Am I capable of packing for a trip without a packing list? Absolutely not. My Africa overland tour (Intrepid’s Africa Encompassed Northbound) was 64 days long and when it came to packing, I was completely overwhelmed and din’t know where to start. Now that I’ve been on the tour and have perfected the art of packing, here’s everything I would take next time!
When planning what you need to pack for an Africa overland tour, there are a few things that you must consider:
Before you begin packing, you need to work out what bags you’re taking with you and how much room you have in them to squeeze all your necessities!
In terms of your main luggage item, I urge you to travel with a backpack (or another flexible style bag) rather than a suitcase, this is because:
My large backpack was kept in my locker at all times and housed all of my clothes. I only ever removed the bag from my locker when I needed to re-pack the bag after doing laundry.
While the Essential Trip Information for my tour states that “the average locker size measures 26 inches long, 18 inches wide and 10 inches high”, I recommend that you aim to bring a backpack that’s as small as possible. We had 2 trucks on our tour – the truck we had for the first 7 weeks of our tour had much smaller lockers than that of the last 2 weeks.
I own the Osprey Fairview 70L backpack and it was such a struggle to fit it into my locker on the first truck that I ended up having to store it in a compartment under the truck (which I struggled to open, so I had to find a crew member every time I wanted to access my bag). The lockers were much bigger on our second truck and my bag was able to fit into the locker easily. To save yourself the hassle, I would downsize to the Osprey Fairview 40L backpack (or the 55L if you can find it, it appears to have been discontinued) if I were you as it also meets most airline’s carry-on requirements.
The main reasons I love the Fairview range are:
I used the detachable daypack that came with my Osprey Fairview 70L backpack as my day pack. To be honest, I didn’t use my small backpack too much (it usually stayed in my locker housing my valuables when they weren’t being used). I preferred to use a small cross-body bag for day to day use. You will however need a small backpack for when you’re doing any treks/long activities where you need to carry water/lunch.
My cross body bag was my most used bag as I normally just needed something small to carry the bare essentials (phone, money etc.). If you have a cross body bag that also acts like a bumbag/fannypack (i.e. it rests against your body rather than your hip/leg) this is also good for security.
I would recommend getting a cross-body bag in a dark colour. Mine was a beautiful light pink colour and was seriously dirty/discolored by the end of my 64 day trip! Some great options include:
I know that not everyone likes them, but personally, I love packing cubes. I find them so helpful to segregate my belongings within my big backpack for easy reach.
My packing system on the truck was fine art. I ended up with lots of little bags in order to easily access various items. It’s therefore handy to have a few cheap tote bags with you for this purpose. Intrepid are likely to give you a tote bag, but it’s great to come with your own so that you’re prepared! Amazon sell a pack of 10 tote bags which would work perfectly.
Some of the campsite showers have very few floor/shelf spaces to put your things where they will stay dry. However, 98% of the time, they’ll have a hanging hook (or at minimum, a random nail in the door that looks like it may snap at any moment) to use. I used this toiletry bag with a hanging hook and it worked perfectly!
Africa isn’t always warm (as some people seem to believe), you’re going to need a few lightweight layers that are warm but easy to pack.
For my trip, I packed:
I didn’t quite pack the right bottoms for my trip. Along with some good stuff (lightweight trousers and flowy skirts), I took a selection of shorts for casual day wear & leggings for hikes (neither of which were appropriate for the more conservative areas as the shorts exposed my knees and the leggings were skin tight).
Instead, I would pack:
I don’t think that any dresses or one-piece items are necessary. I brought a jumpsuit with me on tour which I absolutely adored but it was so inconvenient given most toilet stops were in the bush (and I didn’t fancy getting fully undressed to pee at the side of the road) and changing into the jumpsuit in a wet shower room was extremely difficult to do without drenching at least one part of the jumpsuit!
We did go for a nice dinner or drinks a few times while on tour, so you might want to have one dress that feels a bit fancier than the rest of your wardrobe. I’d opt for a midi length dress so that it’s appropriate in all countries.
Lots of the campsites that Intrepid visit have swimming pools, so make sure that you have some swimwear with you. I took 2 bikinis and that was the perfect amount.
You can take pyjamas if you want, but I like to sleep in clothes that could be used for other purposes, if necessary to make sure that everything in my backpack is helpful.
I had a basic short sleeve t-shirt and a long-sleeve thermal top that I could sleep in depending on how warm the night was. For bottoms, I would use a pair of leggings or bike shorts which could also be used as outerwear if needs be.
I packed far more underwear than necessary to try and extend the time I could take before I needed to do washing. This is the one area where I am glad that I “overpacked” as I didn’t want to waste time doing laundry!
You won’t need many pairs of shoes for your journey, I survived with just 3 pairs of shoes. I probably should have brought some hiking boots with me for the gorilla trek, but I was packing light and survived in a pair of regular trainers!
Leave your jewelry and nice handbags at home, you’ll only need a few accessories on this tour:
While Intrepid will provide you with a tent and a camping roll mat, you need to bring everything else that you need to aid a good night’s sleep.
You will either need to bring your own sleeping bag or hire one from Intrepid. I found that hiring a sleeping bag was more economical – the flat rate hire was £22 for the full 64 days which is far cheaper than I’d have been able to purchase a sleeping bag for, and it saved me carrying it halfway across the world!
For the first 7 weeks of our tour, I had a brand new sleeping bag purchased the day before our tour began. It was extremely warm and comfortable. For the final 2 weeks (after we swapped trucks and crew), I had an older sleeping bag but it was still perfectly fine.
If you want to buy your own sleeping bag, Intrepid recommend that you buy a 3–4 season sleeping bag because it can get very cold at night in winter months in desert and mountainous regions. This sleeping bag looks like a great option.
You will need to bring your own pillow with you as there is no option to hire this from Intrepid. You’d be hard pushed to carry a full size pillow on a plane. We all had make-shift solutions including:
Before this trip, I didn’t understand the beauty of a good sleeping bag liner. Click here to view the exact sleeping bag liner that I bought. They are super helpful in a while range of circumstances:
Intrepid provide you with a roll mat to sleep on, but their notes suggest that you should bring your own additional mat if you want extra comfort. Personally, I didn’t bring a camping mat with me and I was fine.
A few travellers on my tour did bring camping mats with them and while I was extremely jealous of the extra comfort, I wasn’t jealous of the extra effort it took to pack and unpack it each day!
If you’re a light sleeper, bring some noise cancelling ear plugs or work out which of your fellow campers are loud snorers and pitch your tent as far away from theirs as possible!
Packing for an Africa overland tour is slightly different to packing for a normal holiday! Here’s all the things you might not yet have thought about.
You are going to need to bring a selection of cards (at least one Visa card and one MasterCard – some ATMs only accept one or the other) and more USD than you think you’ll need. I will soon be publishing a full article on budgeting and what cash you’ll need.
Of course, you need to bring your passport and another form of ID (like a photo driving license). It’s good practice to also carry copies of these documents – I always bring printed photocopies and then have digital copies saved on my phone in case of an emergency. I highly recommend applying for your visas ahead of your trip and printing them all out. This will save you time and stress on the tour.
You will have a designated locker space at the back of the truck for your belongings but you will need to bring your own padlock to secure the locker. I always carry a few padlocks with me as they come in handy more often than you think – I put them on my backpack during a flight and also if I leave my bags in a hotel before or after check-in/check-out. I use these flexible padlocks that fit almost every different lock size. A few people brought more rigid traditional designs and had to buy new ones in Cape Town as they didn’t fit the lockers.
As you’re packing lightly, it’s unlikely that you’ve got space in your backpack for a full sized towel. Microfibre towels fold up to an extremely small size and are extremely absorbent. I suggest bringing 2 towels with you just in case one is dirty or gets lost (I don’t know why towels are so easy to misplace, they shouldn’t be!). From this selection, I would get a size L or XL to make sure it’s big enough for you to fully dry yourself.
You need to bring a reusable water bottle with you. Intrepid recommend a water bottle that’s at least 1.5 liters. I brought a 2 liter bottle and it was too big to be convenient to carry/hold. I personally would take a lightweight 1 litre bottle and you can purchase another one along the way if needs be. If you drink a lot of water, maybe bring 2 x 1 liter bottles from the offset.
I took a torch with me which worked fine, but a headlamp would have been more convenient for roaming around campsites at night, especially when you need to use your hands to carry your belongings at the same time. Whatever you buy, make sure that it’s rechargeable rather than battery operated. The last thing you want is to have to carry around spare batteries!
My tentmate and I were also gifted an inflatable solar powered lantern by someone on our tour which we hung from the top of our tent using a carabiner. It was an absolute game changer and made life inside the tent much easier! One of our fellow travellers even brought a tent lamp with a built in fan – genius!
I was travelling through Africa in Autumn/Winter, so I didn’t think I’d need to bring my handheld fan. I was so wrong! Thankfully a friend lent me one while I was in the queue for the Ugandan border crossing where I suffered a particularly nasty bout of heatstroke….
RELATED: Read about everything that went wrong on my Africa overland tour here (including the aforementioned heatstroke)!
As already hinted at, carabiners are SO helpful – I used them in umpteen different ways during the tour. The main two uses were to hang things off my backpack and to hang our lantern from the inside roof of our tent.
If your tour goes through Uganda, you’re going to want to bring thick gardening gloves with you for the gorilla trek. You are likely to need to pull yourself through branches and spikey bushes, so it’s best to protect your hands.
If you’re not travelling to Uganda, you may still find the gardening gloves helpful when putting up and taking down your tent. I personally was too lazy to get mine out of my bag each morning/evening, and just suffered while scraping my hands!
If you’re planning to do your own washing, you’ll need to bring some travel-sized clothes wash. To be honest, I was quite lazy and normally paid for my washing to be done. It was still extremely helpful to have this with me for the few odd bits that needed a quick wash between being able to have my washing done professionally – particularly when my shoes were absolutely disgusting after getting wet at Victoria Falls!
Along with the clothes wash, you’ll need somewhere to hang your clothes. The easiest thing to do is buy a cheap ball of string that you can hang between tents/trees/etc. However, if you’re feeling fancier, you can use this portable clothes line.
You’ve got some long drives coming up, so make sure you’ve got a good stock of entertainment:
Of course, you’ll need to bring your phone and charger with you. I didn’t expect to have WiFi very often, but more campsites had WiFi than I was expecting. However, the WiFi’s quality was often questionable and I enjoyed being disconnected! You can buy local SIM cards but they’re often a pain to set-up.
There will be some incredible opportunities to take photos of thousands of stars in the night sky in remote areas with no light pollution. However, you’ll need an EXTREMELY steady hand or a tripod to get a good photo. One of my fellow travellers had an amazing tiny “tripod” for his phone which folded up to the size of a credit card and fit within his wallet. I would definitely invest in one of these pocket sized phone “tripods” in the future!
On safari, it’s likely that you’re going to want a more substantial camera than your phone when you’re on safari.
I only ever use a DSLR when I’m on safari, so I visited a local second-hand camera shop a few years ago and bought a Canon DSLR body and a Tamron zoom lens for less than I would have paid for brand new versions. The guys at CameraWorld in Chelmsford were super helpful and advised on exactly what I needed. Don’t spend too much money on something that you’re unlikely to use very often!
Make sure you bring spare batteries so that you’ve always got a fully charged battery ready to go. You never know when you’re going to see something on the side of the road that’s worth photographing.
You’re going to need some decent sized memory cards for all of your safari photos! If your camera doesn’t have WiFi, it’s also worth bringing a Memory card to USB-C converter (or memory card to Apple Lightning converter if you have an iPhone). This way you’ll be able to transfer safari photos to your phone and share them while you’re on the go.
When travelling, I prefer to carry my Kindle rather than physical books. However, it could be wise to bring one paperback book with you that you can exchange at various trading shelves in hotels/campsites/cafes.
The truck has two charging points at each set of chairs (i.e. one per person) which is great but if you need to charge multiple things at once, it can be handy to have a compact extension lead. I didn’t bring one with me but did sometimes use other people’s extension leads.
The truck has British plugsockets, so that was great for me! However, I did take a universal plug adapter and a South African plug adapter (as lots of universal adapters don’t have a South African mode) for use in accommodation along the way. The plug styles varied along the tour (we saw South Africa, British, European and US plug styles), but these two adapters will cover all bases.
You will only be able to use the plugs on the truck when the truck is moving. Therefore if you want to charge your devices overnight or while out and about, it’s a good idea to have a good quality portable charger with you.
To listen to music, podcasts or audiobooks on the long drives, you’ll need some comfortable headphones.
Two people in our group also brought speakers with them. Coincidentally they were both Wonderboom speakers so could be paired together to play the same music which was extremely helpful! Of course, be courteous of your fellow passengers who might not be in the mood for music.
You’re going to have time to kill on the truck and I highly recommend keeping a journal to remember all the special moments. You can use your phone to keep notes, but I love keeping a paper diary and I used this beautiful rhino embossed notebook on my trip (and they have plenty of other animals to choose from).
I travelled pretty “lightly” on the medication front, some people were like walking pharmacies (make friends with those people, they’re very helpful). The bare minimum that I carried was:
Of course, you’re going to need all of your usual toiletries and cosmetics:
If you’re considering booking an Africa overland tour, you should read my other posts too (especially if you’re looking to book with Intrepid!):
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