Packing for a place you’ve never been for an activity you’ve never done is hard! You always come back from the trip wishing you’ve packed certain things and realizing you’ve overpacked certain things. I’ll attach a suggested packing list at the end for little kids. I’ve only done the 1 safari, so I’m not an expert, but finding little kid specific safari information is challenging so I figured I’d discuss what we packed.
But a few of the top things to discuss packing-wise:
Toys–I brought too many toys. Kids were kindergarten and 2 years 8 months. I had two magnet kits in little metal tins (vehicles and face making), small coloring book, colored pencils, blank paper, journal for DD5, books, 4 matchbox cars, and 2 Barbies. Then on the flight (Ethiopian Airlines), each kid got a little goody bag with small stuffed animals, building sticks, puzzle, coloring pages, etc. If I could redo, I’d leave the magnet kits behind and bring fewer coloring pages and fewer books. Dinner ended so late each night we simply read a fast story and went to bed.
My suggestion is to think what their go to toy or activity is when they get home from school. For DD5, that is coloring, writing, or Barbies. For DD2, that would be cars. And that’s what they mostly played with on the safari.
Electronics-I brought my camera, iPad, phone, binoculars, and DD5’s camera. Plus their chargers, and a power bank. For binoculars, we had one nice pair for my DH and me to share (the other two adults had their own), one decent kid pair for DD5, and one super cheap pair for DS2 who has no idea how to use them, but liked to imitate.
We used the iPad while flying and a couple time at the lodges when kids needed a break and Mommy needed quiet time. I downloaded Netflix shows on it ahead of time. We never needed it on game drives, but I brought it each time just in case. DD5 uses a point-and-shoot digital camera that is water proof and drop proof and loved taking photos with it.
We never needed the power bank, but that would depend on where you were visiting and staying. All of our camps, even in the middle of the Serengeti had 24 hr power due to solar power. They often had back up generators too. One camp did say if they had a string of bad weather days they might have to limit what hours there was power, but we didn’t encounter it. If you visit a camp without 24 hr power, you might need the power bank for charging. Our jeep also had the ability to charge things, which we used once for a camera battery.
Bedtime-we chose to haul all their familiar bedtime things with us carry on to make sure sleep was easy. For us, that meant DD5’s favorite blanket, stuffed animal, battery powered lantern (she doesn’t like the dark), and cup. For DS2, that was his cars, noise machine, and cup. It allowed us to keep the sleeping environment as similar as possible in each new location. There are a lot of animal noises at night in the tented camps and the noise machine blocked it all out. We were fine with that and slept better because of it.
Clothing-Check the weather! I bought a bunch of khaki shorts only to realize that for my family we’d be more comfortable in pants and had to buy them last minute. Check lows as well as the highs. If you’re only doing game drives (rather than walking safaris), it doesn’t have to be all khaki. Avoiding black and dark colors is good if in a biting fly area and if you are trying to find birds, avoid bright colors. Various light colors works fine. Quick dry is great, though non of my kids’ stuff was and we managed. DS2 was a grubby mess by the end, even with my washing stuff.
Tip! Bring a small container of powdered laundry detergent (I stuck some in a small Tupperware container) and a small scrub brush and wash clothes at camp. This works best if you’ll be there multiple nights so things can dry-unless you have quick dry stuff. Some twine or clothesline is also ideal for hanging.
Other-Lots of mosquito spray if going places with mosquitoes. To prevent against malaria, our doctor suggested at least 30% Deet. You can buy carry-on size mosquito spray online. I took the lid off a large spray bottle and pour them into 3 oz containers and did carry-on in case our luggage didn’t make it. Then I transferred back to the empty spray bottle for easier application. We brought way too much sunscreen as we wore pants, short sleeves and were in a shaded car. But if you’re going in full summer, plan on swimming, or walking bring more.
I always travel with a well-stocked medicine bag. Put all liquids into Ziplocs! I had children’s acetaminophen in the bag and the child-proof!!!! lid came off from all the bumping in the jeep and all the medicine poured out all over my medicine bag. So not only was it all sticky, but I had no acetaminophen for the kids (who luckily didn’t need it!). We did use bandaids and Neosporin and anti-itch cream.
How we packed it:
Light weight duffle bags are key! We weren’t sure if Ethiopian Airlines would weight carry-on (they didn’t, but if they had the weight limit was 7 kg for carry-on and 5 kg for personal item). Traditional carry-on bags can add several pounds. Kids had drawstring bags for their toys, blanket and stuffed animals. I have a camera bag that is backpack style for my electronics.
If you have internal bush plane flights, you’ll have to go really light and small. We didn’t. However, if your checked luggage is delayed or lost, you will not get it back til after the safari. So pack everything in carry-on that you HAVE to have and then do a checked bag with some Nice to Have items. But remember, unless you are staying the same place the whole time, you’ll have to pack, haul, and unpack constantly so keep the quantity down.
So you’ve picked your destination, started shopping for the trip, and are getting excited! But do your kids know what a safari is and what they’ll see? Background knowledge can help manage expectations and build excitement. For my kids (ages 5 and 2), this is how I helped prepare them and make them excited!
My Kindergartner–each week I checked out some nonfiction books from the library (her school library lets adults check out books too) on safari animals and life on the savannah. We learned how tall baby giraffes are at birth (6 feet!) and what hyenas eat. We learned about black vs white rhinos and their main physical difference (mouth shape). We learned about food chains on the savannah. I also looked for easy chapter books that take place on safari. Thea Stilton and the Journey to the Lion’s Den, Magic Tree House Lions at Lunchtime, and Greetings from Somewhere: Mystery of the Lion’s Tail were well-liked. I found a few books about life in Tanzania, including Noel from Tanzania.
My Toddler–he listened to the books I read to my kindergartner, but we also read some books more designed for his age group, including We All Went on Safari, Over in the Grasslands: On the African Savannah, and National Geographic: Safari. (DD5 enjoyed them too). I focused on learning animal names with him. He has a zoo set of animals for Duplo, so we pulled out all his safari animals and played game drive and named animals. He also has little rubber animals and we played with those. I dug through his car collection and found a car that looked pretty similar to the jeep (technically not Jeep brand, but everyone said jeep) we’d be riding in. He is very car focused, so was excited to discuss our new wheels.
For both kids, I printed off safari themed coloring pages-simple ones for DS2 and more detailed ones for DD5. I also found a few pattern block templates for safari animals we printed and used with our pattern blocks.