What I Packed for Africa

by Melissa on October 3, 2012 · 18 comments

I have a confession to make.  I am famous for being an over-packer.

In my past travels, my bags have always teetered on the 20-23kg limits set out by airlines.

So when I committed to going to Africa, I knew something had to change.  With half of my 7-week trip to Africa being spent on an overland truck with Nomad Adventure Tours, I had only one thing on my mind –packing light.  My goal was to be under 18kgs when I left New Zealand.  In this post I am going to spell out what I packed for Africa – and how I managed to stay under 18kgs!

After ensuring that I had proper worldwide travel cover in terms of my travel insurance, as this was required by both Nomad Adventure Tours and Antelope Park, the only thing left to do was pack my bags.  I am a huge advocate for travel insurance – ever since my 5-day stint in the hospital in Melbourne for extreme food poisoning – thus, I will never leave home without getting at least single trip insurance to make sure I’m covered in case of any sort of emergency on the road.

So with my insurance purchased and my airline tickets printed out and in hand, all I had to do was pack my bags.  Here’s what I packed for Africa…

I set out my 85L Gregory Deva backpack and all clothes that I thought I may need or want.  I settled upon:

  • sleeping bag
  • 2 pairs of women’s cargos (that could be converted into 3/4length – 1 navy & 1 dark khaki)
  • 1 pair Lululemon ¾ length tights
  • 1 pair of Jeans
  • 2 pairs of shorts
  • 1 pair of thermal leggings
  • 1 dress (for going out)
  • 3 t-shirts
  • 4 tank tops melissa with backpacks
  • 1 long sleeved shirt
  • 1 long sleeved thermal
  • 1 cardigan
  • 1 nice knit sweatshirt (for going out)
  • 2 zip-up hoodies
  • 10 pairs of underwear
  • 1 regular bra
  • 1 sports bra
  • 1 bikini
  • 4 pairs athletic socks
  • 2 pairs wool socks
  • 2 pairs rugby socks
  • 1 raincoat
  • warm hat
  • thin gloves
  • 1 sarong
  • 1 pair of flip flops
  • 1 pair of running shoes
  • 1 pair of gum boots (for volunteering at the lion conservation project)
  • 1 regular towel
  • 2 quick dry travel towels (1 large and 1 small for my hair)

I know this list probably looks like a lot, but I did wear everything, except for the dress and never felt like I didn’t have anything to wear.  Additionally I brought some important toiletries:

  • Tiger Balm
  • Mosquito repellant with LOTS of DEET. tiger balm
  • Sunscreen
  • Moisturizer
  • Malaria tablets
  • Other medications
  • Facial cleansing wipes

In terms of everything else, I was stocked with:

  • my iPad
  • my e-reader (which broke on the 2nd day of my overland tour!)
  • my DSLR camera
  • my GoPro camera
  • my iPhone (to use as an iPod, alarm, video camera)
  • headlamp
  • my Nalgene water bottle
  • a Steripen water purifier (which I did NOT use once)

When all was said and done and I had double checked that I had everything I may need – my big backpack was 17.5kgs and my carry-on tipped the scales at  9kg (shhh don’t tell the airlines I was 2kgs over the limit!).  Besides the dress, the e-reader (which broke) and the Steripen, I wore and used everything that I brought with me.  I never felt that I had too many or not enough clothes.  So that’s the list.  That’s what I packed for Africa.  I hope this helps anyone who has their own sights set on visiting the majestic continent.


{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

Anne October 3, 2012 at 4:45 pm

Great packing tips… I must admit I must take lessons from you and learn to pack light.


Melissa October 6, 2012 at 5:27 pm

Um yes! You and dad alike both need to take some tips. I couldnt believe you guys packed as much as you did when you came to visit… I’m STILL shocked!


Bethany ~ twoOregonians October 4, 2012 at 2:06 am

Funny to hear that you didn’t use your Steripen. I was so on the fence before we left about whether or not to pack something like that. In retrospect, I’m really glad we didn’t.

Good list!
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Melissa October 6, 2012 at 5:29 pm

Seriously I didn’t even use it once. I think I underestimated how easy it was going to be to buy bottled water…


Kyle Goes Global October 4, 2012 at 2:45 am

I’m thinking about squeezing into a 40 liter pack for my trip – I have a 40 and an 80, we’ll see if I can do it or not – no clue if I’m going to be able to, may end of having to purchase a 60ish. We’ll see! Less than four weeks!

That’s great that you used all your things – can’t wait to overland Africa!
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Melissa October 6, 2012 at 5:30 pm

I dont know if I could do a 40L pack… thats really little, but I definitely know my 85L is way too big. I may downsize before I return to Africa next year.

Good luck on your last minute preparations! I look forward to following your journey!


Julia October 5, 2012 at 2:23 am

Good job! I have recently converted to the philosophy of traveling light – I’ve always been TERRIBLE at it, but it really is so much easier when you do!
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Melissa October 7, 2012 at 4:37 pm

It really is easier when you do, and very rarely when you’re out there on the road do you wonder why you didnt pack this or that… you just make do with what you’ve got. 🙂


OutsideTheGuidebook October 5, 2012 at 1:23 am

Two cameras PLUS the phone? Wow.. I am just starting out in the world of blogging (relatively speaking) but still the thought of having a pro camera on top of my good old Nokia brick of a phone seems like over packing! Got to move up to the next level I guess! 🙂 Nice article there.
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Melissa October 6, 2012 at 5:30 pm

Haha! I’m a bit of a photo fanatic. That being said- I didn’t use my Go Pro as much as I thought I would. Glad you liked the article!


Erik October 7, 2012 at 12:05 pm

Very informative- This is a great guide for anyone going on this type of adventure in Africa!
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Melissa October 7, 2012 at 4:38 pm

Thanks so much Erik! I thought so too! I had a few people ask me what I brought with me, so hopefully this helped them 🙂


Agness (@Agnesstramp) October 8, 2012 at 4:00 pm

I see you are pretty good at packing. Last time I took a small backpack when travelling in Thailand and Sri Lanka and I have learnt one thing: Less is sometimes more ;-). Have a great time in Africa. How long are you going there for?
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Melissa October 9, 2012 at 8:38 am

Thanks so much – less is definitely more, I need to stick to this packing strategy!

I have actually returned from my trip, I was there for 7 weeks in May and June – it was absolutely incredible. I can’t wait to get back there next July! 🙂


Sonja October 16, 2012 at 1:40 am

Hey there,
fully agree with what you wrote. I *still* have the water purification tablets from my Nomad tour in 2006 and I had this layer of just stuff in the middle part of my backpack that I just *never* used. Going back down on the Jozi-Nairobi tour and just wanted to say thanks for reminding me of packing light!


Melissa October 17, 2012 at 9:36 am

Haha! Anytime, hun! Like I said, I’m notorious for overpacking. When I was younger my friends used to call me Princess for how much I would take traveling with me. As for the water purification tablets – it probably wouldnt hurt to bring them along, but I know that my stupid steri-pen cost me over $100 AUD and I didnt use it once. Was gutted.

Jealous that you’re headed back! Have an incredible time!


Amal May 29, 2013 at 12:43 pm

Hi Melissa!

I enjoyed reading your blog! Very descriptive and informative!

Just one question with the weight allowance of your bags – did Nomad object to you or anyone else on tour with the sizes or weight of their bags? I note you took 17.5kg and 9kg – did you repack before getting on the truck?

I hope to do the the same tour this coming August and have been quoted 20kg in total, which might be a little difficult as I’m an enthusiast photographer and my camera gear is heavy!



Sal July 13, 2014 at 7:18 am

I’ll be doing a trip overlanding in Africa and I’m worried that should I check in my baggage, it would be lost! Where did you fly from/ into (with connections?) and did you have any trouble with the baggage or flights. I’ll be flying into Livingstone from Asia with 3 connecting flights with Ethopian airlines eekk..


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