Africa is a popular destination for travellers who are looking to volunteer on their gap year, so we thought we’d put together a packing list to help you decide what you should take with you on your African adventure. From repellents and nets to deter mosquitoes to appropriate clothing and first aid items to keep you healthy, we’ve got the basics covered in this Africa packing guide!
Malaria is a widespread issue throughout the majority of Africa, so you should discuss Malaria tablets with your GP or travel clinic before you travel. There are a number of options available and only a medical professional will be able to advise which is the best option for you. As the course of anti-malarials need to be started before travel, you will need to take care of this part before you even begin to put your travel kit together!
Although not all African countries carry a Malaria risk, other diseases such as Dengue Fever can be a problem and are also spread by mosquitoes. Sleeping with an impregnated mosquito net is a good way to avoid bites from mosquitoes and other insects on a night. You should also pack plenty of mosquito repellent as this will provide extra protection against bites and disease, the only way to prevent Dengue Fever is to not get bitten in the first place, sadly there is no vaccination or medication you can take to prevent it at present!
Plug sockets in use vary widely across the continent, with options such as the India and Swiss plug present in some countries. The most common types you will find in use are European type plugs (2 round pins) and countries such as Ghana and Kenya use the UK plug. Researching your destination beforehand is a good way to find out which plug adapter you’ll need, but if you’re unsure, a worldwide plug adapter will cover several plug types. If you’re travelling to South Africa, you will need to pack a South Africa plug adapter, as they have their own unique plug socket here. The South African plug features 3 large round pins (like the old British plug, if you can remember back that!).
As Africa is the hottest continent in the world, it’s easy to think of simply packing shorts, t-shirts, bikinis and flip flops, which have all earned their place in your backpack…but don’t forget to pack a couple of long sleeved tops or shirts, as well as some longer trousers. Around 40% of the African population are Muslim and in countries such as Egypt, you will need to cover up to show respect to the locals, especially when visiting Mosques. Longer sleeves and trousers are also great for protecting you from insect bites, as mosquitoes are drawn to exposed skin, especially the wrists, ankles and neck! Another handy item is a sarong, which you can wrap around your shoulders for a quick fix if you find yourself needing to cover up.
In terms of footwear, flip flops and sandals are great for the day to day, but you will also need some sturdier shoes or trainers, and possibly some walking boots if you’re going off the beaten track for safaris, jungle treks and walking on more difficult terrain. You may also want to consider packing a hat to keep the sun off your head, a wide brimmed option would be wise as this will help to keep the sun off your neck and face as well. A hat is definitely a must have for travellers who will be going on safaris or jungle treks during their trip.
The majority of African countries are classed as ‘developing countries’, so medical care and facilities can be poor. Therefore, it is wise to pack a comprehensive first aid kit with sterile needles and syringes or you can buy a standard travel first aid kit and then buy a sterile needle kit separately. Due to the widespread AIDS issue in Africa, packing your own sterile needle kit is extremely important, as this eliminates the risk of you being treated with contaminated medical equipment, should you require emergency medical treatment.
Another medical issue that people often face when travelling in Africa is Traveller’s Diarrhoea, so make sure you pack some diarrhoea relief tablets and rehydration salts to help get you back on your feet. You will also need to pack any medication that you’ll need for the duration of your trip, such as contraceptive pills and over the counter medicines such as paracetamol and anti-histamines. Don’t forget to pack your anti-malarial tablets if these have been prescribed.
As with many other countries around the world, water is unsafe to drink in Africa. Your options include buying bottled water, which isn’t economical or environmentally viable, or you can use water purification tablets or drops to treat unsanitary water. It’s also worth noting that in remote villages, bottled water won’t always be available, so treating the water yourself may be your only option. Chlorine tablets are a popular option for treating contaminated water, but this can leave an unpleasant after taste, so many travellers now opt for Chlorine Dioxide treatments , which leave no aftertaste. Another method of treating water while travelling in Africa is the Water-to-go Bottle, which has a built in filter to filter out dangerous contaminants that cause illness.
You may find that toiletries can be difficult to come by in remote areas, so if you’re volunteering or staying in villages with minimal facilities, make sure you pack some toiletries to keep you clean during your trip. A good option that will save you space is soap leaves, or you may want to take some no water body wash and shampoo if wash facilities are poor or non-existent.
You’ll also need a travel towel, as these save space in your backpack and are much more quick drying compared to the ones you use at home. As travel towels are quick drying and many styles come with anti-bacterial protection, they don’t start to smell unpleasant, like towels from home would after a while of being stuffed inside your backpack!
Due to the hot climate in Africa, sun protection is a must, so make sure you bring a high SPF sun cream with both UVA & UVB protection. A waterproof suncream is recommended as this won’t dilute as easily when you sweat or go for a swim.
This one all depends on the climate at the time of your visit, so do some research before you choose a sleeping bag for travelling in Africa. If you’re sleeping indoors, a 1 season sleeping bag should suffice, but for camping trips you may need a 2 or even 3 season option depending on how low the temperatures drop at night. If you’ll mainly be sleeping in hostels or guest houses and don’t want to carry a sleeping bag around with you, an anti-bacterial sleeping bag liner will be perfect, as they are a much more lightweight and compact option compared to a sleeping bag.
Blackouts can be common throughout Africa, so having a head torch to hand is a good idea! Not only will the head torch make it easier for you to find your way around when the power is out, but you can also use it when you want to read or find something in hostel dorms, without waking your room mates. When staying in remote villages, you may also find that the toilet is in an outbuilding, so you’ll be glad you packed a head torch when it comes to finding your way there after dark!
Other Accessories to Consider…
There are a couple of other travel accessories you may wish to consider, including zip lock bags to keep your stuff dry, compact an organised, a money belt for safely and discreetly storing passports, cash and valuables and an elastic travel clothes line for when you need to do some laundry during your trip. There are of course other items you may feel the need to pack, but this list is simply some of the essential items that we wouldn’t want to leave for Africa without!
Rachel has worked for the company for 9 years and as one of our buying team, has a wide knowledge of travel gear. She has travelled in Europe and Southeast Asia, but her dream destination would be South America to experience Carnival in Rio, unleash her inner Attenborough in the Galapagos and sip on Colombian coffee in colonial Cartagena.