Here’s a confession: I’m a serial under-packer and when getting my things together for my backpacking trip to East Africa, it was no different.
I stuffed a few clothes into my backpack, zipped it up, and drove to the airport. Two days into the trip, I realized I had made a huge mistake.
Backpacking East Africa can get pretty rough if you’re doing it really low-budget and there are a few things I wish I’d brought along that would have made my trip a lot more stress-free. If you’re wondering what to pack for East Africa, I’ve got some pretty useful tips for you. Here’s to learning from others’ mistakes so you don’t have to make them yourself! 😉
Here’s all the stuff I wish I’d packed for backpacking East Africa!
Purifying Water Bottle
Drinking tap water in East Africa is a risky business and is where the GRAYL Ultralight Water Purifier comes in. It’s basically a water bottle that filters bacteria, viruses, and chemicals from any source of fresh water in seconds.
I can’t count the number of times when I arrived late at night to a guesthouse in the middle of nowhere only to realize I had no water with me. With the GRAYL, you can drink water from the tap without having to worry about getting sick!
Aside from reducing plastic waste, you’ll also save tons of money with it if you consider the amount you’d spend on buying purified water during the trip.
I got it as a Christmas present from my boyfriend after telling him about my water woes and it really does make travel so much easier. I really wish I would have had something like this when backpacking East Africa.
Here’s a cool fact: Plastic bags are illegal in Rwanda and Kenya.
You’re actually looking at a pretty hefty fine or even jail if you get caught with one.
I have crossed the border into Rwanda three times, once from Uganda, once from Tanzania, and once from the Congo, and my backpack was screened for plastic bags every single time.
An announcement from the Rwandan government I spotted at the Uganda-Rwanda border.
I usually bring ziplock bags with me to pack products that could spill, as well as food when I’m going on day trips. If you are like me, then a good alternative is this Re-Zip Seal Reusable Storage Bag Kit.
Plus, it is a great way to reduce unnecessary waste and protect East Africa’s bewildering nature.
Kenya uses type G sockets, while Rwanda uses type C. You’ll want to go for a universal adapter that can take care of all types of plugs so you never get to a new country and find yourself unable to charge your electronics.
Outside of tourist hubs and big cities, a lot of East Africans tend to dress conservatively. Covering your knees means you show respect, and it will spare you from unwanted looks and cat-calls.
Tip: You don’t actually need to pack a sarong before the trip. You can also get some of the gorgeous wax fabric that is sold all over the place and wrap it up around your waist. Bonus points if you save some of the fabric and get it tailored into a dress!
One of the many dresses I had tailored in Kenya from fabric I purchased in Uganda.
Tent and Sleeping Bag
I ended up buying these into the trip and they were life changers for me. Aside from being necessary for many activities such as trekking Mount Nyiragongo or safaris, they are a great way to keep accommodation costs low.
Most hostels in East Africa charge at least $10 for a bed in a dorm, but a lot of them offer the option to pitch your tent in the garden for as low as $5 while still allowing you to use their facilities.
Make sure your tent is waterproof!
East Africa is huge and journeys from place to place can be long. Having your phone charged is important to check Google maps and stuff, so a durable power bank is a must when backpacking East Africa.
One of the most awkward moments for a backpacker is taking a shower before leaving a hostel and having to figure out what to do with that moist towel in your luggage.
I mean, I don’t think it is completely necessary, but it does come in extremely handy. It dries within seconds and takes almost no space in your backpack as the fabric is super thin.
I met a girl in a hostel who was also backpacking East Africa who had one and man alive! The hype is real. I’d read about them before but I’m not really someone who carries much travel gear anywhere, so I never even considered getting one until I actually saw how useful they are.
There are many brands available nowadays, but I recommend this one from Youphoria.
I know this one sounds super obvious and it’s usually the kind of thing I prefer to buy once I get to a destination. I’m a strict carry-on packer, so bringing toiletries means having to check in my bag, which I prefer to avoid.
The reason I recommend packing a bottle of sunblock or two is that it wasn’t easy for me to find any outside of major tourist hubs (where they were incredibly expensive!).
A Day Bag To Place All Your Important Stuff In
This is an obvious one, but bring a small backpack where you place all your valuables in during bus journeys.
Usually, your big backpack will go into the compartment under the bus. I traveled very long distances in Africa and never once got my luggage stolen from there, but you are better off safe than sorry. You can bring a small day bag on the bus with you so you can keep an eye on it at all times.
I love my 10 Liter Backpack from Quechua. It’s compact, resistant, and waterproof. My first backpack ever was from Quechua and I have stood behind the brand ever since.
This is one of the things I ended up buying halfway through the trip because I really couldn’t exist anymore without it.
Some cities in East Africa like Gisenyi get constant power outages. These are often controlled by the government and there isn’t much we can do about it unless you plan to stay in pricey hotels and lodges that have their own power supplies.
Aside from that, the chances of spending a lot of time out in the wild are huge. A flashlight is essential unless you want to come back home to tell the story of the time you broke your ankle on the way to a midnight wee.
I had a malaria scare while in Tanzania and headed over to the nearest public hospital to get tested. The hospital was clean and modern and, to my surprise, the test was totally free! I honestly have nothing but good things to say about my experience with healthcare in East Africa.
BUT, travel insurance is essential in case of bigger accidents. Imagine breaking an arm in the middle of rural Uganda and having to get airlifted to the nearest hospital? Accidents like those can put you in debt quite quickly, so insurance is essential.
I recommend World Nomads. You can book or renew your coverage online, allowing you to be flexible with the length of your trip and/or destinations. They also cover a ton of adventure activities that most other insurances won’t, so it’s worth checking out if you’re planning on trekking and stuff!
And that’s my packing list for backpacking East Africa! I hope you found a few of my tips useful! If you also plan on doing a safari while in East Africa, check out my African Safari Packing Guide for more tips!
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