Packing Essentials for East and Southern Africa

Choosing what to pack for a five-month trip is no easy feat. That’s 152 days’ worth of tops, trainers and toothpaste!

As a result most of us have a tendency to overpack, especially when venturing off the beaten path. But filling your backpack to the brim is a very bad idea. It will weigh you down, make getting around a pain in the neck (back?) and scream “I’ve never done this before” from miles away.

This post will help you whittle your packing list down to the essentials. Let’s make that backpack lighter while making sure you don’t leave anything important at home, shall we?

All the items below are things I will be bringing but I am by no means the final authority on all things packing. If anything I’ve listed below feels wrong or if there is an item you can’t image going without, feel free to disregard my advice. You know yourself better than anyone else after all.

The most important thing to keep in mind is that you can buy most things on the road. This is also a great way to help the local economy, so I’m all for it. Not to mention that most essentials are unlikely to be significantly more expensive on your travels. As a European going to East and Southern Africa, this will almost definitely be true.

Without further ado, here are my packing essentials for backpacking around Africa…

Before you go

Make sure you leave enough time to get all your important documents in order. Keep in mind that obtaining visas can take a long time and that some vaccines need time before they start working.

  • Check that your passport is valid for 6+ months after the end of your trip
  • Visas that you need pre-arrival
  • Vaccinations (e.g. yellow fever, meningitis, rabies, typhoid and cholera)
  • Travel insurance
  • Accommodation for your first destination
  • Flights or other transport

Must Haves

  • Passport
  • Electronic copy of your passport
  • Copy of proof of travel insurance
  • International certificate of vaccination (for yellow fever)
  • Some local currency and US $
  • Credit/debit card with no foreign fees (e.g. Monzo card)
  • Back up credit/debit card


  • Shampoo
  • Conditioner
  • Soap
  • Lip balm with SPF
  • Hairbrush (I recommend a Tangleteezer)
  • Shaving essentials
  • Moisturiser with SPF
  • Toothbrush + toothpaste
  • Antibacterial lotion
  • Mineral sunscreen
  • Roll-on deodorant
  • Feminine hygiene (consider buying a menstrual cup)
  • Contacts + glasses if necessary
  • DEET or natural bug spray


  • Band aids
  • Alcohol wipes
  • Bandages
  • Prescription meds
  • Epi pen if you need one
  • Anti-malaria meds
  • Antibiotics (if possible)
  • Antidiarrhoeal medicines
  • Ibuprofen and/or paracetamol


  • Camera + charger
  • Camera battery (2-3x)
  • SD cards (2-3x)
  • Laptop + charger
  • Phone + charger
  • Backup phone (ideally with 2 SIM card slots)
  • Mi-Fi (if you need to stay connected)
  • Hard drive
  • Converters
  • Powerstrip
  • Portable charger
  • Headphones


  • Headlamp
  • Pocket knife
  • Water purifying tablets


What clothing you pack is very individual and depends on the type of trip you’re going on. If you’re going on a safari, your packing list will be very different to someone visiting luxury hotels in Zanzibar or doing a short city break in Cape Town.

One universal tip is packing a capsule wardrobe. In other words, make sure the clothes you bring have a similar colour palette and are easy to mix-and-match. I’ve personally opted for neutrals for this trip, as I’ll be spending a lot of time outside of cities and don’t want to attract unnecessary attention.

If you’re going to a country that’s particularly religious, make sure you follow their dress code. It’s important to be respectful of other cultures when you travel. Other than that just bring a hat and a quality pair of sunglasses… and have fun!

Have you ever been to East or Southern Africa? Is there anything I’ve left off the list that you’d recommend bringing? Let me know in a comment below!

  • Namulime Sharon

    Wow! Great tips! Nothing to add.
    Wishing you an awesome five months stay in East and Southern Africa.


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