Travelling Solo in Sri Lanka? Here’s everything you need to know!

Sri Lanka is a great up and coming destination for solo travellers, with tons of sights to see packed into this tiny island. A tropical country welcomes travellers, with golden beaches, green valleys and hills as well as historical ruins to peruse. A unique culinary experience awaits those who fly down here, and it’s a great place to soak yourself in different cultures.

Granted, travelling alone may seem like a daunting proposal at first. If you’re used to travelling in groups, with your parents, friends or partner then going solo might seem too difficult to even attempt. Everything about it might seem new, as you will have to communicate in a country when you don’t speak the common language with no help from fellow travellers. Finding transport and accommodation will be up to you, and if you hate eating alone then imagine doing an entire trip alone! But don’t be alarmed, as travelling solo is actually one of the best things you can do: you get to learn more about yourself and build inner peace, grow at your own pace and enjoy some self-reflection! Travelling alone is underrated, and is, in a way, the purest way to soak up the atmosphere of wherever you are journeying. There are no distractions, just you and nature, or the ancient ruins or temple. Here are some tips to help you out when you take the plunge and go solo in Sri Lanka!

Save and make a Budget

This is a tip that goes for every trip! Keep in mind to make room for extra unexpected expenses you may need to make in an emergency.

Book accommodation that’s geared towards solo travellers

Sri Lanka is known for its great boutique bungalows and lovely, old fashioned hotels, but in the past decade or so a number of solo friendly accommodation options have popped up. There are hostels and dorms that are peppered throughout the country, though they tend to accumulate in the regions that are most popular — think Galle, Ella, Kandy etc. In addition to this there are homestays that are available in places like Sigirya, Trincomalee and Mirissa. Because you’re solo, dorms and hostels are a great place to make friends and enjoy some fellowship after a day of travelling. Meals are especially fun, as fellow solo travellers from around the world gather to eat some hearty Sri Lankan lunches, dinners and breakfasts! If you’re wondering where to stay in Sri Lanka then Citrus Waskaduwa is a great place to head to in Kalutara, where you can enjoy the beach in some luxury. If possible, mix up your accommodation so that you can stay in all the different kinds of rooms available — from a dorm in the hills to a homestay in the east, and some colonial luxury in the south. You’ll get the flavour of all kinds of hospitality and atmospheres when you try that! Frankly, staying in a single occupancy hotel room can sometimes be too much for your budget, so do try to try out Airbnbs when you can!

Pack light, pack smart

You’ll most likely be carrying a big bag all around the island with no one to help you, so pack only what you need. Don’t forget to bring medicine, especially if you need essential medication, as you may not be able to find it in the country. Bring alone wet wipes, tissue, hand sanitiser and toilet paper for when you absolutely have to use a restroom that isn’t as clean as you want it to be. Try to use a water bottle that you can fill up at stores or wherever you are staying instead of relying on plastic bottles. However, make sure you are getting boiled water as the water that comes in taps is not safe to drink. If you’re planning on visiting temples or holy sites then have a scarf ready — both your shoulders and knees must be covered. In some places you may not be able to wear your shoes so be aware of that and have tissues ready to clean your feet for when you’re done.

Have change on you at all times

It is difficult to manoeuvre small shops and transport in Sri Lanka if you don’t carry small bills, so make sure to have some on you at all times. Cards work in most restaurants and shopping malls, especially in the city, but most tuk tuks and shops will give you a rather dirty look if you give them a rs5, 000 note for something that costs rs500. Having change on you will also make it easier to make sure your transactions are all legitimate, and you haven’t been ripped off.

Smile!

The easiest way to make friends on a solo trip is to smile! Or course, you may not necessarily be on this trip to make friends, but a smile will ease things with whoever it is you are interacting it, be it the bus conductor, receptionist or tuk tuk driver! A smile can be the beginning of a wonderful conversation.

Learn some local phrases

Sri Lankans are delighted when travellers learn some basic Sinhalese or Tamil, it conveys respect and is always appreciated. When you pepper your speech with some basic words such as please, thank you, excuse me and hello, then people will value your efforts and be friendlier. They may even try to teach you more words, or attempt to speak English (if that’s your main language!). Download apps or look up videos online to perfect your pronunciation and then enjoy the look on people’s faces when you use your new language skills. If you can make friends with a local, figure out how to say some Sri Lankan slang (such as the words for awesome, or great) and other patterns of speech that are unique to Sri Lanka (such as the use of ‘hari’ to mean anything from ‘right’ to ‘okay’ and ‘we’re done here’!).

Start conversations!

If this is not your first time in Sri Lanka then you may be curious about the sights that aren’t the most popular tourist ones, and even if it’s your first time you may want to go off the beaten track. The best way to do this is to talk to the locals, find out the stories behind the cities, monuments and sights that you are seeing and enjoy whatever titbit they have to share with you. Sri Lankans are extremely hospitable, and it’s likely that someone you strike up a conversation with will want to take you to places that you wouldn’t have known about otherwise. Even if they don’t personally escort you there, as some do, giving you the opportunity to see a tourist location from a different point of view, they may give you recommendations on what to see and what to avoid. So talk to people to find unique experiences that you simply can’t find on the internet!

Ask for advice

Related to starting conversations, don’t let your pride get in the way if you need advice on anything. Whether it’s wondering what to see or help reading signs or just asking where the nearest restroom is, speak up! If you’ve got Google maps on you that’s great, but in the more rural areas of Sri Lanka this can get tricky. Ask around for directions and make sure you understand them clearly before moving on. You can even get them to draw it on a piece of paper so you have something to jolt your memory.

Safety First, Safety Second

Safety is really your priority when you’re travelling alone, especially if you are a woman travelling in Sri Lanka. While violence against tourists isn’t a major problem in the country and crime rates aren’t that high, you should still be on the lookout for scams — there’s no need to be paranoid, but do keep your wits about you and if anything seems fishy then back out. Read up on common scams so you know what to avoid. Always make sure someone back home knows where you are, and take out travel insurance in case something happens or you get sick. Keep a list of emergency contacts on you so that if anything happens, those who find you know who to call, and also inform your hotel or dorm of where you are going, if you like, so that they can keep tabs on you to some extent.

Getting around

Public Transport is your friend, especially if you’re doing long distance journeys! For short journeys, go ahead and download both Uber and PickMe so that you can get to places quickly and easily, without having to endure overcrowded busses. For journeys in long distance busses and trains, book early. Try to get your tickets as early as possible because they sell out fast, especially if you’re thinking of going to Kandy and Ella by train (and they are some of the best rides in Sri Lanka, so it’s best not to miss them!). Sometimes, however, you can show up at the bus depot at a certain time and ask around for a bus that is going your way — though you may have to wait until it’s time for it to leave. However, there are websites and apps that have the train schedules and bus schedules, so it’s really easy to book in advance.

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