In many ways, East Africa is a place of rich diversity, filled with living contradictions. It’s a place of lively and luxurious capital cities, beautiful safari parks, misty rainforests, relaxing coastal beach towns, and rural countryside villages. Extreme poverty and extreme wealth lie side by side, dry deserts and gigantic waterfalls can be found within the same country, and days filled with bright sunshine quickly transition into rain and thunderstorms. Because of this, packing for a trip to East Africa can be quite a challenge. But not to worry, you’ve got this packing list to help!
Most East African countries are still conservative in dress. Though you may be able to get away with above-the-knee dresses or skirts in capital cities while hanging out with younger crowds, I find that it’s always best to be respectful of the local culture and of those around you. Because of this, I’d strongly recommend packing longer bottoms, while short-sleeved and sleeveless shirts are totally acceptable.
2 dresses – I usually pack one casual dress and one nice dress for a dinner out on the town. (Have a look at our top 5 travel dresses).
2 skirts – Easy and breezy for walking around cities and villages — and for using squatty potties. (Check out the infinity skirt / magic wrap skirt.)
1 pair of pants – While jeans may be too restricting and warm, cargo pants are a nice alternative and are handy while hiking or during more adventurous activities.
2 tank tops or T-shirts – Those sweltering days will be best spent in light shirts.
1 long sleeved shirt or fleece – Rainy season nights can get a bit chilly in more mountainous regions.
1 windbreaker/rain jacket – Strongly recommended if you’re traveling during the rainy season. (Check out the North Face Triclimate. You can take the liner and leave the ultra warm bit at home for another trip.)
5 pairs of underwear
1 swimsuit – Necessary if your plans include visits to the coast of Kenya or Tanzania, or if you get the chance to stop by any of the lakes in the Great Lakes region.
Scarf – Lovely to have if you find yourself getting a bit cold or if you need to cover up.
Sturdy sandals – Chacos are a lifesaver, as they are waterproof and tough enough to handle the most intense and demanding excursions. I lived in mine while I was living in East Africa.
Closed toed shoes – Useful on dusty days or when you’d like to protect your feet from unsafe environments.
Nice flats or sandals – For a night out or a more formal occasion.
Soap or Body Wash
Deodorant – A little luxury to have when you find yourself in stinky situations.
Razor – Many East African women don’t shave and will actually marvel at your ability to grow hair on your arms and legs. I never shaved while I was there, but if shaving is your kind of thing, then pack a razor or two.
Diva Cup – After my time in East Africa, my Diva Cup is the one thing I recommend to all my fellow lady travellers. It’s easy, mess-free, light to pack, and ideal for rural life.
Prescriptions – If you want to stay happy and healthy during your travels, pack some anti-malarials and any other medications you may need (I recommend bringing Cipro and some probiotics along in case you find yourself suffering from a case of traveler’s diarrhoea).
Towel – Try a microfiber towel that absorbs water quickly and dries fast (Find one here at REI).
Protection from the Elements:
Sunscreen – The higher the SPF, the happier you and your skin will be when you make it out without a sunburn.
Hat – Perfect for sunny days or when you find yourself unable to wash your hair for a couple of days.
Bug Spray – To prevent getting bitten by a malaria-carrying mosquito, pack a strong insect repellent.
Pack electronics and expensive technology at your own risk. Over the course of a year, I had a couple of friends who had their cameras or phones stolen when traveling.
Headlamp – An absolute lifesaver when the power decides to go out unexpectedly.
Laptop – Useful in capital cities when you’re able to stop in at an internet café. Most cafés have computers on site as well. (Try a netbook for size and price.)
Camera – To capture all the beautiful sights you encounter!
Chargers and adapters – Don’t forget the necessary converters for your electronics.
iPod – If you’d like some tunes for a long bus ride or beach lounging.
Read this post: Should I… Pack all these electronics?
Passport and necessary visas – Requirements for acquiring a visa vary from country to country, so check before you board your plane!
Travel insurance – Lost luggage, stolen passport, cancelled flight? It’s best to be prepared!
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About the author: Melissa Johnson is currently a grad student living just outside of Washington D.C. She has spent time abroad working with numerous international development NGOs, namely in Rwanda and Uganda. She has also visited Kenya, Ethiopia, Costa Rica, Mexico, Honduras, Great Britain, and Canada. You can find her here on Facebook and Twitter.
*All photos, except for title photo, by Melissa Johnson.