At the beginning of this year I wrote a packing list post for Timor-Leste tropical travel, including everything I could think of that a newcomer to Dili might need. Now, six months on, I’m packing again and revising that list — here’s what I hope is a more useful, tighter Timor-Leste packing list, with updates and comments on what I’d keep and leave out, half a year and a different country on.
I wrote that packing list assuming the people reading would be brand-new Timor-Leste travellers; people who had never been to the country before. In that post I suggested packing in your carry-on bag:
- Cash (specifically $30 for a visa and $10 for a taxi, plus dinner money)
- An adaptor to charge your phone etc into the wall
- All your valuables, in case your bag goes missing
I stand by all of this and won’t suggest removing any of these. I also would now recommend putting your sunscreen, sunglasses and potentially mosquito repellent in your carry-on, too, if they’re smaller than 100mL in volume, for the exact same reason I suggested packing dinner cash — you’ll need these things on your very first day, and packing them up top will save you from rummaging through your bags while your friends are waiting hungry, ready to go out in the dusk darkness to find food while you’re still trying to protect yourself from mosquitoes.
I wrote that packing list with female travellers in mind, and started that section with the caveat that every other Timor-Leste packing list I’d read had told me to bring loose, comfortable clothing, which I now know to be correct and useful advice — but when I was packing for the first-ever time, it left my jeans-and-blouse-wearing self feeling totally clueless.
How to preserve a sliver of my own style without roasting in polyester in the tropical Timor heat?
My answer now is that I simply acquiesced; I leaned right into the loose long cotton skirts and sweat-stained black T-shirt and fat sandals and squinting sunglasses thing, but here’s what I recommend if you’re less inclined to loose.
- A few plain black or white T-shirts made from cotton, hemp or bamboo — wear these for exercise, sleeping, hanging out at home, and even wearing to work with patterned pants or a skirt;
- A few nicer, blouse-y type tops if you’re working in an office — I still love polyester and my wardrobe favourites were a bold yellow polyester top and a blue cotton collared blouse that read FRESH splashed across the left chest (Dili fashion is a little quirkier than styles back home); both of which I actually bought at the OB markets in Dili, but if you’re carrying something across, I’d recommend patterned tops, either sleeveless or with little sleeves, made from linen or cotton, and avoid white, because it’ll get dirty quickly; and
- One or two button-up shirts with sleeves (one short-sleeved, one long?), made from linen — throw over singlets for beach brunch, wear over your bathers, wear during the day in the mountains’ cooler weather, wear to work with trousers.
- A couple of pairs of mid-thigh or knee-length shorts — again made from cotton, linen, or actually denim, and not too short. I’ve packed two pairs, one black and one blue, and plan to wear them at home, to the beach, and to the pub after work;
- Jeans, seriously — I put this in my first list and I totally stand by it. Every Timorese woman wears jeans and it’s an easy way to fit in and look modest. It’ll feel hot at first but you;ll adapt;
- A couple of pairs of cotton trousers, preferably in darker colours to avoid dirt — I described these as ‘casual, business-y trousers’ in my first list, I think to distinguish them from the wide-legged Cambodian market pants you may be thinking of for the tropics (don’t bring them; you’ll look like a backpacker and you won’t wear them anywhere). I owned and thrashed a pair of black cotton pants from Target’s ‘business’ section when I lived in Dili, and I’m returning with a pair of navy, cotton, high-waisted pants that I’m confident I’ll wear every day;
- Skirts skirts skirts skirts skirts oh my god, don’t listen to this if you’re not a skirt-wearer, but my suitcase is basically black cotton tees and shin-length floral patterned skirts, and I don’t know what I’ll do without them. Easy, breath-able, can be formal for work without looking too fancy. Again, materials — nothing slinky or clingy or, sadly, polyester; and
- Pants to exercise in, preferably tights not shorts.
Obviously it gets its own sub-category because I lived in dresses when I lived in Timor-Leste.
I wore them every day, and this is my official, final, stamped decree on what dresses you need for Dili:
- Two loose, T-shirt-shaped dresses that reach your knees and cover your shoulders, for wearing to work — I had a rust-red one made from cotton and a white-and-blue-striped guy made from linen, and they were the first two things I’d reach for in my washing, every week;
- One more tailored, formal dress made from a similar material — I had a cute knee-length blue-and-white-spotted dress with a little collar and a cinched waist-belt that was made from cotton, and was an excellent choice for meetings, workshops, events — anything a little bit more formal than a regular work day, but definitely not too hot or fussy;
- One more casual, cotton dress, can be shorter and without sleeves (but not spaghetti-strap thin) — wear this to the beach for brunch and to the pub; and
- One more dress. Yep. You need two work options, one fancy option and one casual option, and then one more for when you get deathly bored of wearing the same one dress to the pub every week or trading off cotton work frocks Monday-Wednesday, Monday-Wednesday. My reserve dress was my long, orange, sleeveless polyester dress, which I could wear to both work and the beach, and was horribly impractical for the heat but wonderful for my self-esteem and interest in my own wardrobe. One. More. Dress.
Underwear + extras
I still stand by everything I said in my old packing list, and would only add one small thing for myself now — a couple of tight black singlets. I have small boobs and can get away with wearing a singlet instead of a bra sometimes; for me, this is actually more comfortable and less sweaty than if I wore an underwire bra under my work blouse.
I’d also pack:
- More knickers than you think you’ll need
- Soft, relatively inexpensive bras you won’t mind losing to a bung washing machine
- One-piece bathers, or a bikini and rashie or shorts
- One hat and one big jumper, for endless sunshine and cold mountain trips
I said with great confidence in my last list that you need precisely five pairs of shoes living in Dili, most of which can be bought in the country.
These five pairs are:
- Thongs or flip flips, whatever you call them — for the beach and for hanging out at home (you take off your shoes to enter every Timorese house, so don’t bother with sneakers);
- High-quality, sturdy sandals, like Birkenstocks or similar — I owned two pairs of Saltwater Sandals, absolutely loved them, recently found out they’re waterproof (the name makes sense now), and while I chucked out my ratty secondhand navy pair when I left Dili, I’m returning with my tan ones;
- Sneakers or runners or joggers, whatever you call them, for hiking and exercise and field trips;
- Hiking sandals — I said last time that you don’t need boots for hiking here because it’s too hot and wet and the trails aren’t treacherous enough, which I stand by, but I only ever hiked in sneakers during my time in Timor-Leste and hey, I turned out fine; and
- Nice, flimsier sandals. I wrote that it’s perhaps a contentious addition, but it’s the same thing as your extra dress — you’re going out for dinner or to a function or you’re just sick of wearing waterproof shoes to work; you need nice sandals. No heels, though.
A new section! I used tote bags to heft my stuff everywhere, but actually had a small collection of useful bags when I lived in Dili:
- A bum bag / fanny pack (lol, but seriously — really useful when you’re at the pub and don’t want to keep an eye on your stuff, or when you’re hiking and don’t want to take a backpack);
- A big tote or handbag for carrying your laptop and everyday crap around;
- A day pack backpack, for field trips and little holidays (I got a black Kathmandu Cotinga bag about 18 months ago, love it, use it all the time, literally comment on strangers’ tweets raving about how good it is, seriously, get yourself one); and
- A suitcase! Obvi! Or a huge backpack; whatever you use to move here will be fiiiiine.
Essential house stuff
“I cannot overstate just how much stuff you can buy already here in Dili,” I wrote in that first list. “Bedsheets, hooks, ornamental fake flowers, incense, matching plastic containers for storing your stuff, colanders, Lego, photo frames, hair brushes, gas-burner stoves, Masterfoods-brand seeded mustard. Do not stress about bringing too much house stuff, unless it has sentimental value, because you’ll likely move into a furnished house, and you can get everything you need right here.”
I haven’t been back to Timor-Leste since I wrote that list, so I’m not sure what’s still readily available and what isn’t, but I still stand by my pesto, electronics, nuts and new trendy things suggestions. My pine nuts and Western Australian shiraz and springy-coil hair ties are ready to go.
And, two quick additions — yoga mats! You can buy them easily in Dili. Try Officeworld at Timor Plaza. And soy candles. Dili seems to only have those plasticky ones.
Essential electronic + money stuff
I just had a read over this section in my last list and I still stand by all of it. And omg, I’d kind of forgotten the Visa thing. I assume it’s still a no-MasterCard city but I’ll let you know.
Short version: bring a surge protector, hard drive full of movies, a Visa card not a MasterCard, a Kindle, and I’d also add bring a spare phone charger if you’re a iPhone user, because the ones sold in Timor Plaza are crap and break pretty easily. Don’t worry about mini USB chargers (Samsung phones and Kindles); they’re everywhere.
Essential medical stuff
- Your prescription medicines and prescriptions;
- Diarrhoea stuff (Gastrolite, Gastrostop, other-brand equivalents), to save you an unnecessary trip to the pharmacy or doctor if you already know what you’ve got;
- UTI antibiotics and Ural; which you can get in Dili, but oh my god do you want to be trying to navigate a confusing health system in a different language when you’ve got a UTI?;
- Tampons or a menstrual cup, if you menstruate — pads are really cheap and easy to find (like, 50c for a packet of five at any kiosk), but these guys less so; and
- Any vitamins or supplements you take, which I didn’t include in that list because I wrote it when I wasn’t taking anything, but at Christmas I brought back a bottle of B12 supplement and a bag of nutritional yeast because my B12 was super low.
- Panadol, Nurofen, any expensive brand-name Australian painkiller or generic medicine for travel sickness etc — these are sold by the pill at every big kiosk and little pharmacy and cost as little as 10c (I used to stop by Felix’s mum’s kiosk in Farol to get myself four tabs of Antimol for car sickness before I went on a field trip).
Essential beauty and health stuff
Stuff I’d still recommend from my last list:
- 80% DEET (and again, lol at this being my first beauty item) — hard to find in Dili and I don’t believe that the 13% stuff in the supermarkets does much; and
- SPF 50+ sunscreen (again, hard to find, but you can buy mosquito coils easily).
Stuff I wouldn’t recommend from my last list:
- Posh hair conditioner — I still agree that my housemate’s coconut stuff was the nicest thing I’ve ever put on myself, but I now think it’s too expensive and difficult to access to include in a standard packing list.
Instead! Use local coconut oil to moisturise your skanky, dry Dili hair.
And, finally, stuff I’d add to my last list:
- Nice, natural fragrance — this is confusingly vague; I own a spritz bottle of Sukin’s natural deodorant, which is just a really nice refreshing thing to spritz on myself when I’m smelling a bit funky at midday. It does not replace my daily deo in my pits, but it’s a really nice thing to have;
- Your usual makeup; and
And I wanted to clarify why this was so short in my last list! Partly because I am not-quite a beauty goddess and this is genuinely just what I use, but also, because everything else you can find really easily in Dili: dental floss, nail clippers, combs and brushes, disposable toothbrushes, condoms. You can also buy a lot of make up and nail polish — international brands at The Spa in Lecidere — and every single Unilever deodorant product you can imagine. And you barely need moisturiser because, in case you hadn’t figured this out, it’s hot as hell and you’re going to sweat dewy every daaaaaaay.
Final packing list
I just realised that I’m the kind of person who thrashes a top to death and doesn’t really notice holes or wearing or sweat stains — so, if you’re moving to Timor-Leste and want some packing list help, I’d recommend following this list but potentially doubling all the clothing items (or at the very least, doubling the tops; you’ll wash them more frequently than bottoms and wear them out sooner).
I’m going back to Timor-Leste for two weeks and have just finished packing, so here’s what’s on my two-week Timor-Leste packing list:
- Underwear: three bras (one nude, one black, one sports bra), six pairs of cotton knickers, one black cotton singlet;
- Tops: one white singlet, one grey exercise/sleeping singlet, one white linen shirt, one black cotton T-shirt, one white patterned cotton T-shirt, one navy linen collared shirt, one navy-and-green blouse top, one navy-and-purple cotton singlet top, one polyester spaghetti-strap top because I love to break my own dumb rules about fake fabrics and straps;
- Bottoms: one exercise tights, one sleeping shorts, one long-ish dark denim shorts, one navy trousers, one black linen skirt, one floral patterned cotton skirt;
- Dresses: one cotton T-shirt dress, one linen T-shirt dress, one navy cotton formal dress, one long orange polyester dress;
- Shoes: Salties, sneakers, thongs, nice black sandals;
- Bags: backpack, bum bag, everyday crap bag (should I take my new Baggu bag or will it get grimy and gross?), suitcase because I am bringing BOOZE and BOOKS;
- Other clothes: one jumper for the plane, the East Timor cap Dana got for me;
- Electronics: camera, chargers, laptop;
- Medical: nothing whoops;
- Health and beauty: sunscreen, mosquito repellent, two types of deodorant, tweezers;
- Other: two paperback books I’m going to leave behind when I return home to Perth; wine for Geordie who’s hosting me; presents and a car part for Felix’s family.
Oh, lawd, I am excited.
If you’ve used my old list to help you pack, or have recently moved to Timor-Leste yourself, let me know how accurate my list is! Keen to be useful and will be testing it myself this week. Omg.