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Africa Travel Planner
Packing Your Suitcase
"Pack for function, not style," advises Chris Johns, Editor in Chief of National Geographic magazine and author of Valley of Life: Africa's Great Rift. "Tourists should blend in, not attract attention," adds Mike Nesbitt, founder of the Africa Safari Company. Here, our experts recommend the basics.
Passport/Visa: You can't leave a U.S. gateway to Africa or enter an African country without a passport, and in many cases a visa, too. Keep copies in a secure place, such as taped inside a money pouch that's strapped across your chest or waist. (For visa requirements for the country you're traveling to, contact the appropriate U.S. embassy.)
Proof of immunization: You may not be allowed to enter a yellow fever or malaria-infested area, such as the savanna zones of West Africa, without proof of immunization.
Sunscreen: "It doesn't matter how much sun you think you can take," warns Christine Dolan, who's been on more than 50 safaris. The strong African sun's stinging rays can cause up to third-degree sunburns. Use a sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15.
Insect repellent: Biting flies and mosquitoes hide out in the bush, so slather on insect repellent. Traveler's medical consultant, Martin Wolf M.D., a tropical medicine specialist, recommends Ultrathon, Sawyer's Controlled Release, and Permethrin.
Hat: Your head, which is a major source of warmth for the entire body, quickly absorbs sunrays. A baseball cap, cloth or leather safari hat, or sarong-turned-turban will provide ample protection. (Check out HatsNet.com.)
Sturdy footwear: On treks and long walks, ankle boots will support and protect your feet from infectious blisters and cuts. If you're traveling during the rainy season (which varies according to region) douse boots in waterproof spray. (Visit LA Sportiva.)
Bush attire: Stick to basics in natural colors, such as tans, browns, and greens. Skip the whites, which "can be spotted by game a long ways off and could keep you from getting close to wildlife," says Mark Nolting, author, and founder of the Africa Adventure Company. Perfume also deters wildlife and attracts biting bugs.
Ankle-length skirt or pants: Women in North and West Africa, where large Muslim populations reside, adhere to strict dress codes. "Away from the hotel pool or beach, it's a good idea to wear knee-length skirts or pants," says Jennifer Lawson, who produced a TV series on Africa for National Geographic. "Shorts, short skirts, and shoulder-baring tops can provoke verbal and physical harassment."
Camera supplies: If you shoot with a film camera, Johns suggests taking your favorite color negative ASA 100, 200, or 400 film (log onto Kodak or Fuji Film). If you're going digital, be sure to bring a battery charger with an adapter for the local electrical outlets, and plenty of memory cards (a one-gigabyte card holds about 300 photos). With either type of camera, bring an extra battery or two.
Flashlight: While traversing the Sahara desert at night via Land Cruiser, Lawson discovered her pocket-sized flashlight was invaluable. The small beam of light enabled her to consult a phrasebook in an attempt to communicate with the crew when their vehicle got stuck in mud at night.
Guidebook: Reputable guidebooks offer experts' trustworthy takes on hotels, restaurants, attractions, and more. Some even offer key phrases in a few of the 1,000 different languages spoken throughout Africa. (Try Lonely Planet's "Africa" series.)
Toiletries: The luxuriously soft toilet paper that you're used to in the United States probably won't be provided in the bush, unless you're on a luxury tour, so bring your own. The same goes for special soaps, shampoos, and lotions.
Binoculars: Indispensable. You won't want to miss up-close views of a zebra coddling her young or a majestic elephant crossing a grassy plain.
Liquid anti-bacterial gel: Combat pesky germs while on the go with an anti-bacterial wash such as Dermalogica. (Log onto GreatSkin.) In a pinch, use baby wipes containing bacteria-fighting agents.
Duct tape: Rips in boots and luggage could slow you down. A sturdy piece of duct tape will hold you over until you can buy new shoes. (Try Staples Office Supplies.)
Warm clothing and rain gear: Though widely perceived as warm and dry year-round, Africa has hot and cold and rainy and dry seasons. "Some of the coldest I've ever been has been in Africa," confirms Johns.
Journal: Jot down notes to encapsulate your memories.
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