Safaris are one of life’s ultimate adventures, but amidst the glossy wildlife photography, slick interiors, beautifully presented cuisine, and beaming faces, no one ever tells you what it’s really like, or more specifically, what it’s like to safari as a woman.
So we, with the help of some of our ‘ladies of the bush’ (if you will), decided to compile a list of tips, tricks, and information to help women negotiate a safari with style, minimal luggage, and should you choose, in high heels.
One of the first things that might strike horror into your heart when preparing for your safari is how little luggage you’re allowed to bring. Unfortunately those bush planes that are so much fun to zip around in have weight limits, so it’s time to get clever with your packing.
You’ll want to get yourself a nice canvas bag to take so you start on a light note.
All our camps offer a laundry service, so you can afford to take the bare minimum, however, you’ll have to wash your ‘delicates’ (read underwear) yourself. You’ll find washing powder in your room for this very purpose, but if you’re worried you’ll forget, it might be worth packing enough pairs of knickers to last the trip.
Where you can, double up, and if there’s something you know will be at camp, you can leave yours behind. For example, our bathrooms have a stonkingly good array of delicious smelling toiletries. Did you know that hair conditioner works a treat as shaving foam when you need to shave your legs and your pits? Genius!
“I’d also suggest carrying any medication in your hand luggage,” says conservation queen Jennifer Lalley. “International flights with lots of stopovers increase the risk of delayed luggage, secondly during bush travel luggage may be sitting in the hot sun en route to airstrips. Don’t disrupt daily intakes and add a lot more water.”
Yeah, we know, it’s an age old problem. Men just have it a million times easier when it comes to relieving themselves, especially when it has to be done outside. Sometimes, when out on a game drive admiring nature’s finest, nature itself will call. Whilst chaps can just hop off the vehicle and have a piddle whilst standing and surveying the surrounds, a little more effort is required for us girls.
If you’re going for discretion, you might want to wait until you’re stopping for sundowners since the guide will already have made sure the area’s safe. If you just need to wee right this second, however, feel free to shriek at your guide, who’ll stop at the next appropriate place, get out and check there are no wild animals lurking nearby and recommend an obliging bush for you to use. The very brave could just pop behind the vehicle and spend a penny there, but if you prefer the sound of an obliging bush, then down you squat. Unfortunately, grass seeds in your knickers is a given.
There’ll be loo roll stashed away in the game drive vehicle along with a paper bag to put it into for later disposal. If you find you need more than a tinkle, please be a love and bury it.
It’s all well and good forgetting your sun cream, or your toothpaste, but some things are just far more awkward to leave behind. Like sanitary products for example, however, be brave and approach the smiliest staff member you can find. They’ll understand and will probably have something in the office/first aid box etc that’ll get you sorted.
Whenever we set off on safari we leave with Hollywood images of Meryl Streep in Out Of Africa, Kim Basinger in I Dreamed Of Africa or Kristen Scott Thomas in The English Patient. Somewhere along the way though our perfectly coiffed hair gets tangled and shoved into a cap, and our dreamed of khaki tailored to perfection leave us looking more like a singed marshmallow.
Fear not though, because safari style can be achieved, you just need to know the tricks.
Start with a kikoi. This Jack of all trades of the fashion world is your friend on safari. Wrap yourself in it during the heat of the day, wear it as a long skirt at dinner, tie your hair up with it, use it as a head scarf, or shield yourself from dust on game drives. These things are fantastic.
Basics and layers are the way to go on safari, and those traveling through South Africa on their way might do well to check out the clothing at Cape Union Mart who’ve dressed many a visitor for safari. If you really want to ramp up the style stakes though, why not treat yourself to a piece or two from the likes of Hickman & Bousfield, or Ralph Lauren, both of whom have bush style aplenty.
Those who fancy adding to the aroma of the bush with a spritz of perfume should reserve their scent for evenings only. Wearing perfume on your skin in the sun can lead to premature aging, and no one wants that. “Perfume can also attract insects,” adds Jennifer. “If you absolutely need something, use lemongrass oil.”
Speaking of skin, make sure you slather on high factor sunscreen every single day and put it everywhere. That searing African sun might look lovely, but it’s brutal. Wear a hat and sunglasses too, and help your skin out by moisturizing throughout your stay.
Tessa Brand, a former manager at Sable Alley in Khwai Private Reserve within Botswana’s Okavango Delta has a few top tips to add. “Cut your nails short, because it’s impossible to keep them clean. Neutral nails colours are good too so you don’t notice chips. Bring hand creams and lips creams as well because it’s so dry here. You’ll also need lots of hair ties, because sometimes it’s too cold to wash your hair, and you’ll get very windswept in the vehicles.”
Looking fabulous on the safari of a lifetime is important of course, particularly when it comes to those all-important insta-snaps, but you’ll need to be comfortable too. We picked the brains of our marketeer and safari devotee Olivia Partridge – a master of looking gorgeous whilst feeling fine.
“A sports bra will definitely be a big help when you’re in the back of a safari vehicle,” imparts Olivia. “I would suggest comfortable knickers too.” As Olivia points out it’s also important to keep your skin happy. “A very good face wash and toner to wipe off the Kalahari desert or bush dust after a long day is really important, and don’t forget your lip salve. Lips get very dry on safari, especially in the desert and during the winter months.”
Jennifer has her own secret safari weapon: Vaseline. “It’s great for everything,” she enthuses. “Dry lips, chapped hands, cracked heels, and sunburns.”
So here we are, on the subject of footwear.
The very best, most practical thing to wear on your feet whilst you’re in the bush are walking boots that you’ve worn in beforehand. Sturdy, comfortable and supportive, they’re just the ticket.
“Closed shoes are better because open shoes will give you such dirty feet in all that sand,” adds Tessa.
“I would also suggest a pair of lightweight flip flops,” adds Jennifer. “They’re great in your room and around camp when you need a break from the boots and also great for mokoro trips or anytime you want to whip off your shoes and dangle feet in cool water as long as there are no crocodiles around!”
Should the idea of forgoing perfume have left you clutching your Louboutins and hissing ‘they’re all I have left’, then that’s ok. Bring them. Trot around the main deck in them, teeter across your room in them, lounge by the pool in them, heck, you can shower in them if you really want to, but please, for the love of the bush, don’t bring them on game drive. You’ll get all manner of foliage stuck to your feet, fall flat on your face as you climb out of the vehicle, emerge from behind the bush with loo roll stuck to them, and basically undo all that we’ve trying to achieve with this guide. Meryl, Kim, and Kristen would not be proud.