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What to Pack for Backpacking Africa

The Perfect Africa Packing List

Deciding what to pack for travel in Africa, especially when you are travelling long term, covering multiple countries with different dress codes, cultural considerations, weather conditions and temperatures, can be a bit confusing!

But don’t worry, with this universal Africa packing list I’ve got you covered for pretty much every country and all situations!

Baggage

Backpack | When you are travelling around Africa, your bags are likely to get thrown about, strapped to the roof of a car and absolutely covered in dust, so I’d suggest you get lightweight but durable rucksack. A great choice for Africa is something like the Osprey Atmos AG 65, as it’s great for your back because you carry all the weight on your hips. Similar bags are the Osprey Aura AG 65 and the The North Face Terra 55. You can of course take a suitcase too, but I just find that backpacks are better for this type of travel.

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 and keep clean! I love the Eagle Creek Pack-it Cubes as they are really good quality and they last forever (I’ve had mine for 9 years now), 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.

Daypack | Having a smaller backpack/daypack like the Osprey Escapist (the one I have is the 25, but if you aren’t carrying a lap top and load of camera stuff a smaller one would be better) or an Osprey Tempest is really useful for when you’re out on day trips or hiking. I also use this as my carry on for the plane.

Hand Bag/Purse | I LOVE my Dakine cross body bag I have this one, but in the Zanzibar pattern (how appropriate). This the bag I tend to have with me on a daily basis.

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 usually take a wash bag that has room form general toiletries and the little bit of make up I take. I love this one from Lifeventure because it’s really durable and you can hang up away from wet communal shower floors.

Buy There | I love picking up bags in the local markets and use these as my handbag when I’m going out at night.

Lion in the Serengeti - The Best Desinations for an African Safari

Electronics

Camera | Africa is a photographers dream, so you’re probably going to want to have a good camera with you. The first time I went, I took a very basic point and shoot which was a big mistake. But that was a long time ago and even basic cameras have come a long way since then. It doesn’t have to be a DSLR and you don’t have to be a professional to get great photos, but if you want to get good pictures on safari, you should at least have a good zoom.

I currently use an Olympus OM-D EM10 with various lenses. This is an older camera and I will upgrade soon. I am debating between another Olympus OMD or a Panasonic so that I can keep the same lenses.

The others i’m considering are the Sony or Fuji mirrorless cameras.

I prefer having a smallish camera, both for ease of transportation and to be discreet, so lugging round a big, heavy camera isn’t that practical for me.

If you don’t want to invest in a camera with interchangeable lenses, you could consider a bridge camera. These are actually my favourite, but the quality isn’t quite as good, but that shouldn’t matter too much to anyone who isn’t a blogger or photographer.  I actually got a lot of my really good pictures (like the lion one above) on my old Sony bridge camera and there’s a newer version of the one I have called the Sony DSC-HX400V. A couple of the girls who have been on my trips had a Panasonic Lumix bridge camera and that took some amazing shots!

Having a camera with wifi capabilities is a good idea too, so you can back up your photos to your phone so you can Instagram away without having to transfer using a computer!

If you want to vlog or take videos, or just want a camera that’s a little more discree that takes great photos, I would highly recommend the Canon G7X Mark II. The only problem with this camera is that the zoom isn’t great.

Camera Lens | If you have a camera with interchangeable lenses, 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. I’d suggest your telephoto lens be at least 300mm. Mine is only up to 150mm and it’s pretty useless on most safaris.

Go Pro | Not essential, but I also love my GoPro for adventure activities and in the water.


READ MORE: My Top Africa Travel Tips (everything you need to know before you go)


2-Week Hawaii Itinerary

Memory Cards | Finding (good, authentic) memory cards can be difficult outside of the big cities, so take a stash with you. The last thing you want to do is be having to spend your safari deleting pictures to make space. I always use 128GB ones now.

Head Torch | Absolutely essential! 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 favourite books about Africa here.

Chargers | Don’t forget all your chargers so you can use all your stuff!

Powerbank | You may not always have access to a charging point so having a powerbank is great, especially on a long journey. I have this one and it’s been great so far! Spare batteries for your camera are also worth considering!

Phone | I have an unlocked iPhone 6. If you are tied into a contract, consider getting your smart phone unlocked so you can pick up local SIM cards along the way and then you have internet at your fingertips! You may need your passport to get a SIM card

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. You can check the plugs you need here.

Laptop | The first time I went to Africa in 2009, I would never have dreamed of taking a laptop. Not many places had WIFI and I pretty much disappeared of the grid for a year, (aside from the odd email home sent from an internet cafe and a few texts on my trusty old Nokia). But times are changing (sadly), and lots of people have them now so if you. I have a MacBook Air which I love, although I try not to be on it too much when I’m travelling. Then of course it’s good to have a case to keep it safe and you may think about investing in a protective case.

Hard Drive | I would strongly advise that you back up your photos when you can! I have an ADATA hard drive which has been great so far. (Handy Tip: Use velcro to stick your hard drive to the top of your laptop and out of the way!

What to Pack for Backpacking Africa

Clothing/Shoes

Africa can be really dusty, so the golden rule for every day clothes tends to be not to bring anything that you mind getting dirty, especially if you are travelling overland or going on safari! I’ve lost or damaged many a lovely clothing item on my Africa backpacking trips.

But that’s not to say you shouldn’t bring a few nicer items too, as there will certainly be times when you’ll want to dress up!

What to wear on safari? Lightweight, breathable clothing is best, but you don’t have to be head to toe in khaki and wearing zip off pants!

If you’re doing any type of trekking, you can see my Kilimanjaro Packing List here.

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 | I cannot emphasise enough that you need to bring warm clothes. You’ll spend a lot of time outdoors, so to stay warm in the evenings, I usually take a my North Face fleece (I’ve had this for 8 years and still going strong) or thick hoodie. Also good protection against mosquitoes.

Vest Tops/T-Shirts | You’ll live in these, so take at least 3 or 4 very basic ones.

Long Sleeved Shirts | A long sleeved shirt can be useful to cover up out of respect, 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 few pairs in Nairobi, Mombasa and Zanzibar.

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, especially in cities like Nairobi or Cape Town.

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/Boots | 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.

Aqua Shoes | These are a new edition to the list but a valuable one. This past year I spent a lot of time swimming in rivers, visiting the Devil’s Pool and playing in waterfalls, so Aqua Shoes I bought this pair for all of my upcoming 2018 trips!

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 and hiking.

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 (it does rain and also good for any trekking you might do).

Buy There | I almost always but some African fabric and get some clothes made by a local tailor!


READ MORE: 39 Things You Need To Know Before Backpacking Africa


The Hairy Lemon Uganda

Toiletries/Health

You don’t have to take everything with with you but if there’s anything in particular that you like to use, I’d take it with you, as some brands aren’t available.. But there are relatively big super markets in most cities and towns that have shampoo, deodorant, moisturiser etc so even if you run out, you can top up whilst you are there.

Cleanser | I’ve always just used Dove soap on my face (I know some people who gasp in horror that I use soap on my face but it’s always worked for me) and you can get it in most supermarkets in Africa (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 Block SPF 40 and always take a tube on my travels. I love it because it lasts for ages, protects my skin and it gives my skin a nice fresh look. I’ve also now got myself some Shiseido Sports BB SPF 50+ – they have light, medium and dark, dependent on skin tone. I have light and medium for my next trip to Africa.

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 Waterproof Great Lash Mascara, a black eyeliner and my favourite blusher, Mac Pink Swoon. I use my facial sunscreen instead of foundation.

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 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! The non-branded versions are much cheaper.

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, you can buy them in most of the supermarkets there but for convenience I try and take a supply. 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.


READ MORE: The Beginner’s Guide to Backpacking East & Southern Africa


Kenya Group Tour

Money/Travel Documents

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).

Dollars | Most visas on arrival need to be paid for in dollars (always check though). The dollars should be in good condition and dated after 2013 if possible.

ATM Card | Visa is the most commonly accepted card in Africa so I’d ensure you have a Visa card, and it’s always good to have a bank account that isn’t going to charge you 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! And you should have 6 months left on the passport from when you enter the country.

Yellow Fever Certificate | Some countries require a Yellow Fever vaccination certificate to allow you to enter. You can find more info about whether you need a Yellow Fever certificate here and here.

Visas | You can get visas on arrival at lots of entry points, however some you have to apply for in advance, so do your research.

Travel Insurance | Make sure you have a comprehensive travel insurance policy that covers you for everything you want to do and keep your documents with the emergency numbers handy.

Passport Photos | Carry a few spare passport photos with you in case needed for visas.


READ MORE: How to Plan Your Dream Trip to Africa (in 20 easy steps)


Mount Nyiragongo in the DRC

Miscellaneous

Mosquito Net | A lot of dorms/rooms have them, but not all, so you may want to consider taking one. If you are in a tent, you don’t usually need one.

Electrical Tape | Saying that, occasionally you’ll find that the mosquito nets have holes in, so I usually just bring a roll of electrical tape, fix the holes and DOOM those suckers about an hour before I go to bed. Electrical tape also works to fix broken bags and tents and occasionally a car bumper.

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. Ladies may want to consider a cheap, fake wedding ring.

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 | None essential, but this is THE best game ever. Great for playing with kids or adults.

Buy There | Washing powder.

I hope you find this Africa packing list helpful and I wish you an AMAZING trip to Africa!


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