On June 11, a little over 3 months ago, I posted a blog entry of my packing list along with photos of what I was bringing with me. That post is thus far the most visited of the whole blog, by several percentage points (it gets linked to in a bunch of places). I’ve also gotten many comments that people have found that very helpful. But the true test, of course, is how well that list held up. Now that I am back I can give a faithful accounting of what worked and what didn’t.
Let me start by saying that I learned very quickly that I both hate and suck at doing laundry in a sink. Some people do laundry every night, I found that my clothes simply didn’t get clean enough (I also DON’T recommed Dr. Bonner’s Soap as detergent). I would generally find it far more worthwhile to pay a hotel or hostel to do my laundry for me, but you must swing it correctly such that you’re in one location long enough to have them do it and have it dry. In Uganda, it rained far too much so I mainly had them wash it, and if it looked like rain, I dried it inside my room. So having a clothesline is a necessity, even if you don’t plan much on doing your own undies.
Here’s an overview:
Clothes Packing List
Note that most of the clothes can be seen in you look in my photos (see previous blog entry) as I had far more photo days than I had changes of clothing.
2 convertible pants/shorts - I had two pair of Buzz-Off Men’s pants and these were great. I don’t care if people in convertible pants look like dorks, I wore these most days. One pair of pants got ruined at a laundy in Egypt which I think held an iron to the leg too long and literally “melted” some holes in it, but I continued to wear them nonetheless. The zippers also had a few ‘connection’ problems and yes, the shorts change color much more quickly than the pants bottoms if you wear the shorts in the sun. What was really great about these was the pockets. The left pocket had a zippered inner pocket in which I kept my change and daily-use currency. I also was able to keep my passport, health card, insurance info, etc in a ziplock in this pocket and it fitted snugly enough that I felt it wasn’t going to readily be picked.
The right-side pocket comes with a “loop” in which you can attach an ex-officio nylon pouch which was perfect for holding my credit cards, bank card, and larger cash dollars. The loop attachment makes it very difficult for someone to pick. The right pocket also has a small velcro-pocket in which I kept my pocket-knife and hair elastic/hair pins.
1 broomstick skirt . This was fabulous. I got it for $9.99 in a CVS with the intention of throwing it out if I found anything better. I never did. It was especially handy for tossing on at night when I needed to make quick bathroom trips and didn’t want to muss about with snaps and zippers, and was a requirement for visiting some mosques in Egypt. It also had a little cloth ‘loop’ in it so I could attach my nylon pouch for money/credit cards and it hung completely inside the skirt so was impossible to pick.
1 yoga pants/PJ bottoms – I rarely used these during the day because they didn’t have any pockets or way to attach the nylon money pouch, so only used them as pjs or for lounging about the hostel at night or making short trips where I had a backpack to use to hold my stuff. Glad I had them, but probably could have done without if absolutely necessary.
2 thermal underwear (1 top/ 1bottom)- I used these a lot in East Africa and once in the Atlas Mountains of Morocco, and was very glad I had them. I definitely recommend Smartwool Ultralight for trips like this, they take up very little room.
1 long-sleeve shirt (permethrin treated for mosquitos) – this was great for nights in East Africa, but was too hot to use in North Africa and I ended up dumping it for space in Egypt. I bought a long-sleep Egyptian cotton “tunic” for $6 in Cairo that I used throughout Egypt and Morocco. It was much more appropriate for evenings out, or wearing during the day when I needed long sleeves. It was still hotter than I would have liked, but due to some size limitations, I could only find the shirt in dark blue versus lurid green or yellow. I opted for the dark blue despite that it would be hotter to wear during the day.
1 long-sleeve button-down shirt/use as day jacket (permethrin treated) – I used this ALL THE TIME as a day-jacket everywhere except Egypt where it was too hot to be needed. My advice on this just make sure you get a color you like because you’ll be seeing this in a lot of your photos. Mine was a noxious avocado green that people tell me they like, but I hated from the get-go. It was also great because it had chest pockets which came in very handy when I needed to put something away quickly.
3 short-sleeve/tanktop t-shirts (1 permethrin) – I did buy 2 more t-shirts as I went along, mainly for sentimental reasons. The tank-top I almost exclusively used to sleep in, it was rarely appropriate to wear outside in Africa. The permethrin top was also a bit too hot to wear in North Africa (the thickness of the material) but it did make the trip back with me as it was the only short-sleeve shirt I had that wasn’t a t-shirt with writing, and that was sometimes better to have than a t-shirt.
1 warm yet compressible jacket – The compressible jacket put into a “thermasack-with-pillow-soft-side” wasn’t used often as a jacket but was a godsend when it was needed. I also used it as a pillow a LOT in Egypt where the pillows were universally rock-hard. I also used it as a back-cushion on crappy roads in Tanzania. When I bought pottery in Morocco I wrapped the pottery in this jacket and it survived the rest of the trip. This was a must-have!
1 smartwool socks, 1 permethrin socks, 1-2 lightweight socks, 1 worlds softest sock – I dumped the Worlds Softest Sock after East Africa because it was not cold enough to merit it and it took up a lot of room. I do regret bringing some plain cotton tennis-socks, They took far too long to dry when I did wash them myself or if they got wet for any reason. My non-cotton ankle socks were much better. The smartwool socks and buzz-off socks were great to have, too, though I tended to wear them just on long travel-days.
1 bathing suit – A must have in Egypt. If you can handle a speedo, best get that as it will dry faster. My body is long past the speedo days, I’m afraid, but my “three-piece” did just fine.
Underwear (undisclosed quantity – a girl’s gotta have some privacy) – In the end, I had enough underwear (6) but not enough bras (3). Bring more bras, especially if you don’t do your own laundry nightly. Also bring ones with good support (you either know what I mean, or its not relevant to you).
2 hats (1 warm cap, 1 sun hat)- The warm cap I used a few times in East Africa, but not often. The sun hat I used a fair amount in Tanzania and Egypt, but by the time I got to Morocco I was more using a headscarf than a hat if I used anything at all.
2 permethrin bandanas – In the end I only brought one and that was enough. I used it a fair amount, though less once I got the headscarf. Since it was permethrin treated, it was especially good to use at night in East Africa.
1 belt (also money holder) – Wore this any day I wore the convertible pants (could not be worn with skirt or yoga pants). Was very good to have, but you need to fold the money REALLY narrowly to fit inside the belt. I put the money inside a plastic baggy to make sure it didn’t get sweaty. This is not something you use for money you need to “get at” easily, so only put true safety money in here.
1 neck money holder – never used this once. I hated it from the get-go as it was bulky under my t-shirts. I had my passport and money in my pockets and felt they were safe.
1 garden gloves (for gorilla trekking)-the trees in Bwindi are thorny and I was glad to have this even for just the few hours I used them. I gave them away after I trekked the gorillas.
Purse I did not bring a purse with me, execting to just use my backpack daypack but that didn’t work out too well. I did eventually buy a purse in Egypt for $5 that I used throughout North Africa but you need SOMETHING to carry stuff around in, either during the day or at night, when a backpack is just beyond de-classe. Between my camera, notebook, celll phone, money, bottles of water, sunscreen and whatnot, I needed something and at times a backpack would not do.
1 sandals. I was glad I had these and wore them a fair amount in North Africa and occasionally in Kampala but if push came to shove, these could be done without. it was nice to have soft, comfortable, not-awful-looking shoes once in a while.
1 Tevas. I was also glad I had these, but again if push came to shove, flip-flops would probably do just as well in most places. I bought a pair of flip-flops in Uganda because putting on shoes to get to the bathroom at night (and if you don’t have your own bathroom that guarantees you will need it at least 2-4 times a night) is a big pain. Even for Tevas or sneakers that can be slipped into, it’s just plum easier with flip-flops. Also, if you showered using Tevas and then went out in them, they were kinda of wet and gunky for a while unless it was really hot out.
1 hiking sneakers (cross-trainers) SOOOO GLAD I bought these a few weeks before my trip. They were PERFECT. The hiking boots indeed would have been too heavy and bulky. The sneakers may have been OK but would have been rough going for the few times I did do heavy hiking in Uganda and Morocco. These Vasques were perfect!
duct-tape: Used it enough to definitely merit its inclusion. I bought one of those roles that roles upon itself and could have used a tiny fraction of the amount, but it was good to have. If you put a whole bunch around a pen, that should be ample for most trips.
tiny sewing kit. Did use to repair a button on my pants, once, but that was it. Probably could have gotten a laundry place to do that.
sharpie. Used this to mark up several things, like my cell phone which looked like everyone else’s cell phone (it is the cheapest cell phone you can buy in Africa). I think this was worth having, and you can wrap the duct tape around it for 2-in-1 usage.
nylon cord. NEVER used this, I only used my clothes line. I left this behind in Egypt.
head lamp VERY necessary at the hostels when you need to find your way to the bathroom at night. Don’t leave home without it.
swiss army knife (with nail file!!) Used quite a bit, mainly just the scissors and every once in a while a real knife blade. Just remember to put it in your bag when flying.
spork NEVER used once. A waste of space.
zipper attachment w/ clock/compass/thermometer/light This was quite handy to have for temperture and time telling. I would probably buy a sturdier one as mine was held together with duct-tape by the end. Compass was never used, but would still get one that has a compass just in case.
toiletries/first aid kit/antiseptic wipes/etc I brought too many toiletries, especially of lotion, sunscreen, and mouthwash. I dumped some of this early on. I ran out of shampoo, conditioner, razers, and toothpaste along the road, which was easy to find. DO keep two toothbrushes on you, though. By habit you are likely to run one under the tap and then you can’t use it (or at least I didn’t). Having a spare allows you to brush your teeth until you can get another backup.
The first-aid kit was used quite a bit for band-aids, itch-cream for bug bites, sun-burn cream and neosporin. DO bring laundry detergent if you want to do your own laundry (you can just bring a double-baggy full of powder detergent, though some put a few ounces of liquid detergent into a water bottle and bring that). Other types of soap don’t work as well, IMO. However, shampoo is an ample substitute for soap and shaving cream if necessary. I DID definitely use up the antiseptic wipes while in North Africa, but used them much less so in East Africa. Hard to say why, it just seemed less filthy a place. Make sure you use them after handling money, especially in Egypt. I think that’s one of the biggest ways people get sick.
I DID bring some makeup with me, travel-size only, and I think used it one or two nights the entire trip. As mentioned earlier, on a trip like this you need to embrace your inner hag-dom. I also brought a hairbrush that was never used, as a comb did everything I needed for my cher-hair.
meds As noted earlier, I never got very ill, but gave out a lot of immodium to others. Having some colace is also good to have around if you have the opposite problem. I took my fair shair of pain killers, but the one thing I didn’t have enough of were decongestants. Bring lots of daytime Benadryl, especially to East Africa if you have allergies. I bought some decongestant in Uganda and it worked well, but made me very sleepy despite that they said it wouldn’t.
face microfibre towel Never used once.
big microfibre towel. Used all the time when I was in places that didn’t provide decent towels. I could probably have made do with a “large” rather than an uber “extra-large” though.
drain stopper to do laundry Always good to have and worth the space, though some people just use socks to stop up the drain, but if you want the clothes to soak a good long time, use a stopper.
clothes line for laundry. A MUST HAVE. yes, it can be difficult to find things to attach it to, but if you are inventive you can usually find a way to make it work.
camera/charger/reader/chips All this worked well for me. I had two cards and two batteries for my camera. I never needed the second card (I had a 1gig card) though I did run out of space toward the end of my trip and just deleted a bunch of stuff. The second battery was a MUST as my camera went through batteries very quickly when used in photo-intensive places, like safaris.
ipod/ipod case/charger/battery extender/2 headsets. Battery extender ended up not working, and I lost one of the headsets but otherwise all was well with this. I was glad to have an ipod case so it wasn’t as obvious as what I was listening to, and it helped protect the ipod.
plug converter. The one I had (Samsonite Worldwide Adapater plug) worked great, everywhere. The ones other people had often did not work right or would not fit completely into some sockets. I HIGHLY recommend getting this specific charger.
travel alarm clock Very necessary to ensure you get up in time for your planes, trains, and automobiles.
u3 flash drive It was hit-or-miss as to if I could find computers that would read the drive. When they did, I liked using this for doing online banking (of which I did very little) and thought it was worth bringing along. I also copied photos from the photo card onto this drive as a backup.
sleep sack liner: Worth bringing. I recommend the silk kind as they are very lightweight and fast to dry
Mosquito net Overall, I used this far less than I expected to. Mainly, most places I stayed provided one where necessary. But, part of that was luck, as at Red Chili in Kampala I was in rooms with brand new nets. In reality, I suspect it is still always best to bring your own. I gave this and a bunch of toiletries to a staff member at Red Chilis when I left Uganda.
2 locks (1 retractible cable lock, one regular cable lock) I used the PacSafe retractible lock all the time. I used it while traveling to keep my bag secure and when I left my room I usually locked up my valuables in my bag. I never had anything missing so I can’t complain.
collapsible biconulars A necessity for a safari, not really necessary otherwise.
travel pillow (deflatable) I threw this out after the 24-hour flight to Mount Kilimanjaro. I bought a cheap $3 one at a drug store and it was worth it for that, but I never would have toted around a nice travel pillow for the whole time. Definitely not worth the space.
2 sunglasses. My first sunglasses finally melted in Luxor, Egypt. Literally the sweat from my face caused it to break down. Rather than use the second pair I bought with me (which had wire rims and I thought would be too hot) I simply bought a second pair of plastic ones at the food place near Queen Hatshepsut’s temple in Luxor.
1 reading glasses/clips/case I rarely used my glasses on the trip, but I suppose were worth having rather than not.
stickers/pens for kids I brought two packets of stickers and gave them out whenever I was around a kid in distress (like on public transport) or the child of hosts (in Morocco). I rarely gave them out to groups on the street or else you would be mobbed.
earplugs A MUST HAVE especially if you are on a tour or in any place you need to share a room with someone. They won’t eliminate the noise from snoring, but they make it better.
notepad/pen: Necessary for blog notes.
Passport Duh. I kept mine in my pants pocket most of the time and felt it safe enough. I never used a neck or waist-pouch, but to each their own.
Yellow Fever cert/vaccination card No one ever looked at this.
photos for visas Not necessary, never used.
atm card, credit card, various IDs Only in Uganda did I have trouble with my ATM card, as Barclay’s wouldn’t accept it, but Stanbic’s did, so I was OK. Credit Cards are virtually worthless in Africa, except for buying carpets in Morocco. I think I used mine less than five times the entire trip, including the carpets. If you are going to Egypt, GET A STUDENT ID. It will save you hundreds of dollars at the tourist sites.
photocopies of all cc, atm, passport, health cert, reservations, phone #, etc Thankfully, never needed. but good to have.
1 Bradt guide to Uganda
Ripped out pages of LP Egypt/East Africa Good to have, I threw these out as I was done with them. Only negative was that if you decide to go somewhere unplanned, you might not have info on it. I had not brought my “Lonely Planet: Egypt” pages for the Sinai Penninsula because originally I wasn’t going to go there, but I was able to borrow the book from other people to read.
Tags: Africa, backpack, Getting Ready, packing, packing list