Packing for Africa

What to take, what to leave behind and how to make it all fit into your backpack (which always seems just a little too small) are things we all agonise over before a big travel adventure. I wanted to share what I did right and wrong my trip. What do you do differently?

How to pack light

  • Roll don’t fold your clothes – they take up so much less space, can be tucked in those little corners that otherwise stay empty, and if you stack them vertically, that one clean t-shirt you are looking for is so much easier to pull out of the bag.
  • Hit the outdoors store for ultralight everything – bags, raincoats, camping gear – everything comes in miniature, stuff-bag version these days. How many of these you buy just depends on your budget
  • Embrace shorts – No matter how unattractive your knees are, shorts take up so much less space than long pants.
  • Buy a kindle – if you like to read on holiday, your bag can fill up with heavy books you’ve bought. Even the travel guides are bricks. Get a kindle (or the kindle app on your tablet/phone)
  • Ditch the Lonely Planet – just use Wikitravel and Trip Advisor like normal people
  • Leave your winter coat behind – Swap the bulky winter jacket for a woolly jumper and a light rainproof shell.

Don’t forget to bring

  • Waterproof covers for backpacks – you can dry out without damage but your passport can’t. Prepare for tropical downpours and don’t look like the only idiot on the trek that forgot to bring them.
  • Plenty of US$ in cash – more and more African countries are now charging for visas in US$ cash only. And there’s no ATMs at immigration in Africa, unlike in Asia. Don’t get stuck at the border getting gouged by some tout offering you emergency dollars at half the regular exchange rate.
  • Warm weather gear – yes it’s the tropics but chances are you’re going to climb at least one mountain. Rainforests get cold when it rains and so does the Serengeti at night. Beanie, light gloves and thermal underwear.
  • Headtorch and spare batteries – whether it’s a Kampala blackout or a jungle night you’re need that torch. And it’s probably switched itself on in your bag and flattened the batteries.
  • Portable recharger – when you’re on your third day out bush, make sure can recharge your camera to take that awesome lion shot you’ve been waiting for.
  • Plastic Bags – to put your wet/dirty items of clothing/shoes in
  • Stretch bands – the best way to keep up your beach body. There ain’t no gyms in the bush, and these allow you to work things that it’s otherwise hard to e.g. biceps, back.
  • Robbery Backup Kit – if you do get robbed, make sure you’re backed up otherwise you are well and truly screwed, forced to sell your pretty white body for a trip back to the capital and a begging session with your embassy (that is, if your country even has one there). This kit should comprise – photo ID (e.g. drivers licence), spare credit card (you know all that junk mail you get…) and at least US$100 in cash. Always keep this kit somewhere different to the main items, like in your backpack, or your bra or something.

Don’t bother to bring

  • Portable stove – you may think you are going bush a lot and will need to cook, but it’s virtually impossible to hike in Africa without guides and porters with firepits and charcoal. Also, you can’t take the gas bottles on planes and replacements are impossible to find. If you need to, be a man (or lady?) and cook on a fire.
  • Mosquito Net – yes malaria is a significant hazard and you need to sleep under mosquito nets. Even the crummiest backpackers has them and if you need to buy one there so many dumped by aid agencies that locals use them for fishing nets.
  • Singlets – you want to show off your body but really, anywhere it’s appropriate to wear a singlet, you might as well not wear a shirt at all.
  • “Safari wear” – Really? I mean really? Unless you’re German of course. In which case there’s no hope.

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