17 Top Africa Packing List Items + What NOT to bring (2017 Update)

What should I bring on my Africa trip?

Many Westerners see Africa as some exotic, faraway land –one that’s so different, and so destitute, it’s hard to comprehend. Fortunately, in our ever-globalized world, more and more people are visiting Africa and getting to see for themselves what it’s really like. But even people who choose to go there may find themselves wondering what to bring to Africa.

When it comes to Africa travel tips, I think the most important thing is to recognize that it’s a huge and diverse continent. Even though the media and pop culture tend to treat Africa like one monolithic entity, it’s over three times the size of the U.S., comprised of 54 independent countries, and home to around 3,000 distinct ethnic groups.

That said, plenty of items are useful to have almost anywhere on the continent. After living there for over three years, and having visited several different countries, I put together this packing list for Africa. Of course, no matter which countries you visit, a healthy dose of patience and a strong sense of adventure should be considered Africa travel essentials.

1) LifeStraw – Avoiding tap water is probably the #1 thing visitors should do to stay healthy in Africa. Bottled water is available almost everywhere, but buying it everyday gets pricey and creates a ton of plastic waste. The LifeStrawis a cheap and eco-friendly alternative, and it’ll take up very little space in your bag.
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2) Activated charcoal – If you’re careful about what you eat and drink as you travel around Africa, hopefully you can avoid getting sick. But there’s always some risk, so bring a bottle of activated charcoal to be prepared. If you do get sick, it’ll stop diarrhea by absorbing whatever toxins are in your system.
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3) Power adapter: Universal and South Africa – If you’re coming from North America, you’ll need a power adapter anywhere in Africa. Several different types of plugs are found throughout the continent, though, so a universal adapter is the way to go. If you’re headed to Southern Africa, you’ll want to bring a South Africa-specific adapter as well, because that plug is not part of this universal adapter.
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4) Travel insurance – Even though visiting Africa can be just as safe as anywhere else, it’s a place where you need to expect the unexpected and buying travel insurance is a very good idea. It costs a tiny fraction of your total trip cost and will cover you in the unlikely event of an emergency. This should give you some welcome peace-of-mind that you’ll be covered no matter what happens. World Nomads is a popular company among frequent travelers, and it’s the one I like to use.
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5) Passport holder – You’ll obviously need your passport to travel around Africa (and to get there in the first place), and a holder is useful for protecting it and keeping other valuables organized, too. This one will hold cash, credit cards, and even a cell phone, and it’s much less likely to get stolen than a regular wallet since it’s protected discreetly under your shirt.
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6) Lipstick-sized portable charger – These days, keeping your devices charged while on the go is essential. I can’t tell you how many times it saved us on our travels through Africa when our phones were almost out of batteries we needed to look something up online! This little charger is a must-have for Africa travel.
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cellphone charger

7) Flip-flops: Women’s and Men’s and/or Chacos: Women’s and Men’s or Crocs: Women’s and Men’s – The best shoes to wear in Africa depends on what you’re doing, but you’ll definitely want to bring a pair of sandals. Flip-flops are useful for staying someplace with shared showers or hanging out at the beach or pool, and sturdier sandals, like these Chacos or Crocs, are a goodchoice for light hiking or water activities.
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8) First-Aid kit – While the risk of injury is no higher in Africa than elsewhere, it’s easy to get small cuts or scrapes, especially if you’re spending a lot of time outside. Packing a First-Aid kit like this one will ensure you have basic supplies you might need, like Band-Aids, gauze, and antiseptic wipes.
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9) Hiking shoes: Women’s and Men’s(hot weather);Women’s and Men’s – For strenuous hikesor treks, you’ll be more comfortable in protective hiking shoes. In Africa’s warmest climates, waterproof shoes are too hot, so you should bring a pair of ventilated shoes instead. For colder climates and higher elevations, though, keeping your feet dry is critical, and you’ll want the warmth and protection that waterproof shoes offer.
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10) Sarong – I pack a sarong almost every time I travel, because they can be used in place of so many other things: sheet, towel, picnic blanket, curtain, swimsuit cover-up, scarf, the list goes on. Plus, sarongs cost less than many of those items, and they’re small and lightweight, making them ideal for travel.
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11) Virtual Private Network (VPN) – Many countries in Africa heavily censor the Internet. So if you plan on remaining connected on your journey through Africa, a good VPN like NordVPN is essential to prevent getting blocked.

More importantly, though, a quality VPN makes it next to impossible for hackers to access your private info. If you go on any WiFi such as at a restaurant or hotel then you’re potentially putting your passwords and credit cards at risk of being stolen but with a VPN you protect yourself with one click.
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12) Solid shampoo – The stringent requirements regarding liquids on airplanes make solid shampoo appealing, because it means one less thing to worry about fitting in your little Ziploc bag. Even if you have checked luggage, packing fewer liquids means less chance of one of them leaking and making a mess in your bag.
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13) Electrolytes – Electrolytes are also great to bring to Africa, just to be safe. Diarrhea can leave you seriously dehydrated, which is especially problematic in a hot climate. If you get sick, mix these tablets with water to replenish the electrolytes you’re losing. In especially hot areas, it’s hard to stay hydrated even if you’re not sick, so you might consider using them on a regular basis.
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14) Protein bars – Because meat is expensive, there are parts of Africa where it’s not eaten on a regular basis, at least not in large quantities. And you’re probably not going to find a substitute like tofu (though eggs and beans are extremely common in many African countries), so you might want to supplement your diet with some high-protein snacks, like these Clif bars.
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15) Sunscreen – The sun can be relentless in much of Africa, so using sunscreen is absolutely crucial. It’s one thing that’s very difficult to find there, even in large cities (and if you do find it, it’ll probably cost three times what it does at home). So make sure you bring sunscreen with you, regardless of which country you’re visiting.
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16) Probiotics – Many African nations don’t have the same sanitary standards that we’re used to in Western countries. Therefore, using these probiotics to keep your digestion and immunity strong is essential. I recommend taking them before your travels and especially during the trip.
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17) Wet wipes – I recommend packing wet wipes for Africa because they have a bunch of different uses. Not all bathrooms will have soap and water, so you can use them to clean your hands. If you’re camping, or your water goes out (as is common in many areas), or you just have a hot, dusty bus ride, they’re great for freshening up a little. And in Africa’s deserts, wet wipes also work well for cleaning sand off anything.
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Other packing list items to consider taking to Africa

What should I wear in Africa?

Though it’s a large and diverse place, when it comes to clothes for Africa, there are three things I’ve found everywhere I’ve visited:

1) The first is the need to dress modestly. With few exceptions, women visiting Africa should keep their shoulders, cleavage, and especially knees and thighs covered.

2) A second thing I’ve found nearly everywhere is that you should wear nicer clothes than you might think. Westerners tend to think there are no personal hygiene or attire standards in Africa, but that’s simply not true. Local people in many areas are more formal and fashionable than I would have expected, and showing up to a nice restaurant or someone’s house in dirty or overly casual clothes is considered disrespectful.

3) My third piece of general advice for clothes in Africa is to avoid bringing lots of white clothes. Try as you might, they won’t stay that color for long (although you’ll inevitably see local men in spotless white button-downs and wonder how they manage it!).

Beyond that, lightweight fabrics are best in most parts of Africa, where the temperatures can get extremely hot. But check the climate for the specific places you plan to visit, as well as the time of year. Some countries, particularly in the southern part of the continent, can get chilly during their winter months, and you’ll want to wear long pants and sweaters or jackets. Lastly, if you’re planning on doing any hiking or even just a lot of walking, be sure to pack a pair of comfortable shoes.

What NOT to bring to Africa

1) 🚫 DON’T BRING short shorts or miniskirts. Revealing clothing is considered inappropriate in almost all parts of Africa. If it doesn’t cover your thighs and knees, leave it at home.
2) 🚫 DON’T TAKE an Africa-wide guidebook.Some companies publish guidebooks to the whole continent– but with 54 countries to cover, they don’t provide enough information to be useful. Do your generic Africa research online, and then purchase guidebooks to the specific countries or regions you’re visiting.
3) 🚫 DON’T BRING lots of cash.Most larger towns and cities throughout Africa have ATMs, so you can access local currency once you arrive. There’s no need to take a ton of cash with you and risk having it get lost or stolen.
4) 🚫 DON’T PACK more than one pair of jeans. You may want jeans for nights out, but limit yourself to one pair. They’re bulky and heavy, and they take forever to dry. In many parts of Africa, the hot,humid weather means you probably won’t want to wear jeans too often anyway.
5) 🚫 DON’T PACK heavy books.Even one or two books will add serious weight to your luggage, and you’ll probably regret having to carry them around. Instead of physical books, I recommend investing in a Kindle and doing your reading that way.
6) 🚫 DON’T TAKE a mosquito net. This is an item I sometimes see on Africa packing lists, but it’s generally not worth bringing. Most accommodations will have a net if one is necessary, and it’s usually not possible to hang up your own anyway.
7) 🚫 DON’T BRING a sleeping bag.I’ve also seen packing lists for Africa that include sleeping bags, but they’re big and bulky. There’s usually no need to bring one unless you’re planning on some serious camping and know you’ll need your own gear.
8) 🚫 DON’T TAKE unnecessary valuables.Things can get lost on the road, and there’s always some risk of theft while traveling in Africa. Other than things you’ll really need (like a camera), it’s just not worth bringing lots of valuables with you.

FAQs about travel in Africa

1) Is traveling in Africa safe?

There are risks involved with traveling to certain areas, but visiting Africa is in no way inherently unsafe. Remember that most countries are vastly different than they might be portrayed in the media or pop culture – and that over 65 million people from other continents visit Africa each year, and very few of them have any major problems.

2) How can I stay healthy in Africa?

1) Vaccinations: Beyond making sure you’re up-to-date on basic vaccines – MMR (measles-mumps-rubella), Tdap (tetanus-diphtheria-pertussis), polio, chicken pox, hepatitis A, and hepatitis B –both yellow fever and typhoid vaccinations are recommended for travel to most African countries. The rabies vaccine is only needed for visitors planning to take extended trips to remote areas or come into contact with animals.

2) Malaria prevention: Malaria prophylaxis is recommended in almost all African countries, and it’s a good idea to use insect repellent and sleep under a mosquito net, too.

3) Food and drink:
Tap water in Africa is generally not safe for Westerners, so be sure to only drink water that has been treated and to avoid beverages made with tap water or ice. Make sure your food, especially meat, is thoroughly cooked, and skip raw fruits or vegetables unless they can be peeled.

3) What is the weather like?

While large parts of Africa are stereotypically hot, the weather varies across the continent and throughout the year.For planning travel, one key thing to understand is that most of Africa doesn’t have four seasons, but instead has two: rainy and dry. The exact timing of the seasons vary by region, and some experience two rainy seasons and two dry seasons per year. An exception is Southern Africa, where the seasons more closely mimic those in Australia: summer is December-February, and winter is June-August.

4) How much does it cost to travel in Africa?

Africa is generally cheaper than Europe or North America, but it’s not an extreme budget destination. However, travel costs vary significantly by country and region, as well as by travel style. You can spend thousands of dollars per person on luxury safaris, or travel independently for around $50 a day. As in most places, living like a local makes travel quite affordable: stay at basic guesthouses, eat at local restaurants or markets, and use public transportation and shared taxis.

5) How can I access cash or pay for things?

While credit cards are accepted at major resorts, large safari companies, and some upscale restaurants, cash is definitely king in most parts of Africa, especially outside of Southern Africa. ATMs that dispense local currency and accept international debit cards are common in cities and large towns but don’t be surprised if you have to try a couple before you find one that’s working. Most cities also have forex bureaus where you can easily exchange cash.

6) What kind of adapter will work in Africa?

Several types of electrical outlets are found throughout Africa, but a universal adapter will work in most places. However, if you’re visiting Southern Africa, it’s a good idea to bring a South Africa-specific adapter in addition to the universal one (see #3 in the first section of this article).

7) Where should I go on an African safari?

When people talk about safaris, they’re almost exclusively referring to East and Southern Africa. Kenya, Tanzania, and South Africa – home to the Maasai Mara, the Serengeti, and Kruger National Park, respectively – are the most popular destinations for safaris, but there are also many excellent safari options in Botswana, Namibia, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.

8) What can I do besides go on a safari?

There are plenty of things to do throughout Africa besides safaris, especially for adventure junkies. Many of the continent’s coastal nations and islands boast picture-perfect beaches and offer an array of water activities, including scuba diving, snorkeling, surfing, and kayaking. There are also hiking opportunities in most countries, including world-renowned hikes in Ethiopia, South Africa, Kenya, and Tanzania. Scenic helicopter, micro-light, and hot air balloon rides are available in a few places in East and Southern Africa, and there are even opportunities to skydive, bungee jump, and zipline. Beyond all the adventure activities, though, the chance to simply explore and experience the local culture is one of Africa’s biggest draws; visiting local markets, taking a walk through town, and talking to the people you meet might end up being some of your most memorable experiences.

9) Which African airlines are safe to fly?

Among the continent’s major airlines, South African Airways, Ethiopian Airlines, and Kenya Airways are widely considered the most reputable and are known for operating at Western standards, though many smaller airlines are perfectly safe as well. I advise avoiding any airlines that are under European Union restrictions or that have an extensive list of recent incidents, which you can view on Wikipedia.

10) Can I visit Africa if I only speak English?

Yes! English-speaking visitors can get by in most parts of Africa, though it’s decidedly easier in the half of African countries that use English as an official language (mostly former British colonies). The average person you encounter on the street probably won’t be fluent in English, especially outside the cities, but many people working in tourism and hospitality do speak it. Compared to the rest of the continent, English is much more prevalent in East and Southern Africa.

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Guest Author: Jen Ambrose

jen-ambroseJen Ambrose is a freelance writer and editor who’s passionate about making travel a force for good. Originally from Montana, she served for two years as a Peace Corps volunteer in Rwanda and has a Master’s degree in International Development. She has traveled extensively in the U.S. and abroad, particularly in Africa and Southeast Asia. Jen and her husband recently left their jobs and their home in Boston to travel the world, working as freelancers and bloggers from the road. They blog at Passions and Places, focusing on responsible travel, outdoors adventure, and getting off the beaten path.