17 Top Africa Packing List Items + What to Wear & NOT to bring (2019)

Updated on March 17, 2019 by Asher Fergusson

What do I really need to pack for my Africa trip?

Many Westerners see Africa as some exotic, faraway land – one that’s so different that it’s hard to comprehend. Fortunately, more and more people are visiting Africa and getting to see for themselves what it’s really like.

You may still find yourself wondering how best to prepare for your trip. 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, seasonal information, and 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 every day gets pricey and creates a ton of plastic waste. The LifeStraw is a cheap and eco-friendly alternative, and it’ll take up very little space in your bag. LifeStraw also makes an excellent filtered water bottle which uses their proprietary filter to purify your drinking water on-the-go.

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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, as that plug is a different kind entirely.

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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. 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 worn 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. This little charger is a must-have for Africa travel! I can’t tell you how many times it saved us on our journey through Africa when our phones were almost out of batteries and we needed to look something up online or navigate somewhere.

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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 in a place with shared showers or when you’re hanging out at the beach or pool. Sturdier sandals, like Chacos or Crocs, are a good choice 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 hikes or 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. This means that 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 public or unsecured WiFi such as at a restaurant or hotel, you’re putting your passwords and credit cards at risk of being stolen. 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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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 commonly-forgotten items for a trip to Africa:



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

What do people 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.

First, dress modestly – especially women, but definitely men as well. Covering shoulders and cleavage is important, and don’t expose too much leg either. Second, dress more nicely than you’d expect. Overly casual clothing is seen as disrespectful! And finally, avoid white clothing, as it’s almost impossible to keep clean.

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).
















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 and easily dressed up for an evening meal. For those who are planning on taking a safari, a simple cotton shirt paired with breathable cargo pants are the way to go.

Most resorts and major cities have a wide variety of nightlife options, so make sure to pack going-out outfits that are both fashionable and dance-able. Protection from the sun is also important, so polarized shades and a wide-rimmed hat are must-haves. Finally, a comfy-pair of shoes and a cute pair of sandals will keep you comfortable and stylish.

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 forget a classic t-shirt! Jersey t-shirts are great for keeping 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 to shorts are perfect – you can wear them as pants when you need to be conservative, and transition them to shorts for the more casual areas.

Don’t be afraid to show off some personality; a colorful and fun shirt will be well-received and keep you from feeling boring! Finally, pack shoes that can last the long days. Some breathable sandals and a comfortable pair of sneakers will save you trouble and pain while exploring.

The climate throughout the huge continent spans many different types, so research is needed to see exactly what you are dealing with once you’ve booked your precise location. Seasons vary widely on each side of the equator, and rainy/dry seasons vary from each region. You’ll find more temperate-style spring, summer, fall, and winter in this north, but in most of Africa’s countries there are just two seasons: dry and wet. Try this website for more specific temperature estimates, or research the current and upcoming weather forecasts before your trip.

Dry Season – April, May, June, July, August, September, October:

Most regions in Africa – especially south of the equator – experience a dry period for about half of the year. This time of year is drier but can sport some intense heat. It’s a popular time of year to safari because scarcity of water forces animals to group around watering holes, which means they’re easier to see. Travel conditions are also a bit easier when it’s dry.

Layers are perfect here, as the temperature change can be dramatic from morning to night. A light jacket or fleece will do nicely. Convertible pants are also ideal, as you can adapt them to fit any weather. Be sure to pack good hiking shoes if you’ll be doing anything even remotely active – sneakers won’t cut it. Walking sandals are a great idea as well. If you plan to go out (most people find at least one occasion to do so) bring a knockout outfit and some comfortable but cute flats to dress up. Temperatures vary widely by region, but average between 65°F to 80°F (18°C to 27°C).

Wet Season – November, December, January, February, March:

The wet season is, predictably, wet. Rain and humidity dominate the forecast, though you’ll find that certain months have much less rain than others. Heat doesn’t let up – in fact, the humidity can intensify it so plan accordingly.

Quick-dry clothing is essential – think athletic tops, a breathable rain jacket, and convertible hiking pants. Waterproof hiking shoes are non-negotiables, along with a windproof travel umbrella. I also highly recommend bringing a water-resistant daybag to store your daily belongings in. Temperatures vary widely by region, but average between 65°F to 85°F (18°C to 29°C).

How to dress for 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 seasons. 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 hiking shoes that you are not afraid to get muddy. Nights during both the rainy and dry seasons can become chilly, so be sure to pack long sleeve shirts, sweaters, and pants. Layering is your friend, as layers can always be taken off as the day progresses and gets warmer. A daypack is also advised to keep valuables close to you while not obstructing movement or getting in the way.

Beaches

The African coastline is a haven of beautiful beaches and resorts, from Zanzibar to South Africa. There are many beaches that lay in countries that practice Islam and Christianity, and so it’s best to plan to dress conservatively – even at the beach. 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, but it’s always a good idea to ask the front desk if you have any doubts about how to dress appropriately.

Religious Sites

Africa as a continent is rich in beauty and culture, and religion is a major driving force behind those factors. The most prominent religions are Christianity and Islam, while more traditional African religions differ but have been strongly influenced by the two. When visiting mosques or any other traditional Islamic 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 requires less modesty, 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-toed shoes to not offend anyone. The severity of these traditions varies 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 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.
 
3) 🚫 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.
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 no need to bring one unless you’re planning on some serious camping and 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 NOT to wear in Africa – (Click to expand)

With Islam and Christianity being major influencers 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 keep you overly warm 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 are not broken in completely should be left at home. Statement shirts should be avoided as well – it’s never a good idea to deliberately flaunt potentially offensive or inflammatory language or images.

 

FAQs about travel in Africa


1) Is it safe to travel to Africa?

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 from how they’re portrayed in the media or pop culture. Over 65 million people from other continents visit Africa each year, and very few of them have any major problems. If you’re concerned about safety, it’s always best to check country-specific travel advisories while planning your trip.

2) Is it safe for women to travel to Africa?

Women are pretty safe in Africa. This huge continent contains a lot of countries (54, to be exact!) and so you may find that certain areas are a little less comfortable for females and solo travelers, but for the most part it’s about as safe as most other tourist destinations. Unlike many other parts of the world, however, Africa is a place to watch for travel warnings, as the political and social climates in African countries can be tumultuous at times. This isn’t unique to Africa, of course, but it’s always best to search for the countries you plan to visit on the US Department of State website to be sure there aren’t any out-of-the-ordinary threats to tourists at your time of travel.

3) How can I stay healthy in Africa?

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.

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

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.

4) 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 varies 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.

5) 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.

6) How can I access cash or pay for things in Africa?

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.

7) 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).

8) 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.

9) What can I do in Africa 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.

10) Which African airlines are the best?

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.

11) 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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