While traversing the African landscape overlanders will often find themselves out in what we South Africans refer to as “the bundus”. This essentially means out in the middle of nowhere, exactly where you want to be. Relaxing in your camp chair, cold beer in hand, watching a spectacular African sunset. However, this also means having to be fully prepared. No amount of local beer will be able to make up for the mosquitoes dive bombing you because you’ve run out of repellant spray. In order to avoid such unfortunate situations we have compiled a list of overlanding essentials. These items are not available in remote areas and can only be replaced when restocking in larger cities. We also found these items to be exceedingly expensive in comparison to the cost in South Africa. Be sure to pack enough to see you through your travels.
#1. Sun Protection
Whether you are a polar bear like me or not, sun protection is a priority. We overlanders tend to underestimate the intensity of the African sun and our amount of daily sun exposure. An obvious benefit of protecting your skin is to avoid sunstroke. However, you also don’t want to end your journey looking a bit crusty or having rapidly advanced the aging process and your risk of skin cancer. Plastering on a high SPF sunscreen everyday is a must. Unfortunately for the Mzungu overlander, sunscreen can be hard to come by especially in East Africa. When you do happen to stumble across a bottle, the price will take your breath away. Try to pack enough to see you through the duration of your trip.
Despite a generous application of sunscreen, things have been known to go a bit pear-shaped. One such scenario took place after spending two hours snorkeling in the Quirimbas off the coast of Northern Mozambique, in my bikini. The next day I awoke unable to sit down on my roasted butt. Of course this was much to the amusement of my husband and our local dhow crew. My saving grace was a soothing sunburn lotion.
Another good habit to adopt is to always wear a hat. Preferably a hat that is practical for an overlanding trip. Determined to look reasonably stylish on our Africa adventure I packed in two Panama hats. Needless to say, both hats sustained various injuries along the way, squashed beneath heavy boxes or shoved underneath the front seat. No surprises, I ended our Africa travel sabbatical wearing a cap.
#2. Flip Flops
We are not really the head-to-toe khaki, “Out of Africa”, woolen socks and sturdy hiking boots sort of overlanders. That special spot is reserved for our European counterparts. We are the shorts, t-shirts and flip flops sort of overlanders. That being said, a pair of flip flops comes in handy for all overlanders planning on visiting the beaches. They are also essential when showering in a communal campsite bathroom to prevent possibly contracting a fungal foot infection. Unfortunately, given the exposure to water, sea salt and sun, flip flops tend to have a short lifespan in Africa. During our year long travel sabbatical we each went through three pairs. Packing in an extra pair is always a good idea.
#3. Sunglasses and lense cleaning spray
Sunglasses are an essential item that need special attention and care when overlanding through Africa. Neglecting them can have dire consequences. They have a tendency to be dropped in sand, stood on, sat on or forgotten on top of the roof rack while refilling jerry cans. A protective case and an extra pair will always come in handy.
Another good idea is to have an ample supply of lense cleaning spray and a soft cloth with you. Travelling the roads of Africa can be a dusty business.
#4. Those bloody Mosquitoes
Avoiding malaria is a top priority for most overlanders. As mosquitoes tend to become active in the late afternoon/early evening, from four o’clock we spray ourselves down with repellent. However, we also noticed that the further north we travelled, the more ferocious the mosquitoes became. Wearing a pair of long pants and a long-sleeved shirt is often the only way to prevent being bitten.
Another method to deter mosquitoes is to use products that contain citronella. Burning citronella candles around camp or using body lotions, soap and shampoo that contain citronella can also be effective.
#5. Hand de-sanitizer
Overlanding in Africa is a sociable business and everyone that you meet will want to shake your hand. Sometimes we were able to get away with an informal “fist pump”. However, this approach doesn’t always go down well with border officials and traffic officers who tend to take themselves very seriously. In Tanzania Gary suffered from conjunctivitis in one eye, stressing the importance of de-sanitizing your hands to prevent contracting an infection.
#6. Charging Cables and Spare Batteries
While being guided by the light of a full moon or starry African night sky certainly sounds romantic, the reality of having your headlamp run out of power is not. Finding your way to the camp bathroom in pitch darkness without tripping repeatedly over tent pegs is harder than it sounds. Rechargeable or spare batteries deserve a spot on your packing list.
We overlanders of today are also heavily reliant on our electronic devices. Gone are the days of navigating tough terrain using a dusty old map and compass. However, your GPS device and smart phone won’t be able to do much for you unless they are charged. Similarly, you can’t take that award winning wildlife photograph if your camera battery has died a slow death. To avoid a mini crisis such as this, make sure to pack all the necessary charging cables.
Hopefully this article has helped you to plan for your overlanding adventure. If you have any additional essentials that deserve a spot on the list, send us a mail or comment in the box below.