Packing for Safari in a Carry-On

… lessons learned

Five years ago we traveled on what we expected to be THE once-in-a-lifetime trip – an African Safari! But safaris are addictive, and with retirement and a big birthday to celebrate we decided to splurge on a second trip. We contacted Rhino Africa again [see review: Rhino Africa – our Choice for an African Safari], decided on our itinerary, prepared our reading lists, and are now focusing on packing.

airport picture showing oversized bagWhich brings me to a confession… As social media so often skips over the difficulties of life, we didn’t dwell on the near hysteria I felt when our luggage was deemed over-sized before leaving Boston. We chose to leave out descriptions of me wrestling with the gate agent when she took my bag away, or me running back out of the plane to rummage through my sadly abandoned bag for any medications and documents I might need en-route. We skipped over the fact that my husband’s bag broke halfway through the trip. And we neglected to mention the extra set of binoculars (1.6 lbs) that we carried unused over 19,000 miles of travel.

We have learned some packing wisdom in the past few years, but perhaps more importantly, we have begun buying products that work well for travel – travel sized tech products, lightweight but sturdy luggage, and merino wool clothing. These ‘specialized’ items are often expensive, but we watch for sales and signed up for alerts for off-season items on websites like and similar.

Our new favorites

image showing merino tops take up half the space Before and After – Packing space saved with merino wool tops and a smaller set of binoculars

Merino wool clothing – lightweight, quick drying and odor resistant – we choose merino for tees, sweaters, and socks when available.  (Icebreaker and Smartwool recommended)

Tom Bihn travel products –

  • Aeronaut duffel/backpack (being considered as one of our primary carry-ons. We do not own this elegant travel bag, but hope to!)
  • Packing Cube Shoulder bag – our seat-back organizer during flights and, with an insert, my camera bag on safari
  • Western Flyer – personal carry-on for outbound trip and primary carry-on for trip home when we’ve checked our duffel
  • Zip top shop bag folded within duffel will become our personal carry-on for the trip home.

Swarovski CL 8 x 30 pocket binoculars – at 1 lb., 1 oz. we saved 9 ounces from our Vortex Talon (an at-home favorite) and the optics are AMAZING!

Osprey Trailkit Duffel/Backpack – 40 L carry-on luggage – checked on return flight. We hope to upgrade this duffel if we’re able. See our review of the Osprey Trailkit.

Download our Safari Packing List 

Our Safari Packing List:

If you are traveling to Kenya or Rwanda, note that plastic bags are illegal


  • Passport with at least 4 blank pages – add a scanned copy of the passport to another bag and email a copy to yourself
  • Yellow Fever inoculation certificate – scanned and emailed as well
  • Tickets & travel vouchers
  • Travel Insurance information – Travel Insurance is a must for a safari.

Gear and Gadgets – (see Gear and Gadgets – Safari packing for more information)

  • Camera with telephoto lens – Africa will be dusty, so it’s important to minimize the number of lens changes
  • Camera wrap or bag insert to eliminate the need for a dedicated camera bag (unless you plan on carrying more than one camera body and lens). The insert can go in your carry-on bag, and can be put into a smaller bag on safari. We use a basic wrap for our dSLR but also pack in an Ape Case cubeze insert.
  • Binoculars [one set shared is sufficient!]
  • iPad or small laptop to review and backup images [optional]
  • Plugs, adapters and chargers for all above
  • Flashlight/headlamp or both
  • Money belt or similar security stash

Health and First Aid

  • Malarone – malaria pills
  • Compression socks for DVT prevention
  • Bug spray [most safari camps will supply insect repellent that is much stronger than what’s available in US. Bring a small amount just in case]
  • Prescription medicine – leave in labeled bottles if possible. Take a copy of your prescription with you.
  • OTC medications used regularly
  • Bush bathroom helpers – toilet paper, wipes, (Amazon offers a packaged set including toilet seat covers call the Restroom Kit) The ladies might want to bring a Go-Girl for easier ‘going’ mid game drive.
  • Almost all toiletries, shampoo, etc., will be available in camp.


Choose clothing in earth tones for safaris. Game drives are dusty and subtle colors are less likely to disturb wildlife. This is especially important for safaris in East Africa where tsetse flies are found. These flies, which carry diseases, are attracted to black and bright blue!

No camouflage clothing! It’s actually illegal in some countries.

In Dave’s bag:

  1. 2 merino wool polo shirts
  2. 2 merino wool tees  (Icebreaker merino)
  3. 2 safari style long sleeve shirts treated with insect repellant*
  4. 2 pairs of convertible pants
  5. 1 pair of shorts
  6. Fleece jacket
  7. Photo vest
  8. Windbreaker
  9. Sun hat
  10. 1 bathing suit

Dave recommends Scottevest fleece jacket with removable sleeves, and Exofficio photo vest (no longer available)

In Amy’s bag: (note most items mix and match)

Flat lay image of safari clothes

  1. 3 merino wool tees (incl. one long sleeve)
  2. 2 safari-style shirts
  3. 2 silky blouses (for dinners)
  4. 2 lightweight, convertible pants treated with permethrin*
  5. 1 casual knit pants (for travel days and dinners)
  6. 1 skirt or skort
  7. 1 knit convertible sweater/wrap
  8. 1 merino wool sweater
  9. 1 scarf


  • Sports bras for those bumpy game drives
  • 1 swim suit (Lands’ End swim separates double as workout wear or casual tops)
  • windbreaker with removable sleeves
  • pack-able down jacket or vest
  • safari hat

IMG_0451Amy recommends Diane Kroe items: the Carry-On Cozy (as a scarf, skirt, AND poncho!), and Wanderlust as a convertible sweater (and airplane blanket!), Encircled dressy sweatpants for travel days and dinners, and Lands’ End pack-able puff jacket which compresses to next to nothing in a small Eagle Creek compression cube.

*NOTE: we use Sawyer’s permethrin to treat our clothing. Saturate the clothing (outdoors) and allow to dry. Insect repellent should last for 6 washings.

Read more about our Safari adventure:

A Day on Safari in Londolozi

Rhino Africa: our choice for African adventures

Packing for an African Safari

featuring Columbia LS shirt, Sunday Afternoon hat, Icebreaker merino tees, Chaco Outcross shoes, Columbia convertible pants, Panasonic Lumix FZ200, Scottevest jacket,

Pack for Adventure: Africa

Packing for an African Safari in a carry-on

Packing for safari in a carry-on





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5 thoughts on “Packing for Safari in a Carry-On

  1. We learn the hard way don’t we? We travel with carry on 90% of the time. We did one month in Africa plus taking our cycling shoes and pedals. We rented helmets there. It takes work but well worth the effort in planning ahead.

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