I’m pretty sure it’s a tradition for Junior Fellows to pack incorrectly. Some do worse than others, but I feel like we all wind up where we’re going – whether Toronto, Ntcheu or Kumasi – either missing something or with a bunch of stuff that makes us scratch our heads and question our life choices.
I was meticulous about packing to come to Ghana. It was like a gradual, multi-week process. I was super scared of leaving something behind. And I think I did pretty good! I haven’t had too many “Ah damn, I wish I had that” moments. However I have had a ton of “Man, why the heck did I bring that” moments, and “Who knew this thing would be useful” moments.
In the hope of preventing future packing woes among Junior Fellows or other friends heading for urban Ghana, here are my packing protips.
What I’m glad I brought
- Emergency sewing kit
But seriously, you have no many idea how many rips and tears and broken seams I’ve mended with this bad boy since arriving. Also, fabric is plentiful and sewing is a great creative outlet. There’s way more thread in one of these kits than you think
- Food containers
You can pack liquids in them, and then when you get there, you have containers to put food in! Which can be kind of hard to find. Also heck ya I got an image of the exact kind of containers I brought off of Google instead of walking upstairs to take a picture. Judge me.
- A digital watch
Handy for those days when the power goes out overnight so your phone alarm doesn’t work. Also when you’re on safari and don’t want to take your phone out to check the time, bam! Time on your wrist. Innovation.
- Pacsafe bag and money belt
Sure, it’s dorky as hell, but when you’re travelling through 3 continents in 24 hours, it’s nice to have all your valuables in a money belt and one less thing to worry about. I use my pacsafe bag here whenever I’m carrying more than can fit in a pocket. The zippers snap in place, the fabric is lined with metal mesh, it has an RFID blocking pocket, and let’s be real – as travel bags go, it’s not that ugly. Plus, a purse with water bottle pockets is the best idea anyone ever had.
- Versatile, durable, NOT TOURISTY pants
I’m so glad I brought these two pairs of pants. They are both a style I like, not too tight or too loose, and appropriate for professional or casual life. Extra tip: if you’re used to machine drying your clothes at home, they’ll stretch a little here when you start line drying instead. That’s just the way it goes.
- Light business shirts
It’s hot here. You don’t want to be hot at the office. You also want something with long sleeves in case your office has AC. You also want to have the option to look nice at the office. People who work in professional environments here take dressing seriously. If that’s your office environment, you should too. It wasn’t mine, but I was glad to still have this option. A couple professional shirts in a light fabric will serve you well.
- Skirts of an appropriate length
Gender roles and expectations are 100% a real thing. You might tell yourself “I won’t give a heck, watch me wear whatever I want” before you get here, but when you see the funny looks people give you and harassment you receive, you may be singing a different tune. I like wearing more conservative clothes here because sticking out due to being white is exhausting enough. I’d rather try to blend in however I can. PS, appropriate lengths vary greatly by region; in Kumasi, knee length is cool.
- Ample socks and underwear
Packed so many socks and underwear, haven’t regretted it once.
- These shoes
So I overpacked shoes, but these 4 pairs have proved essential. Flats and pretty sandals for work and going out, birks for day to day, sneakers for working out. Invest packing space in good shoes you’ll actually wear.
Hours of entertainment, good for the brain, minimal space
- Multivitamins, painkillers, cipro
These babies have served me well here. Cipro will cure anything. It is not to be messed with. I am so glad I have a whole bunch on hand.
For all my friends who bleed, tampons are scarce here. As a die-hard tampon fan, I was super glad to have brought enough for 4 months with me. Bonus benefit that you’re not bringing them home, so you’ll have more room in your bag for fun stuff. If you’re super into space and waste conservation (which I’m still evidently working on), a diva cup would also be a solid option
- Bar shampoo
Light, low-packaging, lasts forever, smells awesome. Also it may be hard to find shampoo for obroni hair, so it’s nice to bring your own.
What I brought and didn’t need
- Coloring pencils and book
Thought I would use them a bunch, haven’t used them once. I always end up reading or working out in free time instead! Ya live and ya learn. Also I just brought a stupid amount of pencils to begin with.
- Too many notebooks
This isn’t all of them. Realistically I should have brought one, maybe two, and I have like six. They’re just heavy and a hassle to carry around.
- A foldable water bottle
It seemed like a good idea at the time. I threw a real water bottle in my bag last minute and I’m so glad I did. Maybe I’d use this if I didn’t have the real one. Moral of the story: bring things you’re used to and will actually use.
- A rain jacket
Despite it being rainy season here, you can’t feasibly wear a rain jacket. It’s too warm. Plus, the rain generally comes in short, vicious attacks – you can just duck inside and wait it out. And if you get stuck in it, hey! It’s water. It’s warm. You’ll dry. Don’t bring a raincoat to Ghana. Bring an umbrella if anything.
- Thermal underlayer & knit cardigan
Honestly what was I thinking. Maybe I thought my office would have AC on blast all the time. That must have been it. But yeah, it’s too warm for these here. I have a lighter cardigan and a denim shirt that I do wear when I need a little extra warmth. These were overkill though.
- Androgynous pants
I brought these thinking they’d be good travel pants and comfy casual pants. Again, gender roles are a real thing here. Haven’t worn them once. I could wear them, it would be fine, but I don’t need to get harassed any more than I do now.
- A gazillion extra chargers
All of these are spares. I had a fear that something would break when I got here. Don’t know why. If something had broken, I also would have been able to find a replacement for it. Electronics are pretty easy to find in little stalls and shops on the streets if you know where to look.
What I wish I brought
- Portable charging block
This would be so handy to have during dumsor. At first, not having power sometimes is funny. Then it’s a little off-putting. Then it’s annoying. Not having power can seriously impede your productivity and even your safety in some situations – think about your phone dying on a tro at night because you couldn’t charge it during the day, and you feel like the tro is driving in the wrong direction.
- My USB drive with movies and shows
While I don’t watch movies/TV often, it is nice to have a movie night sometimes. Currently Alex and I have two movie options between us. Having Harry Potter with me would have been a huge plus.
Thanks for reading! All in all, I think I packed pretty well. Hindsight is 20/20. I’m just hoping to save some poor JF the trouble of buying a packable water bottle. Till next time! 🙂