Whether you’re backpacking, on a Green Rock Safaris tour, or travelling in your own style for a few months, there are certain items which belong in every travellers’ East Africa Africa packing list.
These are the little things which you should personally pack and travel with during your visit, and view each as essential to making the East Africa travel experience safer, easier, and more memorable – don’t leave home without them.
Water Filtration Bottle
The drinking water situation throughout most countries in Africa means that travellers have to rely on accommodation providing filtered water, or buying plastic bottle after plastic bottle of safe drinking water. The former isn’t convenient, whilst the latter does nothing good for the environment or landfill sites within the continent.
Instead, bring a reliable and hassle-free water source with you in the form of a Water-to-Go bottle or a LifeStraw. Both products are excellent for anyone visiting countries where the water is questionable as the in-built filters make contaminated water safe to drink. This means that you can fill up and pretty much instantly drink water from virtually any source, including rivers.
The solution? Babywipes! Excellent, cheap and versatile, these can give your body a freshening up with a quick once over in the morning and the evening, and keep the worst of the smells at bay! They’re also great after a particularly dusty safari.
Whilst we’re on hygiene, it also makes sense to pack a small bottle of liquid antibacterial soap to keep in your hand luggage (and always have some spare toilet roll in there too).
Perhaps the most important thing you will pack for Africa, after your anti-malarials, will be your mosquito repellent.
Not only is the risk of contracting malaria very very real, bites are annoying as hell; absolutely nobody wants to end up with legs and arms covered in angry, itchy mozzie bites.
Lastly, as effective as our repellent was, you should also wear trousers in the evening and cover your arms to help reduce the exposure to mozzies. If you are prone to mosquito bites, then definitely pack a bite relief pen.
US Dollars & More US Dollars
It turns out that a common mistake for people heading out to Africa is to underestimate the value of bringing in US currency, and how much you may depend on it.
So, take our advice and bring enough USD on your trip to Africa. Between the continent being much more expensive than people may think for travel, alongside ancillary costs such as tips for guides being an expectation, overall costs will likely be more than you anticipate. We know carrying large amounts of cash when travelling is always a concern, so always make sure to hide and divide it amongst your gear.
In addition, to make managing your money easier, we recommend bringing at least two bank cards with you and at least one credit card. Whatever happens, you do not want to be left without any means to access your money if your card gets lost, stolen or eaten by the ATM machine.
Battery Pack & Convertors
Travelling in Africa inevitably means that you will be spending days and nights out in the bush. Total wilderness and isolation, alongside unique wildlife experiences, is a big draw for all of us – but it can result in a few issues with tech.
Travel with a lightweight portable battery pack so that you can keep your mobile phones fully juiced up wherever you are. Also, make sure you pack at least a couple of the appropriate plug convertors for the countries you’re visiting, or invest in a universal plug adaptor, so you can have everything fully charged for the adventures.
If you’re visiting some of Africa’s stunning beaches, then having a lightweight sarong rolled up in your luggage is perfect. Also, when visiting some of the more religious countries or areas, a sarong doubles up as a quick and convenient long skirt to cover up (sorry ladies).
Whenever you travel in countries where the electricity supply may be temperamental or limited, and where nights spent out in remote nature are guaranteed, then you need to bring a head torch.
If you really rely on the internet, or it gives you peace of mind to be connected whilst travelling, you can buy local SIM cards as you go from country to country, which will come with data. Just make sure your phone is unlocked.
Alternatively, you can purchase an international roaming box like the GlocalMe. It doesn’t need a SIM card and works off the fastest 3G or 4G signal locally available, with data purchased by you either in a bundle or pay-as-you-go via their app
Swiss Army Knife
A multi-function Swiss Army knife is, quite simply, just a timeless and great piece of kit for travellers who like to go off the beaten path (but remember not to leave it in your hand luggage at airports!!).
SD Card for travel in Africa
Everybody takes more photos when travelling in Africa. It’s just that damn photogenic and, once you have a herd of elephants or a baby leopard hanging out in front of you, you won’t hold back on clicking the shutter. We recommend amateur and serious photographers take 2-3 large capacity SD cards as a minimum.
Even if you’re a casual photographer, or just use your phone, it makes sense to buy an increased capacity micro SD card for your phone.
A Big Hat
It’s hot. You’re going to be out in the sun a lot. Bring a hat. And plenty suncream
Travel First Aid Kit
Travelling to remote towns and villages does mean that certain things we all take for granted will be scarce or totally unavailable. It’s therefore important to have reliable and direct access to basic things like antiseptic cream, plasters, bandages, painkillers and anti-diarrhoea medicaton in the form of a small first aid kit.
On a similar theme, you should not travel to Africa without having a decent travel insurance policy
Obviously, this is one just for the ladies out there.
Getting access to your usual sanitary products will be difficult, and also costs more than at home
Pack for A Purpose
Pack for A Purpose is a great charity fully supported by travellers like you. Simply use a small amount of space in your luggage to pack supplies needed by community projects around the world, and drop them off.
If you’ve never travelled in East Africa before, don’t want to go solo, or prefer the friendship, togetherness and certainty that comes with a small-group adventure, then a Green Rock Safaris tour is a fantastic option.
The most important thing when picking an Africa tour however is to do enough research to ensure you understand the travel style it offers, appreciate the day-to-day itinerary, make sure it’s suited to your overall budget, and, most importantly, choose one which will be unforgettable!
Health and Safety
Full of new experiences and long days, you need to be at your absolute best to make the most of your time in Africa. The trip won’t stop just because you’re ill, but it will sure become a whole lot less enjoyable for you if you get a bug or feel crappy.
So, be sure to take your health seriously before, during and after your trip.
You WILL need anti-malarials
We’ve sung this song before, and we’ll continue to do so. Anti-malarials are there for a reason – to help protect you from malaria!
Here in Sub-Saharan Africa, malaria is not simply an abstract concept; it is a disease that, despite huge strides in prevention and medical treatment, still kills hundreds of thousands of people a year. Mosquitoes are everywhere, and days spent camping mean that your chances of escaping them become increasingly slim. When you consider that all it takes to contract malaria is a single bite, it makes sense to do everything you can to protect yourself.
Don’t discount how much water you’ll need to drink
Whether you’re sitting on a stuffy bus, hiking to a gorgeous waterfall in Uganda, navigating The Serengeti in the midday sun, sweltering in a tent or sunbathing on a beach in Zanzibar, one thing’s for sure: even the most heat-tolerant traveller will find themselves sweating bucketloads.
Dehydration isn’t fun (after all, that’s what makes your hangovers quite so bloody dreadful!), so you need to do all you can to prevent it.
If you’re going to get frisky – play it safe
We shouldn’t need to tell you this, but HIV is a very real concern here. And whilst the AIDS epidemic is improving in Africa, there are several countries where it still is just that – an epidemic. We’re not saying don’t have fun. We’re all adults and when boozy nights overseas are involved, things can happen with a local, a traveller or a fellow adventurer on your tour.
Whoever it’s with, always remember to use protection ( condom ).
Tents and Camping
For many of us, camping is something we attempted in our gardens as children, as girl guides, or as a means to get drunk in fields as teenagers. Most of us aren’t hiking up mountains and setting up our tents atop summits on a regular basis, and so there’s a few things to know about camping on your Green Rock Safaris East Africa tour that’ll make the whole thing go a lot smoother.
Campsites vary in quality and facilities
Some are within amazing hostels with good WiFi and a fancy pool, others are extremely basic on the outskirts of cities or in the middle of nowhere. Importantly, most will sell you a cold beer after a long day’s driving, allow you to meet other travellers and, oddly, some require the use of a baboon deterrent (although it probably helps if the baboon doesn’t steal the sling-shot that was meant to deter them in the first place…)
However, they’ve all been picked for a reason, whether that’s proximity to the next morning’s ferry, the fact that they’re owned and run by people who like to give back to the community.
Safety and Security
After years of travelling and a general lack of trust of well, everybody, we freak out a little bit about how secure all our valuables are. In many cases, this means that instead of depositing our day bags just anywhere, we carry them on our back like hermit crabs. Great for peace of mind, not so great for our spines when those bags are full.
The first important thing to know: do not leave anything of ANY value un-attended to when you’re not present in person. If anything was to happen, even the most fancy-pants insurance policy is completely void
Visas in advance
It is extremely important for you to set aside the necessary time well before you travel to do the necessary research on the current visa costs and requirements for each country you’ll be visiting for your own nationality. The Green Rock Safaris briefing notes do give information on this, but it makes sense to do your own as well (for example, some nationalities may require advance visa purchase or specialist paperwork). Also note that you need to budget for the cost of visas in East Africa, as they are not included in the cost of tours.
Many Activities Are Optional
You’ll notice on most Green Rock Safaris tours, that the itineraries are based around certain epic experiences. These experiences are always included within the upfront tour fee that you pay. However, there are a huge number of optional extras that you can add in, all designed to enrich your experience of a place and support the local economy. For example, you can join a local guide to a day trek in Jinja, go out on a swim & sunset cruise.
Before you set off on your tour, be sure to take a note of these optional activities and the prices attached to them to guarantee you have enough cash. Some places will take card if you forget or change your mind last minute, but the smaller, more local-led experiences will require you to pay in either local currency or US Dollars – worth bearing in mind on those rare occasions you pass by an ATM.
Also, don’t feel like you have to do these optional activities. Oftentimes, we were happy to chill at the camp or head out and explore on our own.
Paperwork and Admin
When you book your tour and have everything confirmed, you’ll be sent a briefing document from Green Rock Safaris. This contains an in-depth itinerary, helpful tips and tricks, packing lists and all the nitty-gritty. It should go without saying, but you absolutely must read this – and bring it with you. Whether that’s as a print out, PDF on your phone, or downloaded via their app. Chances are, if you have a specific question about your tour when you’re actually on it, the information will be in there (if not, your tour leader will definitely be able to help).
Also, make sure you bring 2-4 passport photos, some passport photocopies, and have your insurance policy and claims information somewhere readily available (i.e. on the cloud and a paper copy). Note that several countries within Africa require a yellow fever certificate; make sure you bring this with you.
Keep some cash for tipping
Whether you come from a country that has a tipping etiquette or not, it is generally expected on these tours and within the African tourism industry more generally. And that goes for everyone from young guys from local communities that help prepare your food at night on occasion, to your tour guides for activities and your Green Rock Safaris team.
Thankfully, your tour leader will be able to advise on appropriate amounts for each individual. The most important thing is that you factor this into your overall budget. You may find that some members of your group will suggest larger amounts, but remember that you are completely entitled to give only what you feel comfortable with, and an amount which is suitable for your overall budget and you feel is appropriate. Money for tips over a few weeks can mount up, so do bear this in mind.
Additionally, and we do think that this is an important point to note, as difficult as it can be to see people far far less well off than yourselves, you’re not a charity. By all means, support a local artisan by buying a beautiful piece of jewellery that you genuinely want and purchase your snacks from a street vendor instead of the supermarket, but don’t feel that it is your responsibility to buy everything everyone is trying to sell you, or encourage a child to bypass school because they can make cash asking for handouts.
By going on a Green Rock Safaris tour, you are already supporting local economies in ways that many other tour companies don’t. Feel good about that.