What to Pack for Uganda

I’d been told that Uganda is the friendliest of all African countries, that I’d be completely humbled by the trip, and that I simply had to go kayaking on Lake Victoria, but what I still didn’t know was what to pack to get me there and back.

When researching what to wear on my trip to Uganda I read and heard a lot of different, at times conflicting, information. Here’s what I experienced when I went to the country for myself in August, including what I actually needed out there – despite my better judgement to leave it at home.

I volunteered with East African Playgrounds for two weeks, staying just outside Jinja . Together with 11 fellow volunteers we slept in school classrooms while building a playground for the local children, helped by a team of local builders trained by the charity. When not digging, sanding, painting or running around with the kids, we found glimpses of time to soak in a nearby swimming pool, some shopping in Jinja, and a safari.

So in a style akin to 500 Days of Summer, here’s how my expectations faired against reality.

Trousers

Expectation:

I’d read on several websites that it would be frowned on for women to wear trousers and that skirts and dresses were better form, so I went dutifully armed with a selection of conservative midi and maxi skirts and dresses.

Reality:

Loose, light coloured trousers keep the mosquitoes at bay; a skirt or dress will let them party it up anywhere they fancy. Your choice. While it was definitely true that the local women wear skirts and dresses more than trousers, provided you stay modest in your outfit choices (nothing tight and stay covered shoulder to below the knee) no one batted an eyelid at our trousered pins.

We also got boda-bodas (motorbike taxis) quite often, and while the local girls sit side-saddle you’ll have to weigh up ‘doing as the locals do’ against the feeling of increased safety. If you straddle legs akimbo, you could always wear your bag/backpack in front of you as a buffer between you and your driver. We didn’t have the buffer and there were no rude comments or awkward moments, but I’ve also been told that Ugandans will just be quietly offended, so in hindsight I’d probably go for one of the above options next time.

I only realised when it came to packing that all my long sleeved tops were dark, aka, lynx for mosquitoes, and that none of my summer skirts would cover my knees. I know, straight up hussy. But if you, too, feel the need to purchase country appropriate clothing before leaving I’d urge you not to. So long as you’ve got something conservative to arrive in, you can buy clothes out there that will be not only culturally appropriate, but also a steal – trousers were about £3 a pair.

Sports bra

Expectation:

I wasn’t planning any sporting activities on my stay so ruled this one out from the get go.

Reality:

I was a fool, a short-sighted fool. Merrily nicknamed the ‘Ugandan Massage’, I’d confidently say that it’s not possible to overestimate how bumpy the roads are – especially when travelling around in a little choc full matatu (minibus) like we did. Being in Uganda seemed to put our worries/problems into perspective, so while appropriate underwear isn’t the world’s biggest problem, you’ll just enjoy the trip that bit more without excessive jiggling.

Take a decent camera

Expectation:

I didn’t want to take anything that would draw attention to our tourist status or that I could potentially lose or have stolen, so I took a basic little point and shoot camera that I hadn’t used in 10 years.

Reality:

Being milk bottle white was a fairly unmistakable indication that I was not, in fact, local – fancy camera or not. If you have a decent SLR, leaving at home for a potentially once in a lifetime trip is basically criminal. Set any worries at ease by insuring any pricey kit before you go.

Spare memory card for camera.

Expectation:

Again, having not used my camera in years I foolishly assumed the memory card had plenty of space.

Reality:

I massively underestimated how beautifully photogenic every single bit of the country was that I saw. While having to cull photos mid-trip was painful at the time, it did leave me with much less to sort through when I got home. Still ended up with well over 20 almost identical photos of a baby rhino. Some things are just too cute to delete.

A waterproof camera

Expectation:

I’ll be honest; this didn’t even cross my mind when packing.

Reality:

Lake Victoria and the Nile are a huge draw for people to visit Uganda, and at some point on your visit it’s highly likely that you’ll end up either on or in one or both of them. If you want record of this without the fear of submerging your phone or only camera (especially if it’s a half decent one as previously suggested!) then packing a waterproof camera is a no brainer. A cheap little disposable film waterproof camera will let you capture your time on the Nile with no stress if it decides to take a dip with you.

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