The Art of Packing for Africa

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I like to think of myself as a seasoned traveler. Since the beginning of Blood:Water over 11 years ago, I have traveled to Africa more times than I can count. I have mastered the art of fitting two week’s worth of clothing into a carry-on bag… yes carry-on. I 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 do confess now that I travel with an under 2-year-old son, my masterful packing days have gone slightly by the wayside. Just read this blog post for proof. Perhaps this will inspire me to write a post on how to pack a carry-on only while traveling with a baby. We will see.

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IMG_3263

I digress. So without further ado, here are my top five tips for packing:

1. Clothes to Pack

 p1shirts

p1shirts

  • 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
  • 1 t-shirt and 1 pair of shorts/boxers for sleeping
  • 1 pair of jeans for days in transit or in a city
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p3skirts

  • 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)
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100_0487

  • 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
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p5plane

  • 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 and Documents to Pack

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p6gear1

  • 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)
  • Smart phone for music (remember that you likely will not use your cell phone for calls)
  • p8docs
  • 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

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p7gear2

  • 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
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  • Contact solution and eyeglasses (if applicable)
  • Sunscreen – at least 30 SPF
  • Insect repellant
  • 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. Medicine and First Aid to Pack

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p13meds3

  • 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)
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  • 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

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p17total4

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!):

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p15total2

  • 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.
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p11meds1

  • 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!

And there you have it! If you’d like to travel with Blood:Water to Africa, visit bloodwater.org/visiontrips.