I spent 6 months in Liberia, Uganda and Kenya and learned some things about what is helpful to bring to a tropic, hot, developing world location from the Western world. If you’re going to stay for 1 week or 2 years, take a look at this list. If you’re going for just a week or two and staying at fancy, civilized places, than you might not need all of this, but you can use your judgement.
In most places that I visited you can buy bottled water. But I had a couple times when I couldn’t and I was very thankful I had my Sawyer Water Filter. I will also say that all the bottled water had outside seals on them so you know they’re good. And they were good. Except one in Kenya, Tiji. Even though they were sealed they had floating crap in them. Yuck. I whipped out my Sawyer filter for those!
Guess what white people need but black people don’t? Sunscreen! Although you can find it, the variety is not great and the price is high. If you go to a tourist town you will especially pay astronomical prices for sunscreen. I’m not actually a lover of sunscreen or putting chemicals on my skin every day, but I still do it because it’s the lesser of two evils. Even if you’re dark and don’t burn, you can still get skin cancer, leathery skin and wrinkles! In lieu of sunscreen a light long sleeved shirt would be awesome. And a hat?
I was in Africa for 6 months and didn’t pull this out until 5 months in. But I’m sure glad I had it. You can buy these in country but if you’re going to the middle of nowhere you’ll be glad you brought yours along. I got a round one that you can hang pretty much anywhere. Once I was there I found that a lot of the beds have 4 posts that you can hang a rectangular net on. You probably won’t know what kind of bed you’re going to have
Thread and Needle
A couple times I stayed places that had holes in the mosquito nets. It didn’t bother me too much because the mosquitoes weren’t too interested in me and I didn’t think that the mosquitoes were smart enough to find the holes and intentionally fly into my space. I wish I had some thread to stitch them up, it would have been super easy. I tried to find some in a town that seemed to have everything, but for some reason it was difficult to find. When we found some, the needles were rusty. Bring a little sewing kit with you, you never know when you’ll need to stitch something up.
Multiple Credit Cards and Debit Cards
I took two credit cards and two debit cards (from two different banks). I had one credit card that got shut off because somebody in the US stole my number. One of my banks, a big bank, Bank of America actually, gave me a lot of trouble with withdrawing from ATMs and also the credit card was denied a couple times, despite them knowing that I’m traveling. My other debit card, from a small bank, gave me no trouble at all. Debit cards I found were the best way to withdraw money in country. It gives you the best conversion rate and you can just take out enough for a period of time. Pay attention to how much the ATM is going to charge you in fees. A big bank, Barclays, tried to charge me 20% fee for my ATM withdrawal. No thanks! All the other banks on that street didn’t charge anything.
Take some cash! Euros, Pounds and Dollars are the best for conversion rates, depending on where you’re coming from. There are forex places all over that you can exchange money at. Just exchange what you need on whatever schedule suits you. I felt safer knowing I had a some American money to fall back on in an emergency.
I took a money belt and a travel wallet that attaches to your belt and hangs down inside your pants/skirt. I ended up loving the travel wallet and ditching the money belt. Money belts are so bulky and obvious. The travel wallet is discreet (if your pants/skirt is baggy enough). Now, I’m not a thief, or an expert of theft, but, I always think that if someone is walking around with an obvious money belt or an obvious neck wallet – that person must be carrying a lot of dough. Sure it’s close to your person, but what does that matter when they mug you? With my travel wallet I don’t think most people noticed it. They look at me and think, huh, that girl don’t have any money. And that’s the way I’d like it!
*Should you carry all your money around with you? I sure don’t think so unless you’re staying in a really sketchy place. I like putting my money in multiple places.
For some reason, initially, I didn’t realize this would be necessary. Well, it is! For me, in the settings I was in, I felt way more comfortable having a normal purse/bag with a normal wallet in it, with spending money for the day. NOT ALL YOUR MONEY!!! Leave some at home, and you can also wear your travel wallet if you need extra money or back up credit card, etc. I like to have a somewhat beat up wallet too. I don’t need or want strangers thinking I got a lot of money.
I’m a firm believer in locking everything up! Now why do I say TSA lock, rather than a regular little lock? Well, in the US, if the airport security can’t open your bags they’ll cut them open. So, a brilliant little invention is the TSA lock which can be opened by you and by TSA officials. TSA Locks were not super easy to find in Africa though I did find a couple in Kenya. You need locks to lock up your stuff because unfortunately theft can happen. (Ironically, one of my TSA locks was something that got stolen from me!) You should never leave your laptop or camera or money out in the hotel rooms when you leave. If you put it in your suitcase and lock it, the would be thieves won’t even know the items exist and they’d have to be extremely ballsy to cut open your suitcase. Of course, that’s not fool proof but I feel good about it most situations.
Aka, Ziploc bags. I did see these in Liberia at astronomical prices (8$USD for 15 bags) and also found some at the bigger stores in Kenya. I searched high and low in Uganda and couldn’t find any. Baggies are so nice for putting stuff in: food, snacks, toiletries, underwear, jewelry, anything you want to seal up. Due to frequent bedbug scares, I tried to put lots of stuff in gallon size ziplocs and seal them up. That way, I knew for sure there weren’t any bedbugs sneaking into those items.
Bags that zip all the way up
I first found that I liked bags that zipped all the way shut when my cell phone slid out of my bag and down to the other side of the airplane years ago. There are many reasons to want to have a bag that zips all the way up. It keeps dust, creatures and pickpockets out and makes sure the good stuff stays in! Messenger bags, purses, suitcases, make up bags: I like mine with good zippers.
I used this Rucksack Protector to put fly with my big backpack. It seemed like the best one I could find at that time and it worked good. You don’t want to send your backpacking bag through the checked baggage system without something like this. The straps and side pockets and doo-hickeys would get all chewed up and damaged. I also used a TSA lock to lock up this protector when I flew. I don’t think I used the protector other than flying but I won’t fly my pack without it.
Your Fave Deodorant
I took my fave stick deodorant and after 3 months it ran out. Then I had the joy of trying to find deodorant. You’ll find that many people don’t use it, especially in villages. I happened to run out in Mbale, Uganda where we have a nice big super market. I browsed the deodorants and anti-antiperspirants for several minutes and did this again in Kenya. I never saw stick deodorants, which make sense because in many conditions it could melt. Well, the one I brought never melted and unless you leave it in the sun I think you will be ok. I also had trouble finding a anti-antiperspirant and deodorant in the same product. Boo! I tried two different deodorants while I was there, a spray on by Nivea (it was expensive, I still smelled like BO and it lasted less than 2 weeks) and a roll on by an African brand, Nice and Lovely. I liked the roll on better than the Nivea but really my American stick is best.
Your Fave Shampoo and Conditioner
They have some worldwide products that you can find but chances are they won’t have the one you want if you or your hair is picky about such things.
Scent Free Body Products
Mosquitoes were so not interested in me in Africa. I partly attribute that to using “shower fresh” or “powder” or “no” scent deodorant, shampoo, conditioner and lotion and no perfume. You don’t want to smell anything like fruit or flowers. Later on in my trip I ran out of shampoo and bought some fruity shampoo. I totally knew better but since it was a Kenyan product I thought the company might have known better than me. Nope. Later, I got attacked by bees. Yep. That was shortly after I washed my hair and my hair was still wet and I was out in a rural area in the height of bee season. However, I continued to use the shampoo but just tried to rinse it out the best I could and let it dry before I left the house. No bee problems after that but I think the mosquitoes were liking me more. I’ll be avoiding fruit/flower smells next time.
Decaf Coffee or Non-caf Teas
Like decaf? You better bring it because I never saw it there. I only found green and herbal teas in real Westernized places.
Got a touch screen phone? Better bring some extra screen protectors. Luckily I had a handful that I brought with me but they got scratched up FAST from bouncing around in matatus and getting banged up from all the crap I threw in my bag to go on my little adventures. But… interesting note, I felt that if I left the scratched protector on longer, then it looked like a crappy phone so who would steal it?
Phone with a Sim Card Slot
It’s so easy and cheap to get phone service over there! I used a Samsung Galaxy S3 (from Verizon but I don’t think that matters) and it worked like a charm. I heard a lot of back and forth about if it would work or not (even from Verizon employees) but it did! If you have any problems with it not working, talk to the folks at the place where you’re buying your phone service. My Uganda guy set up all the settings to make it work and then in Kenya they also had to change some settings. And then I was golden!
So, that’s my main list for what you’ll need. And what I’ll take when I go back!