The Friday Five: How to Pack for Travel to Africa

photo 2 James and I are headed to Lwala (by way of Paris!) and will be there for almost a full month. This is the last leg of my Sabbatical, and I am so looking forward to spending time with our friends in a place that has become our second home!

Of course, the downside to travel is all the packing and prep that goes into it. Since the beginning of Blood:Water over eight years ago, I've traveled to Africa more times than I can count - and over the years, I'm proud to say, I have perfected the art of packing. I even have a famous "Packing for Africa" tutorial and demonstration that has helped many first-time travelers pack everything they need for two weeks of travel in rural Africa - all in carry-on luggage only! I can say with full confidence that it is better to travel to Africa with less, than with baggage! James and I have learned he hard way: it's just better to bring what will fit in a rolling carry-on and backpack than checking.

Don't forget that Africa's climate varies, depending on region. So this is a general guide, but make sure you are aware of the specific climate and season to which your traveling.

Without further ado, here are my top five tips for packing:

1. Clothes to Pack

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  • 5-6 short-sleeved t-shirts (Ladies, remember to keep it classy and modest! Gentlemen, button up shirts with a collar are preferred)
  • 2 long-sleeved t-shirts
  • For Women: 3-4 lightweight knee or ankle-length skirts (most women wear skirts, but be sure that your knees are always covered, as anything higher is considered immodest in rural Africa) plus 2 pairs of lightweight pants or capris (comfortable for the long plane ride )
  • For Men: 3-4 light weight khakis (WITHOUT zip off shorts or cargo pockets) or semi-dress trousers with a belt (most men dress formally even in rural settings
  • 1 t-shirt and 1 pair of shorts/boxers for sleeping
  • 1 pair of jeans for days in transit or in a city
  • 1 fleece or zip-up outer layer
  • 1 lightweight rain jacket
  • 2 bandanas
  • 10 pairs of underwear
  • For Women: 3-4 pairs of socks For Men: 7-8 pairs of socks
  • 1 pair of comfortable walking shoes
  • 1 pair of semi-dress shoes (flats for ladies, loafers for men)
  • 1 pair of sandals or flip-flops
  • Sunglasses and/or hat

2. Gear & Documents to Pack

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    • Quick-dry towel (you can find this at any camping store like REI or LL Bean)
    • Headlamp with extra batteries
    • Nalgene (or other) water bottle
    • Alarm clock (or watch with an alarm)

iPod or smart phone (remember that you likely will not use your cell phone; you can plan to purchase an inexpensive cell phone in country rather than deal with international roaming charges - but it's nice to have music)

  • Earplugs
  • Camera
  • Universal electricity plug adaptor (REI carries an all-in-one adaptor that I prefer)
  • Granola bars or Power Bars (or any other small snack that is familiar and comfortable for you)
  • Passport and Driver's License
  • Additional copy of passport and driver's license, kept separately from your originals
  • Travel Insurance card (or make sure the person/group you are traveling with has it for you - Blood:Water provides insurance cards to everyone who travels with us)
  • Notebook and pens
  • Book (or eReader, which is a fabulous way to travel with multiple books)
  • ATM card (remember to call your bank before you leave so they know you are traveling internationally and won't hold withdrawals placed out of the U.S.)
  • U.S. cash (make sure that any $50 and $100 bills are dated AT LEAST 2009 - anything printed before 2009 may not be accepted
  • Inoculations proof (you will receive a yellow card - just keep it in your passport)


3. Toiletries to Pack


  • 2-3 packs of travel-size baby wipes
  • Toothbrush, toothbrush cover, and travel-size toothpaste
  • Floss
  • Hairbrush/comb
  • 3 packs of travel-size Kleenex
  • Mini travel mirror
  • 2 razors and travel-size shaving cream
  • 2 travel-size packs of hand sanitizer
  • Contact solution and eyeglasses (if applicable)
  • Sunscreen - at least 30 SPF
  • Insect repellant/li>
  • Deodorant
  • Travel-size hand or body lotion
  • Travel-size shampoo and conditioner
  • 1 small roll of toilet paper (you can roll your own or get Charmin’s travel-size version)
  • 3-4 travel-packets of dry laundry detergent (Tide or Shout both work great)

4. Medicines & First Aid to Pack


  • Malarone - Malaria pills (remember to take one every morning with food)
  • Sleep aid (I generally take one on my first two nights in Africa to help me settle into the new sleep schedule)
  • 1 small bottle of Pepto-Bismol pills - stomach aid (I generally take one every morning to coat my stomach)
  • 2 rolls of travel-size Tums - antacid
  • 1 broad-spectrum antibiotic (I use Cipro - you will need a prescription for this)
  • Small bag (10-15) of cough drops and/or throat lozenges
  • Travel-size tube of Cortizone - anti-itch cream
  • 3-4 packets of Emergen-C (or other)
  • Various size band-aids - 2-3 of each size
  • Neosporin

5. Packing - The Main Event!

p17total4I would highly recommend traveling with only carry-on luggage. This will practically erase the possibility lost luggage and will make traveling while in Africa infinitely easier. I know it may sound crazy, but, I promise - you CAN fit all of the above into one small/medium-size rolling duffle bag or suitcase (make sure to confirm that it matches size regulations for carry-on luggage!), one backpack, and one purse or messenger bag that you can carry with you every day in Africa. Here are some helpful tips on how to do that (hint: it all comes down to plastic bags!):

  • Gallon-size Ziplock Bags: roll up all your clothes and seal them in Ziplock bags, squeezing out all the air to create a vacuum-like pack.


  • Carry-on Liquids: Remember that (A) All carry-on liquids need to be less than 3oz and (B) they need to fit into a quart-size bag.


  • Medicine: In order to save space, I put my medicines in little pill bags that you can buy at drugstores like Walgreens. If you do this, remember to make sure each bag is labeled so you don't mix up your medicines! I like to take the label or sticker off the original packaging and include it right in the bag with the medicine. Once all your little bags of medicine are ready, just put them into one of your ziplock bags!
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And there you have it! Jena's famous Packing for Africa 101!

Au revoir until next time!