Carry On Packing for 6 Weeks in Africa

Many of my dear friends know I have a fascination that borders obsession with packing; specifically the ‘minimal carry-on only’ style of packing. It is a rather strange fixation that often leads me to circle the drain about which three pairs of shoes are going to work for me should I find myself on the beach in Zanzibar, wandering the streets of Tokyo, hiking through Patagonia, caught in a tropical storm in Central America or out to a fancy dinner in Mexico City. While admittedly my triumph over these packing challenges is not going to solve climate change or even help anyone beyond myself, it perfectly brings together my love for travel, adventure, organization, planning and the desire to be the anonymous tourist. If I look like a Parisian drinking a cafe on the sidewalk staring out into the street then perhaps it becomes a little more true that I am, or I might be one day.

As we began to plan for our year-long travels and I scoured the internet for advice, I quickly became convinced that traveling with carry-on only luggage was how I wanted to do it. The allure is in the challenge itself, alongside the decreased airline fees, avoiding the risk of lost baggage, being able to keep our valuables nearby as we hop onto long-haul buses, short ferries, days-long trains to see the world.

So after reading numerous blogs about how/what to pack, I want to add to the blogosphere my own contributions of what I’ve packed for a year of travel, starting with the Africa leg. The following is what I’m packing into my 40-L Gregory Backpack to travel by train from Tanzania through Zambia to Victoria Falls, to wear in Capetown in the city and hiking in the nearby areas, visit the wine country of Stellenbosch, spend three weeks working with our non-profit in Akatsi, Ghana and and spend a week in Morocco between the city, beaches and Sahara before a quick 24 hours in Venice, Italy and onwards to the US for September. So without further ado, here’s what I’m bringing (to see Jason’s bag scroll to the bottom):


7 Warm Weather Tops

3 Tank Tops:

  • 1 Light White Cotton Tank, packs easy
  • 2 Yoga Tank Tops, quick dry; one to sleep in and one to do yoga in

4 T-Shirt Style Tops:

  • 1 custom made gray shirt with breathable, hand loomed cotton fabric from Handmade from Tanzania
  • 1 button-up old work shirt of Jason’s that I stole
  • 1 grey cotton V-Neck, comfortable and easy from Madewell but can’t be worn often without washing
  • 1 super lightweight striped bright shirt to be a little dressier, from Tanzania Anne Kiwia

3 Cool Weather Tops

2 Long Sleeves

  • 1 Chambray for cool weather, hiding from mosquitoes and hiding from the African sun, from a thrift store
  • 1 long sleeved cotton black shirt, Madwell, doesn’t dry that quickly…

1 Jacket

  • Patagonia nano-puff, packs down small (not bringing rain jacket, will wear garbage bag if needed)

3 Dresses 

(for not Africa, 3 dresses would be a bit much for me but since it is more conservative and hot this is a great way to cover my shoulders and knees when needed and not burn up while doing so)

  • 1 black quick dry travel dress from Toad&Co, from REI
  • 1 grey lightweight cotton from Handmade from Tanzania
  • 1 block striped cotton from Handmade from Tanzania

4 Bottoms

  • 1 black long skirt from Patagonia, comfortable, packs easy, good for conservative areas
  • 1 pair of jeans- I debated for a long time because they are bulky and don’t dry quickly but they help me feel ‘normal’ ha!
  • 1 pair of Prana Uptown black pants- lightweight, quick dry, great for hiking or everyday wear
  • 1 pair of black shorts, Patagonia, quick dry- good for hiking, will use for sleeping, and can wear them everyday too. Even though everywhere we are going is hot, shorts aren’t so culturally appropriate in Africa so one pair will do

3 Shoes (will be 4…)

  • 1 pair of camel colored Sabah slip-ons, no socks needed, dress up or down, mine are a bit tight but otherwise great
  • 1 pair of Birkenstocks- I had a pair of soft bed black Arizona double strap that met their fate in the Indian Ocean, so my dear friend Birgit gave me her Birks she was getting rid of and they fit perfectly!
  • 1 pair of Blundstone Boots- great for hiking and everyday wear, a little heavy for the hot weather here but I like that they are nicer than tennis shoes
  • Need: 1 pair of shower shoes that I’m going to buy this week; the pair I had were also lost near the Indian Ocean. It was a rough year for shoe survival in Tanzania.

Unders, not pictured

  • 8 pairs of ExOfficio underwear, which are the best! Quick dry, comfortable, pack small
  • 3 bras; 2 regular and one sports
  • 1 swimsuit
  • 3 pairs of socks, one is wool for hiking

Packing Clothes: Cubes!

I’m a huge fan of packing cubes, like everyone else. I use three cubes.

  • 1 large white Eagle Creek Cube for my bottoms and dresses and chambray top
  • 1 small white one for Unders and sleeping outfit
  • 1 small blue one for t-shirts/tops



  • 1 Scarf, works as scarf, sarong, will double as towel when needed. It is bulky but necessary
  • 1 yoga mat, Manduka Travel Mat, which I love
  • My sisters Solar Escape hat which I convinced her to loan me until I return to Portland
  • 1 cross-body leather purse, for kindle and wallet and headphones
  • Blue pouch with my eye mask and earplugs
  • Headlamp
  • Coffee mug with back-up Via Coffee (I’m a coffee addict)
  • Hydroflask water bottle
  • Bagu reusable bag
  • Journal
  • Drawstring laundry bag

Toiletries, Bag 1 (green) and 2 (white)

Bag 1

  • Toothbrush/toothpaste
  • Deodorant
  • Face powder and brush, mascara, eyebrow pencil, and my favorite lip/cheek stain from my friend Leyna at Urb Apothecary
  • A few pairs of earrings and necklaces, 2 headbands
  • Drugs: Taking up more space than I like but just a few essentials in case we get traveler’s diarrhea, itchy, nauseated, constipated, allergic, a UTI and to prevent malaria

Bag 2 (where all the liquids live so if they spill they only spill on each other)

  • 4 silicone Eagle Creek bottles with conditioner, shampoo, Dr. Bronners multi purpose soap and curly-hair stuff
  • Nail polish and remover, so I can live in luxury
  • Daily face moisturizer
  • Sunscreen


  • iPhone and charger
  • MacBook and charger
  • Kindle
  • Headphones
  • Converter
  • Recharger





  • Yoga Mat and hat roll up and are strapped in on the left
  • Water bottle sits inside coffee mug on the right, strapped in also



  • All shoes fit in the bottom compartment, I made sure my boots can always be packed with one other pair since I won’t wear them often. This is great too because shoes get dirty and they are separate

Main compartment:

  • 3 packing cubes with tops, bottoms, and unders
  • Laptop
  • Patagonia jacket
  • Green toiletry bag sits on top

Exterior Vertical Zipper (I treat this how I would treat if I had an extra bag, so there is easy access with traveling:

  • Kindle, Journal and Charger for easy access
  • Blue pouch with eyemask/earplugs
  • Bagu bag, reusable for groceries, etc
  • Via instant coffee, for emergencies

Top Flap, under side

  • Scarf
  • Extra drugs

Top Flap, outer side

  • White toiletry bag, further self-containing in case it explodes
  • Computer Charger and iphone

Pictured in Stonetown Zanzibar, Pringles Edition


I don’t obsess about packing as much as Olivia—well not at all—but I have managed to get myself together and into a 40L bag. Mine is a hand-me-down North Face. I’m also using packing cubes and adding a couple of Patagonia pouches. I’ll post a photo and then list my items below.


  • 4 T-shirts
  • 4 short-sleeve collared shirts (I’m assuming I’ll remove the African shirt after Ghana)
  • 1 light-weight long-sleeved plaid
  • 1 Patagonia nano-puff jacket


  • 1 pair of jeans (my favorite clothes item in my bag)
  • 1 pair of Lulu Lemon black travel pants
  • 1 pair of dress pants from H&M
  • 1 pair of cloth shorts
  • 1 pair of tennis shorts for hanging/sleeping
  • 1 pair of Patagonia swim shorts


  • 7 boxer-briefs (eventually will all be Patagonia but for now a bulky mix)
  • 3 pairs of ankle socks
  • 1 hat
  • 1 pair of dress shoes (for the Ghana leg, to be replaced by Chacos)
  • 1 pair of Saucony tennis shoes with deep tread for hiking
  • 1 pair of rainbow sandals


  • 1 macbook
  • 1 kindle paperwhite
  • iPhone charger, kindle charger, anker charger
  • All-in-one charger
  • 240v hair clippers (converting to 110v doesn’t work)
  • Headphones with splitter

Patagonia pouch

  • Passport
  • Immunization card
  • Pens
  • Face mask


  • Toothbrush and paste
  • Dr. Bronner’s travel size x2
  • Deodorant
  • Tweezers and nail clippers
  • Mosquito repellant


  • Hydroflask water bottle
  • Self folding UNIQLO daypack
  • Headlamp
  • Journal
  • Travel microfiber small towel

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