West Africa is an amazing place to travel and live. I loved my time in Africa and will return again and again.
Some special consideration should be noted for travel in primarily Muslim countries, in particular those that are more conservative/traditional (e.g. Mauritania). I urge all to be considerate of cultural standards and maintain coverage out of respect for the culture, but also to minimize any potential harassment due to “inappropriate” dress. Even in less conservative or non-Muslim countries, from the knees/thighs to the waist is considered private and not shown freely.
If you are staying in one place for a week or more you have the option on buying bright, patterned fabrics and having a tailor make you a few skirts (shirts,dresses or pants).
* indicates quick-dry or fabrics that dry quickly are best for the humidity; not a must but it will make the trip easier
3-5 pairs underwear*
1-2 bras (if you desire you can go bra-less)
2-3 long skirts (flowy and loose are most comfortable, they could also be mid-calf to just below knee length if you don’t mind showing your legs and are in a less conservative country)
1-2 pairs pants/capris*
5-7 short-sleeved or tank tops*
1 long-sleeved cover-up (think loose, flowy beach coverup, good for the beach, when walking around or protection from mosquitos)
****3-5 long summer dresses in place of skirt/top combo, in place of pants if you are not trekking/hiking and are more comfortable in dresses when hot.
1 nicer dress and sandals for evenings out in bigger cities (Senegal, Marrakech, etc)
1 pair of shorts for the beach/pool
1 pair sturdy flip-flops for bathing
1 pair Chaco/Teva type sandal for walking around (keeps your feet a little cleaner than flip-flops in the dirt/mud you will inevitably walk in)
1 pair hiking shoes if you are trekking/hiking and 2-4 pairs associated socks*
1 wide-brimmed hat
Lightweight scarf (if you get cold or to cover your head)
Sunscreen (the higher the SPF the better)
Bug repellant (the higher Deet percentages work best, like Off for the Deep woods types)
Itch relief cream
Antihistamines (I am quite allergic to mosquito bites and would miserable without this)
Toilet paper (quality tp is hard to find and many in W. Africa use water rather than tp)
Hand sanitizer (washing hands with soap can be difficult, the cleanliness of water is not guaranteed)
Razor (if you must but hair helps deter mosquitos)
Diva cup/tampons (may not be available in country)
Unless you buy exclusively bottled water (not guaranteed to be available in smaller villages) you’ll need a water filter or water purifying tabs
Nalgene type bottle
iPod/iPhone/laptop if you must keep in touch via wifi
About the Author: Vanessa Jones is on sabbatical from her profession as a Social Worker in California. She is currently traveling in S America for 3 months. She has lived in The Gambia, West Africa as a Peace Corps volunteer and traveled to several countries in East and West Africa, Mexico, DR and Spain. Read more of her travels on her blog.