Not too long ago, I was soiling my pants over how to pack for my longest and far-off trip ever.
Although I would say I was relatively successful, I made some serious mistakes in what I failed to pack. Since these blogs were such a resource to me when I was preparing, I thought I would make a list of some important things I brought/forgot for future interns/anyone coming here for an extended period of time.
THINGS I SHOULD HAVE BROUGHT
Bags. Every kind of bag you could possibly use, bring it. Bring small bags for holding little bunches of crap, a laundry bag for your dirty clothes. I should have brought a smaller purse, I should have brought a bigger backpack.
I can’t stress the backpack thing enough, especially if you’re planning on taking trips. I took a small one but it always sucked because it was too small for weekend/weeklong trips and I ended up with no room for luxury items, like pants.
I had other friends here who brought duffle bags, which were super useless because you usually end up having to carry your stuff on your back. I watched my one friend bail in front of an entire Rwandan wedding because he had tried to strap his duffle bag to his back like a backpack.
Also, plastic bags are illegal in Rwanda (cool!) so bring some if you like to use them. Different sized ziploc bags can be great.
Also wish I brought…
Shampoo. Everything here is expensive and/or made for weaves. I don’t remember what conditioner feels like.
A good notebook. I’ve gone through three and they were all shit. I’ve taken to writing on scraps of paper. Really professional.
Sweatpants. If you know anything about me, you know I own more sweatpants than any other clothing item. I took them out of my bag when I was packing to try to save weight and seriously regret it.
A wide variety of shoes. Bring stuff for hiking, bring flip-flops, bring nicer shoes/sandals for your internship. Shoes are hard to find here and they’re expensive.
A small sleeping bag/blanket and a small, crappy towel. So, so useful when staying in dodgy hostels or freezing your butt off in one of the national parks. Towels can also double as blankets.
Granola bars/power bars. They don’t exist here. Bring several boxes of them, they will save you from starving when all you can buy is white bread.
Chocolate. This was suggested by our CMTS advisor Allan Thompson, but I was silly and only brought two bars. Chocolate is really expensive here, so if you can, get it on your Europe layover because it’s the cheapest and fancy.
THINGS I’M GLAD I BROUGHT
Afterbite. I don’t care if you think you’ll be fine with a malaria pill and bug spray. I had a few too many drinks one night and thought it was a great idea to hang out under an avocado tree without any bug spray on. The next day my feet looked like I had scabies.
Dry shampoo. Bring dry shampoo, baby powder, baby wipes, anything that could potentially make you feel or look less dirty than you are. Our house is currently on Day 3 without running water.
External hard drive and USB keys. I religiously back up everything in case stuff gets broken or stolen. They day I wrote this blog, my camera was stolen, but luckily I had saved all my photos on my laptop.
I also loaded my hard drive with episodes of The Office which was a great relief when the internet was gone or I was feeling homesick. You really can’t download or stream here, so put on as many music, movies, and television as you think you might need.
All-weather stuff. Just because you’re going to Africa doesn’t mean you won’t have times where you freeze your butt off or get stuck in torrential rain. Both have happened to me. I brought a warm sweater and a raincoat and they saved me.
Medication for every possible ailment even if it’s impossible for you to ever get it. I’m talking painkillers, acid reducers, allergy medication, bowel movement enhancers and decreasers. For the love of god, bring some gravol because you WILL get sick on bus rides, if not from the ridiculously winding roads, then from the fact that other people will get sick around you. You can always leave it behind for people who will really appreciate it. Also, bring eyedrops and if you have glasses, glasses cleaner, because the dust will get in your eyes. Pack your malaria pills in your carry-on. I know a guy who didn’t and the airline lost his luggage for almost a week. Sketchy.
First-aid kit. Bring one that is small enough that you don’t mind carrying it on trips. I have treated many stings, bites, and cuts with my trusty little kit from Shoppers Drug Mart.
Locks. Bring small locks for bag zippers, combination locks, and a bike lock. I have a safety deposit box that I lock to my bed and then lock inside my suitcase. Some rooms have cupboards that lock, but it’s nice to have your own system that only you have a key for.
Scarves. They’re light and they’ve managed to make me look much more put-together than I ever am. They have also doubled as dresses, blankets, towels, and most importantly, I use them to protect my hair from the nasty moto helmets.
Extra space! I read the airline instructions wrong and didn’t know I was allowed two checked bags weighing 23 kg each…so I only brought one. I now have an extra 23 kg to travel back with. Although I could have used an extra few kilograms to bring with me, I now don’t have to worry about limiting the stuff I come home with. That’s awesome, because I want to take a whole lot of Rwanda home with me.
If I’ve forgotten anything else, please feel free to comment below!
If you are one of the interns coming to Rwanda, I highly recommend you check out Livinginkigali.com – the site is run by an expat and has a bunch of really useful tips on not just just what to bring, but where to stay and what to do in Kigali. I’ve found it more useful, and honest, than the Bradt Rwanda guidebook.