What Robinson Crusoe should have packed
Here on Tobago, it’s easy to see what inspired author Daniel Defoe’s classic novel Robinson Crusoe. Who hasn’t dreamed of cutting all ties to civilization and fleeing to a desert island, where you can be alone and at one with nature? Even if it means building my own canoe and learning how to bake bread, time alone on a Tobago beach with no one in site but the birds sounds like the perfect getaway.
This island lays claim to inspiring the story of Mr. Crusoe and his 24-year island stay. Of course, there’s also Robinson Crusoe Island in the Pacific which claims to be the inspiration because it was the site where a Scottish castaway once lived for four years. Tobago lays claim to inspiring Daniel Defoe because the novel clearly says Crusoe was on his way to Barbados, and waylaid by a storm. Defoe also mentions both the Orinoco River (which is located on Trinidad, just south of Tobago) as well as the local Carib Indians.
Ask anyone from Trinidad and Tobago, and they know without a doubt that Tobago is the world’s most famous deserted island. Many of them will also say they are descended from the famous castaway, and that the goats here are descendants of his goats. You can even visit Robinson Crusoe Cave when you’re here in Tobago, said to be the cave where Crusoe sought shelter. Of course, the man was an entirely fictional character, so none of that could be true, but why not just go with the spirit and nod politely?
Real or not, Tobago really does feel like the ultimate escape. Just 26 miles long and six miles wide, this tiny Caribbean island has warm waters as clear as turquoise glass, and more than 300 different kinds of coral. When you climb the hill to Fort King George and look out over the entire island, it’s easy to imagine what it would be like if you had the island all to yourself.
It’s also easy to think about how much better Robinson Crusoe could have enjoyed his prolonged and involuntary holiday, if he’d only packed a little better.
He did have guns, a few tools and some supplies. He found some goats and some grain; he built a canoe, made some candles and pottery, and wove some baskets. However, wouldn’t it have been better to bring along an internationally recognized credit card and some traveller’s cheques in Trinidad and Tobago dollars? Instead of needing to build his own shady retreat, an excellent pair of sunglasses and a big floppy hat would have served Mr. Crusoe nicely on the beach.
Defoe said “It is never too late to be wise,” and when it comes to packing properly for a tropical holiday, he is still completely right. The perfect castaway holiday should include all the creature comforts, so you can spend your time as comfortable, relaxed and entertained as possible.
Every modern day Crusoe needs an eBook reader, such as a Kindle or a Kobo, so you don’t have to lug along a mountain of dishy paperbacks for your days and days at the beach. The best part of eBook readers is that the screens are specifically built so you can read in bright Caribbean sunlight, so load up about a dozen or so popular and light titles, and you’re set for your trip.
Of course, you can buy whatever you need here in Tobago, but it is wise to bring your must-have items from home, so you can head straight to the beach or pool instead of to the shops. Make sure to pack your sunscreen in your checked luggage, so you needn’t be asked to toss it out from your carry-on due to airport security screening. Bring along one of those small soft-shell bags that you can zip into a small pouch, but which can expand into a full piece of baggage so you can bring home all your own baskets and candles and whatever other souvenirs you pick up along the way.
Pack comfortable walking sandals, a colourful pair of flip-flops for walking to the beach, and bring a cardigan or a jumper for cool evening breezes. Try to make sure all your holiday clothes are mix and match, so you can pack minimally. You are planning to be a castaway, after all!
In the pages of Robinson Crusoe, Defoe also has his character learn a valuable lesson on his island. “I learned to look more upon the bright side of my condition, and less upon the dark side, and to consider what I enjoyed, rather than what I wanted: and this gave me sometimes such secret comforts, that I cannot express them.”
That fact about Tobago is still very true today. This is a place to see life on its bright side, and to put the focus on what you have, not what you want. Enjoy!