17 Top Africa Packing List Items + What to Wear & NOT to bring (2018)

Updated on August 16, 2018 by Asher Fergusson

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, more and more people are visiting Africa and getting to see for themselves what it’s really like. But even so you find yourself wondering, what to bring to Africa.

To help you out, I’ve put together this packing list which includes a section on what to wear in Africa, what NOT to bring and common traveler FAQs.

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.
View their plans at WorldNomads.com ➜

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.
View NordVPN.com Options ➜


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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probiotics-for-digestive-health

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



Other African packing lists you may like: Kenya | Morocco | Tanzania |
 

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!).

What should WOMEN wear in Africa? – (Click to expand)

Below is a sample women’s clothing list. (All items link to Amazon.com for your convenience).




















A substantial amount of Africa is considered more conservative, with women who wear garments that reach their ankles and are rarely seen with tank tops. The general rule of thumb is to make sure that you have your shoulders and knees covered, but that doesn’t mean your sense of fashion needs to suffer. Knit-capri pants can pair well with flowing t-shirts that can be cute for a day out into an evening experiencing delicious African cuisine. For those who are partaking on a safari, a simple
cotton shirt paired with breathable cargo pants are the way to go to stay cool as you adventure into the African wilderness. Most resorts and major cities have a wide variety of nightlife options, so make sure to pack pants that are both fashionable and dance-able. Accessories are a must as you walk amongst the colorful-jewelry, but to stay protected from the hot African sun is even more important, with polarized shades and a wide-rimmed hat being a must-have. Finally, a comfy-pair of shoes and a cute pair of sandals will go a long way on our African adventure.

What should MEN wear in Africa? – (Click to expand)

Below is a sample men’s clothing list. (All items link to Amazon.com for your convenience).








Men should be following the same conservative-rules as women when it comes to preparing their wardrobes. A quick-dry convertible shirt is convenient for safaris, while a loose-fitting causal button down is ideal for the nights out. Don’t turn down a classic t-shirt, jersey t-shirts are great for keeping the excessive-sweating at bay. Cargo shorts are a safe-bet for cruising around major cities, as well as the more remote areas that you may visit on safari. Pants that can be converted are great for when you need to keep more conservative but then arrive to your resort where it’s more appropriate to wear shorts. Don’t be afraid to show off some personality, a colorful and fun shirt will be well-received, and is a great conversation starter! Finally, pack shoes that can last the long days, some breathable sandals and a comfortable pair of sneakers will save you while exploring.

Packing Appropriately for African Seasons

The climate throughout the continent varies vastly across each compass point, and so research is needed to see exactly what you are dealing with once you’ve booked your precise location. Africa is the hottest continent on Earth, with the North being primarily deserts and arid, taking up over 60%. So hot, in fact, that the Sahara desert can reach over 37.78 degrees Celsius (100 degrees Fahrenheit). Central and South Africa have more dense jungles and rainforests, where temperatures can be hot and humid. As you approach the equator it can become hotter, but seasons are moderated by both rainy and dry seasons.

To the far South you have the Kalahari desert; this semi-arid savannah takes up most of Botswana as well as parts of Namibia and South Africa. Rain can be very scarce in the area, with only 3-7.5 inches of rain per year.

The summers in South Africa can be very hot along the coastlines, but inland provides a relief where the elevations are higher. The winters can be mild, and snow even makes an appearance on the mountains. Please note that the seasons are opposite on each side of the equator, and rainy/dry seasons vary from each region so it is best to consult with a travel guide about the specific weather conditions for where you are traveling to.

How should I dress for different activities in Africa? – (Click to expand)

Safari

Safari, in Swahili, means “vacation” and it is the quintessential experience when visiting Africa. Your wardrobe will be contingent upon what season you visit, between rainy and dry season. For the rainy seasons, a downpour is never ruled-out so it is imperative that you bring quick-drying clothes and lightweight raingear, as well as sneakers that you are not afraid to get muddy. Nights during the rainy season can become chilly, so be sure to pack long sleeve shirts, sweaters and pants. Layering is your friend, and can always be taken off as the day progresses and gets warmer. During the dry seasons, temperatures can become very hot so breathable, loose fitting clothing is a good decision. A ‘fanny-pack’ is also advised to keep valuable close to you while also not hanging in the way as a purse would ordinarily.

Beaches

The African coastline provides a haven for beautiful beaches and resorts, from Zanzibar to South Africa. There are many beaches that lay in countries that practice Islam and Christianity, thus, it’s best to anticipate being more conservative. One-piece bathing suits and swimsuit cover-ups are always a safe bet. Resorts usually have private beaches, in which case it is not necessary to be as conservative, thus, it’s important that you ask the front desk what would be best observed.

Religious Sites

Africa as a continent is entwined in beauty and eclectic cultures, and religion is a major driving force behind it. The most prominent religions are Christianity and Islam, while more traditional African religions follow but have been influenced by the two. When visiting mosques or any other traditional Islam sites, it is important that you fully cover your shoulders and have garments that fall to at least your ankles. For women, it can also be necessary to wear a headscarf. Visiting churches are less strict, but it is still advised that you have a least your shoulders covered and pants/skirts that fall below the knees. For both mosques and churches, you should wear closed toe shoes to not offend anyone. The severity of these traditions vary by location, so it is recommended that you consult with a local guide about what is appropriate before visiting any religious sites.

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.

What should I NOT wear in Africa? – (Click to expand)

With Islam and Christianity being a major influence in Africa, spaghetti straps, halter tops, short skirts, and plunging necklines should be avoided for women. These garments could be worn around resorts during your downtime, but should not be worn visiting religious sites, taking public transportation, or strolling through markets and/or cities. Clothes that run hot should be left at home, but layering is always a great idea. A lot of walking will be done during your trips, so uncomfortable shoes that leave blisters and/or not worn in completely should be left at home. Statement shirts should be avoided as well, some countries may be politically stable today but can be triggered by offensive words or political stances.

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.

 

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