Our African Adventure: What to Pack

Are you considering traveling with young children to Africa?

My husband and I spent six weeks in Uganda with our four young children. We traveled to Uganda with our three sons: Asher (6), Micah (4) and Zephaniah (2). In Uganda, we adopted a baby girl, Gabrielle, who was five months old when she joined our family. This post is the first in a series about the challenges of traveling to a developing country with children! I hope these posts will be helpful to other families.

Backpack, suitcase or duffel bag?

Our family packed into a total of 12 bags. We carried-on seven and checked five bags. Each family member carried a backpack. The little boys backpacks contained their favorite stuffed animal and book, snacks and water bottle, neck pillow and pajamas for the airplane, and rain coats. My husband and I, along with our six-year-old son, carried these items plus all of our clothing, personal care items, computer and camera.

We brought two rolling suitcases on the plane from Seattle to London. One of these suitcases was for the warm clothing we would need for our long layover in London on the way to Uganda. We left this suitcase with family in London and picked it up on our way home. The second rolling suitcase on the plane was full of art supplies, travel games, books, home school materials, diapers, baby wipes and snacks.

We checked two suitcases and three duffel bags. One of these suitcases was full of clothing for our little boys along with the formal clothing we would need when we went to court. The second suitcase was full of everything our baby girl needed: blankets, bottles, clothing, toys and other essentials.

One of the duffel bags was full of the consumable items we would use in Uganda: hundreds of diapers and baby wipes, infant formula and more. The other two duffel bags were full of cloth diapers, toys and clothing we donated to our daughter’s orphanage.

In addition to our bags, we also brought a bassinet for our baby and a toddler car seat for our two-year old. Although it was incredibly difficult to get the car seat through the airport and on the airplane, it was completely worth it. Our two-year old slept almost all the way through 40 hours on an airplane in his comfortable Britax car seat. The car seat was also helpful in Uganda, as it contained our otherwise wiggly little boy through hours of crazy traffic. Although the bassinet was collapsible, it was also bulky and difficult to travel with. Again, it was worth it to have this in Uganda.

Although we had a heavy load on the way to Uganda, our plan was to be able to unload two of our three duffel bags shortly after arriving in Uganda and to slowly empty the third duffel. By the time we went home, the duffel bags were empty and could be packed into a suitcase. In the end, we ended up coming home with one of the duffel bags full of things we bought in Uganda.

We packed light, I promise: the bare essentials for children

Although walking through the airport with jet lagged children and a dozen bags was ridiculously hard, we only packed the essentials. For example, this is hat we packed for each of our children:

 

 

 

  • One special stuffed animal
  • Lightweight rain coat
  • Swimsuit
  • Sun hat with SPF 50+ and bug repellant
  • One pair convertible pants in dark gray
  • One long sleeve adventure shirt – blue for Asher, orange for Micah, green for Zephaniah
  • 2 short sleeve tee shirts, 1 long sleeve tee-shirt, 1 polo shirt for church
  • 2 pairs shorts
  • 4 pairs underwear
  • 2 pairs pajamas
  • Kleen Kanteen stainless steel water bottle – black for Asher, orange for Micah, green for Zephaniah
  • One pair of sandals: Tevas for Asher, Chacos for Micah and Keens for Zephaniah (we did not pack any socks)

We packed the clothing for each child into one Eagle Creek Pack-It Double Cube. These cubes were just large enough to hold the clothes the children were not wearing. This also made it easy for the boys to keep their own clothing organized. This was just enough clothing for us to do laundry, usually by hand, every other day.

This is the minimum amount clothing I would suggest bringing for a young child on a long trip. With just this clothing, we were able to add or remove layers to keep the boys comfortable in different weather conditions. We usually had one clean change of clothes and the boys had something dry to wear while we did laundry. I am thankful we brought one polo shirt for each of the boys so they could dress up a little on Sundays, as we found that our African hosts often dressed up.

What about bugs?

I loved almost everything about Africa except for the bugs. If you are traveling with young children, you will need to plan to deal with creepy, crawly, flying, stinging, buzzing and biting bugs. The worst offenders in Uganda are mosquitos and ants.

The ants are basically harmless, although they are everywhere and they get in to everything. Plan to keep your living space and your belongings very clean. Sticky food spilled on clothing is like an ant magnet. Make sure you keep your children’s snacks in sealed containers. One of the most important things to put in your suitcase is a few boxes of quart and gallon size Ziploc bags.

And then there are mosquitos. The mosquitos loved our oldest son, Asher. They mostly left our other two boys alone, but something about our first-born must have been delicious. At one point he had more than two dozen bites. In most places in Africa, the mosquitos often carry malaria, so it is important for children to take a prophylactic anti-malarial medication.

To help our little boys chew or swallow their pills, we brought a bag of jelly beans. We would smash the little white pills into one jelly bean and have the boys eat it quickly and then give them another bean to hide the taste. Eventually we ran out of jelly beans and just taught our boys, even the two-year old, to swallow pills.

One of the most important ways to fight bugs is to go inside in the evening. Although it is tempting to stay outside at night, enjoying the cool African evening, it is wise to go inside, away from the bugs. Another strategy is to put on long sleeve shirts and pants in the evenings. There are very few mosquitos out during the day, but you need to have a strategy to help your children in the evening. Don’t forget to have the children sleep under mosquito nets.

There were three products we brought in our suitcase that were incredibly helpful:

  1. California Baby Natural Baby Bug Blend: This natural bug repellant smells fresh and does not make skin sticky or greasy. It is lightweight and effective much of the time. We typically put this on exposed skin in the morning and on faces and necks at dusk.
  2. Repel Lemon Eucalyptus: As a family, we wanted to avoid using DEET as much as possible. Studies have found Lemon Eucalyptus to be as effective as DEET repellents as long as it is applied often enough. We typically put this on our ankles and other areas of exposed skin at dusk when the bugs come out to bite.
  3. Tea Tree Oil: We brought a small bottle of Tea Tree Oil. This essential oil is cooling, calming and skin-healing and can be applied directly to bug bites.

 

 

 

 

 

9 Comments

  1. Super helpful!! You were so organized. I think I’m too chicken to bring the kids with me. Or maybe I’m selfish – I want to savor Africa with the least stress possible!

    Reply
  2. So helpful Sara, thanks so much for sharing all of the details! Other than finances, my biggest concern about taking my kids (my youngest, really) is safety – I can hardly take him to Target without him running off, hiding (and the joy of this is greater than just about any discipline I’m willing to do in public, so it’s taken a LONG time to break the habit.) I’d love to hear your perspective on that…

    Reply
  3. this is perfect – thank you! my husband and I are preparing to pick up our young son in UG, and plan on bringing our 3 little ones, age 5 and under! I can use ALL the help i can get!!!

    Reply
  4. What a blessing to come across your blog. Your international travel experience with four young children gives me inspiration. I hope to travel from Uganda with 2 young children as a single mom. Thank you for this information.

    Reply
  5. Thanks for your personal marvelous posting!
    I seriously enjoyed reading it, you’re a great author.I will always bookmark your blog and will often come back very soon. I want to encourage yourself to continue your great job, have a nice afternoon!

    Reply

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