Find Your Packing Mojo – 12 Tips for Africa

by | Jun 15, 2016

Smiling young backpacker reaching back
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Last updated on November 12th, 2023

By Alexis Grant, Guest Writer

Journeywoman Alexis Grant, a journalist and social media coach, is writing a book about backpacking solo through Africa. We asked Alexis to share her list of backpacking essentials for your trip to that part of the world. This is what she advised…

During my backpacking trip through Africa, there were so many moments when I thought to myself, I’ve gotta remember this for the next time I travel. Like most independent travellers headed for developing countries (independent = travellers who aren’t with a group and figure out accommodation and other details as they go), I knew to bring a money belt, invest in a pair of durable shoes and abide by simple food rules: boil it, peel it, cook it or forget it. But I learned a few more tricks along the way, ones you can use for your next travel adventure.

My tips for independent women travellers to Africa:

  • 1. Love your mozzie net —

    If you need a mosquito net, buy one that includes poles and sets up like a tent. Hangable nets are useless when there’s nowhere to hang them.

  • 2. Learn to Skype —

    Skype, a free service that allows you to make calls over the Internet, is the cheapest way to call home. The drawback: for it to work well, you need a solid Internet connection, which can be hard to find in some developing countries. If you plan to Skype often, you may want to bring your own headset.

  • 3. Be your own office assistant —

    Create sticky labels with addresses of anyone who deserves to get a postcard. You won’t have to carry an address book, and you’ll know you sent all required postcards when the labels are gone.

  • 4. Buy visas along the way —

    It takes a little planning, but buying a visa in the country adjacent to where you’re going is usually cheaper than buying it from home and requires less paperwork. Just make sure there’s an embassy for country #2 in country #1, lest you get stuck without one. Also remember to ask about multi-country visas, which also can save you money.

  • 5. Cipro for the sicko —

    Convince your doctor to prescribe several doses of Cipro, or Ciproflaxin, an antibiotic that treats bacterial infections — pretty much anything that forces you to spend your entire day squatting over the toilet. Since travellers often suffer from stomach bugs in developing countries, it’s smart to have this drug handy. Bring Bacitracin ointment, too, and use it; even small cuts become easily infected when you’re not at home.

Woman on safari tour at Ngorongoro National Park, Tanzania - Adobe Stock - soft_light

Tourist on safari in the National Park Ngorongoro, Tanzania / Photo credit: soft_light on Adobe Stock

  • 6. Make room for music —

    Ditch something in your pack so you can bring lightweight, portable speakers for your iPod. You’ll use them at hostels, on the beach, everywhere you want to share your music with others.

  • 7. Wear your torch —

    Bring a headlamp and an extra set of batteries. You’ll use it on dark, unlit streets when the power goes out, in hostel dorm rooms when you want to read late at night and on late-night bush taxi trips.

  • 8. Ask for the cheapest room —

    When checking into a hotel, ask if there’s a cheaper room. When they show it to you, ask if there’s anything cheaper. Since hotels make more money booking expensive rooms, they’ll sometimes place guests in, say, a double when all the client really needs is a single. Remember to ask whether there’s a dorm, too.

  • 9. Look for books —

    Ask hostels whether they have a book exchange where you can leave a book you’ve already read and take one left by another traveller. If you’re always on the lookout for book swaps, you’ll never need to carry more than one book at a time.

  • 10. Pack a pillow —

    No, not the huge, fluffy one you normally sleep with. I’m talking about a small, portable pillow (I like the Equinox Headrest). The cheaper the accommodation, the less comfortable the pillow, if you get one at all. And let’s face it (pun intended), do you really want to put your head on those hostel pillows anyhow?

  • 11. Seek out alternative power —

    If you’re bringing electronics that need to be recharged but wonder whether you’ll have electricity, invest in a small solar recharge system. For an iPod, consider bringing an extra battery. Don’t forget that rechargeable batteries, though environmentally friendly, are useless if you’re staying in a mud hut without an outlet. For this reason, I use a digital camera that runs off good old-fashioned throw-away batteries. And since it’s difficult to find quality batteries in some places, I carry extras of those, too.

  • 12. Pack as little as possible —

    Now that I’ve added half a dozen items to your packing list, here’s the hard part: pack light. You’ve heard this a zillion times. You’ve dumped half of what you packed to lighten your load. Now lighten it even more. Can you walk around the block carrying all your stuff, and still have a free hand to shoo away strange men? Now you’re set to go.

Women’s Words on Africa

Africa is mystic; it is wild; it is a sweltering inferno;
it is a photographer’s paradise, a hunter’s Valhalla,
and an escapist’s Utopia.
(Beryl Markham, West With the Night, 1942)

We were Black Americans in West Africa, where
for the first time in our lives the color of our skin
was accepted as correct and normal.
(Maya Angelou, All God’s Children, 1986)

Africa is a cruel country that will take the heart out of
your breast and grind it into powder, powdered
stone. And no one will mind, that is the worst of it.
No one will mind.
(Elspeth Huxley, The Flame Trees of Thika, 1959)

The breezes of the West African night were intimate
and shy, licking the hair, sweeping through
cotton dresses with unseemly intimacy, then
disappearing into the utter blackness.
(Maya Angelou, All God’s Children, 1986)

In Africa, people learn to serve each other. They live
on credit balances of little favors that they give and
may, one day, ask to have returned.
(Beryl Markham, West With the Night, 1942)

Read up on Africa

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