I wrote a post about my trip & what I saw (which was already super long because I was there for 9 days) so here’s another one on things you absolutely need to know when solo traveling Sri Lanka (from this brown girl’s point of view).
- Solo Traveling Doesn’t Mean Backpacking
I’m here to break that myth that solo travel means traveling like a backpacker. I enjoy traveling in comfort (thank you very much) and that doesn’t make me spoilt.
Of course, ultimately backpacking is a great way to meet new people and save up on accommodation, especially when you travel alone because most hotels and AirBnBs cater for two people so the price is for two.
I generally like my own personal space so my own room worked out best for me. With so many options to choose from, you can always find places to suit your budget.
- AirBnB Your Accommodations
I love AirBnB for many reasons. I use it quite frequently to book my staycays and such, and they have this wonderful option where you can share your personal code to invite your friends. They get a certain amount off on their first stay and you get some money credited into your AirBnB account to use.
My first 4 days of accommodations were free thanks to this (THANK YOU for those of you who used my code to sign up!).
You can customise the option to see what budget works best, and also I always opt to check out the SuperHosts, which is basically the ones that are frequently used and have wonderful reviews. Yes, I’m one of those people who read reviews just to be extra sure. I had such wonderful experiences with most of my AirBnB bookings.
- Get A Driver
The fastest way to travel around Sri Lanka is to book a private car as most places are quite far off from each other. This was the most expensive option in terms of traveling but I wanted to make the most of my time there as opposed to traveling by public transport which is much cheaper but takes a lot longer.
My driver was also a guide hence why I could stop anywhere along the way and was fed with really good stories and information about the country throughout the ride.
- Dress Modestly
Sri Lanka is still relatively modest and people can immediately tell your a tourist based on how you dress. The place has lots of gorgeous temples and historical sites which require you to be dressed modesty (with your shoulders and legs covered) when you enter. I lived in mostly t-shirts and comfy pants while I was there which saves the hassle of having to wrap around fabric on your waist and shoulders to enter these places.
On days you plan to visit temples, wearing slippers makes it so much easier.
- Get A Guide In Tourist Spots
A lot of the temples and historical sites have some amazing stories and so much to learn from. Do get a guide because chances are if you don’t, you miss out on some great stories. They usually don’t charge much – the most I paid was RM35.
- Have A Realistic Budget Planned Out
I set aside a realistic amount taking into consideration that there will be unexpected costs as I go along. It helps planning your accommodation and travel first to see how much you need, and just add on for things like your visa, tourist attraction costs, food, things you need to buy, etc. I spent about 4K inclusive of shopping and my flight tickets for the trip.
Keep in mind that they have separate pricing for locals and tourists.
- Languages Spoken
The majority of people there speak Sinhala however they do have a basic command of English for the most of it, especially in the city. I did have trouble communicating in the more rural areas so there was a lot of smiling and hand signalling. Quite a lot of them do speak Tamil as well, so I got by with my minimal Tamil speaking skills.
- Be Alert Of Everything
A lot of people told me traveling Sri Lanka is really safe. I think there’s always two sides to it. For me, looking like a local but dressed and speaking like a foreigner became a novelty to many of the people there, which in turn also got me a lot of unwanted attention as well.
Being on your own means you need to take care of yourself, without being able to call for back up. Be mindful of places you go to, and always be careful of your belongings. There were several times through the trip that I did feel unsafe (beach areas with lots of beach boys) and was even followed around twice (in the city!) and one of those times I was with another female friend.
Always trust your instincts and if you ever feel like you’re in danger, ask for help or attempt to strike a conversation with someone who looks trustworthy.
- Be Prepared To Feel Lonely
The first night, I remember having a meltdown wondering why I did this to myself and if I could handle all 9 days of being alone in a place I had no friends at. Safe to say, a friend told me he’d buy me my flight tickets back and I snapped back to reality.
This was something I had to do for myself and I couldn’t be happier with this decision. It’s a great way to force you to be okay with your own thoughts and feelings and just do you. The loneliness comes and goes but the feeling of knowing you can handle a new adventure on your own is priceless.
- Make Friends
It was so easy to make friends once I got past being shy. People respond to kindness and a smile, so that helped when I needed help with my pictures taken. I had the uncle selling coconut water, the tuk tuk driver, random tourist and people along the way help me take my picture. They found it very amusing and were also very obliging. It also became an easy way to start up a conversation.
Here’s a tip – find the frame you want, and just tell them to keep pressing until you’re done posing. Chances are out of the 20 pictures, there’ll be 1 you like 🙂
- Adapt To Local Customs
Traveling should broaden your horizons and open your mind to customs and traditions of the place you’re visiting. Simple things like not facing your back towards Buddha statues as it is seen as a sign of disrespect should be followed. I’m basing this on some people who ignored these easy instructions because they needed to have their picture a specific way.
- Stay Connected
I sent several people my itinerary (flight details, AirBnB stayed at, drivers contact details) and updates throughout the travel just to be safe. Better safe than sorry 🙂
I think this pretty much covers all the important things that I’d recommend for anyone traveling by themselves. Most importantly, have fun and make the most out of your trip. If there’s a specific food you want to try, eat it. A specific place you want to see, visit it. A specific thing you want to buy, get it then and there. There’s always this idea that you can do it later and chances are you won’t be bothered to. Living in the now and getting things done as you go is ideal.
Traveling solo was a fantastic experience and one I would recommend anyone and everyone to do atleast once in their lives. This is definitely my first of many to come!