Sophie Brown, one of our onsite wildlife photographers in South Africa, shares her advice on packing for a trip to Africa (and her tried and tested trick to not over packing)
If you are anything like I am when it comes to planning a trip, lists become one of your best friends. There is something reassuring and satisfying about being able to check off items as you complete them. Packing lists are something I always make because without them I invariably feel like I am forgetting something.
Over the years I have been very lucky to have traveled to many locations, all with different weather and climates. I found that packing for Africa doesn’t change all that much. I have a core list of basics with just a few items that I swap in and out depending on whether I am traveling to a hotter or colder climate.
The backbone of my packing is to pack light and to cater to as many circumstances with as few items as possible.
As a wildlife photographer, this is largely to make sure I have enough space and weight to carry what I deem as my essential camera equipment. After all, when I travel it is often to photograph some form of wildlife, so if I didn’t take the bread and butter of my work, my camera equipment, I’d be pretty stuck.
Therefore, there is one question I try to ask myself with everything I am packing:
Do I really need it?
If I hesitate in any way, I know the answer is really no and I can therefore leave it behind.
How to Not Over Pack
When it comes to the amount of clothes and toiletries to bring, I don’t take more than enough to last me around 10 days, regardless of the length of the trip. Most places will have laundry facilities if needed, and worst comes to worst, you can always do it yourself.
Ultimately, overpacking for Africa is all too easy.
I find a great way to avoid that temptation to slip in unnecessary items is to not have a big bag.
Big bags have lots of space and I haven’t met many people who don’t fill their bags when they pack.
I am certainly one of those people!
Packing cubes are fantastic at compressing down the clothes you do take, keeping them separated into categories (i.e. underwear, tops, bottoms, etc.), and stopping you from sneaking in too many extras.
Packing for Africa’s Climate
With its warm days and often cold mornings and evenings, I have found my trips to Africa to be the perfect midpoint climate for packing. If I know the climate will be colder, I take fewer t-shirts and shorts and a couple more long-sleeves and jumpers. And if I know the climate will be warmer, then vice versa.
Below is my packing list for most of my African trips.
I have found that this core list gets me through most situations without leaving me with an incredibly heavy bag and back pain!
The Only Travel Packing Checklist You Will Ever Need:
When it comes to choosing clothing, I tend to go for light, comfortable material, and things that can layer if needed. I also tend to go for clothing that I am not too precious about. This way I can get dirty without feeling like I’m at a total loss.
I always make sure I have one nicer outfit, just in case I want to feel a bit more civilized and head out for a nice dinner or event.
Otherwise, investing in a good quality compactable down jacket was one of the best things I did and is a staple of every trip. It’s lightweight and perfect for slightly colder temperatures.
- 1 pair of jeans
- 2 shorts
- 1 lightweight trousers
- 1 leggings
- 5 t-shirts
- 2 long sleeve t-shirts
- 1 over shirt
- 2 warm jumper
- 1 PJs
- 9 pairs of underwear
- 5 pairs of socks
- 1 swimsuit
- 1 nice top (for nice dinners or occasions you want to look good)
- 1 lightweight dress
- 1 lightweight warm, compressible jacket
Shoes were something I always used to take too many of when I started traveling.
Nowadays, I find three pairs are plenty. Take one pair for lots of walking or more physical activities, one for relaxing, and one pair as a bridge between the two.
- 1 pair of sandals or flip flops
- 1 pair of sturdy close-toed shoes
- 1 pair of casual shoes/trainers
Toiletries are without a doubt the heaviest part of my bag (with the exception of my technology). In order to minimize weight, I try to get small bottles of soap, hair wash, etc. Nicer accommodation often provides toiletries as well, meaning you can take even less.
Toiletries are sold everywhere and are easy to replace.
Solid shampoos, conditioners are often great as well; they normally last a long time, are pretty lightweight, and can be taken as carry-on if needed.
Finally, microfiber towels are a must; again they are lightweight and even if your accommodation offers towels, they often don’t provide for pools or day trips (or they charge you to take one!).
- 1 toothpaste
- 1 toothbrush
- 1 deodorant
- 1 razor
- 1 small bottle of shampoo/conditioner
- 1 soap
- Hair-ties (lots, as these seem to get eaten by the packing fairy!)
- 1 small bottle moisturizer
- 1 small dental floss
- 1 small hairbrush
- 1 small sun cream
- 1 small nail clippers
- 1 microfiber towel
I confess, I am a walking accident waiting to happen! Therefore, having a basic medical kit is very important to me. However, that doesn’t mean I have to take everything I can find on the shelves of my local pharmacy.
The basics of various plasters and painkillers will normally give me enough time to seek the necessary medical attention if I do have a minor accident. Aside from this, sanitizer for germs and a few rehydration sachets to back me up if I forget to drink enough water in my new climate are always good to have on hand.
- Plasters of various sizes (I’m pretty accident prone!)
- Antiseptic cream
- A small bottle of sanitizer
- Rehydration sachets
- Insect repellent (if applicable)
- Anti-malarial (if applicable)
Miscellaneous items can often spiral. It’s all too easy to go down the route of asking, “What if?” and suddenly you find yourself with three notebooks, a roll of duct tape, and a portable sink plug in your bag.
Trust me, it’s happened to me!
Keep it simple and remember, shops exist abroad when unexpected needs occur.
- String (multiple uses-including a make-shift washing line!)
- Small multi-tool
- Water bottle
- 2 padlocks (for bags, suitcases, lockers, etc.)
- Hat and gloves (these are essential for the African winter)
- A pen (I cannot tell you how many times I have needed one for filling in forms etc. and not had one on hand)
The bread and butter for so many of us, the part of our packing that we really feel as if we cannot live without. As hard as it might be, this is an area to try and be ruthless and truly take just what you need.
Aside from the weight, consider the value of the technology you end up walking around with. Damage and theft do happen, albeit not often. If I can minimize this risk then I do.
- Laptop (only if you really need it)
- Camera battery
- Camera memory card
- Small power bank
Ultimately, I could travel anywhere with just my credit card and passport and it is not the end of the world. It would cost far more than I would want, but I could survive.
However, forgetting either of these things and I will probably not get much further than the airport. I always carry a copy of my passport separately from my actual passport. It becomes much easier to get replacements issued should I have a problem on the road and lose my passport.
- Bank cards
- Cash (card machines and ATMs may not be available in certain areas)
- Copy of passport
Final Top Tip: I find that once I lay everything I think I need out, I then take a couple of things away. It saves me the weight and I rarely miss those items once I’m traveling. I am forever fighting the urge to overpack – it’s a constant battle – but a list can make all the difference!
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