Must-Haves and Wish-Fors: Revisiting Materialism

It’s hard to believe that I’ve been on the island for over a month already. At this point I can say with much certainty that I definitely do have a routine; that I have a much better sense of what it’s like to live here; and, for the sake of this post, that I’m getting a clear idea of what I did right when I packed and what I did wrong.

The last time I wrote about materialism and minimal travel, I was caught up on the idea of doing this whole trip with just a single hulking 70L bag and investing in a few high-quality outdoorsy-feeling things. In the spirit of evaluating the decisions I made then, I want to go through some of the things that I brought that were really worth the investment, and some things I wish I had done differently. Follow along on this journey of minimalism-turned-materialism if you wish. 🙂

Loaded with stuff and ready for travel!

The Essentials

A lot of what I pack and use every day here is heavily impacted by the fact that I don’t have a car. Biking and walking everywhere (especially in a place as hilly and hot as here) definitely affects what you bring. If you’re planning to travel someplace where you’ll be walking a lot or are even thinking of doing a trek near water, this might be helpful!

Bikes galore

My daily commute is either a hilly hike through a trail that leads down to the cove (about 1.5k), or a downhill bike ride to the steep Incline, a bit of a longer walk to the water (2k? not sure man). I set out usually with a regular-sized backpack (if I’m not packing swim fins) or my full 70L backpack (if I’m packing fins or doing grocery shopping). And here is what’s in it:

The things that worked for me, and the things that didn’t

The Bag(s)


Okay, here’s the verdict on the giant 70L bag. I didn’t need it for luggage. Yes, it was nice to challenge myself to pack light, be minimalist, etc. etc. And the bag certainly is coming in handy on the daily- the swim fins I’ve been borrowing from my host are too big to fit into a regular bag, and I don’t want to try careening downhill on a bike with bulky fins tucked under my arm. I guess if I had no other way to transport the fins, the bag would be pretty essential. But I think I would’ve found a way (borrow a bag or something) even without my big pack.

Here’s what it’s been good for: transporting fins, carrying a big load of weekly groceries up the hill.

Here’s why I don’t need it: most check-in luggage where I’ve been booking tickets (Singapore, Jakarta, Australia, Tasmania) is by weight. While my bag almost makes the cut for carry-on size, it is far too heavy (7kg for carryon, but bag is around 15-20kg), so I end up checking it anyway. Also I am desperately out of room. So there you have it.

My smaller day bag propped on a rock to avoid the incoming tide

What has been incredibly useful is my smaller day bag, a super lightweight hiking backpack. The water resistant-material has been a godsend; this bag has been sprayed with saltwater on a boat, soaked through with wet clothes, and tossed around on muddy cave floors. On more than one occasion I have put ripe papayas I’ve found into the side pockets and had to wash off goo from the invariably squished fruits once I got home. It’s been through a lot.

Quick-drying towel

Alright, let me just say that this is not definitely an essential, per say. I could definitely have tossed a regular towel into my bag and lived. BUT. Having a towel that dries quickly makes a world of difference. This is one of those things where investing in something high-quality is proving to be, in my opinion, definitely worth it. When you’re in the water every day, there’s something immensely comforting about coming home even if it’s late, hanging up a towel to dry, and knowing it’ll be ready to go in the morning. I’ve had late days bordered by early-morning dives where I wake up and have to struggle into a still-damp swimsuit, but my towel is dry and ready to go.

Remember this??

The one I’ve been using is the one I mentioned earlier, from Tesalate! And it is indeed sandproof- this towel has been spread over sand, tragically dry grass, and sopping boat decks. It’s soaked up blood from coral cuts. It’s seen a lot and still looks poppin’.


Also side note- Tesalate towels have a little ribbon in the middle for hanging the towel, which was super useful when I was in a hostel. You don’t know the fear of mysterious hostel-floor-bathroom-water until you’ve DROPPED YOUR TOOTHBRUSH in it, ok. Knowing my towel won’t fall off the shower hook and into the mystery puddle is as much of a comfort as you can hope to find.


Okay look, I’m not gonna lie. I got burned as HECK within my first day here (I got lost and was out for far longer than I thought). But if you’re planning to be walking around outside and especially swimming, be ready to apply like your life depends on it or get burned. I carry sunscreen with me everywhere. Invariably even when its dark out (why unpack your essentials?).


I’ve been using and liking a little stick sunscreen for my face, from Coola. They make sunscreen that uses certified organic ingredients and is specifically designed to not harm marine ecosystems when it washes off. Especially on dive days, when my face is the only thing that needs sunscreen (hello full-body wetsuit!), it’s nice to know that the stuff washing off me won’t harm the gorgeous corals and sea life I get to see.

Quick-drying clothes

The first two weeks here, I wore the same outfit literally every day: a one-piece swimsuit and loose running shorts. When you’re in the water, loose and quick-drying is really the way to go. My second pair of running shorts is the kind with spandex built inside, and far less ideal for drying off. Sometimes I wish I’d brought two pairs of looser shorts, but hey, they usually dry in time, and there’s nothing wrong with wearing the same shorts every day for 7 weeks in a row. I think .

Trekkable sandals

Something you can step into right from the water that will also take you over a rock-studded forest trail. Tevas have served me well (I wear them every day for my hike/walk/swim routine, but they’ve also been perfect for exploring tide pools and even caving). The only other thing I’ve considered getting here has been some close-toed sandals (yikes) or just beat-up runners from the thrift store. Kicking around a flooded cave in sandals works, but sometimes your toes will suffer for it.

Tide pool trekkable, saltwater friendly


It’s worth the weight.

Cash Moni

You never know when you’ll want to stop for a Swiss roll before the bike ride home, or if you’ll remember to buy stamps for those postcards you’ve been meaning to send! Funnily enough Australian currency is waterproof, but my wallet is not. It’s been through worse though.

The Good-To-Have

/ things I bring because of what I’m here to do! Yay audio podcasting!


With waterproof housing! If you toss it into a big bag just be careful. I’ve been burned one too many times with my GoPro switching on in my pack, taking an hour-long video, and freezing because it overheats itself. But otherwise, great to have.

A giant moray captured on my GoPro!


I tried ok!!

For when inspiration strikes! There have been occasions when I’ve run into someone I’ve been meaning to talk to, and my discussion with them encompasses so many things I’m eager to remember that writing everything down right after the meeting is a kind of relief. In the most dramatic case I had a great idea related to biological research, and the only place to write it down was in the back of a bouncing army truck I was getting a lift in. The resulting notes are hilariously illegible.



This I’ve started carrying around in a little plastic bag! There have been some ambient sounds (sea bird calls, the call to prayer) that I’ve been eager to capture, and having the recorder on me makes that so much easier.

Snorkel gear

Graciously lent from my host. Often I bring this along no matter whether we’re going for a land hike or a swim (and I used it during the land hike!)- you never know.



Alright. When your method of transportation is your FEET and you CUT your FEET, you’re in a bit of a pickle. Getting cut is easier than you think- you swim a bit too close to that coral, you nick yourself climbing onto the jetty. If your cuts are anywhere near where your shoes rub, you will be super happy to have had these!

Waterproof watch

Good to have on an island where there’s no wifi and bringing a phone is otherwise pretty unnecessary! I have the Fitbit Alta, which is supposed to be not waterproof. I’ll just say that I accidentally wore it into the flooded cave and into a solid 20-min swim in the sea, and it’s working like a charm. I once checked the time underwater. Not sure if I’ve just been lucky, but I think it’s safe to say water is not a big deal for this watch.

Very wearable swimwear

This might be a strange one, but I’ve rarely gone to any social gatherings here without having swimwear on underneath. You just never know. I once wore regular clothes, god forbid, to dinner with a friend, and at the end of dinner completely forgot we were supposed to go to the beach after. A hike is not just a hike, it’s a hike to a swim somewhere. After a night out people like to jump off the jetty and into the dark water. Best to be prepared for anything.

The Wish-I-Had

Dry Bag

Ziploc bags are great and all, but once the clasp breaks and you’re on a little boat in rough water, your fancy audio recorder is going to be in big trouble. Not that that happened to me or anything. I’ll just say that if you plan to go anywhere near a boat, particularly a smaller one with rough water, everything will get wet. Your shirt will get wet. Your bag will get wet. The water on the floor will get wet. Bring things that can get wet, or use a dry bag.

20 min into a boat trip, already soaked through! No complaints!

Outdoors sunglasses

My only sunglasses are fancy-ish fashion ones (what was I thinking?) so I haven’t been wearing them really at all. The sun has been okay- more than anything some sunglasses would be nice to have to protect my eyes from some aggressive dust in the roads.

Floating GoPro mount

I came with a GoPro waterproof housing but no sort of attachment! I put together a chain-and-string loop to hold it around my wrist, but the chain broke in the middle of a tide pool and the string fell off. Having to hold on to a GoPro in the middle of the sea or a dark cave is definitely unideal. A friend here has a floating mount- a thick orange stick that you hold onto, which floats if the GoPro is dropped. Definitely would have been nice to have.

A little robber crab peeking out at the edge of Daniel Roux cave

I hope this was helpful, or at least fun to read, if you did! I wanted to capture these thoughts in response to my earlier packing worries and also to remind myself for future trips. Obviously these are quite location-specific; I know that if I come back to Christmas Island I will pack quite differently 🙂

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