If you’re thinking of volunteering in Africa, or have booked a trip and are preparing to go, I have something to tell you; it will be the best experience of your life.
Ten years ago I took my first overseas trip – it was a volunteering placement in Ghana, West Africa, when I was just seventeen years old, and looking back, I still can’t quite believe that I flew there by myself – to a land which is so vastly different to the Western world. It was, however, quite simply the best trip that I have ever taken and it completely shaped me as a person. Indeed ten years later Africa remains my favourite place to travel.
The great thing about choosing to volunteer is that you know that you will get lots of support from the volunteer co-ordinators and can expect a high level of accommodation. In terms of what to pack, I have put together a list of items that us girls should have in our backpacks before we hit the road to Africa!
Note that short sleeves and skirts are not appropriate in many parts of Africa so ma
ke sure that you pack loose trousers and long sleeves. A great option is to also pack a sarong and sling this over your shoulders if you’re too hot to wear long sleeves.
You will most likely need anti-malarial tablets for most areas in Africa. Make sure that you go to your doctor ahead of time and get a prescription. There are many different kinds of anti-malarial medication on the market today and some require you to begin the course a month in advance, so don’t leave it too late before visiting your GP!
Avoiding getting bitten is key to not contracting malaria, and as most mosquitos bite at night, a mosquito net is a real essential item! I use the Lifesystems micro mosquito net which is impregnated with permethrin for added protection.
Packing a strong insect repellent is key to avoiding getting bitten. I use a 50% DEET version, but if you are allergic, or opposed to using DEET then check out some natural mosquito repellent options.
Maintaining high levels of personal hygiene is really important for travelling in Africa, and one of the best ways to do that is to keep a bottle of hand sanitizer with you at all times. It’s unlikely that you’ll be able to wash your hands as often as you would at home and so this way you’ll at least know you have clean hands even when you can’t wash them. You can also pick up travel-friendly bottles of sanitizer too so you don’t have to worry about packing a big bulky bottle, bonus!
Local phrase book
Nothing gets you interacting more with the locals than being able to speak a little of their language – it doesn’t have to be much, just a greeting and the odd few words here and there, but the gratitude you will get for making an effort will be so very worth your effort!
Even if you don’t get to shower as often as you like doesn’t mean that you have to put up with greasy hair! Dry shampoo is an excellent way of refreshing your hair between washes, a quick spray of Batiste dry shampoo and you’re hair will look freshly washed, honest. They come in travel sized bottles too so you don’t need to worry about weighing down your bag with additional toiletries.
Comprehensive first aid kit
For a trip to Africa it’s really important to take a comprehensive first aid kit with you. I would advise to ensure that your first aid kit comes with a syringe and needle as well so if you do need hospital treatment, you are safe in the knowledge that you have sterile equipment on you.
Wet wipes were my saviour when I was volunteering in Africa! As you can expect, the temperature is a lot hotter than you might be used to, so if you pop a pack of wipes in your bag you will be able to freshen up on the go.
Sun screen with high SPF
It goes without saying – Africa is hot! Do NOT forget to pack a good quality, high SPF sunscreen – and plenty of it; depending on where you are going in Africa it might not be that easy to buy when you’re out there so do stock up before your trip – you will be glad of it.
Emma is a keen traveller who has been on the road for a decade. In between sojourns she spends her time on the hunt for innovative ladies travel products to review for her site Ladies With Luggage with the aim of helping her readers have a more fun, safe and comfortable trip. She also loves to write specialised female travel packing lists – everything from a romantic weekend away to long term backpacking trips.