Okay, so this is more of a “dream Africa packing list”, or an “if I had it to do again packing list” or a “why didn’t someone tell me before I went packing list?” but those titles are a bit wordy.
As many of you know I returned from my first trip to Africa a couple of weeks ago, and packing was no easy task for me. I really tried to be one of those minimalist that packed just the necessities. You can find out how that went here,
If you don’t feel like reading (even though you definitely should), I can sum it up by saying it didn’t go exactly as planned.
Here are some things I wish someone had told me to pack in that overflowing bag before I left.
I know this sounds “duh” and I did bring conditioner, but you need serious conditioner. Like, the best conditioner in the world. The kind that makes your hair super oily, but you can brush it underwater. After a few days of this
I was pretty sure I was going to have to shave my head and start over.
- A Hat
I suspect no matter how much conditioner you use, you’ll be glad you have this. Between the heat, the wind, and the dirt, your hair just can’t look good in Africa. I made my peace with this about day two. Luckily I picked up this sweet hat for $3 at Target before my trip.
- A brush
I know, the most of these are about hair, but it was that bad. To be fair, I did pack a brush, but I left it in Arusha when I went out on the Serengeti… big mistake.
News flash, Africa is sunny. I did not wear sunscreen, figuring that I live in Florida, which is also sunny, so I could handle it. Wrong. Africa sun is no joke. The sad irony of it is that I was fine on the beach in Zanzibar, but got a horrible sunburn at the pool the day I left.
- A Sweater
I normally don’t approve of any place that requires a sweater and sunscreen, but I make an exception for Africa. Most of Tanzania was pretty warm. I was fine in Arusha and Zanzibar, but I was definitely glad I packed my sweater on the Serengeti. It gets pretty cold at night time bonfires and early morning game drives.
- A Good Bra
See video above, or video below
Especially on game drives, you may want to double up. Although, driving on city streets is not significantly better. Stuff gets jostled, pack accordingly.
Seriously. We really take for granted the fact that most of our tap water is drinkable, or even usable for brushing your teeth. This is not the case in many places in Tanzania. Your American fear can make you nervous about everything you ingest. Was this ice made with tap water? Was this glass washed with tap water? Now, these are legitimate concerns, but drinking nothing but bottled beer is not a solution or you end up feeling like this.
Also, they make bottled water, so the beer thing really isn’t a solid decision. I’m willing to take responsibility for that one
For real, bring plenty of cash! Most places will proudly display that they accept Visa, but it’s a lie. The credit card machine is always down, which means you have to walk to an ATM, which will have a line of people that do not adhere to Western perceptions of personal space. Oh, and occasionally when you get in that line for the ATM, a security guard will inform you that there is “no money today.” Most places will accept USD, so stock up before your trip… or you’ll be waiting like this for at least 45 minutes everywhere you go.
I had a small pharmacy in my bag. If you visit a travel clinic before hand, which you pretty much have to in order to get your required (but never verified) yellow fever vaccine, they’ll load you up with more pills than you’ll ever need; Malarone for malaria, asprin, dramamine for tiny scary plane rides, anti-biotics to treat “travelers diarrhea”, from which I’m proud to report that I’m among the 30% of travelers in Africa who have not suffered.
-Bonus tip: I spent a small fortune on the yellow fever vaccine, $345 with typhoid. Apparently the worst thing that happens if they ask for your card and you don’t have it is that they will give you the vaccine at the airport for around $60. It’s a minor inconvenience, but maybe worth it to save that much money. Also, Kilimanjaro airport was shockingly small, I’m sure the vaccine would have been pretty quick.
- A Camera
This one sounds like a “duh” one too. I had intended to take photos with my cell phone, which I mostly did, but what I didn’t bank on was how frequently power outages happen. You can’t always count on being able to charge your phone overnight. I was glad I brought my extra camera. I would hate to have missed shots like this.
- Comfy Clothes
You’re never going to look cute on safari, make your peace with it now. I packed some ambitious outfits, but ended up mostly wearing my comfy clothes from the plane ride. You just can’t feel pretty with the above mentioned hair situation and a 20 liter bucket shower in filmy lake water.
- Bug Spray
This is another one the travel clinic told me about, but I decided not to listen to. They provided me with 98% deet bug spray that ended up mostly lining my suitcase during transit. I also have a weird aversion to bug spray since I spent $1 to have a Mexican lady spray me down in Cozumel only to spend all day sticky and not see a single bug. This was not the case in Africa. I saw all the bugs! It’s a good thing the travel clinic also hooked me up with Malarone for malaria.
- A small bag
Even if you’re like me and were less than successful at packing 2-weeks in a carry on, packing an extra small bag is a life saver if you have a home base to keep your larger bag. Suitcase inception worked well for me.
Many of the small planes I had to fly on to get out to the Serengeti had very limited cargo room under the plane and certainly wouldn’t have fit a large suitcase.
Now, some things you should probably leave behind to avoid having a suit case that looks like this.
Not only should you just give up on looking good, but very few places have real floors. You’ll be walking on a lot of dirt, rocks, and uneven surfaces. I wore my sneakers more in my two weeks in Africa than I usually do in a year. Of course, I do live in Florida so most of the time I’m in flip flops. I brought those too, but you’ll want something close toed, especially if you visit during rainy season like I did.
- Nice Clothes
You will get dirty, you won’t look good no matter what, and best of all Africa is one of those places where you see people in shorts and flip flops even in the fanciest of establishments. A sundress is formal wear. I love dressing up, but I also love societies that just don’t care. It’s not dissimilar to Florida. Beach Rules!
I did get dressed up to go out one night, but I think it was mostly because the people I was staying with felt bad that I packed nice clothes that I didn’t have a reason to wear. I tried heels, switched to flip flops midway through the night and ended up at a club that looked like this.
The recommendation I received, once I was already there and it was too late to do anything about it, was to wear wedges. That way you can be in heels, but also not sink into the quicksand in the streets.
I brought my laptop, ipad, and iphone. I really only used the phone. Another thing we take for granted is the access to wifi. There are a few places that offered free wifi, but like the credit card machines, often times it was not working. Most of the time I needed to do anything online I would have to use a personal hot spot on someone’s phone. I locked my computer up the day I arrived and unlocked it to pack up and leave. That was not really worth lugging it around for 30+ hours of travel time.
- Anything you don’t want to lose.
Jewellery, electronics, and most importantly clothing. Most hotels and lodges have laundry service, but especially if you’re staying with locals, everyone has a maid. This has it’s ups and downs. The great part is not having to wash up after dinner and getting clean clothes every day. The downside is having another person you don’t really know having access to your stuff. Not to mention the fact that having a stranger do your laundry is not the most accurate. Every morning you’d meet your housemates in the living room to swap shirts, find out where your pants ended up, and try and figure out the age old question, “if we’re all here, then whose socks are these?” I’m pretty sure I just came home short one cardigan. Not too shabby, all things considered.
Those are a few things I would do differently next time. Did I miss anything I might need?