What Worked & What Didn’t On My First Trip Abroad

I’ve had so much fun sharing Kenya with you over this past week. Did you get a chance to see the 30+ pictures I shared on Instagram? Once I get a chance to go through all my photos, I’ll create one big post sharing all the animals we saw on safari. I also have some additional video to share that I think you’ll enjoy. We were very fortunate to catch the Wilderbeest and Zebra migration across the Mara River and it was amazing to see!

A few folks have asked specific questions in comments and I promise to get to all those in the upcoming posts, including why the invite that was hand-delivered to my tent recommended I wear my jumping shoes. So much has happened during this past week, I’m having a bit of trouble deciding how to share it all, how to organize it all for posts. Every day was a new adventure and action packed!

Mahali Mzuri Invite to Dinner Under the Stars


One question I’ve been asked several times is was there anything that I wish I had taken or anything I took that I really didn’t need. Today I thought I’d do a quick run down of what I’m REALLY glad I had with me on this trip, what I could have left behind and what I REALLY wish I had taken, along with few other tips and suggestions that you may find helpful as you make plans to travel.


What I’m Really Glad I Took

Bose Noise Canceling Headphones:

These were a last minute purchase that were invaluable in helping me sleep on the long flights I had to endure on this trip. I had two, 8 to 9 hour flights going and two, 8 to 9 hour flights coming back. Both ways, I had a daylight and a nighttime flight. During the daytime flights each way, I used my headphones to watch movies I had downloaded onto my laptop. There is no way I could have enjoyed the movies without the noise canceling ability of these headphones.

Note: These headphones are designed to work with phones but they worked fine with my laptop. The only thing that didn’t work with the laptop was the volume controls built into the cord of the headphones, so I adjusted the volume of the movie with the controls on my laptop, which worked great.

Bose Noise Canceling Headphones


During the nighttime flights to Africa and back, I slept as much as possible. These headphones completely eliminated the LOUD roar of the engines. Before I purchased them, I wondered if the noise canceling feature would only work when something was playing, like a movie or music. I can’t sleep with a movie or music playing so that was a concern I had.

I was delighted to find they totally work whether you have something playing or not. There’s a little button you slide to activate the noise canceling feature and it works great even when you aren’t listening to music or a movie. They are by far, the most comfortable headphones I have ever worn!

These will definitely be accompanying me on all future trips. These Noise Canceling Headphones are available here: Bose QuietComfort Acostic Noise Canceling Headphones (Note: They make separate headphones for Android and iPhone phones, so if you buy a pair, make sure to get the ones that are compatible with your phone.)


Kindle Paperwhite

Another last minute purchase was a Kindle Paperwhite. Wow, have Kindles come a long way! I had one of the ealier versions that didn’t have the touch screen so the Paperwhite is a delight to use. Plus, the battery lasts a long, long time. One charge was more than enough for the trip.

My Kindle really help passed the long hours in flight. Someone mentioned in a comment on a previous post written right before I left, that I was going to love it. They were right! It’s pretty much a must-have item if you like to travel. It’s available here: Kindle Paperwhite is available here: Kindle Paperwhite

Kindle Paperwhite


The Bestek Portable Voltage Converter

This voltage converter with adapters totally lived up to all the rave reviews on Amazon. I LOVED being able to charge my phone, laptop, camera battery, etc… all at once. This will definitely be going with me on any and all future overseas trips. Worked beautifully! You’ll find it available here: Portable International Travel Voltage Converter With Interchangeable Adapters for Charging Ports

Travel Adapter & Power Converter for 220V to 110V Voltage


A 2nd Camera Battery

A few weeks before this trip, I purchased a second camera battery for my Nikon D7000 camera. I had been meaning to do this for a long time since it’s aggravating when I’m 2/3rds through photographing a project or tablescape and the battery goes dead.

Spare Nikon Battery

It was also a huge stress reliever when I was out on safari, knowing I had the 2nd battery tucked away inside my coat. I was shooting a good bit of video which goes through a battery a lot faster than taking photos, so it was wonderful knowing I could film to my hearts content without worrying about running out of juice in the middle of the bush.

It will also be nice having a second battery when shooting here at home. I just wish I had purchased one a long time ago. It will definitely be in my bag on all future trips when I take along my Nikon camera. I purchased mine here: Nikon Li-Ion Battery


My Barbour “Forever” Coat

I wore this coat daily for our morning safaris and I loved having all the big pockets for storing my extra camera battery, a cloth to wipe off my camera lens, hair ties, sunscreen, bug repellent, you name it! I used the inside, hidden, zipper-pocket to keep extra cash, important papers like my travel insurance and the detailed itinerary that had information about connecting flights.  It will definitely make the trip to Italy with me in a few weeks. Love this coat! You can read all about its rich history and where to purchase one in this previous post: A Forever Coat

Barbour Beadnell Wax Jacket in Navy & Barbour Tartan Lining


ExOfficio Women’s, Give-N-Go, Full Cut Brief

I found out about ExOfficio underwear right before leaving and purchased one pair to try them. They are awesome! To start with, they are extremely comfortable, like wearing nothing. But the best part is when you wash them, they dry in a matter of a few hours. They are made out of some special material that dries extremely quickly.  Their motto is: “17 countries…6 weeks…one pair of underwear.” I’m going to purchase a second pair and they will be going with me to Italy, for sure. They are available here: ExOfficio Give-N-Go Full Cut Brief

Exofficio Briefs for Women


J Travel Pillow

Loved this pillow on the flights over, but unfortunately I left it on the Kenya Air flight to Nairobi. πŸ™  I really missed it on the return flights home so I’ll be buying another one before I head off to Italy. It’s was super comfortable and I loved being able to position it so many different ways.

Travel Pillow for Flying on Planes


I also love how you don’t have to carry it and it doesn’t take up space inside a bag. I snapped it onto my camera bag but it will travel on this bag going to Italy. But you do have to actually remember to take it off the plane when you arrive at your destination! ~~~sigh. This pillow is available here: Travel Pillow

Travel Carry-on Rolling Bag With J Travel Pillow_wm


Update: This is my the pillow I’m currently using whenever I travel. I decided to try it on my recent trip to Morocco and it was excellent, even more supportive than my previous travel pillow. It has become my favorite for travel! You’ll find it available here: Travel Pillow.


I also love how small it rolls up for storage in my carry-on bag.


What I Wish I Had Taken

African Safari Journal

There were only two things that I very much wished I had taken on my trip to Kenya. One was this book that I blogged about here: African Safari Journal

African Safari Journal by Mark W. Nolting


If I hadn’t been so restricted on weight because of all the small airplane flights I had to take, and if I had been able to take a bag that rolled instead of having to carry all my luggage in duffel size bags, I would definitely have taken it.

There were so many times, especially after each safari trip out into the bush, that I wished I had this book to reference so I could read about the animals we had seen and check them off with the dates they were spotted. If you go on safari and can manage it, take this book. You can read more about it in this post: In The BNOTP Library: African Safari Journal

Safari Link

Snapped this pic on one of the small plane rides I took in Kenya



The other item that I never thought about taking but wish I had, was a monopod for my camera. I totally forgot that they make monopods that are collapsible. When you’re out on safari, even though the safari guides come to a complete stop and cut the engine off, the slightest movement caused by the wind or another person shifting in their seat, will cause the vehicle to rock. Safari vehicles have the bounciest shocks in the world! I can’t tell you how many times a monopod would have come in handy on this trip!

Another couple brought one along and that’s when it dawned on me that they are designed to be collapsible so they will fit inside a suitcase or bag. So, if you go on a trip where you’re using a zoom lens a lot, which is totally unforgiving of any movement, you may want to consider taking along a compact monopod like this one: Compact 5-section Aluminum Monopod.

Manfrotto Monopod


What I Could Have Left At Home


I had read in several places that it’s good to take a scarf along to protect your face from dust while out on safari and to use for warmth on the plane. I purchased two scarfs, one in a leopard print (which I left at home after learning you don’t want to wear any animal prints on safari) and a plaid one that I bought inexpensively at Marshalls.

I never needed a scarf on the plane and I never used it on safari. It was a big, big scarf so it ended up being a pain to carry since I couldn’t fit it into my suitcase. I didn’t even bring it back home, left it in my tent at Mahali Mzuri to be donated.

Yeah, it’s dusty out on safari, but not enough to warrant covering your face for three hours with a scarf. A scarf would have been helpful for holding my hair out of my eyes in the wind, but my hair tie, which was much smaller and cooler than wearing a scarf, worked great. Plus it fit easily in my coat pocket.


The other thing I took along and could have left at home was the binoculars I purchased right before the trip. I never used them while out on safari because our guide periodically used her binoculars to spot animals and then took us over near the animals so we could take photographs. For me, it was just too much to manage a camera with a long zoom lens and a pair of binoculars, so I left my binoculars in my room.

These were the ones I purchased, the Nikon Monarch 5 Binoculars. They are excellent for bird/animal watching which is how I’ll use them at home. I donated two old pairs of binoculars after these arrived because they are so sharp and so clear, leagues better than the older Nikons I already had.

Nikon Monarch Binoculars


I did use them a few times to view wildlife in the valley below our tents.

Giraffe in the valley below Mahali Mzuri_wm

Giraffe in valley below Mahali Mzuri

Every morning was exciting because you never knew who would stop by that day for a visit. πŸ™‚ Mahali Mzuri is perfectly located because it’s near water and has lots of wonderful, lush grasses all around, so the wildlife views changed on a daily basis.

Wildlife in the valley below Mahali Mzuri_wm

Wildebeest and elephants in valley below Mahali Mzuri

I loved having binoculars for the daily views down into the valley in front of our tents, but each tent already had a pair of binoculars available, so there was no need to bring them from home.

View from the bath at Mahali Mzuri, Zebra and Thomson's Gazelle_wm

Zebra and Thomson’s Gazelle in valley below Mahali Mzuri

When I purchased them, I knew there was a chance I might not need them on the trip, but I still wanted them for viewing the birds that come to my feeders each day, so I’m glad I have them. They are so much better than my old binoculars so definitely a purchase I’m glad I made. But I wouldn’t have missed them on this trip if I had left them at home since Mahali Mzuri provided them for each tent. If you’re in need of good binoculars for bird watching, etc… you’ll find them here: Nikon Monarch 5 Binoculars

Scratching Time!

Thanks to Mia for reminding me to update the Bucket List Travel Map here in my office. I was so busy going through photos, I forgot!

Office Updates, Scratch-off Bucket List Map


It just got a bit more colorful. πŸ™‚ I love this map and I love having it here in the office where I can see it each day. It’s a constant reminder that life is short and we need to spend less time working and more time playing.

Scratch off Travel Bucket List Map_wm


Here’s what was hiding underneath Kenya. I didn’t get to visit the Ngorongoro Crater on this trip…but there’s always next time! (Scratch-off Bucket List Travel Map is available here: Bucket List Map)

Scratch off Bucket List Map


Can’t wait to give you a tour of Mahali Mzuri and Giraffe Manor…both are coming up soon! In the meantime, check out all the photos I shared at Instagram here: BNOTP on Instagram

Have a wonderful weekend!

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  1. Susan, you are an efficient traveler. I don’t have one of those pillows, but they look great. Thanks for all the tips and for sharing this amazing experience.

  2. This is an excellent post. So many good travel recommendations and I like how you shared your reasoning. Bookmarked for sure. You are doing a good job organizing all the stories and photos; keep ’em coming. (and a shout-out, my first ever!)

  3. Mary from Virginia says

    I am so glad you are giving an update about your trip. The tips for what to take and what to leave home are great. Looking forward to seeing more pictures!

    What travel company are you using for Italy?

  4. Great post Susan. Just wondering if you think you could have brought a bag with wheels after all? I’ve found on some trips that I struggled to make sure I have the right size bag only to see that another passenger had a bag I thought would be too big and with wheels to boot! So happy that you had such a grand time and I’m looking forward to more of your travelogue. Vikki in VA.

    • I know, I wondered about that before I left home, but I had this vision of getting to the Wilson Airport in Kenya and being told my bag couldn’t be put on board. I would have been in a world of hurt if that had happened. I guess they could have given me a giant garbage bag or something. lol Most folks did have the soft-side, wheel-less bags.
      They had big scales and they weighed both my bags together. I was surprised by that. I thought they would only weigh the one with my clothes that went into the luggage area and not my camera bag that went on board with me.
      They cram around 15 people onto these little planes so weight is a serious factor. The first small plane flight I had to the grass strip was packed, the second one where I was picked back up to go to Giraffe Manor was just me and two other folks, which is when I took the photo in this post. The third one was when we stopped at a smaller airport to pick up additional passengers and then we were again packed with every seat filled. I got sick on that flight, as did several other folks. It was very hot and very bumpy and we were all super nauseated. I thought I was going to faint at one point. Ugh.

  5. You’re chock full of great info Susan! I’m definitely going to pin this post to my travel board.

    I had to smile about the 8 hour flight. The one good thing about going to a place like Singapore, which I’ve been to twice and will be going again in May, is after that almost every flight is a piece of cake! lol

    Your bag looks so stylish, I bet you were the envy of every woman on Safari :).

    • Doreen, unfortunately I didn’t get to take that bag. That one is going to Italy, though! I couldn’t take anything with wheels due to the small planes and where the bags had to be stored on those. About that 8 hour flight…there were two of them going and two of them coming back…so it was more like 16-18 hours…not including layover time in the airports. Thankfully, the layovers were pretty short. Then there were the 2 small plane rides and the two jeep rides out to the tents and back. Lots of travel! πŸ™‚ How long does it take to get to Singapore? I bet that’s a long one, too!

  6. I love my lightweight collapsing monopod, which I have had for years. I also have a tripod and a tiny 8 inch tall one. The 8 inch tall tripod is one you use by setting on something else–table, vehicle, tree, etc. It has come in handy for me and fits in a pocket! Great advice here. I especially like the noise cancelling earphones!

  7. Elena Zattoni says

    Don’t be too worry to buy briefs to take wth you to Italy: extremely elegant and comfortable briefs ae sold in Italy: don’t miss the opportunity to buy them here!!!!

  8. Your pictures on Instagram are wonderful. I hope you get some of them framed for your house. Well, it seems to me that you were right on the money about what you took on your trip. Only a couple of no-no’s. You did good. So your research paid off. I am so glad that this trip was all and more than you thought it would be. What a wonderful adventure! Welcome home!

  9. YOU ARE such a trooper to key us in to this helpful information AND include the sites!! That takes SO much time and still you don’t know for certain IF things will work…your reviews are invaluable!! THANX!! franki

  10. I noticed you mentioned staying in a tent but I just saw pictures of nice hotel rooms. How was the tent experience? So glad you had a wonderful time!

  11. Marlene Stephenson says

    Thanks so much Susan for all the great info,have a great day.

  12. Thank you so much for all the wonderful useful tips. You are a blessing!

  13. This map is so awesome. I am going to order one to always remind myself and my family of my military travels since I have gotten rid of so many of my treasures from overseas.

  14. Susan: I’m playing catch up w you after having computer problems. it will take me a week to cover all I missed..Question: The carryon bag w bicycle print- did I miss any notes re this? Info please? and does it have wheels? I learned from a trip a year or so ago that old ladies [like me] gotta have wheels on carry ons…that nearly defeated me and my sister. But I luv, luv that bicycle print bag..found one, fell in Iove w it then lost track of where it was…thanks a bunch and btw I think we should have a “Georgia girl gathering up” over in Georgia”” I am a Ga Peach from waaayyy back and only a couple of hours over into Alabama now…:)

  15. You didnt mention your cross body travel purse. Did you take it? Did you like it? I have back issues, so I always prefer a backpack type purse, but they are either too small, or way too big to be considered a purse. I was hoping for a review!

    • Hey Bernie,
      I didn’t take the Travelon Crossbody purse that I blogged about here: https://betweennapsontheporch.net/take-a-peek-inside-my-travelon-travel-purse/
      because I couldn’t check any luggage. I had to carry on all my luggage onto the plane, which was a Pendleton weekender bag and my camera bag. I was worried if I used the Crossbody bag, it would count as my personal item and they might not let me take my camera bag onto the plane.
      I will be using that bag on the trip to Italy, though. I’ll be checking a big suitcase for that trip and I’ll take the Travelon bag as my personal item and will also take the rolling bag seen in this post: https://betweennapsontheporch.net/travel-accessories-gear-for-trips/
      For the Africa trip, I wore a very small Travelon bag seen in this post: https://betweennapsontheporch.net/travel-gifts-and-packing-tips/
      It worked very well but I had some issues the last day with it starting to tear where the strap went into the bag itself. I kept my phone in that pocket and maybe getting it in and out was just too much wear on the strap where it connected to the bag. They need to design it where the strap doesn’t connect inside that pocket, I guess. It worked great, though, but I am returning it due to the ripping issue.
      I don’t like backpacks because I would feel vulnerable having all my “stuff” behind me where the person behind me could access it. I like carrying my important things in front of me, preferrably under my clothing. I’m also going to use my neck stash on the trip to Italy…the one I blogged about here: https://betweennapsontheporch.net/travel-gifts-and-packing-tips/
      The Africa trip was just so different (and hard) to pack for because I was so limited on what luggage I could take due to flying on small planes while there.

    • Oh, you can also see the Travelon bag I took to Africa (the one that finally ripped on the last day and that I’m returning) in the first video of me feeding the giraffes in this post: https://betweennapsontheporch.net/having-breakfast-with-the-giraffes-at-giraffe-manor/ It worked great and probably wouldn’t have torn if I hadn’t kept my phone in the outside pocket. I may buy another and just keep my phone inside the bag, although I liked keeping my Kindle in there. The larger Travelon bag is going with me to Italy so I’ll have a lot more room to stash my phone and Kindle for that trip.

  16. bobbi duncan says

    So many invaluable tips ad products, Susan! Traveling to Italy will be much easier for you as you won’t have the problem of small plane luggage allowances. Glad your trip was everything you hoped for and more.

    • I surely hope so. lol The luggage thing was such an issue for this trip. It will be so nice to check a big bag and to only have a purse and my little rolling bag to worry with…what a relief that will be! Thanks, Bobbi!

  17. I love it when a plan comes together. Sounds like all your planning really paid off. Great advice for travelling.
    I will have to share that bucket list map with a young woman I worked with. She has the travel bug big time and saves every penny she can for her travels.
    Italy next. Wow. Good for you.

    • I have that same bug, so I totally understand. I think the older you get, the more urgent you feel the desire to travel. That’s wonderful she’s getting an early start!

  18. I’ve never seen a bucket list map before – have to look into that !
    Susan I had no idea this was your first trip abroad – wow – you go big when you go LOL !!!
    It all sounds so wonderful – really – what a trip of a lifetime!

  19. One thing you bought that I purchased for my trip was the travel purse with the steel strap. Really disliked it because it was too small to carry and papers or much of anything! I wish they would make a similar product in a larger tote size.

  20. Great photos on Instagram, thanks Susan. Two things I’m interested in 1) did you travel alone and if you did, was that ok as a woman alone on safari; 2) what camera lenses did you bring? The D7000 is awesome btw.


  21. Thanks to your previous blog about the Barbour Beadnell waxed coat, as well as your follow-up here affirming that it was one of the things that you couldn’t have done without on this trip, I purchased one yesterday. I’m traveling to the northeast for a Fall foliage look-see, so that was the immediate incentive … and it seems a really good investment for the long term. Love everything about it and am very grateful for your recommendation/information. Know I will wear it a lot over many years. Bought the navy version, and sprung for the hood (of course!), as well as the zip-in liner, which doubles as a separate vest. Would have bought this year’s new red/claret color, but they don’t make a hood for it yet, so decided on the navy color, which is beautiful. THANK YOU!

  22. Dawn Maderak says

    Oh my goodness you are the most amazing traveler!! And so helpful with all your advice!! Will you come with me when I visit the Giraffe Manor?? PLEASE??

  23. Glad u had such a fab life adventure! If I wasn’t so exhausted from my own fast tracked trip in Scotland & England I’d want to go there now! I purchased the charger/converter kit you rec & it worked great. A little heavy, but I think they all are. U also inspired me to pack as lightly as I could for 2 week vacation in likely cold, wet place. But I never once used the 2 collapsible umbrellas as we had marvelous weather! Glad I had list included; two scarves (doubled as stylish accessories in Edinburgh & Bath, no necklaces needed just a few great earring pairs), pair of lightweight gloves with matching headband, black flat heeled boots (for tracking around moors, lochs, Stonehenge, wearing with tights/skirt at nice restaurants & to see Henry V at Royal Shakespeare Theatre), they went w/black peplin skirt (rolled and was wrinkle free), and Clark shoes that went with jeans to skirt. I also had a black leather purse that converted to a small backpack or wore across front of body like a sling. Could hold my Kindle, phone, umbrella, etc. It had special, against body zippered pockets for money, passport, small camera, etc. was very stylish for evenings. Found it at an Arts Festival. Kept hands free to carry bags, everything secure but easily accessible going through airports. I still took too many clothes. Will take less next trip cause it’s tough carrying too much luggage up stairs in 14th century inns!

  24. Carolyn Anderson says

    Thanks for the info on the neck pillow. For years I’ve had my favorite U-shape pillow but for my last trip I had to try your three prong pillow. It was a life-saver! We flew to India and the pillow was the best thing, I ended up in the middle seat for all of the long flights, the flight home was one of 17 hours straight, the longest flight ever! I can only say “Get that pillow!”. I pinned a ribbon on it so I could fold the 3 prongs more closely together for stuffing it in my backpack. Love hearing about your travels! I would like to recommend going to India, we had 16 wonderful days and learned so much! Incredible things to see!

    • That’s great…so glad it worked so well for you! I love mine, too. I lost the first one somewhere on my Africa trip so as soon as I got home, I ordered another one because it had worked so well. 17 hours is insane! I thought 9 hours was bad! lol I had to fly 18 hours to go to Africa, but it was broken up into two 9 hours flights with about 2-3 hours in between. Actually, one flight may have been 10.
      I was thinking about going to India one day, so thanks for recommending it! Glad it was worth that long flight. πŸ™‚

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