Before I left for Ghana I read an amazing blog about what I would and would not need in Ghana. However, I found that living in Accra (a large capital city) had different needs than I anticipated… so I thought I’d write my own! For those who don’t know about my trip, I lived in Accra, Ghana (which is the capital, and in the south by the ocean). This blog reflects living in a big city, and living in the south. The first part is the quick list of top 10 things not to forget. Below is pictures and a more detailed list of what I really brought (and whether or not it’s sufficient). Number one piece of advice – no matter what your packing list says, bring more than 4 pairs of underwear!
The actual bag I ended up with… plus a purse and overnight bag as carry-on.
Top 10 Things You Need on a Regular Basis In Ghana
- A waterbottle (with a small place to sip out of… a nalgene bottle will spill all over you in a trotro)
- At least two weeks worth of clothes (you don’t want to hand wash twice a week, and you want to have enough underwear until the next weekend if you go on vacation or travel for work)
- A smartphone (ideally dual SIM with a long battery life) – plus appropriate plugs. Converters that have multiple input ports are the best for hotel rooms with just one plug for 2-4 people!
- Weekend travel kit (you want a bag that will hold everything you need for 2-7 nights… having small containers for all your toiletries is also way better than lugging around a huge bottle of shampoo)
- A good computer that you’re willing to break or lose (electronics have a nasty habit of getting ruined here. You don’t need good speakers, fancy programs or a high resolution screen. Long battery life and portability are king!)
- Appropriate work clothes. If possible find out what city you’ll be living in and the type of work. If you’re in an office, bring what you would wear at home (minus the high heels – unless you’re amazing at navigating potholes). If you’re on a farm, bring long pants, closed shoes, and things you don’t mind getting dirty. The south is also a lot less conservative (i.e. similar to North America) than the north.
- Good shoes – Sandals that are comfortable, don’t hurt your feet, can be cleaned and can transition from office to dinner.
- Small purse items – my handheld bug spray and flash light have come in handy on numerous occasions when going straight out from the office (since it gets dark at 6 each night).
- A small wallet/change purse is also necessary but you can buy those here.
- Deodorant – you will sweat! People here also use a handkerchief, which are easy to buy here. A hat helps on hot days…
Left – My explosion of stuff during pre-departure training, when the girls helped me narrow my items down to what might actually fit in my bags (and be appropriate). Right – My explosion of stuff when I first arrived at the hotel in Accra – trying to find something to wear.
So here’s the list of what I brought (in regular text), what I should have brought (in red text), and my opinion (in blue italics). The list is in no particular order, but is sorted into 4 main categories (electronics, clothes, toiletries, and other).
- Chargers for all gadgets (iPod, Kindle, laptop/tablet, phone) – essential, but can buy here
- Converters for wall sockets x 2 (UK or universal) - bring at least one universal (some plugs are European), you can buy them here but don’t buy the cheapest one, it won’t work!
- Phone (unlocked) – Useful, but you can buy here. New costs the same as home, but you can buy used too – just make sure they’re not stolen/broken… Dual-SIM especially useful, since most people have more than one network – it’s super easy to buy phone credit on the street. You can get by with a cheap phone, but smart phones are amazing for finding your way around the busy streets with GPS!
- Kindle/e-reader (with lots of books) - Essential for people who love to read! – but bring a few real ones for the beach and power outages…
- Tablet/laptop + case - Essential! Make sure it has a long battery life and is light enough to carry to work every day
- External Hard-drive (full of movies and shows) - Internet can be expensive and spotty, so this is essential if you want to watch a lot of TV or take a lot of pictures
- Camera (+ connector to computer + extra battery/charger + extra SD cards) - I know cell phones have cameras, but when the power goes out frequently it’s better to have separated electronics (in hopes that something will work at any given time)
- Small flashlight - Great for carrying in your purse in case the power is out when you get home
- Headlamp - Essential for cooking in the dark
- Extra rechargeable batteries (and charger) – AA + AAA – Super useful (especially rechargeable, since there is nowhere to properly dispose of batteries…). Make sure to check which kind your devices (flashlight, headlamp, camera, etc.) need before leaving.
- Alarm clock - It sucks when all your devices are dead and you have to get up for work (a digital watch would also suffice)
Basically all of my stuff (minus the bags), once I put it in shelves at my first house.
EWB recommends bringing only second-hand clothes, nothing fancy, and no jeans. I think this advice is outdated. Everyone wears jeans and western clothes. You’re expected to look professional at work, so wear what you would at home to an office.
- Pants x 5 (2 dress pants – black and grey, 1 blue jeans, 1 coloured jeans, 1 light comfy pants) – Didn’t need all these pants, but the guys wore pants almost everyday (dresses are comfier when it’s really hot, but bring leggings)
- Skirts x 5 (2 full-length stretchy skirts, 3 knee length skirts) - Wore them lots to the office
- Shorts x 4 (1 cotton capris, 1 jean capris, 1 long shorts, 1 short, stretchy, jean) - great for around the house, doing laundry, beach vacations…
- Leggings x 3 (1 long-black, 1 capri-grey, 1 short black shorts for under dresses) - Necessary for wearing skirts/dresses while riding public transit
- PJs x 5 (3 shorts, 2 long pants + 2 tank tops, 2 t-shirts and 1 long-sleeved) - Wore more shorts than pants for sure, it gets hot at night if you don’t have a fan/AC (even if you don’t wear pjs at home, bring at least 1 pair – you will end up sharing a room on trips)
- Work-out clothes – Lulu (1 capris, 1 shorts, 1 tank top) - If you work out at home, you will here too, so bring what you need, whether that’s clothes, runners, etc.
- Shirts x 22 (8 tank-tops (to wear under), 8 work appropriate shirts, 2 cute tank-tops, 4 casual t-shirts) - Glad I brought so many tank tops! (take up no room and stop you from looking so sweaty). Wish I considered more which tops went with which bottoms before packing
- Long sleeves x 8 (2 hoodies, 2 long-sleeved t-shirts, 4 cardigans) - Cardigans are useful for making summer-wear work appropriate, bring at least one warm sweater for when you get drenched in a storm at night… Buses are also notoriously cold, I would wear a long-sleeved t-shirt and a hoodie when taking a 12-hour overnight bus.
- Dresses x 6 (2 work-appropriate, 1 maxi dress, 3 sun-dresses) - Wore them ALL THE TIME!
- Underwear x 18 (all styles and colours) - Don’t regret a single pair… they take up no room
- Bra x 3 different colours - Could have gotten by with 2 (Bring at least 2 since you need to hang dry, which takes awhile)
- Pantyhose x 2 – Useful for formal business meetings (but not necessary)
- Socks x 10 (5 long + dark, 5 gym socks – white, 1 liner for flats) - Gym socks = must, didn’t need as many longer socks (depends how often you wear pants/are in the field)
- Baseball cap - Great for hot sunny days. Bought a second hat while I was there to wear on my commute (different style)
- 3 purses - Definitely need one bag for work, one small bag for dancing/nights out
- Shoes x 4 (runners, flip flops, sandals, flats) – Wore them all frequently. Runners = farms/hiking, Flip flops = beach/shower, Sandals = daily (work and nights out), Flats (nights out). Actually bought a second pair of sandals while I was there (to switch it up from day to day)
- Bathing suit x 2 + towel (XXL – quick dry) - Bathing suit is necessary. Quick dry towel is great for taking up less space in your bag for weekend trips (and drying quickly) – I know it’s expensive, but if you’re a girl (especially with long hair) – splurge for the XXL size!
Left – Towels and purses. Right – All my clothes (minus undergarments).
Basically the rule here is bring one of everything (so you don’t have to go out and find things in your first few weeks). If you’re picky about a certain product (say you have sensitive skin or a particular hair-care need) then bring what you need for the duration of your trip. If you’re easy and just want simple shampoo and soap, it’s easy to get everything here. Keep in mind basically anything you want is available in Accra, less so in other places.
- 1 large Full bottle of shampoo and conditioner - Good amount
- 1 bottle of face wash - Good amount
- Deoderant x 4 - WAY TOO MUCH (maybe 2?)
- Soap x 2 – Good amount (bought more when I ran out – they have great shea products here)
- Lotion (1 large bottle plus purse size) – Good amount (bought more when I ran out – they have great shea products here
- Toothbrush - One was fine (also brought a foldable travel one)
- Contacts (and solution/cases) and glasses (with case) - Good to bring both – difficult to find solution here, bring enough contacts for duration
- Hand wipes (lots) - Good to have in your purse for emergency situations…
- Kleenex (x4 – purse-sized) – Useful
- Cold stuff (instant soup, neocitron, Nyquil/buckleys, throat lozenges) – I would recommend bringing whatever you use at home to make you feel better. Doesn’t take up much space, and worth it when you’re sick and have no one to take care of you.
- Hand sanitizer x 3 purse-sized bottles - Some people brought lots but I barely used it… prefer the wipes in most cases
- Toothpaste x 1 - Good amount
- Brush and comb - Necessary
- Feminine hygiene products - I brought tampons and pads to last me just in case. You can get both in Accra but not in rural areas… I would recommend the DivaCup (it’s hard to use at first, but if you can get over the initial weirdness it’s totally worth it in areas where your only bathroom might be a field or a trough – even regular bathrooms rarely have garbage cans…)
- Makeup – Bring what you use at home…
- Jewelry – Bring what you use at home… Not CRAZY expensive (but they love colour)
- Hair gunk - Bring what you use at home…
- Hair elastics/clips/ whatever you use – Super useful – It’s hot and humid, you will get sweaty and want to put your hair up.
- Lip gloss x tons – Because that’s just how I roll…
- Basic drugs (advil/tylenol, cipro – antibiotics, any vitamins you take, pepto bismol, gravol, tums, immodium, birth control, etc.) - Useful (better safe than sorry)
- Malaria medication - Bring enough for your trip
- First aid kit (bandaids, thermometer, polysporin, etc.) - Can come in handy (better safe than sorry)
- Bug spray x 2 (and after-bite) - Used this most nights when out (even had a tiny bag in my purse at all times for this reason – it gets dark early)
- Sun tan lotion x 2 (and after-sun/aloe vera) – Rarely wore this (except at the beach), but did wear a special one on my face daily (and used a foundation with spf for makeup days)
- Nail stuff (polish, file, clippers, etc.) - Clippers are a must. The rest bring if you use at home (girls will likely wear sandals daily, so if you wear polish at home in the summer, you will here too likely).
- Buy malaria treatment and test kit when you arrive in Ghana - cheap and better to have it then try to find a pharmacy in the middle of the night when you’re panicking)
- List of possible diseases and their symptoms/treatments - Everyone goes a little crazy when they start feeling sick… you’ll forget everything you learned from the travel doctor
Left – odds and ends. Right – Toiletries, undergarments and shoes.
- OBVIOUS TRAVEL STUFF – PASSPORT, YELLOW FEVER CARD, TRAVEL INSURANCE, TICKETS, MONEY,ETC.
- Motorycle helmet - Never used it!
- Mosquito Net - Used it in my house (make sure to attach it well or it will fall on you in the night – no fun!)
- Small teddy bear - ‘Cuz I’m sentimental like that…
- Travel Pillow - Useful for long buses… (included a pair of socks, ear plugs – SUPER USEFUL, and sleep mask – USEFUL if you’re not a morning person)
- 1 large packpack (about 65L), 1 small daypack (about 15L), 1 duffle bag - All necessary… I used the daypack for taking to work (would have preferred a slightly larger one, but I had a small computer). Large backpack only for moving (I would have preferred a proper rolly suitcase honestly… I never moved without a taxi). Duffle bag was great for overnight or week-long trips to other parts of the country.
- Pencil case (pens, markets, pencil crayons, scissors, exacto knife, etc.) + small sketching pad – Good for me (but bring whatever you need for your own hobby)
- 1 large notebook + 1 small notebook - Good for meetings… bring one that fits in your everyday bag for impromptu work meetings
- 2 folders (with notes about arriving, tickets, foundation learning, facts about Ghana, etc.) - Useful (helped keep my papers organized)
- Umbrella - Heavy rains during the summer – could use umbrella or rain coat. Even if it looks nice in the morning, it might rain in the afternoon. But you can buy stuff there too…
- A couple books + magazines – Always good for a plane/bus. Can trade books with other expats. Lots of used book sellers on the streets (but mostly religious texts in my area…)
- Sunglasses – I rarely wear these at home, but if you wear them at home then bring them
- Swiss army knife – Mostly used the bottle opener… but could be useful for emergency knife/scissors
- Ziploc bags – Super useful! Great for packing toiletries… Can buy them in supermarkets here
- Snacks from home… - For when you’re sick and feeling crappy (or not adjusting well to food in the first few weeks – i.e. granola bars, Kraft dinner, crackers, nuts, etc.)
- Gifts from Canada/Pictures of life in Canada - Unnecessary (thought I did bring some blank thank you/note cards that were nice at the end). Pictures are totally pointless (use the internet to google things back home if you need to show people), but pictures of friends/family to put in your room can be nice.
- Sewing kit - Useful (but tailors can also fix anything you need and are cheap and readily available…)
- Water bottle - Super useful, carried in my purse every day. Water comes in 500ml bags (sachets) you rip open with your teeth and suck the water out. So unless you want to drink your water all at once it’s better to have a container to dump your sachets in.
Wow, lots of stuff I guess! Honestly, I used most of what I brought. You’re going to get bored of your clothes no matter what, so be prepared. If you’re preparing for your own voyage then I wish you luck and safe travels!
P.S. If you’re a traveler headed to Accra (or anywhere in the region) feel free to ask about anything I may have forgotten to include. I’m more than happy to give advice to fellow travelers, even if I’ve never met you and it’s 5 years later. :)