Monday, January 25, 2010

Kenya Packing List

In June of 2009 I participated in a two and a half week mission trip to Kenya. While there, I was very pleased with some of my packing decisions, so I wanted to share my packing list with anyone else who might be taking a similar trip in the future. The items listed below were chosen based upon my desire to travel light, to provide convenient access to the things I needed when I needed them, and to reserve as much luggage space as possible for goods and materials to be left in Kenya.

In order to meet these goals, I had to purchase a few pricey clothing items, but luggage space to Kenya is worth it's weight in gold. By choosing to pack light, you may be able to fill an entire extra suitcase with Bibles, gifts, and goodies for people in Kenya. Also, you can save a tremendous amount of money by shopping online and buying seconds and closeouts at Sierra Trading Post.

Following is a comprehensive list of every single item I took to Kenya with me. You will certainly want to make additions or substitutions as you see fit. This packing list assumes that you are okay with doing your own laundry in a sink at night. It also assumes that you are male. I don't have any idea what modifications should be made to this list for a female traveler, but I suspect that it is quite a bit more complicated.


2 backpacks
Although all of the items mentioned below will probably fit in a single backpack, I found that it was very convenient to have a night bag and a day bag. The night bag contains all of your clothes and toiletries. The day bag contains your sunblock, snacks, water, and other things you will want with you during the course of a day's activity. Because of airline luggage restrictions, you are not going to want to get on the airplane with your day and night bags packed the way you will have them packed in Kenya. You may even want to pack your backpacks in a checked suitcase and reserve your carry-on space for valuable items you might be taking to people living in Kenya. Once you arrive at your destination, you will need to sort through all of your luggage, separate out the things you brought for yourself and the things you brought for others, and then pack your day and night backpacks the way you want them. NOTE: Do not pack valuable items in your checked luggage when flying to or from Kenya. They will almost certainly be stolen at the airport.

For your day backpack, you will probably want a smaller backpack that has lots of pockets and that is comfortable for you to carry for long periods of time. For your night backpack, you may want a larger backpack, and it doesn't need as many pockets.

Gallon-size and quart-size ziplock baggies
All of the clothing items I have listed here are very light-weight and are meant to be packed tightly into gallon-size ziplock baggies. If you roll each item into a tight roll about 6 inches wide, you can fit quite a few clothing items into one baggie. I would suggest, though, that you split things up into more baggies rather than pack as much as you can into one baggie, i.e. put only your pants in one baggie and only your shirts in another. Once you get a baggie packed, place it on the floor and put your knee on it to squeeze all the air out, then close it up. Also, take some extra baggies with you. You will always need some to hold your dirty clothes and for other purposes.

Insect Shield clothing treatment
There is an amazing clothing technology called Insect Shield that is very effective at keeping the mosquitoes and other bugs away. You will not need to wear any smelly, dangerous, and environmentally-hazardous insect repellent if your clothes are treated with Insect Shield. All of the clothes I took on my trip (even the clothes I slept in) were treated with Insect Shield. You can buy clothing products that have already been treated with Insect Shield or you can mail your own clothes off to be treated. The process takes about a week, and the treatment is still effective after 70 washings. It is colorless, odorless, and effective even at a distance. For instance, wearing an Insect Shield shirt is sufficient to keep the mosquitoes away from your face.

3 Trip'r shirts from ExOfficio
Because you will be washing your clothes in the sink at night and letting them dry overnight it is very important to have quick-drying clothing, and these shirts work very well for that. I did lots of research on light-weight, quick-drying clothes, and I decided that these shirts were best suited for my purposes. Although Kenya doesn't get very hot, the sun is oppressive there (equator and high-altitude), and the only way for a fair-skinned person to keep from getting sunburned is to stay covered up very well. This is a long-sleeved shirt, but the sleeves roll up and button, so you can easily convert it to a short sleeved shirt when you need to. It is also vented under the arms to help keep you cool. Three shirts are really all you need. That allows you to go a few days without washing. These shirts are very light-weight yet rugged; all my shirts and pants fit easily into one gallon-sized baggie.

2 Cloudveil Cool Caribe pants
Light-weight, quick-drying pants that are perfect for this packing strategy.

Adidas lightweight workout shirt and pants
To sleep in and run around in at the guest house. You shouldn't have to wash these often.

4 pair of quick-drying socks
Quick-drying socks are hard to find, and my socks were the only things that sometimes didn't quite get dry overnight. So, make sure you wash your socks before you wear your last pair so that you can give your socks an extra day to dry. Please let me know if you find some socks you like; I'm very interested in trying something different next time.

3 ExOfficio Men's Give–N–Go Boxer Briefs
These are incredible. Yes, you can go to Kenya with only three pair of underwear as long as it's these. Not only are they quick drying, but they will keep your upper thighs from rubbing together and getting chaffed during a long day of walking and sweating.

Ex Officio Insect Shield Adventure Hat
You really need a hat of some sort, and if you have very fair skin like I do, you will probably want a hat whose brim will cover your neck. My hat was already Insect Shield treated when I bought it. Incidentally, a hat is probably the most important piece of clothing to have treated with Insect Shield. If someone else is having problems with mosquitoes, you can just toss them your hat and it will keep them protected.

2 handkerchiefs
Tissues are hard to come by, as are trash cans, and there is already enough litter in the country without us adding to it. It's also nice to be able to wash your face occasionally.

Waterproof hiking boots
For walking through sewage in the slums of Nairobi or walking through mud in the Kenyan bush.

Lightweight shoes
Wearing hiking boots all the time can get old really quick. It's nice to have a lighter pair of shoes around to wear at the guest house or downtown. Nike Free is a very good choice for this. These shoes only weigh 5 oz each. You will want to get on the airplane wearing your heavy hiking boots and pack your light shoes in your luggage.


Lightweight, Water-resistant jacket
For the frequent rains at certain times of the year, and it can get a bit chilly at night. Your jacket should be light enough to roll up into a ziplock baggie.

Charlie soap
This is an environmentally-friendly soap in powder form that you can use to wash your clothes in. You can carry it in a small plastic container with a lid. You might also consider Dr. Bronner's soap instead. Apparently, you can even brush your teeth with it.

I found that clothespins weren't absolutely necessary. I could usually just drape my laundry over the clothesline. Also, some guest houses will offer to wash your clothes for you, but sometimes they come back a bit smelly.

Prescription Medicines
Count out the number of pills you will need into small plastic baggies to save space.

Malaria medicine
Ask your doctor to prescribe Malarone. You have to take it every day, but it doesn't turn you into a crazed psychotic killer as a possible side effect.

Z pack
It's nice if someone on your team has this powerful anti-biotic available just in case someone catches something. You will need to get a prescription from your doctor to get one of these.

Travel size soap

Travel size shampoo


Extra razor blades



Hand sanitizer
You won't get the opportunity to wash your hands as often as you might like.

Contact solution
This is very expensive in Kenya. When you leave, you might want to offer the rest of your bottle to someone in Kenya who needs it.

Contact lens case

Extra contact lenses
Hint: Don't try to put on your contacts in a bumpy matatu.



Deodorant stick


Neutrogena SPF 70 sunblock
If you are balding, remember to sunblock your head before going to church. You may be meeting outside and you will remove your hat to pray, often for long periods of time.

Aloe Vera Gel
For when you get sunburned in spite of all your protective measures.

Toilet paper (not on a roll)
Just pull a good length of toilet paper from the roll and create a smaller roll without the bulky cardboard tube. Keep the TP in your day backpack. The choos in Kenya are BYOTP, so don't enter one unprepared. (But if you forget, remember it's polite to only wipe with your left hand and only eat with your right.)

Granola bars
Take as many granola bars as you can. These are valuable for tiding yourself over during long matatu rides, but they are even more valuable for giving away. Everyone from hungry team members to street kids to the guy who pumps your petrol will be very happy to receive a yummy, unexpected act of kindness. Make it your goal to not bring any back home.

Squeezable water bottle
You definitely need a water bottle of some sort, but squeezable water bottles are more useful for sharing with others and for squirting water on your toothbrush.

Netbook computer
If you need to take a computer with you, take a very light, very inexpensive netbook. (I chose the Asus EeePC 901 running Linux.) A netbook is excellent for keeping in touch with friends and family back home, for getting the pictures off your camera, for sending pictures back home, for blogging, and for journaling. And make sure you tell yourself in advance that you are NOT going to let it ruin your trip if it happens to get stolen, which is a good possibility. However, make sure you don't pack your computer in your checked luggage on the airplane, or it will almost certainly get stolen at the airport. Keep it with you in your carry-on.

Safaricom USB modem
If you are bringing a computer you will absolutely want to buy one of these little modems in the Nairobi airport right after you land. With a Safaricom USB modem, you can get Internet access on your computer almost anywhere in Kenya. It's about $50, and it comes with 300MB worth of data transfer, but you can buy more MBs at any little shop in Kenya if you run out. This will allow you to post blog entries and upload photos of your experiences as they happen. It will also allow you to check email. This will make you a very popular team member. Be sure to share.

Hints about internet usage:
Get a picasaweb account before you leave home. It's an excellent way to easily upload your photos to the web, and its upload process gracefully handles slow or unreliable Internet connections.

Your Internet connection in Kenya will be very slow, so, if you have one, use your gmail account for emailing. Gmail has a "basic HTML" feature that is designed for slow connections. You will see the "Load Basic HTML" link when you first get log in to gmail.

If you are going to be blogging, take advantage of the blog feature that allows you to post an entry automatically by emailing it to a secret email address.

Compose your lengthy emails or blog entries in an offline text editor. Only connect to the Internet when you are ready to post or send them. The Internet connection cuts on and off, so don't compose in your browser. It can be frustrating to lose your composition.

And remember to share your modem with other computer users.

Camera with good zoom & SD card
You might think that it would be best to take an ultra-compact camera that you can carry around very discreetly, but it really isn't. If there is any place where you think you need to be discreet about taking a picture, you probably shouldn't be taking a picture at all. And never, ever take pictures of the kids who live on the streets. A larger camera with a good optical zoom lens makes all the difference in the world for getting good pictures of animals and closeups of faces. I wouldn't skimp here. The pictures are what brings the trip to life for everyone you are leaving at home.

Also, try to take pictures that tell stories and document your experiences. You should think of your photography as building a journal of your trip rather than as a pursuit of aesthetically pleasing shots. When people ask you about your trip when you return home, you are never going to remember all the amazing things that happened. However, if you sit down and show someone your photo journal, your photos will serve as peg hooks to hang your stories on. In fact, you may even get annoyed with your yourself when you have to flip through 30 shots of roadside scenery to get to the next interesting part of the trip. Make sure you get pictures of things that people will ask questions about. What is the traffic like? Where did you stay? How did you use the bathroom?

It was convenient for me to have a camera with an SD card because my netbook has an SD slot, so I didn't have to bring (and keep up with) a connector cable for transferring pictures.

Extra camera battery

Camera battery charger

iPod touch
This can save a LOT of luggage room. It can serve as your Bible, family photos, notepad, calculator, books, watch, alarm clock, and entertainment. Just make sure to resolve ahead of time that your trip (and your life) will not be ruined if it gets lost or stolen in Kenya.

iPod headphones

iPod USB cable

Cell phone with removable SIM card
I didn't take one of these, but I wish I had. Team members with cell phones were able to buy a Safaricom SIM card ($2) for their phones that allowed them to call anywhere in Kenya and internationally. This was very helpful for those times when our team had to split up. Of course, your phone will only work in Kenya if its SIM card can be replaced.

2 UK/USA plug adapters
You will want to check and see if all of your electronics function on duel voltage (120 and 240). Most of them do. If so, there is no need to bring a transformer to convert the voltage. Kenya uses the UK style plugs, so all you need is a couple of UK/USA plug adapters.

It's a very convenient instrument to travel with if you can play one.

Small flashlight
Very helpful for late night trips to the choo.

Extra flashlight batteries
Even if you end up not using them, take some to give away. They are very valuable in Kenya.


Immunization record

Extra passport photos

Photocopy of passport

Keep the extra passport photos and the passport photocopy stored in one of your bags. If you lose your passport, it will make it much easier to get a new one in Kenya if you have these things with you.

Insurance card

Credit card

Debit card
The cheapest way to get Kenyan shillings is from an ATM. You get a better exchange rate than you get from the bank or money changers. However, they will usually charge a $1.50 foreign exchange fee, so make large transactions. Remember to tell your bank when you will be traveling to Kenya. Otherwise, they will assume your credit or debit card has been stolen and deactivate it. There are ATMs in the Nairobi airport, so be sure to get some shillings right after you land.

Money pouch
You will want one that straps around your waist like a belt and that you wear inside your pants. Keep your cash, bank cards, and passport in here at all times, and sleep with it close to you at night.