not bring any body soap/shampoo/conditioner as I figured we were staying in some nice places and  this should be provided.  However, our first two places did not provide separate conditioner, it was a shampoo/conditioner combo which is never quite the same.  Not a big deal, but if important to you bring a travel size conditioner bottle.

For the record, if your wardrobe is made up of a lot of khaki and neutral colors then you probably will find that you can dress for safari from your own closet.  My 18 yo son was too busy concentrating on graduation to pay much attention to what to wear on this trip.  Luckily he had plenty of khaki pants/shorts, several light grey t-shirts (long and short sleeve),  a light grey fleece and light weight grey jacket and he was good to go!!

Next up  two nights in Arusha and an orphanage visit!

Safari Planning

Two nights at Manyara Ranch

Our stay at Exploreans Lodge

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23 responses to “Packing for carry-on only”

  1. Becki says:

    What about cosmetics?? I have too many liquids and always have to check a bag because of that. (hairspray, etc)

    • Judy Gambee replied: — July 26th, 2012 @ 6:03 pm

      Most everything, including hairspray, comes in a travel size. For shampoo, creams and lotions just buy the empty 3oz. bottles (I like to use the GoToob (http://humangear.com/GoToob.html) and fill with your favorite product. You will really be surprised how much can fit in a 3 oz. bottle; usually enough for a two week trip. Of course everything needs to fit into the one quart ziploc bag; but again, you will be surprised at how much can fit in there as well. Remember that prescription medications for cremes/gels do not need to be limited to 3 oz. and do not need to be in the one quart ziploc bag. Also, if you are traveling with kids, they will probably not fill their one quart bag so feel free to borrow some space from them!

  2. Wow Judy, I am FLOORED that all of that stuff fit. Is it really b/c of those folders? If so I’m going to order them right now!

    • fromhometoroam replied: — July 15th, 2012 @ 3:14 pm

      They really do help, and also keep your stuff more organized when you travel, so much easier to find things. They are NOT like the product that takes all the air out,so your stuff does not wrinkle. In fact they help keep things nicely folded. With the tubes I roll up lightweight shirts/tshirts.

  3. David says:

    Hi Judy. Lovely web site — enjoying your 2012 trip and still am parsing through it. How do the folders help you get everything in? Seems they take up space you’d otherwise have if you didn’t use them. I hope that’s not a stupid question, and I suspect it may be!

    • Judy Gambee replied: — August 10th, 2012 @ 9:10 pm

      David – Glad you are enjoying the website. I can see how you would think they might just take up more space. However, because you can pull them really tight and keep them closed with the velcro tabs I find that you actually can fit more in your suitcase. Unlike the packs where you take the air out, things do not get wrinkled here because there is a stiff back and a stiff top. The things in the tubes are rolled so they also do not get wrinkled. One of the things I like best is that I can keep things well organized. I usually have 3 packing envelopes. One for tops, one for bottoms and one for sweaters/dresses. In the tubes I usually put things that can be rolled such as t-shirts, bathing suits, pjs. Just in case you’re wondering, my husband who is 6’1″ also uses this packing system.

  4. Julia says:

    Hi Judy, you have inspired me to give this carry on only concept a try. I am planning a 2 week trip to Vietnam over christmas, what is best to bring in terms of clothing? Also, how do you fit in things that you purchase while away? Great site, I look forward to reading more about your travels.

    • Judy Gambee replied: — August 20th, 2012 @ 2:52 pm

      Julia – I am happy to have inspired you!! Be sure and check out my post here about our travels to Vietnam over Christmas last year. http://www.fromhometoroam.com/category/travels/asia/vietnam-christmas-2011/. In the pictures you can see what we were wearing to get an idea of what to bring.
      Generally, it was HOT in the south (Saigon/HCMC and Mekong), cooler in central Vietnam (Hoi An) and even cooler up north (Hanoi, Halong Bay). Although, the locals in Hanoi were all wearing big heavy coats, scarfs and shoes with socks – we did not find it that cold. Long pants and a light-medium weight jacket was fine. I suggest it be a rain jacket as you could get some showers as well. We also did not find Vietnam that dressy so nice jeans or a sundress was fine for dinner. But keep in mind we didn’t do any “nightlife” things. We did not go to Sapa because it was supposed to be really cold in Dec. so if you are, be prepared for that.
      Overall I would say some shorts, tshirts an tanks for the south and then jeans/long pants and jacket for further north. Maybe a long sleeve shirt/sweatshirt for Halong Bay.
      How do we carry home our purchases?? We always bring one of these made by Baggalini – http://www.baggallini.com/the-collections/travel-accessories/medium-zip-out/. It folds up into a flat 7″x7″ but opens up to be 17″x17″x6″. We just put dirty laundry, etc. into it and put our new purchases into our rollaboard. Then we check the baggalini bag and carry on the rollaboard with our new purchases. If the baggalini gets delayed coming home – not a big deal.
      Hope you have a fabulous trip!!

  5. Alice says:

    Your tips and comments are fantastic. I am preparing for a Christmas trip to Buenos Aires so I have scoured all your blogs for all the tips. Thank you for taking the time to share. It helps me feel like ,”Yes, I can do this!”

    One question: Your trek to the Glaciers in Patagonia….we are in our 60’s. Is there hope we could go and enjoy it without beating up our not-in-the-best- shape bodies too badly?

    • Judy Gambee replied: — October 4th, 2012 @ 10:21 pm

      Alice – So glad to hear you enjoyed the blog and found it helpful. About the minitrekking on the glaciers in Patagonia. I would not say that it was particularly strenuous, however there were several spots where you had to climb down some tricky spots. If you do not have any problem feeling “sure footed” I think you should do fine. I hope that makes sense.

  6. EDITH says:

    Okay, I am very impressed by your packing. I have the Eagle Creek bag and packing envelopes which I love (I do think they make for added weight) … but getting all to fit??? What about cameras, chargers, headphones, iPad and SHOES! Yikes, I have a big lesson to learn here.
    Thanks again for your great trip reports,

    • Judy Gambee replied: — August 29th, 2013 @ 12:31 am

      Sometimes you do have to make some compromises. I use the small earbud earphones, which essentially take up no space. I also use a smaller camera and don’t bring an iPad. However, having said all that, my husband does bring a large camera (with lenses), larger headphones AND an iPad. But this is what your “personal bag” is for. I tend to use mine more for an extra pair of shoes or clothes. As long as it can fit under the seat in front of you it should be legal as your “personal bag” – once again, you will be surprised and what can fit in this bag. Chargers are usually not that big individually, and rather than keeping them together you can just stick them in little crevices here and there in your luggage. The iPad generally will fit in the the skinny pocket either on the top or back of your roll aboard. I wear only a 6.5 size shoe so I know my feet are smaller than most, but for the cooler weather travel I generally wear one pair and then pack just one more pair of shoes. If I want to bring boots those I the ones I will wear on the plane. In the summer months I usually bring more pair as I find it easy to slide in just one more pair of flat sandals. Now my husband wears a men’s size 12 so he’s shoes take up A LOT of room! But again, he will wear one pair and pack one more, also he will roll up socks and underwear and put inside the shoe to maximize the use of space.

      I recommend trying it for a shorter trip and seeing how it goes. Our first trip to Europe we did not do carryon, but then reading so much about it I decided we needed to try it. So, we did a 5 night trip to NYC at Thanksgiving and we did carryon only. It worked and we, of course, had all packed more than we needed for those nights. Now, there are times when you just can’t pack everything that way for certain trips. We took a trip to Italy where we hiked the Dolomites. We packed as usual and then had one extra bag with all of our hiking boots, poles, etc. that we did check through. Did not get the advantage of not waiting for our luggage, but if it was late/lost it would have been just that bag not everything, and the hiking was the second half of the trip, so time for luggage to arrive later.

  7. Leah Shindelman says:

    I have really enjoyed reading your blog and wonder if you wrote about the trip to Provence? I am still looking for a light weight suitcase like the one you used. With the new 2014 carryon requirements its hard to know what they will actually allow. They say 14x9x22. How much did your bag weigh and what were the measurements? And wheredidyouget that classy tote?

    • Judy Gambee replied: — May 29th, 2014 @ 5:24 am

      Leah – I have still got to write that Provence post!! When are you leaving for your trip??
      My carryon bag is 22.5″x14″x9″. Technically not a legal size but I’ve never had a problem with that extra 1/2″ fitting in the overhead. You do need to be careful and not put much, or better yet nothing, in the exterior front pocket. In general when I pack that bag it weights roughly 35lbs. maybe 40. Weight hasn’t really been an issue.
      The tote is actually a Burberry bag that my daughter found at Nordstroms for 50% off. She splurged on it and it has held up really well – still going strong after 4 years of college, lots of traveling and studying abroad!

  8. Leah Shindelman says:

    Hi! Thanks for replying. I’m still hunting for that perfect travel tote. I found a carryon under 7 pounds that should work. FYI, there is an Eagle Creek Gateway that is just 7 lbs.
    I refer to your blog often in planning this trip. In late September we are going to Lerici and Cinque Terra then a winery agriturisimo near Acqui Terme. Then to Antibes, Provence, Dordogne region, then to Barcelona for 5 days and down to Granada, Cordoba, and Sevilla. Flying home from Madrid. It will be 1 month total. (We are retired) we will rent cars to tour around those areas. I’m glad you wrote about the Piedmont area. It sounds interesting as we haven’t beeni to that part of Italy. How does it compare to Tuscany for you?
    I understand European airlines have smaller overhead bins, about 20″. So I think we will just check our bags when we fly from Barcelona to Granada so we don’t have to get special bags.
    Did you go to Nice or Madrid and was their any place that is worth a visit?
    Where have your travels taken you lately? Are you going to continue your blog? I have really enjoyed all the details of your trips and they are very helpful. Happy trails!

    • Judy Gambee replied: — June 1st, 2014 @ 4:26 pm

      Wow!! That sounds like an amazing trip! You will have a fabulous time – going to some of my favorite places – Lerici, Aqui Terme and Barcelona!!

      We absolutely loved the Piedmont region. Compared to Tuscany – not as many tourists, particularly American tourists – tend to be more Europeans. In Tuscany most everyone, particularly in restaurants and shops speaks English quite well. In Piedmont many people do not speak any English or very little. Still, no problem communicating as they are very friendly and helps you bone up on your Italian!! The food in the region is fabulous – you will not be disappointed. We were there in 2006 and had our first experience of carne cruda. Now become popular here in the states as beef tartare – looks like raw hamburger meat but mixed with spices and delicious!!

      We have not been to either Nice or Madrid so can’t make any recommendations there.

      It has been a busy year and haven’t done as much international travel – my son is graduating high school next week so he got to pick where we went for spring break and he wanted to go to an all-inclusive resort in Mexico so we went to Gran Velas Riviera Maya in Cancun and it was fabulous!! Our big trip this year is that we leave a week from today (yikes) for an African Safari in Tanzania. My daughter graduated from college in May, son high school on Fri. and hubby and I both turned 50 this year so we thought this would be a great way to celebrate!! I will definitely be posting on the blog about this adventure!
      In late August we will officially be empty-nesters and look forward to a lot more traveling!!

  9. Leah Shindelman says:

    I’m sure your family vacations have been a great education and bonding experience for Lauren and Michael! Cancun sounds like a blast for them especially! Here is a tip my friend just shared- Bonito Pacifico near Cabo for you two. Her daughter had their destination wedding there and it’s beautiful and very reasonable!
    That Safari will be amazing! Hopefully not your last family trip. But then you will be free to go whenever and wherever you both desire.
    You have really inspired and challenged me! My hubby and I are leaving tomorrow for Nashville for 10 days on our first all carryon trip. My suitcase only weighs 24 lbs! We are staying with friends so that helps a little. The bigger challenge will be the European trip later! Keeping the weight down is a priority while looking somewhat stylish. Did you take skirt or dress for Europe in the Fall?
    Thanks again Judy for all you tips, descriptions and photos. I can’t wait to read about Tanzania and Provence!

    • Judy Gambee replied: — June 3rd, 2014 @ 3:18 am

      Thank you for the website I will take a look. I have found that I like to take skirts/sundresses in the summer because they can keep you cool. But in cooler weather I stopped bringing dresses/skirts. I found that I never wore them. A nice pair of black pants or nice skinny jeans seems to do the trick for me and not bringing a dress/skirt for dinner out is one less thing to pack.

      Great idea to practice carryon only with this trip. We did the same thing with a trip to NYC over Thanksgiving one year as our prelude to carryon only for Europe. It was very helpful!! Have a fabulous trip!! Getting to the south, probably Charleston, is high on my list!

  10. Leah Shindelman says:

    Here is the website: http://www.pueblobonitopacifica.com

  11. Maria says:

    Your blog is very informative. Would love to travel around the world too if only time will permit plus finances. 🙂 I would not know how to pack like you do on a carry on only! I think I overpack all the time. But using packing cubes and folders really helped me organize my stuff. I’ve been using Dot&Dot. Haven’t tried other brands yet. What I like about their cubes is that they are double sided. There’s more storage space.

    • Judy Gambee replied: — September 17th, 2014 @ 5:58 pm

      Maria – I ‘ll have to check the Dot&Dot ones out! thanks for the recommendation.

  12. Ruth Green says:

    Hello Judy, Loving all your stories and hints for packing etc. One question however, with only carry-on luggage, how do you get away with having eyebrow tweezers, and or nail clippers in your bag. If a woman is going away for a month she needs to take her tweezers, and these things are confiscated if they go through the security checks.
    Regards, Ruth

    • Judy Gambee replied: — June 8th, 2015 @ 9:53 pm

      Ruth – Happy to hear that you are enjoying the blog. We have never had a problem carrying tweezers in our carryon. We used to not carry clippers, but have started doing it a few years ago and haven’t had a problem with it, except once when we brought them to Mexico but couldn’t bring them back. I would just suggest you bring an inexpensive pair so if that happens it’s not a major financial setback. Another option is to just buy inexpensive ones when you arrive at your destination.

      Here is the TSA site. http://www.tsa.gov/traveler-information/prohibited-items. Just put in any item in the box after “When I fly can I bring my…..”. I put in both tweezers and nail clippers and they both said you could bring both in a carryon.

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