Planning a trip to Namibia is full of excitement. With its gorgeous vistas, abundant wildlife, and welcoming people, Namibia offers a lot to look forward to. But for those who are traveling to the country for the first time, there can also be a lot of questions around how to prepare for your trip.
When it comes to packing your luggage, there are plenty of posts across the Internet that give great advice about clothing and toiletries, so for the most part I won’t rehash that information. But there are a handful of prep tips that go beyond personal packing items that I did not find in my pre-trip research that I wish I had known before I got on the flight to Windhoek. (Some of the specific links might be most relevant to Americans, but the general ideas will hopefully be useful to everyone.)
Renting a vehicle
For older Americans like me, this likely is not an issue because my generation grew up with stick shift cars. But for those who are undertaking a self-drive safari and are unfamiliar with driving a manual transmission, it is very important to find a rental car company, such as Namibia2Go, that offers automatic transmission 4WD vehicles. This bit of advice is my number one item in this list because your vehicle is critical to your safety and enjoyment when traveling around Namibia. If you do not know how to drive a stick shift, adjusting to driving on the left-hand side of the road will be the least of your worries. Depending on where you choose to travel in Namibia, yours might be the only car on the road for hours at a time, and there is a good chance you will not have cellular service if something goes awry. When it comes to something as important as your vehicle, I am going to go against my usual travel advice and tell you to stay in your comfort zone as much as possible – so do your research and make sure you rent a car that you know how to drive.
Related: Download offline driving maps before you go. We fully relied on these throughout the 15 days we were in the country. While the offline maps are a must, consider also downloading music to keep you company on some of the longer drives.
Bring enough cash to get you through at least one full week of tips. Depending on what you do, that amount is going to vary. But if you assume that you will pass several days without easy access to an ATM, you will not have to waste valuable holiday time and energy stressing about cash. Whether you change currency at the airport or do so at home before you embark, make sure you have plenty of small denomination NAD (South Africa rand is also accepted) for gas station and parking attendants, plus mid-range denominations for tipping guides and lodge staff. I ordered rand through my bank and it was delivered two days later to my door via courier. I was more than willing to accept a slightly less advantageous exchange rate for the convenience.
I do not know why it was so challenging to determine the correct converter type that I needed for Namibia. It is probably just me and my poor search engine skills, but in case you are having the same problem: It is type M. Plenty of lodges in Namibia will have USB outlets, but it never hurts to have a converter or two on hand, especially if they are like these lightweight, compact ones that we ended up bringing.
Related: Do not underestimate the importance of a power bank and a high-speed USB charging cable that you can connect in the car, especially if you are relying on your phone for driving directions.
This is, like all the other advice in this post, 100% optional. But I had not considered how challenging it is in some parts of Namibia for residents to obtain specialty equipment due to both cost and logistical challenges. Bringing one or two extra key items to give as gifts can be extremely helpful, even more so than cash sometimes (though they should not take the place of tips). I am thinking specifically of camera equipment, electronics, and other hardware that supports the work of guides and other lodge staff, school supplies for children, or other items that serve a specific purpose and are confirmed to be useful to the recipient. Of course, guaranteeing “usefulness” can be challenging, so one suggestion is to contact lodges where you are staying ahead of time and ask if there is anything in particular that their guides and/or staff might benefit from having, or if there is a charitable organization with which they work that needs donations of specific items. Of course, be sure to research any import requirements and restrictions on gifts, but usually one or two items are allowed without issue.
I am not sure it is possible to pack the concept of warmth, but if you are traveling to Namibia in the winter, I recommend bringing a space blanket. I regret not doing so myself because it would have been very welcome on the rhino tracking excursion we took. I recommend a space blanket because it is multi-purpose and does not take up too much space.
Clothes and accessories
Like I said, there has been plenty written on this already, but even though having a couple of pairs of durable pants in the color range of khaki to gray is highly practical for when you are trekking around on excursions (It can get really dusty!), those are not colors I tend to wear in my everyday life. So, I made good use of resale sites like thredUp and Poshmark to purchase most of the clothes I took to Namibia, like a sage green waxed cotton joie jacket and a tan pair of Kuhl pants – and everything at much lower prices and with a lower environmental impact than if I had bought them new. I also want to reemphasize the importance of hydration and sun protection that other posts advise – I found it made a world of difference having a collapsible water bottle (Hydaway makes two sizes) and a broad-brimmed hat to protect from the strong sun.
If you are traveling with children, do not forget their birth certificates. You will need them to both enter and exit the country. If you have booked through a travel company, they will likely explain this requirement to you, as will rental car agencies, but it never hurts to be reminded.
Like a lot of other travelers, my family members packed everything into carry-on luggage only. In our case, each person used a Cotopaxi Allpa 35L. We each also carried a small bag (think a Kipling cross-body or small Fjällräven backpack) for important documents, phones, cash, and the all-important tissues-and-hand-sanitizer combo for bathroom pit stops. We focused on packing only the essentials, which left us enough room to take home a small souvenir or two (Mine was a fabulous pair of veldskoens.)
Those are just a few tips that I found helpful for traveling in Namibia. Of course, everyone is different and experiences vary widely – in the end, the truly best advice I can give is to do your research and know yourself.
Author: Pauline Benninga
Photos: Gondwana Collection