When your holiday requires its own outfit

The line of people snakes out the terminal and onto the tarmac. If it were any longer you wouldn't even have to get off the plane; you could just stand up from your seat and you would have joined the queue.

We're all trying to get into the arrivals hall at Zimbabwe's Victoria Falls Airport, which is woefully ill-equipped to handle the two planeloads of passengers that just arrived at pretty much the same time. That's several hundred people queueing for visas, hoping to get cleared and stamped by the grand total of two immigration officials who are manning the desks.

But this is Africa, where things take time. Usually a lot of time. So those of us in the rear three-quarters of the line get comfortable in the Zimbabwean sun, kicking day packs along the ground as we gradually edge closer to the front.

What else is there to do but check out my fellow travellers? The queue is full of all sorts: there are young singles; families with excited kids in tow; retirees no doubt spending their kids' inheritance.

It takes a few seconds to realise that they all have something in common: safari chic. It's their clothes. From the first flash of fleece to the last blaze of beige, this queue is like a catwalk show for Kathmandu. Every traveller sports a version of the classic safari wardrobe, the type of clothes they probably wouldn't be caught dead in at home but which become must-have accessories the moment you click "book" on that once-in-a-lifetime African adventure.

Ahead of me, an American dad is head-to-toe khaki in a material that looks as if it would dry quickly should he happen to trip and fall into the Zambezi. It's got a slight sheen to it, but that wouldn't stop him all but disappearing if you placed him in front of a sand dune.

A bit further down the line is a girl who must be about 25, and who must have spent a fair portion of her holiday budget at the travel clothing shop.

She's got a beige button-up shirt with special flaps to let air in at the back. She's got navy blue shorts that are hemmed with the telltale zips that indicate these bad boys can morph into the long trousers required of safari evening wear. She's also sporting an incongruously bright red hat, a wide-brimmed job with an elastic drawstring designed, probably, for swift swapping between heads.

Behind and in front of me are variations on this theme: travellers in those old-school vests with hundreds of pockets built to hold rolls of film or ammunition - both of which you'd hope they won't be using. Their trousers have zips halfway down their lengths; their boots look high-topped and sturdy.


I don't have to look much further than a mirror to add to this list, either. I'm sporting a fleecy vest. Would I wear it in Sydney? Not a chance. Not unless I came down with some sort of illness that rendered my chest cold but my arms boiling hot. Out here in Africa, though, it's OK.

That's because the safari is one of the few holiday pursuits that seems to require its own special wardrobe. You could probably get away with animal viewing in the clothes you wear every day of the week, but no one is inclined to take that chance.

That's why tourists pile into places such as Kenya and Tanzania and Namibia and Botswana in matching safari chic: fleecy, waterproof, zip-off fashion in every colour that falls between the spectrum of beige to khaki.

This stuff is all practical - it keeps you warm, or cool, or dry - and its colours won't frighten the wildlife, or encourage it to eat you. But it also looks quite silly.

And it doesn't stop at the clothes. You'll find matching items in almost every backpack and suitcase in southern Africa, the gear safari-goers have become convinced is necessary for holidaying among the animals.

Camera lenses are a source of deep pride, and embarrassment if they aren't of sufficient length. At lodges and camps up and down the continent are safari-goers stealthily checking out their rivals' equipment, reassuring themselves that their 300-millimetre Canon packs more of a punch than the 400-millimetre Sigma of the American guy.

Binoculars, too, are a necessity. Tripods are standard rather than special. Inevitable travel guidebooks are replaced by inevitable bird and mammal books.

Someone is making a lot of money out of us safari-goers, out of the crowd who are still waiting in the Zimbabwean sun for a visa. In fact, a lot of people are. But at least we all look the part.

Do you dress differently when you're travelling? What's the most embarrassing item of clothing you've worn overseas? Post your comments below.