updated on May 28th, 2019
This week our Africa travel expert (and my dad), Tom, will give us tips for packing for a trip to Africa. Whether you’re packing for an African safari or a gorilla trek in Uganda, he has some great advice. –Amy
Traveling to Africa does not have to break the bank and leave you paupers. Our last trip was a 14 day overland excursion from Nairobi, Kenya to Uganda. We happened to go with a company that we had already traveled with throughout East Africa: Nomad Africa Adventure Tours. There are many excellent companies and most will be happy to provide you with pre-travel packing and planning guidance. If you follow the guidelines they suggest, you’ll pack about 75 pounds into your duffel. Only about 30-40 pounds of which you really need! So, here’s what you need to pack for your African vacation.
Sorry, no hard sided bags and no wheeled bags! You’re not going to the south of France for a film festival! Once out of the big city, there aren’t many sidewalks in Africa for dragging bags. And your cubbyhole on the overland truck will be limited for storage. Ours was, and will be next fall, about 14 x 14 x 30 inches. For the last seven years I have carried a Rick Steves’ Convertible Carry-On combination duffel and backpack. I don’t endorse it, but it works for me. Your local Army/Navy surplus store may have something equally useful. A good sturdy duffel bag with a shoulder strap will also work just fine. Bottom line, it should be squishy. Buy a couple tiny combination padlocks for minimal bag security. And the locks will be useful to secure your truck cubby while on tour. You may choose to shrink-wrap your bags when you get to the airport for security. I strongly recommend this for transit through Nairobi, Johannesburg and Cape Town.
You will also want to stuff a small very lightweight duffel bag into your backpack. We had to transfer to a small van for our two night trip into the Maasai Mara National Park and we could only carry 20 pounds per person with us on that excursion. I humped the little duffel and my wife carried her day pack with the valuables. The bag will also be nice as an extra airplane carry-on to pack those “trade goods” home to your admiring fans left behind.
One of the members in your party will also want to carry a lightweight day pack as an airplane carry-on. You won’t want to pack cameras, iPads, Go Pro’s, cell phones, Kindles, etc. into your checked bags. They may not be at your baggage claim to meet you! The day pack will be useful to store those daily necessities above your head on the truck, in the game drive 4 x 4 or on your back for game hikes.
Another great addition to your carry on: Lonely Planet’s Guide to Africa. It’s a huge continent, but they manage to cover everything! Or, visit their shop to find more country-specific guides. Use coupon code BOLDTOURIST10 for 10% off your purchase!
What clothes should you pack for a trip to Africa?
Answer: As little as possible!
I pack for 5 days. All of your stopping points will have inexpensive laundry services. I fly dressed in a button down shirt, nice jeans, and my walking shoes. They will be my “dress up” clothes if needed in the “big city”. My “Men’s Packing List For Africa” is:
- 2 pairs of combination zip-off slacks/shorts
- Another old pair of shorts
- A few collared pull-over shirts- such as a comfortable polo shirt in a material that will keep you cool
- 3 old T-shirts that your wife approves of (!)
- 1 ancient long sleeved shirt for hiking to protect your arms
- 1 swim suit
- 5 pairs of underwear
- 1 pair of long socks (plus your airplane socks)- a good hiking pair would be wise
- 2 pairs of short ankle socks for your walking shoes
- Good quality close-toed sandals (see the shoes paragraph below)
- Cheap flip-flops
- 1 light fleece or hoodie
- 1 lightweight waterproof jacket (or combine with the fleece/hoodie but it will possibly be too warm)
- A wide brimmed hat. My favorite is my old beat up Dorfman Pacific Mesh hat. (Look on the internet) For 7 years I have mashed it flat in the bottom of my pack for Africa and SEA and it keeps popping back into shape.
We can argue about the need for hiking shoes. Wear whatever your feet desire. I wear a good set of walking shoes onto the plane and spend 90% of the trip in my sandals. I only wore my walking shoes while day trekking for chimps, rhinos and the gorillas. The long socks were pulled over the bottom of my zip-off slacks. If ever there was a continent in the world where you don’t need to make a fashion statement, it is Africa. You will be overdressed for the party in gym shorts, a T-shirt, and flip flops.
Toiletries for Africa
Pack sun screen and insect repellent. Natural and organic crapola mostly don’t work. The repellent should contain 50% DEET or less. Higher concentrations can be harmful to your skin. Within airline limitations, carry what you need. Almost every day, you will stop at a real store (believe it or not) where you can purchase repellent, tooth paste, bottled water and other needs so don’t over pack. Take what you’d take on a normal trip, with extra sunscreen and bug spray.
In Africa, your flashlight (or torch) is your best friend. When the sun goes down it gets really dark! And just because you have lights in you safari tent or cabin this minute doesn’t mean you will have electricity in a few minutes when the generator kicks off or a rolling power outage hits the village. You are going to feel pretty foolish searching for something in your pack in pitch darkness. Keep it around your neck or in a pocket. Pack a few extra batteries too.
For chimpanzee and gorilla treks, I recommend packing cheap leather gloves. I got the suggestion on a TripAdvisor forum and I was happy I brought them. You will be thrashing around on steep wooded hill sides and grabbing anything you can find to stay upright. The gorillas, and your guides, will be in hysterics watching you but they won’t show it. Give your gloves to your last chimp or gorilla guide and they’ll love you.
What NOT to pack
Avoid the trap of purchasing a lot of expensive safari clothes and gear. First hint: At your first opportunity in-country, buy a Maasai blanket at the obligatory tourist stop. They are inexpensive, very light weight, and have a lots of uses. PS: They are probably made in China!
See more posts in our Africa series!