The lure of moving to a Caribbean island is hard to resist. The swaying palms, turquoise water, and seemingly endless umbrella drinks that pair perfectly with a tropical sunset. What’s not to love, right?
But before you sell all your worldly belongings, buy that one-way plane ticket, and get ready to don the Island Girl tiara, it pays to know the lay of the land.
Because – as shocking as it may seem to the uninitiated – behind every Instagram-worthy beach day, there are approximately six other days where life will be slightly less idyllic.
I’ve seen too many people arrive with mistaken assumptions about living on an island. They think it will be just like home, only with a better climate. Ah, the innocence of naiveté.
Alas, nothing could be further from reality. Island life is NOTHING like mainland life.
And their inevitable discovery of this unassailable truth usually (always?) results in one final scenario – said person stomps their feet indignantly, declares the island an inhospitable place, and quickly boards the nearest plane taking them anywhere but here.
But you don’t have to be like these people (and please, please don’t… as they are usually insufferable while they are here). Just read on for three basic truths about island life.
If you can get on board with these (you don’t have to LIKE them, but it is oh-so-helpful if you can ACCEPT them), your path to long-term Island Girl status is virtually assured. That sounds easy enough, right?
Grooming Standards Will Decline
The other day, while waiting in my insurance agent’s office, the nice lady behind the desk asked to see my driver’s license. I handed it over and as she glanced at it, she said, “Wow! This is a very nice picture.”
Now let’s break that one down, shall we? Driver’s license pictures are not known for being the glamour shots of the photography world, are they? And mine (still from the US, as I have not quite gotten around to getting a local one) is no exception. So what does it say about one’s appearance when how you look in real life makes the tiny 1×1 mugshot of yourself appear photogenic? *shudder*
Which brings me to Island Truth #1 – at least on my rock where 86°F is the average temperature, salt-laden humidity is no freakin’ joke, and our trade winds are more like a daily gale. Your appearance will change. And usually not for the better.
Long gone is my stateside, one-hour morning ritual of hair, make-up, and selecting the perfect outfit before venturing out in public. These days, I wake up, brush my teeth and throw my hair into a messy top bun. Often accompanied by a slight cringe as I realize that touching up my greying roots should have been tended to, say, six weeks ago.
Some mornings, if I’m feeling really motivated (or the grey is truly out of hand) I might leave my long hair down and attempt some sort of “just back from the beach” look, even though the only place I’m headed is my home office and maybe the grocery store later on if I’m feeling especially motivated.
My wardrobe usually (ok, let’s be totally honest, always) consists of shorts, a bikini top in lieu of a bra, and a tank top over that. My perfect wardrobe selection is guided more by what happens to be clean that day than by any sort of sartorial sensibility.
This does not bode well for compliments throughout the day… as evidenced by my insurance lady’s comment. There’s a reason your island friends always say the same thing after you return from a visit to the mainland (at least when you share pics of your escape on social media) – “Wow, you look so different in real life!”
Yes, you might stick to a morning routine of beautification a la your “old life” at the beginning of your island tenure (I did). But eventually, the island wins. The transition happens so slowly you don’t notice, of course. Until that moment of clarity that strikes when you find yourself struggling to find a mascara wand for that “big night out.” I wish I were kidding.
Things Won’t Happen Like They Do Back Home
The one phrase you can utter on a rock that is sure to make you the most-insufferable transplant around is the following: “Back where I come from, we do it like THIS…”
Trust me on this one. Nothing will earn you eye rolls, teeth-sucking, and general ill-will from those around you (especially the local island population) than you standing in a public place angrily trying to convince anyone who will listen (nobody, by the way, they all hate you at this point) how they should be doing something differently. And by differently, you obviously mean better – at least in your eyes.
Yet newbies arrive and do this on the daily. In the Immigration office, the post office, the bank, the tax counter. I’ve seen it all. And it never ends well. You can raise your voice to hysterical levels and talk until you’re blue in the face, but to no avail. (The one approach that *might* work is crying, but only in limited circumstances. And only if you are a woman. Being cute or elderly also helps.)
And here we are at Island Truth #2 – things happen at their own pace in the tropics and often are impossible to explain. Even if you do think you understand the process, it will likely to change from one day to the next, depending on who is on the other side of the counter.
Learn this. Accept this. Live with this.
To do otherwise will have you packing to go home faster than a Kardashian sister running towards the flash of the paparazzi’s camera.
You Can’t Always Get What You Want
I hardly feel like this needs to be covered, but it does. Which just goes to show how many people just don’t do their research before moving to a Caribbean island.
For the most part, tropical islands exist far away from first-world conveniences. It’s sort of what makes them so special actually.
The luxury of having semi-trucks laden with fresh goods loaded directly from the source is pretty freakin’ mythical here. If it wasn’t grown here or made here, it arrives by ship or airplane. Pretty simple concept, no?
Also, if you live on a really tiny rock with no deep-water port of its own (like my rock), you are at the mercy of a neighboring island to offload your stuff from a really big boat and send the shipping containers over on a smaller boat. Sometimes this happens like it is supposed to and your grocery store shelves stay stocked. Sometimes, the crane operator on Curaçao decides he doesn’t want to work for a couple of days (!?), and you have no fresh produce for weeks at a time. But I digress.
And that’s how we get to Island Truth #3 – we run out of things A LOT on an island. Sometimes you just cannot get other things at all (unless a friend agrees to sherpa it down for you). It pays to be adaptable if you plan to live here.
If, however, flexibility is not your strong suit or your day is ruined if you can’t find an obscure ingredient for that new recipe you’re dying to try, perhaps island life is not for you. It pays to do a little honest self-assessment before you hop on that plane. Just sayin’.
But the good news is that, if you are able to roll with it, you learn adaptation skills you never knew you had in you. Yay for unearthing your inner Bear Grylls! You go, you true Island Girl, you!
Where once I would be in a near panic if I couldn’t find everything on my detailed grocery list, these days, I either substitute with something that seems like it might work or skip it altogether. Of course, it helps to be married to a Chef. But still… life goes on either way.
And if all else fails, I just skip dinner altogether and go for a moonlit walk on the beach. And, no, I don’t style my hair first.