Thanks for these tips Meredith! I am headed to Kampala in two days and wanted some tips. I have traveled throughout Africa before, but it's always good to get a refresher. Best of luck to you!
Our style columnist, Meredith of Cubicle Chic, just arrived in Uganda for a three-month internship, and will be reporting from the field every other Thursday! Read about how she got started on her adventure here.
I snapped this picture in the midst of my packing the Saturday I left for Uganda. To my relief, everything eventually fit (and just barely made it under the 50-pound per-bag limit).
But now that I am in-country and have the luxury of hindsight, there are a few things I would do differently. While there’s no magic formula for packing the perfect suitcase if you’re traveling to the developing world—especially since you will have different needs in different countries—there are some basic essentials that you’ll need in a large majority of locales. (Beware: don’t be fooled by the term “essentials”—you will ultimately need more than these 10 items.)
- Malaria meds: This goes without saying, but it’s worth mentioning. You need them (as well as probably a few other vaccinations). Don’t forget.
- Baby wipes: Water, especially clean water, isn’t always available, so baby wipes have come in handy innumerable times even during my first week in Uganda. I wish I had packed more!
- Anti-bacterial hand wash: You should have this on you at all times. With everything you touch during the day, from the computer at the internet café to the fruit you buy at the market to the children’s hands who greet you in the streets, you need to be using this stuff on a regular basis. Don’t think about eating anything before you’ve whipped some out of your bag.
- Protein bars: Good protein can be hard to come by in many places in the world. Meat is expensive, and even when it’s cooked, it doesn’t always get along well with stomachs accustomed to a Western diet (Yes, unfortunately I learned this the hard way). Uganda has a carb-heavy cuisine, so my protein bars have been a lifesaver so far.
- Closed-toe shoes: My feet are not pretty after walking along dusty dirt roads (or muddy dirt roads—depending on whether or not it rained that day). I’m very thankful for my TOMS shoes purchase right now, which are keeping my feet from becoming a burnt orange color by the end of the day.
- Flashlight or headlamp: Infrastructure can be scarce in a lot of developing countries, and electricity often isn’t reliable. So, you’ll want to have a headlamp for reading and getting around where you’re staying, and a flashlight for walking down the bumpy roads at night.
- Long dresses and skirts: These are important if you’re traveling in cultures that are more conservative than American culture—which is a good thing to research beforehand. Yes, you may love your jean cut-offs, but you also want to be respectful of local culture.
- Deodorant: The men in the house I’m staying with would disagree on this one—Uganda supposedly sells an excellent men’s deodorant! But for women, they only stock the annoying roll-on kind. So, I suggest bringing a few sticks of your favorite American brand, because you might not be showering regularly—and you’re going to want it.
- Adaptor and surge protector: Packing the chargers for your iPod, laptop, and e-reader is a given wherever you travel, but if you’re going abroad, you need a surge protector, too. People often forget these, but it’s important—countries have different strengths of electrical currents, and you don’t want to fry your computer.
- Watch: I think it’s safe to say that watches have become an accessory instead of a necessity with our cell phone culture, but they’re definitely a good thing to pack. Cell phones are very popular in Uganda, since no one has a landline—but even if you have one, service isn’t always that reliable, and a watch has turned out to be a valuable asset. Also, a digital one can multitask as your alarm.
- Nail polish: I had to add one extra! It doesn’t count as one of the official 10 essentials (I mean, is nail polish ever really an essential?). But to my surprise, I’ve been wishing that I had brought some along. Every time you clean the dirt out from under your fingernails, they just get dirty all over again. Might as well just cover it up!
Of course, depending on where you go, there are other items you’ll want to bring, but keep in mind that many can be replenished once you’re at your destination. For example, you’ll want to carry around tissues since they aren’t guaranteed to be in public restrooms (or squatters, more likely), but these can always be purchased at the grocery store when you run out.
Up next: A day in the life of my adventures!
What have you found to be your essential items to pack in your travels? Share below!