An African safari was on my travel wishlist for years (Exhibit A, Exhibit B) and I was thrilled to bring my Out of Africa dreams to life earlier this year. Plotting out breakfast with giraffes and sunrise hot air balloon rides, I suddenly realized just how ill-equipped my wardrobe was.
I don’t really own anything that could be qualified as an “earth tone.” My only sneakers are white leather. I don’t have a cache of outdoorsy clothes – here’s my idea of hiking, and this is the level of camping I’m comfortable with.
So what was I to do with a prescription for antimalarials and a beige-y duffle bag? I’m glad you asked.
Enter my #1 favorite packing hack: the travel capsule wardrobe. If you’ve been around for a while, you know the drill – first, create a remixable collection of clothes to pack ahead of time. Then, on your trip, your luggage load is lighter and you can get dressed on autopilot and still feel stylish. For alllllll my tips & tricks for capsule packing, grab the free guide right here.
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While I’m no stranger to packing a well-edited suitcase, packing for a safari in Kenya has a few extra requirements. Between lodges, you’re usually flying in a little bush plane with small, irregularly shaped cargo holds for luggage. And there is a bit of a safari dress code for blending in and keeping comfortable. Here are the safari packing rules:
A strict 33lb / 15kg weight limit per person, including ‘checked’ bag & personal item. I mayyyybe got a warning at Nairobi Wilson airport that I was near the limit. 😅
No hard-sided luggage allowed. Even in the off-season, we saw a couple with hard-sided luggage get booted from their bush flight and then wait for three more planes until there was one that could fit their bags. Eek!
Pack neutrals – think camouflage colors (beige, olive, brown, grey, ivory) but never the pattern itself (it’s illegal in some African countries, and associated with the military and/or rangers). Skip black, blue, and pastels if you can. Just think Karen Blixen.
Pack layers. You’ll be outdoors most of the day, from dewy sunrise to midday heat to sundowners – you’ll want to add and remove layers as needed throughout the day*. In February in Kenya, I was surprised by the mild heat, the strong sun, and the chilly breezes at sundown.
* This is no excuse for zip-off cargo pants. There is no excuse for zip-off cargo pants.
→ You can take $100 off those monk strap flats (or any Sarah Flint shoes!) with this link or the code SARAHFLINT-BAMONICAF and $50 off those white sneakers (or any M. Gemi shoes!) using this link. Cute & comfy shoes for all!
The jumpsuit was my absolute safari wardrobe MVP. It’s as easy to wear as pajamas (essential when you’re starting out before sunrise) while feeling one zillion percent safari chic with a little scarf and your hat.
I loved having a couple of dresses for our days in Nairobi, at Giraffe Manor, and for evenings at the lodges. FYI, lions will notice bold polka dots. Skip those for game drives 😬
You sooooo don’t need outdoorsy shoes for this trip! My white sneakers stayed surprisingly clean, and on many days I just wore these slip-on espadrilles or sandal slides. The monk strap flats were mostly for traveling and city days.
A brimmed hat is essential; one with ties is ideal. On our very last game drive, mine flew off with the wind and we had to chase after it in reverse – thankfully it didn’t go far. Sunglasses and scarves easily made boring safari outfits feel fun!
Packing an extra compact bag for bringing gifts and souvenirs home is an excellent idea. Our hotel in Nairobi kindly held our bag until we returned at the end of our trip.
All of our accommodations offered laundry service, most of them for free. They don’t wash undergarments, but do provide laundry soap for handwashing in your room.
If you’re close to the luggage weight limit for your bush flight 🙋🏻shave off a couple pounds by wearing heavier clothes and pulling out a purse to carry separately.
my free printable five-step
guide to packing light &
traveling in style