As promised: here’s part two of my thoughts on what clothes to pack when travelling long-term.

The best thing

A bit more than two months into the trip we truly arrived at the ocean. Also before we had been largely in muslim countries. To me that meant wearing at least t-shirt and trousers at all times. But the ocean in Ghana changed the game.

The further South you go the more you’ll notice the colorful fabrics. Those fabrics have been wax printed and women will use them for all sorts of outfits, often costumes or dresses, even with matching headwear. Those who can afford it will have outfits custom tailored. The poorer women might simply use a large piece of fabric and wrap it around their waists as skirt. The knots used to fasten the skirts are an art to themselves – women will hide money and other things in little pockets created with knots in what is essentially a blanket.

I had seen all the different patterns in the markets we’d been through. But I had never seen myself in these bright colors.

Then we arrived at the ocean. It was hot during the day. It was hot during the night. All you really wanted to do was go swim and sit in the shade.

Eventually I went and bought 2 yards of dark green and purple print. Best thing I ever bought!

  • It’s a dress to wear at the beach or whenever you can’t be bothered to put anything else on.
  • It’s a skirt to wear with a shirt.
  • It’s a blanket when you’re hot. Simply dampen and enjoy cooling at night.
  • It’s a blanket to sit on.
  • Rolled up it’s a pillow.
  • It’s a blanket to wrap around you when you’re cold.

My advice

When I went to buy my backpack (Lowe Alpine Cerro Torre ND55-70) the gentlemen that spent an hour finding a match for me warned me not to pack more than a third of my body weight. I thought that unfair. After all as a woman I should have more stuff than a guy. Which I couldn’t carry.

In the end I managed to stay below my allowed maximum of 18kg. And I maintained that throughout the trip. However I learnt that I had still packed too much.

The gentleman at the outdoor store also suggested the following packing test: reduce yourself to things that have at least three uses. That’s my African cloth.

Of course you will have a hard time finding more than one use for your slips (if you do please let me know). But here’s a minimal packing list of clothes I found I actually needed in 10 months of travel.

Everyday wear

  • 3 loose-fitting cotton/bamboo t-shirts – no black or white (same goes for all warm-weather tops on this list)
  • 3 tunics – In muslim countries you might find it easier to travel as a woman when you’re dressed modestly. Loose fitting tunics cover a lot but are still airy enough in the hot weather. Plus they offer protection from the sun.
  • 2 long sleeve cotton/bamboo shirts – Those help not only in the cold but also protect against sun burn (I like to wear them when snorkeling). If your skin is very sensible take more long sleeves than t-shirts.
  • 3 cotton/bamboo slips
  • 3 comfortable cotton/bamboo bras
  • 3 pairs of cotton/bamboo socks
  • 2 zip-off pants – Perfect for travelling they are durable shorts and trousers in one. Changing from one mode to the other can be done even in public. Worn daily most clothes items will last four to five months. Zip-offs for women are hard to find in most African countries. So if you think you need a replacement go hunting for one right away.
  • 2 cotton scarves – Can be used to protect against the sun, leave a modest impression (you’ll need a scarf if you want to visit Ethiopian churches for example), but also to protect against the rain and keep you warm.
  • 2 Buff bands – Another brilliant travel accessory Buff bands can be used as scarf, head band, beanie, face mask, and much more. During my trip I didn’t have a hat. Instead I wore Buffs and scarves whenever moving in the burning sun.
  • ca. 1x2m piece of cotton fabric or sarong

Someday wear

  • bathing suit  – Bikini if you want more attention.
  • 2 cotton sweaters or fleece jackets – Notice that I am packing relatively more for cold weather. You will need it less often but when you do daily washing and drying might be an issue.
  • rain jacket – There are nifty ones that fold to almost nothing and disappear in their own pocket.
  • 2 pairs of warm socks
  • gloves
  • thermals – long sleeve and long johns

In extreme situations – like climbing a mountain – wear layers of your lighter clothes

Special day wear

  • lovely dress – Savour the little extra room because you packed so smartly. And make sure at least one of your 3 bras works with the dress.
  • set of embassy clothes – This can be the lovely dress. You want a set of clothes that is clean and ready when you need to look representable and modest (so maybe not the lovely dress). African embassy staff can be very particular about the appearance of visa applicants.

And one last thing: across most of Africa you’ll find tailors at every corner. Consider having items like tunics or trousers made just for you (when you need them!)…

Next week I’ll tell you what shoes to bring. But in the meantime: if you think something essential is missing on the list let me know!

Do you have anything to add? Any thoughts on what you just read? Let me know!


  • Jen 2012-11-18 at 9:47 pm

    This is WONDERFUL! i’m so glad you linked me – i’ve now discovered your blog which is just lovely. and useful!

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