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A Packing List for Backpacker-Style Travel in Africa

Here is a packing list I have compiled for backpacker-style travel in Africa, it includes everything I took with me on my most recent trip there - where I was travelling from Nairobi to Cape Town by public transport. Read on to find out what items proved invaluable to me and also where I went wrong!


If you're thinking about dipping your toe into Africa travel but you're still not sure, check out my guide: Is it Safe to Travel in Africa? & Other Myths Debunked.



CONTENTS




 


My Route Through Africa


A hand drawn map of Africa
Our original route Nairobi to Capetown

The above hand-drawn map shows our route across Africa, but as always with backpacker-style travel it's important to keep your itinerary loose as things change along the way.


Below is the list of countries in Africa I travelled through:


Kenya

Tanzania

Malawi

Zambia

Botswana

Namibia

South Africa

For full transparency, this 3-month trip had a budget of £3000 for the two of us -not including flights from Europe to Nairobi, or from Cape Town to Asia.



 


Nairobi to Cape Town Overland


This post may contain affiliate links, which means I may get a commission if you make a purchase through this website, at no extra cost to you. I only link to products and services that I use and love.

The route from Kenya to South Africa is actually ‘fairly’ well-travelled, when compared to much of West or North-East Africa, so there is not much need for extreme specialist equipment.


For example, I would not have made it through six months in the Cameroonian jungle without my solar panel charger, but I chose not to bring one for this trip.


As we travel overland and on a budget, journeys on public transport ARE LONG AND ROUGH. This means packing light is key, and so I am using a 40L backpack which can be taken as hand luggage on a plane, with a 7kg weight limit.


I did not bring jewellery, my MacBook, or anything else precious. I do not have any photography equipment or designer clothes, solely my passport, phone and a bit of cash to worry about keeping safe.


To find out if travelling around the continent of Africa using public transport is for you, check out my guide: The Best Way to Travel Around Africa.



A boabab tree in front of a red sunset
African sunsets are amazing


 


A Packing List for Backpacker-Style Travel in Africa


The Absolute Essentials

Disclosure:
I Dream of Mangoes is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites. That being said, I only link to products I use and love.


The Backpack itself


With backpacks, it’s worth spending a little more, and for my big 70L bag I have used for other trips I have the Osprey Fairview which is amazing, but almost £200.


For this trip, let’s face it, travelling overland in Africa is a dusty and muddy affair, add that to time spent trekking, camping, and taking public transport, and this bag is going to see some hard wear and tear.


I went for the 40L Quecha MH500 from Decathlon for £65 -on the premise that it may not be in one piece after 3 months, and I am OK with that.


Tent


Hotels in parts of the African continent can be a bit more expensive than my regular backpacking budget of £10 per night for accommodation, and adding a tent to my packing list for Africa was the best decision I made on this trip.


Most campsites we stayed at across Africa allowed us to pitch up and use the facilities for £5-£10 per night.


Having a tent also means you don’t have to worry about whether your accommodation provides a mosquito net as if you keep your tent door closed, it does the job.


Two other factors to consider when deciding whether to pack a tent are the weather and the weight you're carrying.


Weight is key, and I found that generally, the lighter quality tents are very expensive, so we compromised on kilos and price with the Robens Boulder 3, which weighs 3kg and costs £255.



Tent Stuff


Inflatable pillows

Sleeping pads

Sleeping bag liners


The combined weight of all three of these items is 1kg, bringing camping equipment to a total of 4kg.


The sleeping pads were especially handy in the desert, as the sand is either freezing cold or burning hot.



Jade Yoga Travel Mat


OK, so as someone who practices every day, this is an essential item for me when packing a packing list for Africa, and I wouldn’t buy any other brand than Jade Yoga, the grip is the best!


The travel mat is a bit thinner and the height is 24 inches, so it ‘just’ fits in the 40L when rolled up lengthwise.



Phones, Chargers, and a Universal Power Plug

I have the iPhone 12 which I also use as a camera.


Books, Sketchpads and a Pencil roll


Joe uses a Kindle, but I prefer to turn pages. For this trip, I have chosen two modern classics written by African authors:


  1. Nervous Conditions by Zimbabwean author Tsitsi Dangarembga

  2. Things Fall Apart by Nigerian author Chinua Achebe


Sunglasses, Wallet/Purse


An old clunky laptop


Filter water bottles


With or without a lifestraw depending on how fancy you are.


Power bank


I have the Hiluckey Wireless Portable Charger which is a bit chunky but good value at £40. We used this ALL THE TIME on our travels so it should not be skipped off of your packing list for Africa.


Retractable clothesline


We use this camping washing line, it's 8 meters and super handy and can attach to almost anything, so you can hang up your clothes after hand-washing them.


Head Torch


ESSENTIAL!



A girl in yellow shorts and pigtails with a big purple backpack
My 70L backpack serving me well in Singapore

 

Toiletries


SHEWEE


The day I got my Shewee was the day my world changed forever.


Finally, I can pee without sitting on disgusting toilet seats, and in the middle of a bus journey, I can just stand up and pee on the side of the road with discretion, rather than squatting and mooning the other passengers.


Practising with the Shewee in the shower before your trip is very necessary.


Portable Urinal


This is also a very exciting product! If you’re camping out bush, and don’t want to leave your tent during the night to pee, for various reasons but mostly so you don’t get killed by a wild animal - you can use your shewee to pee into the portable urinal and Voila! Seal it up, and empty it in the morning. Genius.



Menstrual Cup and specialised cleaner 50ml


This is a fantastic option for people who have periods, instead of using tampons and pads. There is little to no waste involved and it lasts up to 12 hours before needing to be changed. I have always used this menstrual cup and this cleaner - and they have never failed me!


For more advice on this topic, check out my post: Backpacking on your Period.



Malaria Tablets


We initially used Doxycycline, as it's cheaper than Malarone, and we made sure to take them on a full stomach (I learnt the hard way).


!! I am not a doctor - this is not medical advice. All I will say is that I no longer take antimalarials when travelling to Africa, due to them making me feel like crap. Instead, I cover my arms and legs in the evenings and use mosquito repellent.



Here’s the African Continent Malaria Map for Reference:


A Malaria transmission map of Africa


Other Toiletries and Medicine for your Packing List for Africa


  • Hairbrush, ties & grips

  • Tweezers

  • Hand cream 50ml

  • Cleanser 50ml & Pads

  • 2 x Mozzie cream 100ml

  • Suncream 100ml + Sunblock (Both Reef Safe)

  • Headache tablets

  • Anti-nausea pills

  • Anti-diarrhoea pills

  • A little bit of make-up, if you like.

  • Baby wipes

  • A bar of soap and an exfoliating glove

  • Anti-bac gel


*I used to carry big first-aid kits back in the days when I first started backpacking, but honestly, I have never needed to use one so I don't bother any more, this is ultimately your call*


Activated charcoal tablets


Pop one of these before any meal to line your stomach and protect you from parasites and other dodgy stuff in contaminated food. Make sure you don't take it within two hours of taking your malaria prevention medication, as it may stop it from working.


Laundry Soap + Clothes Line


Essential for washing your underwear, at the very least! For me, this cannot be missed for my packing list for Africa - where it isn't always easy to find a launderette. I am also in love with my handy retractable clothesline - I use it ALL THE TIME.

Electrolyte sachets


I swear by these, especially in places like Thailand where all of the bottled water is stripped of its minerals before being packaged. I am not sure what the situation is in the African continent with bottled water, but mixing an electrolyte sachet in the first drink of the day is going to stop headaches and other symptoms of dehydration.


Protein Bars


I always stuff a few of these in my bag. While on long journeys you can normally always buy snacks like fruit and nuts from vendors, but personally speaking if I go more than 5 hours without food I feel sick, and my patience level hits zero.


Having back-up cereal bars is a way to help me from going feral - and protect my fellow travellers from my wrath, should I not have other access to food!



 

Clothes


  • 1 x Sports bra

  • 1 x Reg bra

  • 3 x Trainer socks

  • 7 x Underpants


  • 2 x Leggings

  • 1 x Denim shorts

  • 2 x Cargo pants

  • 1 x Lounge shorts


  • 2 x Vests

  • 2 x T-shirts

  • 1 x Long-sleeved top

  • 1 x Shirt

  • 1 x Fleece

  • 1 x Dress


  • 1 x Swimsuit

  • 1 x Micro fibre towel

  • 1 x Sarong

  • 1 x Flip Flops

  • Water Shoes



 


Travel Documents & Other Considerations



Passport


Do you have 6 months left before the expiry and enough blank pages?


Photocopies of passports


In colour.


Chopped-up passport photos


Sometimes needed for permits and visas on arrival.


Immunisation booklets


Have you checked which immunisations you need? YELLOW FEVER IS ESSENTIAL and you may not be allowed to enter many countries in Southern Africa if you’re not vaccinated.


VISAS


Which do you need to get beforehand? For UK citizens (at that time) we needed to do Kenya and Malawi online and print out COLOUR copies to take with us. **Both Kenya and Malawai are now visa-free for UK citizens with some conditions.


Tanzania and Zimbabwe are VOA for $50, Zambia and Mozambique are visa-exempt, but Mozambique asks for a 'processing fee' of $10, and Botswana, Namibia, and South Africa are all visa-exempt for less than 90 days of travel. **Namibia will soon initiate a VOA for UK Citizens, price TBC.


Travel Insurance


Everyone goes on about WorldNomads and SafetyWing, but these are on the pricey side for me, especially as I have very little valuable equipment.


If something minor happens it's normally not worth claiming, because it’s less than the excess, this was even the case when I was in Japan and needed to go to the hospital.


So I always say go cheap, but with a well-known brand, that, if worse comes to worst would want to protect its reputation.


For 3 months in Africa, for a couple, with the Post Office or Tesco, you can get good insurance for less than £200 all in.


International Driving License


It is not needed for UK citizens in Namibia and South Africa, which are the only countries I planned to drive in, but do check your own specs.


Exchange USD


Some American dollars are an essential item for your packing list for Africa. ALWAYS keep USD on you, dollar notes should be NEW and CRISP.


In some instances, like for VOAs or safaris they only accept USD, not local currency. You can stash this cash away in a money belt, a neck wallet, or better yet roll up the notes and stuff them inside a few tampons, a place where men will never look.


Have at least two bank accounts


Even though banks say they won’t block your card, they will. It always happens. I would recommend a World Bank like HSBC or Barclaycard.


Download podcasts


For those bumpy bus journeys where reading may incur travel sickness.


Consider your SIM card situation


Do you want an E-sim or to buy a local one in each country? E-sims are certainly more convenient but you get WAY more for your buck if you purchase a local sim.



 


So that’s my packing list for backpacking in Africa! I have kept it as light as possible, and the total weight will not come to more than 10kg; 7kg on the back and 3kg on the front.


Please let me know if you think I have forgotten anything, and stay tuned for more posts on backpacking the African content.


For more travel inspiration, check out my article on visiting South Africa's Lowveld (Kruger National Park)


Happy Travels! xx



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