Ultralight Travel: Packing List for North and West Africa in a 24L Backpack

female packing list for north and west africa

The following packing list for North and West Africa was submitted by Elizabeth McCarthy. Be sure to check out more of our packing list posts.

Packing light for a trip to multiple climates can seem daunting. Adding places less commonly visited by tourists to the mix increases the challenge. Your first instinct may be to pack everything you can think of— just in case. However, I find packing light is especially useful for these experiences. With less stuff, it is easier to navigate crowded public transportation, to keep your bag with you on the bus, and to start exploring immediately on arrival instead of needing to drop your bags.

On a recent trip to North and West Africa, I decided to take my 24L Cotopaxi Nazca travel pack as my only bag. After lots of planning and practice packing, I was very happy with my decision.

packing for algeria
Chrysalis cardi, hijab style in Biskra, Algeria. Photo by Mark Gallardo.

The Trip Details

The trip was five and a half weeks long. I was traveling with my partner, who also had a 24L bag. We started in Algeria, then visited Nigeria, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. We had overnight layovers in Cairo, Casablanca, and London. Because we traveled in January, it was relatively cold in the north and hot and humid farther south.

One of the things that made this trip great— and packing more difficult— was the variety of activities, accommodation types, and modes of transportation involved. Sometimes we were in cities visiting museums and staying at hotels, while other times we were in parks and wildlife sanctuaries going on day hikes. We also stayed at Airbnbs and Couchsurfed.

We flew, took trains, buses, bush taxis, and motorcycle taxis. I cannot recommend this for safety reasons, but more than once only one motorcycle taxi was available to take both of us. That meant three people and two bags on one motorcycle. It would not have been an option if we had large bags. Smaller bags mean more freedom and flexibility.

Extra Packing Considerations

You will notice a couple of things not normally found on a minimalist packing list. One of my favorite activities is viewing wildlife, which means I rarely go on a trip without binoculars. I didn’t have room for my bird and mammal field guides, so I put e-versions of them on my phone. Prioritize what is important to you!

It was essential for us to have extra space in our bags so we could carry food and buy souvenirs. At one point we needed enough food for three days, and we managed to squeeze it all into our two bags. While this may look like a long list, everything fit in my bag with room to spare.

About to get on the boat to Tiwai Island Wildlife Sanctuary, Sierra Leone. Photo by Mark Gallardo.

Clothing and Accessories

  • 1 pair black travel/hiking pants
  • 1 pair loose pants
  • 1 pair lightweight base layer leggings – I wore these to sleep, under pants or a skirt when it was cold, and under a dress for more modesty.
  • 1 black maxi skirt – I also used this as a bathing suit cover up.
  • 1 camisole
  • 1 long sleeved shirt
  • 1 short sleeved shirt
  • 1 loose 3/4 length sleeved shirt
  • 1 lightweight merino wool pullover sweater
  • 4 pairs socks – 1 pair SmartWool
  • 6 pairs underwear – 2 ExOfficio
  • 1 bikini
  • 3 bras – 1 underwire, 1 bralette, 1 sports
  • 1 Chrysalis cardi – I ended up using this a lot—mostly to cover my head in Algeria, but also as a scarf, dress, cape, and wrap. I am not as happy with it as many, because it is expensive for what it is, and several of the snaps started coming loose even though most of the time I wasn’t even using them!
  • 1 lightweight rain jacket – I decided not to bring a heavier jacket. The plan was to buy a jacket in Algeria if I was cold, and give it away when we left instead of carrying one for the whole trip. I didn’t end up needing to buy one. The only time I was cold was the last night on our layover in London.
  • multiclava – This is Eddie Bauer’s version of the multi-functional Buff. It was especially useful to cover my nose and mouth while on public transportation in Nigeria, where pollution and dust were a problem. Also, in parts of Algeria where it’s recommended women cover their hair, I used it as a headband and tucked my Chrysalis Cardi into it to keep it in place. I’m not hijab expert, but that system worked pretty well.
  • sun hat
  • 2 pairs of earrings
  • 1 ring – I wore it as a decoy wedding ring.
  • watch
  • sunglasses

Shoes

  • walking shoes
  • flip flops
what i packed for north and west africa
It looks like a long list, but it all fit into a 24L bag with room to spare.

Electronics

  • travel adapter
  • compact camera with large zoom and case
  • 3 SD cards
  • iPhone and waterproof case
  • Kindle Fire and cover – I was not planning on bringing this. I received it for Christmas a few days before our trip so decided I might as well take it. It was useful but definitely not necessary.
  • headphones
  • bluetooth headphones – These were nice for loud plane and bus journeys, as they block out more noise than my normal ones.
  • headphone splitter
  • charging cables – for phone, camera, and Kindle/headphones
  • battery charger – for AA and AAA rechargeable batteries
  • Steripen with rechargeable batteries – Our model is several years old and requires batteries. Newer models can be charged via USB and are smaller. We found using rechargeable batteries to be a great system. I know some people say this is an unnecessary item, but we really liked having it. It decreased the number of water sachets and bottles we had to buy, lessening our environmental impact. When we stayed in places with running water we were also able to quickly treat it for cooking and drinking.
  • headlamp with rechargeable batteries – Again, having rechargeable batteries was great! Alternatively, USB charging headlamps are now available.
  • power bank – I charged this whenever I could because there was no knowing when electricity would be available next.

Toiletries

  • electric toothbrush – it’s the size of a normal toothbrush and the battery lasts for three months
  • dental floss and picks
  • toothpaste
  • dental retainers and case
  • package of 20 wet wipes
  • lip balm
  • travel size deodorant
  • menstrual cup
  • folding travel brush/mirror
  • tweezers
  • nail clippers
  • tiny nail file
  • Venus snap razor
  • partial bar of Dove soap
  • Dr. Bronner’s liquid soap
  • conditioner
  • body lotion
  • solid laundry soap – We also purchased laundry powder along the way, and used Dr. Bronner’s.
  • toilet paper

*I picked up shampoo and shower gel from hotels on the trip.

what to pack for north and west africa
Packing cubes in use.

Medical Kit

  • malaria treatment – You may want malaria prophylaxis as well. Unfortunately I am not able to take it.
  • Azithromycin – antibiotic for diarrhea
  • Ibuprofen
  • Imodium
  • cold medicine – day and night
  • birth control
  • motion-sickness pills
  • motion-sickness bands
  • sleep aid
  • chewable antacid
  • anti-itch cream
  • eye drops
  • cough drops
  • antibiotic ointment
  • several adhesive bandages
  • sunscreen
  • DEET insect repellent

For Packing

  • Cotopaxi 24L Nazca travel pack
  • The PNW Co. packable waterproof backpack – I love this thing! We used it as our daypack. If I had purchased a lot of souvenirs I could have used it as a personal item on the flights back, but everything fit in my main bag.
  • large and small drawstring stuff sacks – I used the small one for electronics accessories like cables and SD cards. The large one often had food and spices in it.
  • small toiletry bag
  • large, medium, and small compression packing cubes
north and west africa packing list
What’s inside my bag.

Everything Else

  • passport
  • yellow book of vaccinations
  • wallet
  • passport wallet – I used it as a purse sometimes when my outfit didn’t have a pocket for my phone.
  • credit and debit cards
  • cash – five 100 USD bills. Some places we went you get a much better exchange rate using money changers instead of ATMs. Other places didn’t have ATMs.
  • copies of passport – We had to give one copy to an official, so it was nice to have two copies.
  • copy of itinerary/flight reservations
  • plastic folio for paperwork and money
  • 2 pens
  • compact binoculars – Note: We learned the hard way that bringing binoculars into Algeria is illegal. Ours were confiscated at the airport. We were very relieved to get them back just before leaving the country, but it was unclear if we would for a while.
  • small tripod
  • combination lock
  • Vapur collapsible water bottle
  • spork
  • several plastic zip bags of assorted sizes
  • rubber bands
  • extra hair elastics
  • earplugs
  • eye mask
  • permethrin-treated mosquito net – Because I was traveling with my partner, we were able to share some things. He carried our mosquito net. If I had been traveling alone, I may have had to leave a couple items of clothing out to fit it comfortably, because it is lightweight but bulky. I have read on several packing lists that this is an unnecessary item. However, for us it was absolutely required. The vast majority of places we stayed did not provide them. Destination and accommodation types will help you determine whether it is necessary for a particular trip.

>> You might be interested in these items to pack that solve problems.

female packing list for north and west africa
With all my stuff in the Sacred Grove of Osogbo, Nigeria. Photo by Mark Gallardo.

Things I brought but did not use

  • USB thumb drive
  • rain cover – Happy to have and not need!
  • 2 lash straps – To strap things to the outside of my bag. I won’t bring them next time.
  • shoulder sling strap – My backpack converts to a shoulder bag, so it comes with a shoulder strap. While it can be handy, I didn’t need it for this trip.

About the Author: Originally from Pennsylvania, Elizabeth went to graduate school in Australia and currently lives in Oregon. She works seasonally as a field biologist, which leaves plenty of time for travel the rest of the year.

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Gear We Use

Organization

Packing Cubes – Organize your luggage with the lightweight, durable and compressible Eagle Creek Pack-It Specter Compression Cubes.


Backpacks + Daypacks

Pacsafe – Since they come with extra theft-resisting features, Pacsafe bags make you a more confident traveler. We especially love this bag.

Sea to Summit – Of all the Sea to Summit products, our most recommended is the fits-in-your-palm, super packable Ultra-Sil Daypack.


Personal Care

Nalgene Toiletry Bottles – These leak-free toiletry bottles and tubs come in all sizes – even super tiny, helping minimalists pack it all without bulk.

Turkish Towels – They’re thinner than most travel towels, and they actually cover your body! We can’t get enough of Turkish towels for travel.


Clothing

Speakeasy Supply Co. – They make the awesome hidden pocket infinity scarves that are perfect for stashing secret cash, lip balms, and passports.

Anatomie – Anatomie travel pants come with luxury prices, but they offer many benefits for travelers. See our review of the famous Skyler pants.

Travel Resources

Booking Airfare

Dollar Flight Club – Get flight deal alerts for your preferred departure airport. There is both a free and premium version (recommended for more sweet deals). Members save on average $500 USD per flight!

Skyscanner – Skyscanner is our preferred site for searching flights. They offer unbiased search results and are free from hidden fees. You can also book your hotels and rental cars.


Accommodation

Airbnb – Airbnb is the best place to book out apartments around the world. Sign up using this link to get $37 USD off your first stay booking + $14 USD towards an experience booking!

Booking.com – Search for hotels, hostels, and apartments using this one resource. Use it for flights, car rentals, and airport taxis as well.

Hostelworld – For hostels, Hostelworld remains our number one source for booking stays. Choose from straight up hostels, budget hotels and bed and breakfasts.

Trusted Housesitters – Save money on travel accommodation by becoming a housesitter. Housesitters often have extra duties, like caring for pets and gardens.

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