So You Want to go to Africa? Packing and Travel Tips

So you want to take a trip to Africa?  Africa is a large continent- much larger than most people realize.  But since there are similarities among developing nations in Africa, I've lumped them together for simplicity as you pack your bags.

You will need to check weather for your destination to determine clothing needs.  Remember seasons may be flip flopped according to proximity to the equator and in spite of what we see in TV, it isn't hot there all the time. We went to Ethiopia during their summer and it was cool and rainy every day. Someone on another blog said I should bring rubber boots, so I did.  I never wore them.  Everyone was wearing sandals, so I did too.  That blogger was pretty wise as it turned out.  I had to have an industrial size pedicure towards the end of my stay because the bacteria from the mud/manure/rainwater mess had come through the soles of my feet and created cracks.The lady who did it used something like a brick of lava stone.  I've only seen them that large in construction projects!  She said there are lots of feet problems related to bacteria in the soil in Ethiopia and Sudan. Keep that in mind when you choose your shoes.  After that I put on sock and shoes every day.  Lesson learned.

You probably need fewer items than you prefer to pack.  You can wear your clothing for several days if you don't get too dusty or dirty.  I took way more than I needed.  I could have gotten by with 3 complete outfits.

windbreaker/waterproof jacket
wool jacket or sweater
comfortable walking shoes
headscarf for ladies if traveling to Muslim countries
undergarments- you can wash these daily in the sink so microfiber is preferable to cotton
shirts that are easy to wash
maxi skirt for women
pants - you're better off leaving shorts at home. People tend to dress modestly and if you're hiking, there are plenty of ants, centipedes, snakes, etc. that will have access to your legs so better to cover.  lightweight fabrics are easier to dry than jeans.
microfiber towel- takes up less space and dries well

laundry bag, clothesline, and laundry soap.  I brought washer sheets only to discover that no one where we went used a washing machine.  All laundry was washed by hand.  You will not need dryer sheets for the dryer (because there aren't any dryers), though I have seen it on so many packing lists just to keep your clothing fresh in the suitcases.  If you stay at a hotel, most will have a same day or next day laundry service. Sometimes we used it but usually I just washed in the sink and hung in the bathroom or on the patio to dry.

A medicine bag with a minimum of Benadryl, alleve, cipro, and band-aids. Actually that liquid bandage stuff was a good idea, if I had just remembered to take it.  I took essential oils also- peppermint, lavender, and tea tree oil which worked for burns, bug bites, upset stomach. A good probiotic and daily vitamin are helpful too. We still ended up with tummy problems, but I think it made it easier to get over.

Bug repellent- I found that the skin so soft from Avon worked well and it wasn't so unpleasant we could put it on at bedtime when the majority of bugs were biting. They have moistened towelettes in individual packets, which was very convenient.

Sunscreen, lip balm, cetaphil soap, tea tree oil shampoo (great deterrent for lice- I know that now because I did get lice and I wasn't using tea tree oil in my shampoo), toothbrush & toothpaste, wipes (these are good to have at all times because running clean water is often not available when you need it).  Don't ever use your toothbrush under tap water.  I forgot once and it was all it took to give me diarrhea for a couple days.  Use bottled water for everything.

Pen & paper/journal- you will want to write down something.  I was surprised that I filled nearly an entire journal over the summer. We used paper to share our email addresses with those we met too.

Travel guides.  I had downloaded trip advisor's city guides for Addis Ababa and Nairobi in my phone too, but so many times there just wasn't Wifi access or electricity so we used the paper copies more often.  I often took screenshots of the maps in the paper books and used those to get around the city. Screenshots are helpful when there's a language barrier to ask people how to get somewhere, and can help you remember hotel names, street names, landmarks, etc.

Passport, Yellow Fever/Immunization Record.  Take photos of these and keep them in your phone or camera if possible.

Phone, camera with an extra battery and cards, chargers, adaptors, and a flashlight.  I needed a charger for my camera battery and figured I could just find it in Kenya.  I did, but I paid dearly.  It was $60 for an item I could have gotten at Amazon for $10.  Most chargers are available with dual voltage so check before you go.  We used the flashlight nearly every day.  There were many power outages.


Credit cards with a chip.  Know the code before you go.  Take more than one and just leave American Express at home.  Nobody we saw wanted to take it due to the fees.  When you pay by credit card they will charge a fee on top of the purchase.  Even though I had 2 credit cards and a debit card, it was good to have choices because some ATMs and stores only use a certain bank.  Most of the time, cash is preferred.  Especially if you're going into a rural area, you will need to have cash in the country's currency, though we were able to use American dollars in a pinch.

Snacks- I took Clif bars, gum and mints.  They were handy when we were traveling or thought the food was questionable.

When you consider what bag to pack, just remember that roller bags may not be as easy to use depending on your destination.  Sidewalks were pretty much nonexistent in Ethiopia.  Pack light enough that you can easily carry your bag a few blocks.


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