What to Pack for the Islands

Thursday, 21 January 2016

Figuring out what to pack for the islands in Asia is easy enough, but here are a few ideas to enhance your list and to get your mind working in the right direction.
Paradise is nice, but there are some caveats: insects, heat, unreliable power, and less choices for items in shops -- to name a few. Arrive prepared, and enjoy the exotic feeling of escape that only idyllic islands can provide!

Basics to Pack for the Islands

  • Journal: Sitting around in the sunshine with less distractions than usual (hint: turn off your smartphone!) will make you surprisingly more creative. Bring a journal so that you don’t lose those new ideas and thoughts after returning to the mainland.
  • Travel knife: A good knife will make enjoying the fresh fruit in the islands more convenient. Consider bringing along a metal spoon or travel spork for fruit that needs to be scooped out.
  • Extra cash: Not only are prices usually higher on islands (after all, everything has to be brought in and offloaded), ATMs are often less reliable. Bring a good amount of local currency with you just in case the network is down or ATMs are out of money.
  • More than one set of swimwear: You will most likely be wearing your swimwear every day, and it won’t dry as quickly as you think because of the humidity in the islands. Bring more than one bathing suit so that you can wash one -- at least in the sink -- and wear one.
  • Flip-flops + something else: Flip-flops are certainly the footwear of choice in Southeast Asia, especially in the islands. But many islands have interior trails to hike, volcanoes to climb, boulders to scramble, horseback riding, motorbikes to rent, and other activities that would be better in reliable shoes. Consider taking at least a pair of sport sandals for adventures that would blow out a regular pair of flip-flops.
  • Rain gear: If you care about getting wet, you’ll want a rain jacket or poncho. Frequent rain keeps islands green. Cheap ponchos can usually be purchased on the island, however, they rarely survive more than a couple of uses.

Bonus Items to Bring to the Islands in Asia

  • Coffee and press pot: If you’re one of those addicts who can’t live without real coffee, even in hot weather, err on the safe side and bring your own. With only a few exceptions, instant coffee is usually the default on islands; finding real coffee is even more difficult than on the mainland!
  • Electrolyte mix: A better option for replacing electrolytes lost to sweat is to enjoy fresh drinking coconuts. If coconuts aren’t always an option or you aren’t a fan, bring along some powdered electrolyte mixes to make water more interesting.
  • Detergent and sink stopper: You may or may not find detergent to buy on the island, but a small, travel-sized container of washing powder is handy for soaking swimwear or T-shirts in the sink. Stale salt water can make items start to stink, but sending a single bikini to the laundry isn’t very practical. Bring along a floppy, rubber sink stopper (the universal kind that fit all sinks) if you think there’s a chance that you’ll be hand washing stuff.
  • Dry bag: Five-liter dry bags can be purchased from shops and dive shops in the islands; they’ll keep your camera and belongings safe in case you’re caught in a shower while out exploring the island on motorbike. Optionally, you could splurge on a long-lasting solution such as an Overboard day bag. Dry bags are great to have when going out to snorkel the reef or doing some diving in Southeast Asia.

Extra First-Aid Items

  • Hydrocortisone cream and antihistamines: From stinging insects to mysterious jungle plants, tropical islands are home to lots of things that cause allergic reactions. You’ll need a topical cream for potential contact rashes and antihistamine tablets (e.g., Benadryl) to take if you are bitten by something. See some other first aid basics for travel.
  • Vinegar: Although bringing some cheap vinegar along to the islands isn’t very practical, it does have some very practical applications. Vinegar is the best way to alleviate pain from jellyfish stings, and it is also a great way to disrupt the chemical trails that belong to ants, the islands’ most ubiquitous resident.

The Usual Stuff

  • Real sun protection: The best thing about hats, shirts, and cover-ups is that they offer a lot of SPF but won’t clog your pores with harsh chemicals. Don’t just rely on sunscreen all the time for protection.
  • Sunscreen: A no-brainer, but many travelers plan to buy sunscreen once they get to the islands. Items on islands, particularly in tourist places, are generally more expensive and you may have less choices. Bring along your favorite brand and SPF of sunscreen to be sure.
  • After-sun moisturizer: Don’t just pack a small bottle of expensive, facial moisturizer; instead, go for bulk. Bring or plan to buy a large bottle of aloe or coconut oil that you can really rub on several times throughout the day.

What Not to Pack for the Islands in Asia

  • Your own hammock: Chances are that anywhere a hammock is practical, there will already be one in place! You’ll also be able to buy them in shops and elsewhere; beach sellers peddle hammocks directly on the beaches of Bali.
  • Expensive sunglasses: Sunglasses don’t last very long in Southeast Asia’s islands. Go for a cheap pair that won’t cause too much worry when they get lost or broken.
  • Power bars or sweet snacks: Anything that can melt will melt in the islands. And once opened, the ants within a 10-mile radius will know about it immediately.

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