When you live in the tropics without being retired or in possession of a large trust fund, you learn pretty quickly what’s REALLY important. And take it from me, it’s not a closet full of shoes, purses, and designer clothing.
Speaking of shoes, I now own exactly 5 pairs of shoes: 3 pairs of flat-soled sandals, 1 pair of slip-on clogs, and 1 pair of tennis shoes. Considering that when I was getting ready to leave the USA and move here, I had to get rid of approximately 100 pairs of shoes of all shapes and colors, I have come a long way! And honestly I don’t miss it. Besides that, my small studio apartment on a rock barely has room for the 5 pairs I have now.
Island life has given new meaning to the word “need.” Life is so much simpler now that I don’t NEED to run out and buy the newest fancy phone, and I don’t NEED to be a shopaholic at online sites, and I don’t NEED a car. It’s actually quite refreshing to be free of needing to have a bunch of stuff. I mean, seriously – how often are you going to wear that little black dress with the 5 inch heels when you live on an island? Never. Well, at least on my rock. Roatan is a pretty laid back place, so you could probably wear it wherever you wanted, HOWEVER, there may be some consequences if you do: 1) You might be mistaken for a hooker; 2) You might become a target for robbery if you look like a gringa with money; or 3) You will definitely be hit on relentlessly by all men and probably some women. The way I see it, you are much better off to stick with the shorts and flip flops and avoid the extra attention. And hey – shorts and flip flops are things you do actually NEED here.
Some of my island life priorities include:
A good supply of shorts and tank tops.
Just not hundreds of them. Storage space is at a premium here – I actually lived in a place that didn’t have a closet or dresser drawers. I had to get creative. (Who would’ve thought that you could use a kitchen pantry for clothes?) You can either do your laundry yourself (if you aren’t lucky enough to have a washing machine, the sink works just fine) or there are plenty of laundry places that will take in your laundry – at least on my rock. They will wash, dry, and fold it for you. Prices are very reasonable and you usually have it back the next day – occasionally the same day if you are lucky. I recommend buying enough shorts and tops to last 10 – 20 days. If you can’t get laundry done during a 10 – 20 day timeframe, you might want to reconsider your choice to live here.
A quality pair of flip flops or sandals.
Even if you do get a car here, you will still be doing a good bit of walking. You certainly can get flip flops here but if you only pay $5 for them, they will likely only last you about 5 days. There are a few stores in the Mega Plaza that sell a little better quality, but it’s still not great. I say, bring your favorites with you.
Yes – a couple pairs of socks.
I know, I know… you’re on a tropical island and I say bring socks? What the…? But speaking from personal experience, come rainy season, you’ll be happy to have them. True, I get and have been cold my whole life (thus tropical living). My fingers and toes have even started to get numb here in Roatan when it’s raining and windy and the temps have dropped into the low 60’s F. Even so, I do have other island friends who will tell you that it’s nice to have socks too. It’s just 2 pairs of socks – you have room!
A jacket. A rain jacket with a hood is best.
Yes, we have umbrellas here and you can find them reasonably priced (until rainy season is in full force – then, of course, the stores are out of them), but when it’s raining sideways because of the wind, you will appreciate the protection of a rain jacket. Some sort of lining to keep you warm isn’t a horrible idea either. One year, a storm hit the island in January and I had a sweater with a hood and just happened to have gloves in the pocket. Sitting at the beach bar with friends, I had the sweater zipped up, hood on, and even put the gloves on!
A few linens such as a couple towels and a set of queen sized sheets.
You can buy both items here, but they are more expensive. Sometimes ridiculously more expensive if you want good quality. I brought my favorite oversized beach towel with me, some good bath and hand towels, and my very, very favorite feather bed (which you can NOT buy here) with a set of sheets. And if you don’t get a queen sized bed, you can tuck in excess sheets under the mattress (there I go again with that island girl creativity). Some rental properties will provide these items, but many don’t.
Last and most importantly – a decent reputation.
It’s a small island and the coconut telegraph works in full force. If there are good things to be said about you, word will get around and people you have never even met will know about you. Same works for bad things – only much more so. We are a tight knit community and those of us who have lived here for a while look out for each other. And being “nice” doesn’t mean doling out money whenever somebody asks for it or buying rounds of drinks at the bar or taking people to dinner all the time. It simply means being a good person that you would like to have as a friend. Be honest without being hateful, have integrity and do what you say you’ll do, and smile! Don’t live here 3 months and pretend to be an expert on all things Roatan; I’ve been living here 7 ½ years and I still learn new things every day. We don’t have patience or tolerance for know-it-all newbies. My best advice? Just chillax and enjoy being in the tropics and out of the snow!
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What do you consider priorities / must-haves for successful island living?