14 must-pack items for your Africa Overland trip

Packing for something that you’ve never done before can be tricky. For me, camping in Africa is the furthest of any travel experience I’ve had. I had this vision that I would be dressed head to toe in khaki, with binoculars around my neck. But, after splashing out on a 15-day overland tour of Southern Africa, I couldn’t afford a pair of binoculars, and I didn’t have the luxury of space in my 65L backpack.

So, through trial and error, here’s my list of what you should pack, before your undies:

  1. Sleeping bag – I haven’t owned a sleeping bag since I was seven and sleeping on the floor of my friends’ bedrooms, so I had to do a little research. Turns out there are a lot of variables when purchasing a sleeping bag, including its material, shape and temperature rating. As I was travelling in April/May (Fall into Winter), I went for one with a good nights sleep temperature of 10°C, and it worked perfectly. Any later in the year and I would suggest a sleeping bag liner too.
  2. Headtorch – I surprised myself with not only how often I used my headtorch, but also how much I relied on it. We weren’t always pitched close to the campsite toilets and so when you’re trying to find the bathrooms at 3 am, it’s good to know that it’s a group of greater kudu up ahead, and not a pack of lions – true story!
  3. Earplugs & sleep mask – If you’re travelling as part of a group like I was, there’s always the chance that there will be that one person that snores, and loud too. Also, as incredible as the birds in Africa are, their early morning songs will leave you wanting to throw a pillow over your head. The sleep mask is for the one morning you’re allowed to sleep past the rising of the sun!
  4. ‘Campsite’ shoes or flip flops – For ease of getting in and out of your tent and to/from the campfire/toilets.
  5. Quick-dry towel – If you’re travelling to Africa, or anywhere in the world, without a quick-dry towel, you’re doing it wrong. Since somebody gifted me a Dock and Bay quick-dry towel, I’ve not travelled without it. They’re light and compact so take up little space/weight in your backpack, they’re super absorbent, and they dry quick time, which means no more damp, smelly clothes when travelling!
  6. Water filtration bottle – Most travellers rely on their accommodation to provide filtered water or will buy plastic bottles (after plastic bottles) to ensure safe drinking water. The former isn’t convenient, while the latter does nothing good for the environment. Instead, I brought a Brita fill&go Active Water Bottle for my trip; however, I’ve also used Water-to-Go when travelling. It meant that I could fill up and pretty much instantly drink water from almost any source, including rivers. I’m happy to report I had no issues when using my filtration water bottle – no funny tummy or otherwise. Whatever water filtration bottle you choose,  just make sure you drink plenty.
  7. Camera with extra batteries & big data SD cards – I purchased a backup battery pack, especially for my trip to Africa. I knew that not only would I be using my camera more than usual (have you seen how photogenic Africa is?) but that I would be gutted if I missed out on an epic photograph because I was too busy charging other devices and neglected my camera. I also made sure that I had plenty of storage space because I didn’t want to scrimp on space for photos. I knew that once a herd of Elephants were in front of me, I wouldn’t hold back on clicking the shutter – and I can confirm that I didn’t!
  8. Long pants – I wish someone had told me how necessary long pants were before I left. I wore ¾ leggings when doing a walking safari in the Okavango Delta and came away with more than just incredible memories – bright red scratches all over my ankles/lower legs.
  9. Closed-toe shoes – For obvious reasons, I wore my closed-toe shoes when doing anything outside of the campsite. Ensure they’re comfortable as possible and are terrain friendly.
  10. Bum bag/fanny pack – My bum bag didn’t leave my waist the entire time I was travelling. Not only did it mean that I had easy access to my money, phone and GoPro, but that I wasn’t lugging a day pack everywhere I went.
  11. Personal entertainment – When doing an overland tour of Africa, bus travel is a large part of your travel experience. With wifi being intermittent throughout Africa, the best approach is to do all of your downloading before you leave home. Make sure your music is available offline and take advantage of Netflix and download an entire boxset to your phone. Fill up your kindle with the latest rom-com’s, keep a journal of your trip or try a podcast. Whatever you choose, just make sure you have enough entertainment to pass the time on the days where you’re on the road for eight or nine hours. Saying this, don’t forget to look out the window – you don’t know what you may miss!
  12. Power bank & convertors – Each seat on ‘The Lando’ came with its own USB charging point, and there were a set of plugs in the back for other/larger devices. However, my power bank ensured that my phone was always full of juice. Also, make sure you pack at least a couple of the appropriate plug convertors for the countries you’re visiting or invest in a universal plug adaptor, so you can have everything fully charged for the adventures.
  13. Hat & sunnies – You’ll be out in the sun a lot, and it’s hot, so bring a hat and sunnies to protect your face.
  14. First-aid kit – Travelling to remote towns and villages does mean that certain things will be scarce or just simply unavailable. It’s therefore essential to have reliable and direct access to basic things like antiseptic cream, bandaids, painkillers and anti-diarrhoea medication in the form of a small first aid kit. I made sure that my first aid kit included the following: lip balm with sunscreen, sunscreen, paracetamol, ibuprofen, bandaids, antihistamines, antibacterial wipes, alcohol-based hand gel, antiseptic cream, Imodium, rehydration powder and insect repellent. Sunscreen is expensive in Africa, so make sure you buy it before you leave.

The lone bull

The mokoro glides through the shallow, murky waters of the delta and onto land. I climb out, firmly gripping my camera; not ready to let go of what I have just captured. As the rest of my group head back to camp to tell those that stayed behind what we encountered, I linger by the shore. I close my eyes, in an attempt to relive my encounter when I’m disturbed by a partition in the tall, unkempt grass across the bank.

As we trundle down the dirt road out of the campsite, the truck sends a vortex of dust into the previously stagnant air. We pass by huts crouched in the shadows, encompassed by grazing cattle and the bright faces of locals, before arriving at the entryway to the Okavango Delta, Africa’s biggest oasis.

Okavango Delta Drop Off

After some lawless commotion, we’re assigned a poler and a mokoro; a traditional canoe. I clamber inside and before I lose my balance, I sit back. We push off and I find myself listening intently to the sound of the mokoro passing through reed beds and water lilies, somewhere between a swish and wizz. I discuss life on the delta with my poler, a local guy named Shoes. He tells us stories of his childhood, of the delta itself and how he came to earn the name Shoes. I’m hanging on his every word but we’ve reached our campsite. 

Okavango Delta

Once tents are erected, firewood collected and the toilet dug (there are no luxuries in the middle of Africa); Shoes offers to guide me deeper into the delta. I hurriedly locate my camera and follow Shoes down to the mokoro. Others in the group have caught wind of my proposal and follow suit. After only a short time on the water, Shoes’ hand shoots into the air, silencing the group. He’s spotted something. I crane my neck, trying to catch a glimpse of what it is that he can see. 

Out of the tree line lumbers a lone elephant, a bull. Paying us no attention, he continues his quest for food, stretching his weathered trunk to reach the higher branches of a fragrant marula tree; completely oblivious to the impact his presence has on the group. I feel an overwhelming sense of exhilaration. We linger, in a trance-like state, until the elephant has taken what he can from the tree and wanders back into the bush and out of sight. 

Male elephant attempting to reach a marula tree.

Shoes gets us safely back to camp and while the rest of the group wander in purposefully, armed with stories of our encounter, I’m just not ready to share mine so I stay close to the water’s edge. I gaze out into the delta, thinking of my late grandmother and how she would have cherished my recollection of this moment.

Abruptly, I’m brought back to the present by movement from across the bank. I study the long grass, waiting on tenterhooks – after all, I am in Africa. Suddenly, yet at the same time in slow motion, the grass parts and there he is. The lone bull. 

At an almost sloth-like pace, I bring my camera towards my eye, attempting to capture everything that this moment is. Only then, as tears are falling, do I realise that happiness is pouring out of me like sunshine through fine white linen, pure and light. 

The Lone Bull
Myself and the amazing Shoes