A trip like no other, deciding what to pack for Afghanistan is less straightforward than you think. Learning from my experience and mistakes, I came up with a complete Afghanistan packing list hoping to make it easier for future travellers to plan their trip.
The country has been a war zone for some 40 years and counting, so expect a shaky infrastructure, bad roads, missing electricity and some level of insecurity and street crime. I tried to keep everything in mind when drawing this list of essential items for travellers whether you are taking a tour or travelling independently.
Packing for Afghanistan – 17 essential items to include in your Afghanistan packing list
1. Passport and visa
Very likely, for Afghanistan, you will need a visa. And most likely, you need to apply beforehand, so do enquire at the Afghan embassy in your home country about the process to avoid surprises.
Also, your passport needs to have at least six months of validity at the time of travelling.
2. Money and credit cards
When you land at the airport, which will probably be Kabul, you can exchange some money, either euro or US dollar. You can exchange money also inside the cities, either on the streets or in small shops.
If you have a credit or a debit card, you can also easily withdraw money from any ATM at the official exchange rate. It will probably be a little higher than from a street vendor, but I also safer, especially if you are alone without a guide or a local with you.
3. Water purifier, a must for your Afghanistan packing list
If you need to drink tap water, we strongly recommend you use a water purifier. The well water is not drinkable in many provinces due to digging a big number of toilet and wastewater wells too close that they contaminated each other.
Our recommendation is to drink only the bottled water that you buy from shops, not even the one from the street vendors. You can buy large bottles and keep them in your hotel room and fill a smaller bottle before going out. But in case you can’t avoid drinking tap water, do use a water purifier to avoid germs and upset stomach issues.
4. Medicines, something not to forget when packing for Afghanistan
Medicines are definitely what to pack for Afghanistan, especially if you know you have a sensitive stomach or have some allergy. I had no idea I was allergic to dust until I went to Herat. I developed massive rhinitis that really made my travelling more challenging. Due to bad roads barely asphalted, the country is very dusty. Something to keep in mind when packing for Afghanistan.
I didn’t feel sick like I did in India, but sometimes you might not find the same hygienic standards you are used to, so do pack something for a food poisoning, upset stomach or a weakened immune system like probiotics.
These are all items to keep in mind whether you are an independent traveller or you are wondering what to bring on deployment to Afghanistan.
READ MORE: Check out our post on the dos and don’ts of travelling in Afghanistan.
5. Sunscreen, a must to include in your Afghanistan packing list
If you are travelling from Spring to Fall, roughly from March to September/October, I recommend a strong sunscreen.
Especially if you are visiting areas like Herat, but also Mazar-e Sharif and Bamiyan, keep in mind that during the day, temperatures can get very hot. I suggest a sunblock of at least SPF 50.
Most regions in Afghanistan are dry, so you will need a very hydrating moisturizer or lotion. If you don’t live in a very dry area, the cream you should pack for Afghanistan will probably be thicker than the one you are used to.
Remember that the country doesn’t have a sea or Ocean outlet and is mainly mountainous, and especially in Spring/Summer, the weather is extremely dry.
I don’t usually have dry skin, but in Herat, I got truly dehydrated despite drinking plenty of water and eating plenty of fresh fruits and veggies. If you use a hydrating sunscreen during the day, at night you can opt for a very thick cream.
To carry liquids and creams in smaller jars, consider pouring some in the standard travel bottles instead of packing their original bigger containers. This way, you save space in your carry-on and you can even pack them in your backpack.
7. Mosquito repellent and mosquito net, what to pack for Afghanistan in Spring and Summer
Especially in the warm season, which in Afghanistan goes from Spring (March) to end of summer/beginning of Fall (September/October), you are going to need a good mosquito repellent.
If you want to be even more careful, you can also include a mosquito net in your Afghanistan packing list. They are easy to use and they definitely give you extra protection.
8. Pillow cover
You never know how bed sheets were washed or who used them before. Which is why it’s better to include in your Afghanistan packing list at least a clean personal pillow cover.
Pack a bigger size cover because the pillows in Afghanistan are slightly bigger than normal pillows.
9. Comfortable shoes, essential to pack for Afghanistan
This is an absolute must when packing for Afghanistan. Infrastructure and roads are really bad, the streets are dusty and dirty, so forget about elegance and fashion and pack a pair of covered comfortable shoes (preferably runners). And the older-looking, the better.
Our favourite shoes have been either New Balance runners for both men and women. For women, I also loved my old pair of Puma runners. Even though still up and running, my Puma are very old so they might be out of stock, but there still are good options.
10. Modest clothes
This applies very strictly to women, who need to wear trousers and a manteau or tunic like this one on top. However, men shouldn’t get too cosy either. Forget shorts, even knee-length ones, and sleeveless t-shirts.
Men need to wear long trousers and t-shirts, which can be short-sleeved. Better yet if you can arrange some Afghan clothes and blend in with locals, you will attract less attention.
Places like Herat or the Panjshir Valley are even more conservative than Kabul or Mazar-e Sharif, so you will probably not feel comfortable with a knee-length tunic. If you can’t wear the chador, very easy to stumble on, you can just go with a full-length abaya and a headscarf.
READ MORE: Read about my experience of travelling to and living in Afghanistan as a Western woman.
11. Shawl or scarf for women
Even if you see some Afghan female singers or announcers without a headscarf on the local TV, remember that it’s mandatory to wear it. On top of that, you don’t want to be recognised as a foreigner from afar. For your safety, make sure you blend in with the locals.
Also, remember that while Kabul and Mazar-e Sharif are a little more relaxed and if a hair slips out of your headscarf it’s not a big deal, Herat is more conservative and you want your head fully covered.
12. Safety and pickpocket-proof travel clothes
With the soaring economic crisis, also street crime is increasing. I suggest you don’t show anything expensive, be it a watch, an iPhone, a wallet or money.
Wearing some safety travel clothes will certainly be of help. Check out the models and types by Clever Travel Companion, they have a wide range of t-shirts, scarves, hoodies and pants.
Along with pickpocket-proof clothes, you can also wear an anti-theft fanny pack to hide underneath your clothes where you can store money, credit cards and smartphone.
READ MORE: Check out our full post on security in Afghanistan.
13. Slippers and shower sandals
Hotels hardly give a pair of slippers to wear in the room or flip flops to wear in the shower, but I do recommend you include them when packing for Afghanistan.
Hotel floors are usually carpets and you never know what’s the hygiene level, and the same applies to the shower. So I suggest you bring your own slippers for the room and sandals to use in the shower.
14. USB Power Bank, an essential item to pack for Afghanistan
It’s a 120% must-have in Afghanistan, you never know when the electricity gets cut off by either insurgents or countries that sell electricity to Afghanistan. So the electricity sometimes goes on and off depending on the area, Kabul included.
Most hotels will have a power generator but better you are fully equipped. The AUKEY 30000mAh Portable Charger we recommend is probably one of the best in the market with also a built-in flashlight which is very useful when packing for Afghanistan.
15. Universal power plug adapter and the voltage converter
Here, the power sockets used are type C and F and the standard voltage is 220. Also, the electricity sometimes can kick off to even 300 voltage and blow off the power supply of your device.
Better you are careful and when packing for Afghanistan you include a universal travel adapter and also a voltage converter.
I know I said several times to avoid showing expensive stuff, including camera gear, on the streets. But let’s face it, you are going to Afghanistan, can you really travel without a way to take some pictures to show your friends and family? I didn’t think so.
If you are not looking for professional shots to sell, you don’t need to take a huge DSLR. There are many compact cameras that will do just fine and are easy to stick in your pocket.
17. Farsi/Dari travel phrasebook
Let’s be realistic here, for as well as you can speak Persian (Dari in Afghanistan), you are not going to fool anyone. Afghans will recognize you are a foreigner from afar even without saying anything.
However, I do recommend you learn some Farsi words and carry a Persian phrasebook or dictionary to feel and look more confident in common situations like ordering food at the restaurant or asking for directions. This will also make you look that you understand what your friend/guide is telling you in case you are in a sensitive area and you better don’t look too lost.
On top of that, it’s pretty hard to find someone who can speak English, so if you are travelling by yourself and are not with a local, you will definitely need to get by in Persian.
READ MORE: Planning your trip? Check out our full and detailed Afghanistan travel guide.
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