Zambia Travel Guide
Zambia Travel Guide
Planning & preparation
What to take

Zambia Travel Guide

What to take

This is an impossible question to answer fully, as it depends on how you intend to travel and exactly where you are going. If you are flying in for a short safari holiday then you need not pack too ruthlessly – provided that you stay within your weight allowance. However, note that smaller, privately chartered planes may specify a maximum weight of 10–12kg for hold luggage, which must be packed in a soft, squashable bag. Once you see the stowage spaces in a small charter plane, you'll understand the importance of not bringing along large or solid suitcases.

If you are backpacking then weight becomes much more important, and minimising it becomes an art form. Each extra item must be questioned: is its benefit worth its weight?

If you have your own vehicle then neither weight nor bulk will be so vital, and you will have a lot more freedom to bring what you like. Here are some general guidelines:


For most days all you will want is light, loose-fitting cotton clothing. Pure cotton, or at least a cotton-rich mix, is cooler and more absorbent than synthetic materials, making it more comfortable in the heat.

For men shorts (not too short) are fine in the bush, but long trousers are more socially acceptable in the towns and rural villages. (you will rarely see a respectable black Zambian man wearing shorts outside a safari camp.) For women a knee-length skirt or culottes are ideal. Zambia's dress code is generally conservative: a woman wearing revealing clothing in town implies that she is a woman of ill repute, whilst untidy clothing suggests a poor person, of low social standing.

These rules are redundant at safari camps, where dress is casual, and designed to keep you cool and protect skin from the sun. Green, khaki and dust-brown cotton is de rigueur at the more serious camps (especially those offering walking trips) and amongst visitors out to demonstrate how well they know the ropes. The same cognoscenti are usually to be found wearing old and well-worn items, rather than anything straight out of the box; charity shops in the UK can be a great source of safari wear!

At the less serious camps you'll see a smattering of brighter-coloured clothes amongst many dull bush colours, the former usually worn by first-time visitors who are less familiar with the bush. Note that washing is done daily at virtually all camps, so few changes of clothes are necessary. A squashable hat and a robust pair of sunglasses with a high UV-absorption are essential.


If you plan to do much walking, either on safari or with a backpack, then lightweight walking boots (with ankle support if possible) are essential. This is mainly because the bush is not always smooth and even, and anything that minimises the chance of a twisted ankle is worthwhile. Secondly, for the nervous, it will reduce still further the minute chance of being bitten by a snake, or other creepy-crawly, whilst walking.

Because of the heat, take the lightest pair of boots you can find – preferably go for canvas, or a breathable Gore-tex-type material. Leather boots are too hot for wearing in October, but thin single-skin leather is bearable for walking in July and August. Never bring a new pair, or boots that aren't completely worn in. Always bring several pairs of thin socks – two thin pairs of socks are more comfortable than one thick pair, and will help to prevent blisters.

Camping equipment

If you are coming on an organised safari, then even a simple bushcamp will mean walk-in chalets with linen, mosquito nets and probably an en-suite shower and toilet..

Other useful items

Obviously no list is comprehensive, and only travelling will teach you what you need, and what you can do without. Here are a few of my own favourites and essentials, just to jog your memory. For visitors embarking on an organised safari, camps will have most things but useful items include:

• Sunblock and lipsalve – for vital protection from the sun
• Binoculars – totally essential for game-viewing
• A small pocket torch
• 'Leatherman' tool – never go into the bush without one, but always pack it in your check-in bag; never in your hand luggage
• A small water bottle, especially on flights (see Camping equipment)
• Electrical insulating tape – remarkably useful for general repairs
• Camera – long lenses are vital for good shots of animals
• Basic sewing kit – with at least some really strong thread for repairs
• Cheap waterproof watch (leave expensive ones, and jewellery, at home)
• Couple of paperback novels
• Large plastic 'bin-liner' (garbage) bags, for protecting luggage from dust
• Simple medical kit and insect repellent

And for those driving or backpacking, useful extras are:

• Concentrated, biodegradable washing powder
• Long-life candles – as Zambian candles are often soft, and burn quickly
• Nylon 'paracord' – bring at least 20m for emergencies and washing lines
• Hand-held GPS navigation system, for expeditions to remote areas
• Good compass and a whistle
• More comprehensive medical kit

What not to take

There are several things worth leaving behind. Firstly, avoid anything which looks military. Leave all your camouflage patterns at home; wearing them anywhere in Africa is asking for trouble. You are very likely to be stopped by the genuine military, or at least the police, who will assume that you are a member of some militia – and question exactly what you are doing in Zambia. Few will believe that this is a fashion statement elsewhere in the world.

Secondly, even if you're going on the most expensive of safaris, leave any jewellery that you don't usually wear all day, every day, at home. It'll take a load off your mind not to have to worry about its security.

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