2023 Ultimate Digital Nomad Packing List For Africa 18 Essentials

You’ve booked your tickets, your first week or two of accommodation to an African country what do you need to drop into your pack?

As someone who travels a lot as a nomad I’ve found that I am terrible at downsizing my pack. But recently I’ve started to slim down my luggage to bring together the real essentials for big adventures.

There are no referral/affiliate links here.  This is the actual list of things I have in my backpack.

1. Jabra Evolve2 85 Headphones

This might seem like a random choice for #1 but I’ve personally found these to be life savers on multiple occasions. They have active noise cancelling on both the headphones and the mic.

It’s not unusual for regional and some main airports in African countries to be open-air. That means there’s no glass between you and the noisy taxiways while you wait for your flight.

The second is when (not if) the power goes out and you need to get to a local coffee shop or hotel that has a generator for WiFi/power. You’ll definitely want your top-notch headphones there.

If you want to take an online call or get work done anywhere, they are essential. I personally use the Jabra Evolve2 85, and my partner uses the Jabra Evolve2 75 because she prefers over ear.

P.s. I have tested the Bose and the Sony noise-cancelling headphones and these win hands down. 

2. Insurance

I’m not an insurance broker/advisor, this is not advise, just what I use. When I was travelling short-term i.e. less than a year from my home country, then SafetyWing was a great option.

We are now perma-nomads, and we’re also a little bit older (I’m over 35 gasp) and as well as land travelling. Given some of the mid-life risks I’ve opted for the sledgehammer of travel insurance: Cigna.

They have plans specially tailored for entrepreneurs/very international people. Unlike most travel/nomad health plans it includes cancer care as well as maternity care for women. It costs quite a lot more than your run-of-the-mill travel insurance I think I pay about $100/m.

If you’re going to cut ties and are planning to travel the world for several years and you’re getting a little older, it’s really worth thinking about what happens if something goes seriously wrong.

3. A decent powerbank

If you’re travelling in Africa, you’re going to find yourself in places where there are power cuts. They will happen in the middle of calls and are usually fairly unexpected.

A good 20,000mah powerbank that can charge or at least keep your laptop on is a good plan. I somehow manage to destroy one of these every year or so usually from water damage so bear that in mind when looking at cost.

I have two, the Anker PowerCore III 20,000mAh is my ‘more portable’ option and only costs $50 ish. We also have a PowerCore III Elite 87W 25,600mAh. They both happily charge a 14″ Macbook Pro, one a little faster than the other.

4. A decent backpack

There are a lot of ‘nomad’ backpacks out there that are eyewateringly expensive. Personally, I have two travel modes, everything (inc. kitchen sink) and what I think is ‘super light’.

If you want to explore a lot of African countries, have buses that are usually fairly crowded. Think a tight-packed 14-seater minibus on a good day.

You need a bag that’s big enough to fit clothes for a week plus anything else you need and small enough to go on your lap.  A backpack of around 40-45L is a good fit, bigger than a normal rucksack but smaller than a full hiking option.

I personally use a 45L Bagtecs motorbike backpack which at the time of writing was on sale for $70. It’s amazing. It is rugged as it gets, fits my laptop, a 14″ portable LCD, all my clothes and gets onto flights as cabin luggage.

It also comes with some handy extra straps you can use to attach it to the tail of a motorbike which is generally what I use to travel around when I get somewhere. 

5. A motorbike license

Getting around most of Kenya affordably is generally by bus. When you’re doing more local trips it’s either taxi, tuktuk or motorbike. The more remote the more likely you’ll be on the last option.

Personally, I prefer to drive myself. It’s usually relatively easy to hustle a rented motorbike, and it gives me all the freedom I want to explore.

If you have an EU car, license your driving license card will usually have an endorsement to drive a scooter…most police in far far away places will not know what the extra numbers at the end mean so you can always chance it, though would be an issue in an accident.

I invested in getting a full unrestricted motorbike license. Having ridden a bit before I got that and after I can tell you that I feel safer and more confident having done the proper training.

As for helmets, I’ve found that I can buy them in the country for relatively cheap and I gift them to a local or the person I rented the bike from to try to give the next rider a better chance.

6. Small portable mosquito net

Not all accommodation will have nets and if you’re off the beaten path that isn’t set-up for western tourists, you might find yourselves somewhere they don’t have them.

For those (usually short stays) I have a LifeSystems Micronet Single. It’s also worth having some command strip hooks as well because often if there’s no net, there’s also nowhere to hang long from.

7. Anti-Malarials

Malaria is no joke. It can seriously knock you out for a couple of weeks and it can kill. That said ask most people in areas that are malaria prevalent and most will have had malaria at some point in the past.

Firstly – Always seek medical advice especially if you suspect you might have malaria. I’m not a doctor and this isn’t medical advice it’s just what I personally do.

I personally don’t generally take anti-malarials every day. If you are staying somewhere for months on end I’m not a fan of bashing back the tablets and other than the expense I’m not sold on the health cost-benefit of taking drugs every day.

However, I do keep a box handy in-case I think I might have contracted it and I’m somewhere very remote.

Something that isn’t commonly known by visitors to the continent is that common medications like Malarone which is often taken to prevent malaria are also used to treat malaria.

8. Zinc sticks

Going through security with liquids is a nightmare these days but zinc sticks generally aren’t a problem as they fit well within the 100ml limit.

I opt for the nice and colourful Aloha sticks but plenty of other options. If you’re like me and burn lobster coloured quickly then they’re super handy. Especially, if you go surfing/kiting etc. 

8. Dual-sim phone

Maybe this is an obvious one and if you’re a nomad you probably already have this dialed in. But there’s a twist here…

The twist is that phone manufacturers sell different models of phones in Africa to Europe and the US. Other than being cheaper they often have much better battery lives.

Charging might not be as fast but if you’re travelling for a few days you’ll be super happy you bought a local Redmi or similar as a backup to your iPhone or fancy Android phone. Generally available in country from around $100 for a top spec model. 

9. Laptop accessories (Keyboard, Mouse, Stand)

For some reason, I seem to spend a lot of time in front of my computer and so to make that experience less horrendous I have a small portable laptop stand, a Bluetooth keyboard an a mouse.

It’s not super Africa relevant, but there aren’t many coworking/colivings around so if you’re exploring you’ll be DIY most of the time.

The set-up I use seems to be fairly popular. When I was last at a coworking at least two others had the same set-up.

  • Stand – The stand seems to be branded differently on amazon, but most recently I’ve found it under UPRAYSE it’s the most compact option I’ve found and costs $20;
  • Bluetooth keyboard – A Logitech K380, it’s handy in as much as it’s tiny and it has memory and hotkeys for three devices which is handy if you want to use it on your phone etc;
  • Mouse – A Logitech M350, it’s small, accurate, ambidextrous and just the right size to be small to pack but large enough to be useful;

10. Solar-powered watch

Seems simple enough but a decent watch goes a long way. A solar-powered watch, especially in most of Africa will go forever.

A lot of people on the African continent don’t wear watches, or if they do they don’t wear fancy ones. If you roll about with a super fancy watch to the jam-packed ferry or in busy towns, I’ll promise you that you’ll find trouble eventually.

Simple is good. Either a standard old-school Casio is a good option or my favourite a Citizen Eco Drive Promaster Tough.

It’s a very basic-looking watch but has a sapphire crystal face which is (nearly) indestructible, is solar powered and costs just over $300. The Citizen Garrison Tough is also a good option and is a little cheaper but doesn’t have the saphire crystal face which is (almost) unbreakable . 

10. Chromecast

This might seems like a bit of a random one. But they’re quite small and almost impossible to get outside of Europe/US. It allows you to easily stream from your laptop to any TV with an HDMI port assuming there’s WiFi.

I’ve been surprised by the number of places that I’ve stayed where I’ve wanted to watch a movie on the TV and not been able to. They’re tiny and super handy if you just want a quiet movie night in.

11. AirTags

Sigh. I have surcombed to the world of AirTags. They’re so small and convenient and I’ve put them in all our bags. I generally try to travel only with a backpack but it doesn’t always work out like that.

When I’ve had kitesurf bags etc, having a tag in the bag has given me some sense of where our stuff is. However, bear in mind iPhones aren’t super popular in a lot of african countries so if your bag goes missing at a national or regional airport it might not ping that often.

12. Notebook

Call me old school but I do like to keep a small notebook to hand. Whether it’s to sketch (badly) a scene in front of me or just write down what I’m thinking or how I’m feeling. I find having one makes it more likely that I’ll get away from my screens and find a quiet space.

The Moleskine Cahier Journal Notebook, 3 Part, Lined has been my favourite so far. They’re basic and very small so I can carry them without noticing and each one lasts me a few months before making its way (eventually) back to the bookcase.

13 Compact super-zoom

When we went on our first safari the last thing I had thought was that I’d want to take photos. I only had my phone. Defiantely a regret.

The one thing your phone probably doesn’t have is a x10-x20 optical zoom. So capturing that lion lazing away 300m away will look like a small spec of dust on your superwide smartphone camera or pixelated hell with digital zoom.

Currently I have a Canon SX620-HS. It is really cheap and very basic and reviews ok. It cost me $200 2nd hand on eBay, it has terrible low light performance and is really only good in bright light which luckily is most days in a lot of places on the continent.

But it’s small and has a x25 optical zoom and assuming there’s good day light photos are fine for a 6×4 print or sharing on social.

If ‘good enough’ isn’t good enough for you, from my research I’d look at the Panasonic Lumix ZS100/TZ100 it gets great reviews. It’s a bit more expensive at ±$400 new, a little bulkier and only packs a x10 zoom.  However, it has a much bigger sensor and is a better all rounder without breaking the bank. It’s on my Christmas list this year.

Finally, there is a newer version of the Lumix, the ZS200, a raft of improvements but prices at around $600 which for me is probably overkill to snap a the odd dozing lion.


14. Walking shoes

Scrap the trendy trainers, you’re going to be doing some miles and those roads will not be all nicely tarmaced with pavements. Pick up a pair or sensible walking shoes that you can use day to day as well as for short 1-2 day hikes.

My personal favourite are the Colombia Redmond hiking shoes which I picked up at Decathlon (twice now). They won’t win any fashion awards but they’re extremely practical and reasonably rugged, my first pair lasted about 5 years. A lot better than flipflops on a motorbike too.

I’m not a fan of flipflops, they just don’t work for me so I also carry a pair of what I think are Decathlon NH120 walking sandles in my bag. Good for generally wandering around town or down to the beach on hot days.

15. Loop earplugs

I have Danny at Avalon coliving in Bankso to thank for this recommendation. I’m quite noise sensitive when sleeping and a decent set of earplugs is a winner.

What’s nice about the loop earplugs is that they’re pretty comfortable to sleep with. They come in two flavours a ‘regular’ version which are pretty good and designed for making loud environments like nightclubs quieter and the ‘quiet’ version which is designed for sleeping.

If it wasn’t for the recommendation I’d still be using little bits of toilet paper as the wax, and foam alternatives are nowhere near as good or comfortable.


16. Torches

Sounds basic but streets are generally unlit in most places and the odd power cut is not unusual. While I always recommend taking a taxi/tuktuk etc. at night sometimes you only need to go an extremely short distance.

For that I carry a small but very bright torch, my thinking being that if anyone does accost me for whatever reason I can always shine it in their face and they’ll be blinded for long enough for me to be down the road. That’s the thinking anyway. I use this torch as my main walking around one, the same/similar models seems to pop up under loads of different brands.

I also have a Black Diamond head torch that’s handy when I’m trying to do stuff outside as it gets dark at around 7 pm most of the year.


17. Ethiopian scarf

Africa is not all sunshine and beaches. The reality is some areas can get quite cold at night and in the southern hemisphere during the day in what locally is winter but in US/EU is summer. Ethiopian scarves are amazing. Not only are they light but they can be worn loose if it’s warm, worn tightly if cold and used as a towel in emergencies.


18. External monitor

I go through phases of having and not having an external monitor. It’s really a luxury that I don’t really need but I find super helpful to get anything I need done, freeing up my time to be able to get to adventuring.

Recently I managed to get my hands on a relatively new version of the Asus USB-C external LCD monitor which costs around $200. It’s 14″ and fits perfectly against my 14″ Macbook Pro. It would probably be fine against a 13″ laptop as well. 

Previously I had the 15.5″ monitor but I found that it wasn’t really portable and it’s quite a bit bigger than my 14″ laptop so I was also worried about damaging it.


Not on my list but hopefully obvious…

The following are things that are not on the list above but are hopefully obvious:

  • Suncream
  • Bug spray


Bonus section: Things I don’t use

I thought I’d drop in a list of things I don’t use.  I found these while having a look at other posts on nomad packing lives. While everything above is usually in my travel backpack, these are things I’ve not bought due to cost or more likely due to the space they take up.

  • Packing Cubes – I personally don’t use these, normally when I stop it’s for at least a week and everything comes out of my bag;
  • Magical block socket adaptor – So far I’ve gotten away with my UK to two pin adaptor, this will trip me up if I go to South Africa but then there’s always the airport;
  • Solar panel charger – So far I’ve not found myself that far from power that I’d need a solar charger. Could be handy in some places;
  • Toiletry bag – I used to carry a handmade one, now I just use the plastic bag it needs to go into in the airport anyway

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