I am a carry-on convert. When traveling, I try to only bring carry-ons and avoid checking bags wherever possible, and my upcoming trip to Kenya is no exception. However, African safaris are unlike your average garden variety European trip, and packing for them pose additional challenges. Follow me along as I show you how I am preparing for my once in a lifetime, bucket list trip to Kenya.
My go-to carry-on bags are usually the Monos Carry-On Pro Plus or the Biaggi ZipSak soft side bag (this is a great bag because it can expand or be used as a personal item in addition to the larger carry on). I did a 10 night cruise with the Monos along with the Travelon Large Backpack in February, and almost 2 weeks in Germany with the Biaggi and the Rick Steves Civita Day Bag. However, my needs are different for this trip. My trip guidelines specify that I need a soft-sided bag without wheels. The reason being that the light aircraft and vehicles I will be taking cross-country have limited space. Soft bags without wheels can be packed more efficiently in them. The Biaggi is soft, but has wheels that are larger than I can probably get away with. Because I am really trying not to check a bag, I am taking my daughter’s very unglamorous neon yellow Nike duffle bag. It may not be pretty, but this bag is spacious, has a long strap to sling over my shoulder, and meets Kenya Airways’ generous carry-on requirement.
For a personal item or accessory, I need a bag that can also double as a camera bag. Safaris call for the good camera (if you have one – if you don’t, it’s ok). I’m taking a Nikon D90 DSLR with 70-300 lens that I inherited from my dad. My normal camera case is bulky and not practical when I need an actual bag to carry other gear, so I got the Nomatic 21L Cube Pack. The camera fits snugly into it for a compact case. The top part expands into a lightweight backpack. For the flight over I will slip in my Travelon Theft Proof purse, phone, iPad, kindle, chargers and other incidentals, It will then serve as my day pack and camera bag for game drives.
Both items – the carry-on bag and personal item/accessory when packed need to weigh no more than 26lbs combined to meet Kenya Airways’ carry-on requirements.
Anyone who has flown from or through the US since 9/11 knows you cannot take any bottles of liquids larger than 3.4 oz in carry-ons. You can take however many bottles 3.4 oz or less that you can fit in a gallon bag. Normally, I just grab a gallon Ziploc but Kenya does not allow any single-use plastics including Ziploc bags, so I am taking this very roomy, TSA-approved bag from Amazon. In this bag I have a travel sized can of insect repellent, tube of facial cleanser, tube of sunscreen, bottle of liquid gold (also known as Downy Wrinkle Release), Tide Stain Stick, Benadryl Itch Relief, travel-sized toothpaste, and a bottle of hair product.
My beauty products are essential to me, and I do love my makeup, but I do try to pare things down when I travel. I embrace my naturally curly hair, and minimize the makeup I bring (no, I do not need 5 lipsticks in Kenya). The one product I discovered that has been revolutionary both in space-saving and in effectiveness is bar shampoo and conditioner.
Packing cubes are a gift to the travel world. They keep your clothes organized, and when in destination, you just have to lift them out of a suitcase and into a drawer. I have a mix of cubes in different sizes that I have gotten from everywhere from Amazon to Walmart to ones that were included with my Biaggi. Honestly, they are all pretty much the same. I roll my clothes tightly which helps reduce wrinkles and maximizes the space.
November is the start of the short rainy season in Kenya. However, it’s still warm and temperatures during the day are quite comfortable – around the mid-70s. But, it is cool in the evening and in the early morning when many game drives happen.
This raincoat proved to be quite warm and sturdy for my last trip to Europe, so I’ll be bringing it to Kenya. It packs into its own bag making it compact for traveling.
Now while I love to dress well, this isn’t a fashion show. The animals do not care what I am wearing. My itinerary includes a 13 hour flight to Africa, at least 13 separate game drives, a train ride, cross-country drive, and flight in a light aircraft so the key is comfort. I’m bringing a couple pairs of shorts, but don’t anticipate wearing them much. You’ll read a lot about buying hiking pants, pants that convert to shorts, etc. But if you don’t think you’ll ever wear them in your daily life – and I won’t – don’t bother. You can work within your wardrobe.
I have a two pairs of linen-blend capris from Old Navy, a lightweight pair of denim capris and a pair of sturdy leggings. For tops, I’m bringing several t-shirts, two denim button-down shirts and some lightweight cardigans, plus a fleece jacket to pack in my personal item. The idea is to layer for the cooler activities in the morning and then being able to shed some layers for the warmer afternoons. I love bright colors, but they are off-limits since they will scare off the animals. As a result, it’s recommended that we wear only neutral colors, so I’ve restricted my tops to a lighter, warm palette. I am also bringing a t-shirt dress. All outfits can be accessorized with scarves. The secret to packing in just a carry-on is that every item is designed to go with several other items of clothing. If I need to wash something, they can all be rinsed out and dried quickly. All can be easily rolled into my packing cubes. The bulkiest items should always be worn on the plane ride.
Most safaris are driving safaris. As a result, no special hiking or trail boots are needed, just comfortable, closed-toe shoes. You only need special footwear if you plan on doing extensive hiking out in the bush. Remember, extra shoes means extra weight in the luggage. I’m bringing my Brooks sneakers which I will wear on the plane as they are heavy and bulky, and packing a pair of black sandals for use around the lodges.
Speaking of the color black, it’s recommended to not wear black or dark blue because those colors attract tsetse flies. I have been agonizing over that fact since black pants and leggings are wardrobe staples of mine. However, after extensive research, I have found that where I am going and the time of year, tsetse flies will be of very little concern to me so I am throwing caution to the wind and bringing the black pants. The one color that can never, ever be worn by a tourist is camouflage. That is reserved solely for police and military.
Of course, there are other miscellaneous items that I will toss in my day bag. Safari jeeps keep water for their guests so a collapsible water bottle is a must. It will still be sunny during the day (rain tends to happen later in the afternoon) so I have good, packable hat. I also have a small, foldable tote back in case I bring back souvenirs and can’t fit them in the Nike duffle. I have no problem checking a bag on the way home – it’s going over that’s problematic for me. To avoid bringing fewer liquids, mosquito repellant wipes are a good substitute for bug spray. Just remember that whatever you choose should have 25% or more DEET in it.
Africa operates on 240V so a travel adapter is necessary. Most modern electronics and appliances are dual-voltage so a converter generally isn’t necessary though many are combos. Adapters have come a long way and now can accommodate the many devices we all carry with us. I prefer this one from Ceptics. If you use a device like a hair straightener, keep in mind that many converter/adapters will NOT accommodate them. This one does.
That’s the gist of how I’m packing for Kenya. Normally, I’m not so befuddled by packing for a trip, but this one has slightly thrown me for a loop with the various restrictions. Stay tuned to hear how I fared upon my return and if working with just a carry-on is doable for safari. In the meantime, follow One World Family Travel on Facebook where I will be posting updates throughout the trip.
Click HERE to see my itinerary.
Looking for more travel inspiration? Read this article on must-do safaris.