This is the second post in a series I'm writing to help give a bit of advice to individuals who are moving to Africa (though I suppose it could generally apply to low-income countries) and are looking for some helpful packing tips or things to think through before going. You can read my first post on general packing tips here.
What you specifically need to bring depends on where you’re going and how long you’ll be there. Obviously. If you’re going to a village in rural Malawi for two years, you will likely be packing differently than if you’re going to Singapore for two months. This list is based on preparing for six months in a city in Nigeria that has reasonably frequent (but not constant) power and water, as well as plenty of shops for most routine supplies, but almost no expat community, Western food, or American brands (e.g., Crest). It’s also based on the fact that I’ve lived abroad before for several years and therefore have learned to make do with “less,” but that I’m also a gal who likes to smell good and have a few “niceties” to help make the transition to a totally new place a bit easier/more comfortable. I included a few items that I did not bring, but thought might be useful to others, as well as a few I did bring but have not actually needed. Take this as you will, these are just my suggestions.
Specific items to consider buying/bringing:
~Purse-sized flashlight and a headlamp. Power goes out randomly, and it’s not fun to be caught in the dark, especially if you’re alone. Keeping a small (lightweight but powerful) flashlight with you at all times is super useful, and a headlamp is nice to use around your living space. My headlamp was about $30, not too expensive, but not the cheapest. Get both a headlamp and flashlight. Bring extra batteries.
~Travel towel. In places with lots of humidity, clothing often doesn’t dry well (or ever), and towels are sometimes not-so-great. With this combo, a travel towel is useful to have, and because it’s lightweight and compact, you can easily take it with you on any small trips you may take.
~Travel-sized alarm clock. You can use your phone of course, but I tend to like having a clock. Call me old school, but it’s just what works for me. Get one that’s battery-powered.
~Plug adapters. Find out what kind of plug is used where you’re going, and get a few adapters on Amazon. If you have a Mac laptop, they sell a super handy set of plugs that you can switch out with the US one on your charger.
~Steri-pen. This is essentially a “too good to be true, but it is” tool for water purification. You stick it in water, and it emits UV light, scrambling the DNA of anything alive, and thereby making your water drinkable. My friends in Peace Corps in rural African villages swore by it, so I figured it was worth $70, particularly because I wasn’t sure there would be bottled water (and I figured even if there was that I would easily spend $70 on it in 6 months), and didn’t want to use nasty chlorine or iodine tabs. It turns out that everyone buys bottled water here (and it’s cheap!), so I just go along with that, but I would still recommend purchasing a Steri-pen.
~Assorted medications. Of course bring enough of any prescription medication you take for the duration of your trip, unless you are certain you can purchase it at your destination. Other useful items include ibuprofen or other headache/pain meds (which may be available but may be expensive, or a hassle to obtain), Pepto-Bismol (I carry some with me at all times, as low-level upset stomach is pretty common), multi-vitamins, zinc, anti-diarrhea and anti-constipation meds (trust me!), and malaria prophylaxis. Also bring along some cough drops and cold medication.
~Pocket knife. Sharp knives can be hard to come by in some places, so buying some sort of camping or swiss-army knife could save you a lot of frustration.
~Duct tape. Sticky-tack. Post-its. Just trust me.
~Mini first-aid kit and an ace bandage. Anti-itch cream, especially if you’re going somewhere with mosquitos. I literally use it every day. Sunscreen, at least 30 SPF (this is from a former lifeguard who rarely wore sunscreen while on duty, and who loooves being tan. Don’t mess with the sun near the equator). Aloe, for the inevitable time you forget to wear sunscreen and actually need it. Insect repellent.
~Kindle. I love reading. Love it. I average a book a week when I live abroad. I also love actual books. The smell, the feel, the page-turning, the underlining. So I resisted the Kindle for years. But I have to say that when I lived in Romania for 2.5 years, I was constantly trying to figure out how to get new books and send home the ones I had read. This time around I decided to be a bit more practical (and allow space for other important items in this list!) and go the Kindle route. It’s been great, and I highly recommend it.
I think that about does it. Like I said, you may or may not need any or all of these things, depending on where you’re going. Though I didn’t bring all of these items, I believe they are all reasonable to consider. If you have additional suggestions, feel free to leave a comment! In the next post I’ll write about questions to think through before moving and share some of the better advice I received about moving to Africa as a single white American gal.