Safari truck under a tree in Africa

First Time Safari Tips: How to Get the Most Out of Your Trip

The best day of my life was the day I booked my very first safari tour. I was beyond ecstatic. After I hit the ‘book now’ button, I called my friends and family to share my excitement. And the best part? I managed to convince a friend to join me on this adventure.

The second best day of my life was the day I joined my tour. At 6 pm in Kippeo Beach in Tanzania, my friend and I met our trip leader, Sammi, our driver, Julius, and our small group of just nine other travellers from across the world. It might have only been a short welcome meeting, but for me, this was where the adventure started.

If you’re curious as to what the third best day of my life was, you’d be right in guessing that it involved spotting a hungry pack of lions chasing a lone zebra as we cruised through Tanzania. After all, there’s no greater experience than watching elephants splashing around in watering holes, observing a cheetah climbing a tree in search of the best vantage point, or seeing wildebeest galloping alongside our overland truck.

If the best day of your life (in other words, day one of your first safari tour) is fast approaching and you’ve already booked a safari adventure-of-a-lifetime, allow me to share with you the best tips for your first safari.

Safari truck under a tree in Africa
Travel to remote places in Africa on a safari tour | © David Clode/Unsplash

1. Wear your shoes in before you go

If you plan on wearing hiking boots (good move!), you’ll need to make sure they are as worn-in as possible to reduce the chance of blisters. If you’re not planning on purchasing a pair of hiking boots, or even borrowing a pair from a friend, don’t stress; I just wore a pair of Nike sneakers the while time and they were completely fine to wear.

2. Stick with the ‘less is more’ rule when packing

Don’t go overboard with excessive amounts of clothing for your safari adventure, as there will be plenty of opportunities to wash your clothes as you travel. Don’t forget, you’ll have limited luggage space on the truck, and there’s nothing worse than cramming all your clothes and belongings into a tiny locker.

When considering what to pack, you’ll want to pack plenty of warm layers to wear when the temperature drops in the evening, along with pieces to protect you from the sun including a hat, a few t-shirts, lightweight long-sleeve shirts, and comfortable shorts or pants. Don’t forget to pack sunscreen, too, as you’ll spend a large part of each day exposed to the sun.

As for wearing a head-to-toe khaki outfit, don’t bother. Of course, you are entirely welcome to don your best khaki-coloured pants and matching khaki shirt, but it’s by no means compulsory to go out and purchase a new outfit just for the sake of it.

Very small luggage compartment on a safari truck | © Gemma Music
This is where your luggage will live during your safari: at the back of the truck | © Gemma Music

3. Pack a deck of cards or a book to read during long drive days

I’m not kidding when I say that we travelled in the back of a truck across Africa, and while the scenery is impressive, a deck of cards or a book to read won’t go astray. To paint a picture for you, our safari truck vehicle was essentially a twin-cab truck, with 22-seats and tables in the back, and as you’re driving, you are free to move around the truck. Everything else; camping equipment, cooking gear and evening food supplies were stored under the truck. The one thing that was missing? Air-conditioning. If you need some air, you’ll have to roll your windows down and risk a dust storm flying into the truck.

The style of vehicle you travel through Africa in will vary significantly between every tour operator, so be sure to check out what vehicle you’ll be travelling in before you go.

Safari truck in Africa
You’ll spend a LOT of time travelling in the back of the safari truck | © Gemma Music

4. Brace yourself for all types of weather

Across Africa, and no matter where you travel, the seasons will vary greatly, as will the weather patterns or conditions. Before you travel, make sure you read up on the expected weather conditions for when you’re due to visit, but also prepare for adverse weather conditions such as the possibility of a massive downfall in the middle of the dry season.

5. Don’t forget to pack a small medical kit

Your safari truck or vehicle will have some basics on board, but it never hurts to have your own supply of band-aids, tweezers, bandages, and bug spray, among other essentials.

6. Binoculars are not essential

If you’re an avid birdwatcher or a nature enthusiast and already own a pair of binoculars, you should, of course, pack these and carry them with you at all times. But if you don’t own a pair, don’t worry. If there is an animal on the horizon, your local guide is likely to have a couple stored in the truck that you can borrow for a quick look.

Back of a giraffe head in Africa
You can get up close and personal with wildlife in Africa | © Glen Carrie/Unsplash

7. Keep your camera close by

You never know what creatures will pass you by during your safari adventure, so you’ll want to keep your camera or smartphone nearby to capture the perfect shot. In saying that, make sure you take a break and enjoy the sights and experiences with your own eyes to ensure you stay in the moment.

8. Be prepared to wake up early

During our safari tour through Africa, most mornings involved a 5-or-6 am wake up call so we could cook breakfast, pack up the tents, and hit the road bright and early to go animal spotting. The number of early mornings will vary between most safari tour itineraries, but as a general rule, animals are most active at dawn and dusk, so be prepared to wake up early.

Sunrise over tents in the Nogorongoro Crater
The best part about waking up early is catching the gorgeous sunrise! | © Gemma Music

9. Ask a million questions

If you have a burning question that you’re dying to ask, just do it! No matter how silly the question might be, if you’re feeling curious, this is the best place to learn. 

10. Respect the animals

Don’t yell at the animals, or anger the animals. Forget about dangling your arms out the window trying to lure the animals nearer to you. Think about your actions carefully, and don’t do anything that will put you (and your group!) in danger.

Two zebras in Africa
You’ll spot plenty of zebras as you travel through Africa | © Shannon Litt/Unsplash

11. Don’t be disappointed if you don’t see the Big Five

Letting go of any expectations might sound like pretty standard advice, but it sure rings true. Living in the moment as you cross through various national parks is the number one way to ensure for a memorable experience.

Once you remove the pressure on yourself to spot the Big Five, you’ll find the experience just as thrilling, but without the added fear of disappointment. I never spotted a rhino during my safari tour, but the number of giraffes, hyenas, antelope, wildebeest, and flamingos more than made up for that.

Cheetah on the road in Africa
Keep your eyes peeled to find animals during your safari tour | © Camilla Coffey/Unsplash

12. Make sure you have cash on you to tip local guides

As with many service industries around the world, tipping is customary. This includes everyone from your chefs on tour, guides, drivers and anyone else involved in helping to ensure your safari runs smoothly. Be prepared, and make sure you carry enough cash on you to cover a few tips here and there.

Adventure guides make safari tours possible! Check out TourRadar’s Adventure Guide of the Year Awards, and celebrate the expertise and efforts of adventure guides around the world. Prizes for Guide of the Year are sponsored by ExOfficio!

Gemma is a travel-lover from Melbourne. When she's not surrounded by the great outdoors, Gemma can be found spending her time with family and friends or planning her next trip overseas.

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