By now, you’ve probably read all the travel guides telling you what to pack for a trip to Africa. Mosquito nets, flashlights, sunscreen, etc. But you only have so much luggage space and you really don’t want to leave behind essentials like your “Big Book of Questions” or the hardcover diary your best friend bought you for your trip.
For a three month stay in Ghana, I brought with me a suitcase that was likely two-thirds my height (yes, I’m short but it was still a substantial size) and by the end of my trip, there were some items I had never used and regretted bringing. So what things can you sacrifice?
1) Anything white:
This also includes anything beige, off-white or cream-colored. Basically anything that dirt can (and will) show on. Khakis, shorts, button-up shirts, non-button-up shirts will all slowly fade from white to tan or worse, stained with dirt, dust and sweat. Not a pretty picture, but this is reality in a developing country so close to the equator.
Air pollution and unpaved roads can add to the daily stain accumulation. In the suburb of Accra where I lived, the unpaved roads were constructed of orange clay-like dirt that would fill the air as cars passed, sticking to anything in its path, including my clothes and skin. This dirt, which I washed off my face daily, was visible on everything I wore. Save yourself the laundry time and stick to darks.
This item is specific to the dry season as opposed to the rainy season, when the weather can be quite cool. But during the dry months, be prepared to sweat like you’ve never sweat before. The heat and humidity makes denim pants completely impractical. I made the mistake of wearing jeans in Ghana a few times – having misjudged the level of humidity – and regretted it as I struggled to pull them off my legs drenched in perspiration.
Some kind of long pants may be necessary to avoid mosquito bites, especially at night, but they should be light, breathable and loose-fitting. Skinny jeans should definitely stay in your closet.
For some people, accessorizing is an easy way to make themselves feel better about their appearance without using products or heavy make-up. If this is you, then go for it. But otherwise, it’s just a burden.
Any valuable items will just make you a target in a place where you already stick out like a sore thumb, just by being a westerner. As for costume jewelry, you are guaranteed to come across tons of artisans selling relatively inexpensive jewelry and accessories. So think of it this way: leaving your jewelry at home gives you an excuse to buy some souvenirs.
4) Hair straighteners:
Ladies, trust me, even if you muster up the effort to make yourself look like you haven’t been living in a sauna for weeks, it won’t work. Frizzy hair is no match for that kind of humidity. Yes, I brought both a hair straightener and blow dryer with me but they didn’t make much of a difference. In three months, I left my hair down just a handful of times, and every time, it was back in a ponytail by the time I left my front gate.
And surprisingly, I cared a lot less about my frizzy hair than I thought I would. When there’s so much else going on around you, frizz doesn’t seem that important. Also keep in mind that many parts of Africa experience frequent power outages, so bringing electrical devices for purely aesthetic purposes isn’t very practical or eco-friendly.
When traveling anywhere,f patience will take you far – and help you forget about all those little things you meant to pack but left at home. And impatience will weigh you down, especially when you get to a place and culture that’s relatively lax about minor details like punctuality.
I learned quickly that Ghanaians have a reputation for being late – even among fellow Ghanaians. My friend once waited over half an hour for a sandwich at a cafe and when she asked what was taking so long, the staff told her they didn’t have all the necessary ingredients and couldn’t make the sandwich. Why they didn’t inform her of this earlier, we didn’t know and didn’t ask.
In some places, time is subjective.
Image by Habitat for Humanity Great Britain