packing list — winners and losers

A few weeks ago, I wrote and published an updated packing list for a solo woman moving to Dili. That’s the third Dili packing list I’ve written (here are previous versions: one, two), because, as I wrote in that recent list about my previous trips:

Each time, I’ve just packed the absolute worst assortment of items, written a blog post explaining how to pack better… and privately vowed to do things differently the next time.

I’m leaving Dili in just over a week, and will likely be back for another visit at some point later this year. To save me writing myself a fourth packing list for that trip, I thought to pull out the reflective element of my packing process — the vow to do things differently next time — and spotlight it here. What worked this time, and what should I revise the next time I pack?

Winner: bum bag

Bum bag, fanny pack, small cross-body bag — whatever you call it, this was a good choice. I wore it on the plane here with my most essential items (phone, passport, money) inside, and have used it most days since — so I’m not hauling a big bag on the microlet, to keep my stuff quite safe and close, to be hands-free on a scooter. I don’t know why, but I feel like I have a much greater need for pockets in Dili than I do when I’m living in Australia? Maybe because I need more frequent access to cash and scooter keys and sunglasses, or maybe I’m just paying more attention… in any case, a bum bag (I have this one; roomy but compact) is a great substitute.

Loser: black linen trousers

I went against my own advice to limit black here, but I’d been looking for a pair of comfortable, long pants with pockets for Dili, and saw these Assembly Label trousers on eBay for half price just before I left Melbourne. I nabbed them, thinking they’d be great with sandals and a loose singlet — but I haven’t reached for them once since arriving. The 100% linen feels to heavy for a long pant (to be specific, I want a blend), and the black absorbs heat and to me looks drab. At least they’re still in perfect condition and will get a good run when I’m back in chic, chilly Melbourne.

Winner: high-waisted shorts

I’ve always struggled with shorts in Dili. I want to wear them every day. But most of the shorts I own or see in stores are short and casual (like these ones, which I also own, but which I never wear out or in front of other people). I tried long-legged denim shorts for a little while last time, but didn’t love them. But this trip, I think I’ve figured it out. I brought three pairs of high-waisted shorts: one denim, one linen, and one in a linen-cotton blend. They’re all quite short on my leg, but the high waists make them feel less casual than other garments, and I wear them with shirts with sleeves when I go out. I’ve just seen that one of the pairs I brought is on sale, which makes me wonder if I should buy them in a second colour — this is how much I like them.

Loser: no oversized button-up

Something I didn’t bring but should have is a short-sleeved, oversized button-up shirt. Something like this, in one size larger than I’d usually buy. I have wanted to reach for this in many different moments: at the beach after a dive, running to the kiosk in my shorts and singlet, zipping through Lecidere on my scooter, dressing up a safe-and-sensible neutral colours shift dress. I have a couple of button-ups — one long-sleeved and one short-sleeved, but in my exact size — and I love and wear them both. I should follow that thread and expand this category for next time; I would wear a big button-up every second day.

Winner: throw-on dresses

More than you think you’ll need! I forgot how easy and fun these are. I have maybe six or eight dresses in my wardrobe that I can just throw on when I’m too hot and bloated and flustered and sweaty to think of what to wear or to bother with a waistband. My parents gave me this dress in green for Christmas; Dorsu have some great (and ethically made) options; and these dresses are something I have a bit of luck with in Dili’s secondhand clothes markets — I have a beige cotton sleeveless column dress and a rayon-y red-and-blue t-shirt shift I wear frequently, both bought at the OB the last time I lived here.

Loser: underwear

I’ll be a bit discreet here, because I don’t fancy telling the internet about my underwear, but broadly: I never want to wear anything other than cotton briefs in one size larger than my usual clothing size. Nothing else. Black for most days, and nude for paler pants. Future Sophie, you don’t need to pack any other underwear beside eight pairs of these.

Winner: linen trousers

This is where I tricked myself with those black linen pants! Another secondhand buy just before leaving Melbourne was a pair of full-length, high-waisted, burnt-orange linen pants by Faithfull the Brand (basically these, but cheaper). But unlike my unworn black linen, these pants were a huge success. I actually wore them to my going-away drinks just before I left Australia, and have then worn them frequently since arriving — they’re great protection against mosquitoes and staring eyes, don’t feel drab or boring (like so many Sensible Garments can), and are cut in a really nice way that feels quite sophisticated, while still being comfortable (no backpacker-baggy fisherman’s pants here). I match these with little cropped singlets and that bum bag I mentioned above — their only downfalls are no pockets, and no machine washing (see tip #17).

Loser: no face cleanser

I don’t have a sophisticated skincare routine, and coincidentally finished the bottle of the daily cleanser I use in the shower the day before I flew to Darwin. I either forgot to replace it, or assumed I’d be able to find a substitute in Dili — I’m not sure; it wasn’t a high priority for me — and consequently landed in the sweatiest city I know unarmed against dust, dirt and grime. My skin’s been shit! I even got a facial! Future Sophie, save yourself $35 (as nice as it was) and just bring a bottle of QV in your suitcase next time.

Winner: wire-free bras

Another intimate and specific suggestion in which I reveal to the internet the contents of my underwear drawer, but here’s where we pay attention to those loose-and-comfortable packing lists that initially led me astray. Anything too restrictive or sharp is not wanted here, and the pair of Bonds wirefree bras I have on rotation were a good, smart buy.

Loser: too many items

Despite my repeated protestation that you can buy everything you need here in Dili, I had a couple of shopping sprees before arriving, and landed with a suitcase stuffed full of garments. Largely, they were all smart purchases, and I feel very happy with my wardrobe — I told a friend recently I finally felt like I know what to bring, and can balance outfits that suit my personal style with the constraints of living in Dili.

But knowing what to bring, and bringing it in the correct volume, are two different things.

This time, I just had too much stuff. I tried to be clever — I brought more t-shirts than pairs of pants, knowing I’d wash tops more frequently; I over-packed dresses, thinking I’d like the variety in my wardrobe; I brought both of my pairs of Tevas sandals, but not to reduce wear on each — just because I didn’t think.

Next time, I’ll just halve the weight of my suitcase. I forget how much I buy at the markets here, and how loyal I am to wearing the same things, over and over again. I brought 10 t-shirts and only four are in high rotation. Next time, I’ll bring five.

Winner: bucket hats

My final winner and a thesis statement. I’ve brought a hat on every Dili trip — it’s a hot city with 12 hours of sunlight every day, and I’m a fair-skinned gal with a centre part. It’s a no-brainer. But every other trip I packed a baseball cap. This time, I brought two floppy, broad-brimmed bucket hats. A revelation! I love them and want to wear them in a way I never felt like with my sporty-n-sensible caps. So, a final thought to leave you, and my future self, with: pack the things you’ll know you’ll wear. You need a hat, but think carefully about the style you prefer. You won’t become a new person in a new place — make sure everything you bring is something you genuinely like and want to wear, and you’ll be starting as well as you can.

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