Over the last twelve months, I’ve taken quite a few field trips around Timor-Leste for work, and I’d like to think I’m usually well-prepared.
But after packing four skirts, a pair of sandals and a novel for a week in chilly Ainaro late last year, I turned to a friend, an engineer and seasoned field-tripper, and together we compiled our best tips for a master list for my future reference: what to pack for a Timor-Leste field trip.
She’s a WASH specialist who hikes to hilltop water sources and remote villages; I’m a story writer who spends a lot of time sitting in schools and houses. I’ve visited nine of Timor-Leste’s 13 districts, and she’s hovering at 11 or 12. Here’s our agreed list for a four-day, three-night trip.
Timor-Leste mountains. Just outside of Maubisse, Ainaro.
Two pairs of day pants: one for wearing, one spare for if you fall in mud. Avoid the temptation to pack a skirt or fancy bottoms thinking you’ll meet someone important. You’re in a village; trousers are fine. My friend wears those lightweight adventure trousers; I wear jeans or cotton.
Five or six shirts: shoulders covered. One for each day, and another couple for after you’ve showered in the evening and don’t want to put on a sweaty top.
One pair of lazy pants: put these on for dinner with your socks and thongs after your evening shower.
Two bras, at least five pairs of underwear and socks: always, always, always pack more pairs of underwear than you’ll need. I’d take six for a four-day trip: you’ll need them if you shower twice in one day, get a surprise period, or eat something funny. My friend wears hiking shoes so packs five pairs of socks; I wear sturdy sandals so pack just one, for wearing with thongs in the evenings.
Singlets: I find it more comfortable to wear a singlet than a bra during the day, but consider which day you’re wearing it if you’ve got a bumpy trip down a mountain scheduled.
Pyjamas: in case of surprise knocks on the door in the middle of the night, or pre-coffee paths crossed with colleagues.
Jumper: if you live in Dili and are going to a place with an altitude higher than Dili’s, pack one, just in case. You can leave it in the car so it doesn’t bulk out your pack, and you’ll thank your past self when the evening chill comes in (you’re more acclimatised than you realise).
Thongs, day shoes: wear thongs in the evenings and choose your best shoes for the day. My friend who hikes wears boots; I wear my battered Saltwater Sandals without problem. One pair only.
The only thing I love more than my two pairs of salties is the sister who bought me the first pair as a leaving-for-Timor present.
Sunscreen, insect repellent, hand sanitiser, toothbrush, toothpaste: self-explanatory.
Roll of toilet paper: not just a tiny travel pack of tissues. There will be at least one place you stay with no toilet paper, even if you stay in guest houses like I do, and not having to ration your eight tiny tissues will make a huge difference.
Tampons, emergency plastic bag: in case of surprise period, and in case of surprise not-having-a-place-to-dispose-of-used-tampons.
Shampoo, soap, face wash, moisturiser: my friend takes all four (shampoo only goes if the trip’s longer than two days), but I just take one small bottle of shampoo and use it as body wash. I’ll wash my hair the night before we leave and return greasy and happy to Dili on day four.
Gastro antibiotic: the way I’m talking about this must make it sound like you’ll be spraying all trip – it’s more of a precaution; you do NOT want to be caught off-guard. It is so worth it to add this to your bag, even if you never take it out.
Small, quick-dry towel: I use a Turkish towel and love it.
Head torch and batteries: less important if you’re staying in a guest house with electricity, but still useful for nighttime walks and surprise power outages.
Mosquito net, sleeping mat, sleeping bag: my friend often stays in people’s houses in villages, so takes her own bedding, but I’m always in guest houses so don’t bring this.
Small metal S-shaped hook: use for hanging your stuff when there’s no obvious rail or coathanger or hook situation.
Patterned guest house in Aileu town.
Electronics and work stuff
Laptop, phone, chargers: self-explanatory.
Power board with surge protector: I’ve got a great one (that I stole from my housemate) with two Australian plugs and two USB ports on the front and one Indonesian plug on the back.
A4 plastic cover for documents, clipboard: take a water-proof cover for any important documents, and for things like consent forms that you need other people to sign, clip them into an A4 clipboard.
More pens than you think you’ll need: I take at least four. Someone will forget one, you’ll lend yours, they won’t return it, the one you’re using will break…
Bright skies in Gleno, Ermera.
Day bag: so you don’t have to carry your backpack and spare undies on a hike.
Money: $50/day in a mixture of small notes (<$10) and coins. You likely won’t spend it all, but the trip you take $20 per day will be the one where your only accommodation is at the $20-per-night nuns’ and breakfast isn’t included and there’s no water gallon and all of a sudden you’ve spent $5 at the kiosk and of course there are no ATMs and your colleague doesn’t have enough for lunch…
Water: ration three litres per day per person, because you’ll use it for teeth-brushing and medicine-swallowing, too. I buy two 1.5L bottles in Dili for the first day (but drink carefully in the car; you don’t want to stop five times for bathroom breaks), and then find a gallon or a kiosk near our guesthouse. Some organisations buy a box of bottles and keep it in the boot of the car.
Snacks: there is nothing so sweet as the moment two hours into a bumpy car ride when the person in the front seat turns around with a packet of biscuits. I take plain crackers for the car, buy bananas for daytime snacking when we get there, and I have vegetarian friends who take jars of chickpeas in case rural warungs aren’t set up for vegetarians (though kiosks do sell hard-boiled eggs for 25c, and my go-to is taking a couple of them into the warung and ordering rice and vegetables).
Manu-mera village, Ainaro. Manu means chicken and mera means red in the local dialect (and also in Indonesian, merah).
Music: your driver will play the same six whiny Timorese pop songs from the 70s on their USB plugged into the car sound system. Your driver will not mind if you ask to plug your phone in for a little bit. Reggae will be most popular.
Books: I usually read half a fat novel on a field trip – there’s not much to do in the evenings and internet signal is poor.
Moody Maubisse at sunrise.
But what do I put it in?!
This sounds like a lot of stuff, right? Correct. But with rolling, storing stuff in the car (water, snacks, documents) and a good bag purchase, you’ll have yourself a neat little portable pack.
I just bought a 25L Cotinga backpack from Kathmandu and it is the very best. My friend’s bag is similar, but fits 29 litres of stuff and has extra clips for attaching her sleeping bag and water bottle. My towel and clothes fit in the back section, my toiletries and chargers in the middle, my medicine and book in the front, and I carry my laptop and my water in my day bag.
Interviews and notes in Soro village, Ainaro.
This is our list, but I’d love to hear if you have any additions! Timor-Leste field-trippers, what else do you pack for a trip out of town?