a humanitarian’s guide to packing for a summer in Africa

 …Let’s talk packing.



You will most likely want easy to dry, lightweight clothes. Especially if you will be doing your own laundry. On most of my trips, I have brought detergent with me and have hand washed my clothes in the sink (bring a sink stopper, so you don’t have to use your sock), so the quicker to dry…the better.

  • Denim/Khaki Bermuda Shorts. Something like these, these or these, although shorts are viewed as “tourist wear” so long breathable pants or capris are great to wear more often.
  • Lightweight shirts. From an LDS, returned missionary’s standpoint, modest is hottest so these cap sleeves, heat gear armor and locker lightweights are well worth investing into.
  • A dress for Sundays (maxi skirts are by far my favorites) and the appropriate dress shoes. Be sure that your skirts are below the knees as it is considered culturally appropriate.
  • Bandanas and/or cotton headbands; also plan on bringing some kind of handkerchief (can use the bandana for that) for wiping sweat (it’s a cultural MUST).
  • Underclothing
  • Swimsuit 
  • Rain-sleek jacket (often it’s the rainy season during the months of June-July)
  • Lightweight pajamas (I love my spandex capris for this).
  • Tennis Shoes and Flip Flops for the shower
  • MUST HAVE Chacos (these were the one I wore to Ghana and Hawaii and I more than loved them).
  • You may think socks aren’t so important in the heat. Trust me though, you’ll want them for nights. I got tired of bare feet all day and sometimes just wanted to cover them up at the end of a long day.
  • If you plan on walking any long distances, hiking or just being on your feet all day…hiking boots may be a good idea. I like the idea of cheap[er] so Payless is always my friend. However if you’re looking for some long-lasting durable ones, Keen has been a favorite of mine since the mish.


Medicine and Toiletries

  • Shampoo, (usually I bring travel size 3 oz. bottles from Walmart but if you’re planning on being there throughout the summer I would bring a large bottle and double ziploc bag it for the plane ride over) Conditioner, Deodorant, Toothpaste, Toothbrush, Floss, Fluoride.
  • Hairbrush, Bobby Pins, Hair-ties, and I can never go anywhere without my Argan Oil.
  • IF you decide to bring a straightener of any kind, make sure it is a low-powered appliance. You don’t want anything burning out when you plug it in. Outlets are not always the same in foreign countries as they are here in the U.S. Let’s just say I fried my curling iron in Poland once.
  • Malaria pills (talk to your doctor before going). I would recommend Doxycycline OVe Mefloquine (unless you plan on being in the sun a whole lot — or just stock up on sun screen). Mefloquine has some serious side effects that I was just not in the mood to put up with. The only up there is at Mefloquine is taken once a week, whereas Doxycycline is every day dosage.
  • Sanitary napkins/tampons for personal supply
  • Tylenol/Excedrin, Pepto Bismol chewables, Charco pills (for you gluten sensitives), Benadryl pills and cream, Neosporin, Cough Drops, Peridex oral rinse.
  • Face wipes, make-up and remover
  • Chewable vitamins (ESPECIALLY Vitamin C); Airborne 
  • Easy to pack Detergent
  • DayQuil/NyQuil liquid tablets
  • Nose spray
  • Personal prescriptions
  • Motion sickness pills
  • Mini febreze bottle for clothes
  • Lotion
  • Baby powder (helps with chaffing AND bed bugs)


Traveling Gear

  • Insect repellent
  • Sunscreen
  • Traveling backpack…my favorite brand is Cotopaxi.
  • The Life Straw water bottle. You can get yours from any Sportsman’s Warehouse or Cabela’s.
  • Lots and lots and lots of hand sanitizers. Bath and Body and I agree wholeheartedly about this.
  • Bandaids (I like the big kind) and Mole Skin…for the blisters that are bound to happen.
  • Baby wipes
  • Extra box of Ziploc bags
  • Passport/money belt
  • Pill organized carrier
  • Correct outlet adapter (make sure you get Type G/Type D).  
  • Mini first-aid kit 
  • Icy-hot packs
  • Small traveling flashlight
  • Sunglasses 
  • Cell Phone and charger chord
  • Laptop/Tablet and charger chords (MacBook Airs are better in hot areas…however humidity is bad for ANY computer. Bring a good case and turn it off when not using it. Store in cool areas when possible). If you really think you will not need need a computer then I wouldn’t even chance bringing it.
  • Small battery operated fan
  • Umbrella for the rainy season
  • Durable backpack. I LOVE MY NEW COTOPAXI PRODUCT. Check out their new (and my new) Kilimanjaro 20L pack and many more products at their website here.
  • Extra batteries
  • I recently found a Pull Light from Deseret Book. Essentially it is a long lasting LED bulb that requires no power outlet, just batteries. Ghana often has power-cuts and this was a treasurable find for me. Cheap and easy!
  • And last on this list BUT NOT LEAST. One of my favorite products, please welcome mine and your friend, LifeStraw Go portable filtered water-bottle for all occasions and is BPA free. Read more about it here. *Found at any local sporting good store.


  • Power and Granola bars
  • Candy to pass out to the kids (and for occasional pick me ups:)
  • Sugar-free Gum
  • Trail mix
  • Dried fruit and fruit snacks 
  • Crackers 
  • Someone told me to bring herbal tea packets…YES. Especially lemon for sore throat days. You can ask the airplane stewardess for just hot water for long plane rides too.
  • Lemonade packets. I can’t tell you how many lemonade packets we sent to my brother who served his mission in western Africa. Sometimes I guess you just need some flavor to the water. Plus a little sugar in your water can go a long way when you need a bit of a boost out in the African sun. It may not be the healthiest thing to do, but I often need a kick to the low blood sugar myself.
  • Gin-Gins – The Traveler’s Candy. This stuff helps so much with my stomach. I don’t go anywhere without these little things. And it’s pretty handy to keep in the car too.

Humanitarian Gear

  • CTR rings for the kids 🙂
  • I ended up packing an entire suitcase (using space bags) to pack donated children’s clothes and toys for the orphanages I would be working at.
  • School supplies: pencils, colored-pencils and markers (NOT meltable crayons), pencil bags, notebooks, mini-hand sanitizers…etc.
  • Donations of sanitary supplies (you may need a letter from any host organization you are working with, stating that you will be bringing several large bags packed with donations with you).  

Absolute Necessities

  • Scriptures (love the app, less to carry)
  • Camera/Go-Pro 
  • Journal (no matter how bulky…this is so important to me to bring)
  • Mosquito Net 
  • I bring my computer with me and don’t usually have any problems with it. Mine is a Apple Mac-Air which is light-weight enough for me to carry around on my back. Make sure it has a protective case and that it doesn’t stay out in the humidity too long.
  • Cash (change currency at the airport – I usually start out with $100), credit cards, ATM card. Keep things in a money belt and don’t feel like you have to bring every card you have with you. …Your target gift card won’t work there. The less bulkier the better, as you will be wearing most of this stuff.
  • Airline Ticket (and copy of)
  • Passport and Visa (and copy of)
  • Record proof of Yellow Fever Immunization (and copy of)
  • Driver’s license (and photocopies of all personal documents in case of theft)
  • Small address book with contact information (both US and African country- upon entry you’ll need to provide a local address signifying where you will be staying).


*This list varies by country and situation.


Things I wish I had brought MORE of to Africa, now that I know:

  • Baby wipes (not in the individual packets but in the easy open group pouches)
  • MORE SNACKS. Like seriously bring a suitcase packed with just food. Particularly for me: Peanut Butter Cliff Bars, beef jerky, pringles, dried fruit (it’s super expensive here as it is imported) and all kinds of trail mix. Think less sugar and think more carbs. Things that will really fill you up.
  • I wish I had exchanged more than $100 at the airport…I’m so tired of trying to find an ATM.
  • Make sure that any cards you bring with you are VISA. Visa works just about anywhere.
  • If you want to buy something, you can trade your hand sanitizer for almost anything out here, haha. People love it. Trinkets to trade.
  • Movies. Download movies. You never know if you are going to have downtime and you probably won’t have a great internet connection to look things up, so downloading is imperative. Bring card games and the electronic catch phrase game if you will be in groups too.
  • More Mira-lax, fiber and/or charcoal pills people. I’m just being honest with ya’ll.
  • Extra toilet paper (although you can buy that in Ghana)
  • Pepto Bismol in all its shapes and sizes.


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