The first time I went to Africa, I packed a lot! I was overlanding so needed things like a sleeping bag and roll mat and I was climbing Kilimanjaro so I had all my mountain gear for that too… trust me, it was a lot of stuff. More than I needed really!
But last time I went I was just backpacking around Kenya and Tanzania for a while, staying hostels and safari camps so I didn’t need as much ‘stuff’, so here’s my advice on what to pack on your next trip to Africa (you know, like when you come backpacking round Kenya with me in September)!
Backpack | For the last 7 years my trusty companion has been a 60l + 15l Gelert Jet-Set Backpack (which I don’t think is available anymore) but I am going to invest in a new one for my trip to Kenya later in the year. The one I think I’m going to buy is an Osprey Atmos AG 65, as I’ve heard it’s great for your back because you carry all the weight on your hips (ok, I confess I’m old and have a bad back). Others I’m considering are the Osprey Aura AG 65 and the The North Face Terra 55.
Packing Cubes | I am a massive fan of packing cubes. If it’s one piece of advice I could give you about packing, it’s separate your stuff. It just makes everything sooo much easier to find! I love the Eagle Creek Pack-it Cubes as they are really good quality and they last forever, but there are a few different makes to choose from. I also sometimes wrap mine in a jumper and use it as a pillow when I’m camping or on overnight trains. Works like a charm.
Wallet | I always take at least couple with me and spread my money about. Only keeping the minimal amount that I need in the wallet I keep in my handbag.
Wash Bag | I take a small Lifeventure Wash Bag that fits all my toiletries in. I like this one as you can hang it up away from minging, wet communal shower floors. But if you were economising, you could use little plastic freezer bags instead.
Buy There | I love picking up bags in the local markets and use these as my handbag when I’m going out at night.
Camera | Africa is a photographers dream, so you’re probably going to want to have a good camera with you. It doesn’t have to be a DSLR and you don’t have to be a professional to get great photos, but you should at least have at least a good zoom, especially if you are planning on going out on safari. The first time I went to Africa I took a very basic point and shoot which didn’t really cut it. But that was a long time ago and even basic cameras have come a long way since then.
Now I usually travel with 2 cameras plus my phone – excessive I know, but then I do like my pictures. I currently use an Olympus OM-D EM10, which served me really well on my trips to Kenya, Tanzania and Morocco last year. As well as the normal lens, you may also want to consider getting a wide angle for all those epic landscapes and telephoto zoom lens for when you are on safari.
Saying that,unless you are really into photography, you don’t need a fancy camera and 3 different lenses. In fact, when I was in the Serengeti, I got a lot of my really good pictures (like the lion one above) on my old Sony bridge camera. I bought mine 4 years ago and it’s still in good working order after travelling all over the world. There’s a newer version of the one I have called the Sony DSC-HX400V or nowadays, many of the compact cameras are really good quality and have great zooms. My favourites for image quality and colour tend to be Sony Cyber-shot or Canon PowerShot cameras. Getting one with wifi capabilities is a good idea, so you can back up your photos and send them straight to your phone so you can Instagram away without having to transfer using a computer!
I also just got a GoPro for Christmas which I’ll be taking on my next trip. It’s tiny, has a wide angle lens and I can take it in the water with me – yay!
Memory Cards | Finding (good, authentic) memory cards can be difficult outside of the big cities, so take a stash with you.
Head Torch | Brilliant for camping, brilliant for dorms, brilliant for when the power inevitably goes out – take a head torch!
Kindle | For all of those looooong, neverending, bumpy bus journeys you are likely to take! You can find my recommended Africa reading list here.
Portable Charger | Hostel charging points are often located in the bar and can get a bit overcrowded. Bring a portable charger and have it ready for emergencies in case you can’t fully charge your stuff.
Phone | As I tend to go on shorter trips now, I usually just take my ipPhone 5 and a cheap, old phone and get SIM cards along the way. However, if you are going for longer, consider getting your iPhone unlocked so you can use different SSIM cards in it and then you have internet at your fingertips! You may need a copy of your passport to get a SIM card. You can either take a few copies with you or there are often little photocopying places you can get this done for a small price.
Adapters | Some places use UK plugs, some use European and some use South African plugs, so I usually take a variety of adapters with me.
Chargers | Don’t forget all your chargers so you can use all your stuff!
Africa can be really dusty, so the golden rule tends to be not to bring anything that you don’t mind getting ruined. I’ve lost or damaged many a lovely clothing item to my Africa backpacking trips. But if you’re just sticking to the beaches or the cities, you can probably bring a few nicer items. Just remember, Africa isn’t always hot. It can get really cold at altitude and at night, so check the weather where you are going!
Hat | The sun is strong, so protect your face and neck with a hat. I usually just bring a baseball/trucker style cap.
Warm Jumper | You’ll spend a lot of time outdoors, so to stay warm in the evenings, I usually take a fleece or thick hoodie. Also good protection against mosquitoes.
Vest Tops/T-Shirts | You’ll live in these, so take at least 2 or 3 very basic ones.
Long Sleeved Shirt/Kimono Top | A long sleeved shirt can be useful to cover up from the sun or as a little extra warmth at night.
Loose Pants | Colourful, slouchy trousers can be found anywhere these days, so you could either bring some from home, your previous travels or pick some up at a local market in Africa. I bought my favourite pair in a little shop in a place called Bagamoyo on the Indian Ocean and bought another couple of pairs Nairobi and Zanzibar. Here’s a pair of hippie pants similar to mine. Linen pants are another good alternative.
Leggings | Great for wearing under shorter dresses in areas where you shouldn’t show your knees, for hiking or for protecting you against pesky mosquitoes.
Maxi Dresses/Skirts | These are perfect for throwing on for a nice dinner, trip to the local market or the beach. Take a couple of versatile and lightweight items that will work both day and night.
Sarong/Scarf | I always have a brightly coloured sarong with me for the beach, but I also wear it as a skirt and around my shoulders
Shorts | A pair of shorts or two is always useful in Africa. Maybe take one that are lightweight and breathable for activities like hiking or white water rafting, and then maybe a pair of denim shorts for lounging around in.
Jeans | The first time I went Africa, I didn’t take jeans and I really regretted it. They’ll be too warm to wear some places but really come in handy in others.
Flip Flops | When I’m in Africa I tend to live in Havaianas in the day time. They come in all different colours and are pretty durable. Since I bought my first pair I haven’t looked back.
Trainers | At night, I tent to switch to trainers, because it gets cold at night and also to protect my feel from any creatures or sharp objects I can’t see in the dark.
Swimsuit | There will be plenty of opportunities to get in the water, so bring your cozzie.
Underwear/Socks | Breathable materials are best! Sports bras are really good for the bumpy roads.
Sunglasses | The sun is stong, so protect your eyes! Plus they’ll make you look stylish in your photos!
Other | Items you might consider include nice sandals, walking boots and a lightweight waterproof jacket.
Buy There | Maybe get some clothes made whilst you are there, using the gorgeous chitenge/kitenge material you’ll find at almost every market. There are tailors in every town who can whip you up a little outfit in no time.
There are relatively big super markets in most cities and towns that have your usual household brands so you can buy or top up whilst you are there. However, there are a few items that I always take with me to last the duration of the trip.
Cleanser | To be honest, for the last 15 years I’ve used Dove soap to wash my face, but my skin is getting drier as I’m getting older, so I’ve just invested in a proper cleanser from Liz Earle. Dove soap you can get there (I like the pink one which you can’t get at home) but if you like a proper cleanser, I’d take yours with you.
Facial Moisturiser | Like in Asia, there seems to be a fascination with skin whitening facial creams, so I always bring a little bottle of my favourite moisturiser with me. I usually go between Olay Complete Care Sensitive SPF 15 and Kiehl’s Ultra Facial Moisturizer SPF 30
Facial Sunscreen | Girls (and guys), look after your skin. I have long been a fan of Clinique Super City BlockSPF 40 and always take a tube on my travels. I love it because it lasts for ages and it gives my skin a nice fresh look.
Heel Cream | Backpacking around in flip flops in the dry conditions wrecks havoc with your feet and within a week or two they will end up a sore, cracked mess. Before you go to sleep each night, just stick on a little bit of Scholl Cracked Heal cream and you’ll be right!
Nail Brush | Your nails (especially your toenails) will get really dirty with the dust, so I’d definitely recommend taking a small nail brush to keep you clean and dirt free.
Make-up | I don’t wear much make up when I’m in Africa, if at all, but for nights out, I take a tube of Maybelline Great Lash Mascara, a Rimmel eyeliner, my favourite blusher, Mac Pink Swoon.
Sun Lotion | Sun lotion can be expensive so I usually take it with me, however I try to keep covered up as much as possible and use sun cream sparingly!
First Aid Kit | I always have a little Lifesystems Adventurer First Aid Kit with me. I usually buy a few extra items and stick them in there for emergencies, things like antiseptic cream, rehydration sachets, paracetamol, Tiger Balm and Immodium.
Insect Repellent | You can get good mosquito repellent in the cities, but it’s not always readily available, so I usually take a few bottles of Jungle Formula with me.
Anti-malarials | You could get all your malaria tablets at home, however they are expensive. I usually get a few from home, to start me off and then buy the remainder when I’m over there. Personal choice!
Tweezers | Good to keep your brows looking good and for removing splinters and removing ticks!
Sanitary Products | Usually take a few me, as they don’t take up that much space, but you can of course buy them in all the supermarkets there. I also usually take a few sanitary disposal bags.
Hairbrush | Tangle Teezer hairbrushes are tiny and perfect for travel.
Buy There | Soap, wet wipes, razors, deodorant, hand sanitizer, shampoo/conditioner and body lotion/aftersun, toilet paper, cotton buds.
Money | I suggest taking a mix of your own currency, dollars for visas and some activities and local currency (if available to exchange before you go).
ATM Card | Visa is the most commonly accepted card in Africa so I’d ensure you have a Visa card, and if you can find a bank account that isn’t going to charge you loads for taking cash out.
Passport | Remember you will get stamped so your passport should have enough pages to get you through your trip. They usually say 2 pages per country you are visiting, however they will usually stamp more than one stamp on each page. Just make sure you have a few left!
Yellow Fever Certificate | Some countries require a Yellow Fever vaccination certificate to allow you to enter.
Visas | You can get most visas at the borders, but some you have to apply for in advance so do your research.
Travel Insurance | Make sure you have a comprehensive travel insurance policy and keep your documents with the emergency numbers handy.
Passport Photos | Carry a few spare passport photos with you in case needed for visas.
Mosquito Net | Most dorms/rooms have them and if you do end up camping, you won’t need one so I’d probably leave this at home.
Gaffer Tape | Saying that, occasionally you’ll find that the mosquito nets have holes in, so I usually just bring a roll of gaffer tape, fix the holes and DOOM those suckers about an hour before I go to bed. Gaffer tape also works to fix broken bags
Jewellery | You’ll have an abundance of choice in Africa, so leave your expensive stuff at home and have some fun and support the local economy by haggling for some locally made items.
Towel | Substitute a proper towel for a microfibre towel. They are a bit crap, but they dry quick and are small.
Notebook/Pen | To keep track of all those amazing things you’ll be doing.
Padlock | For securing your stuff in the lockers in your hostels, a combination padlock is great.
Dobble | This is THE best game ever. Great for playing with kids or adults.
Buy There | Washing powder.
I hope you find this list helpful! Is there anything else you would add? Or anything you’d leave at home?
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