8 Tips for the Solo Female Traveler in Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka—the pearl of the Indian Ocean. Following a long civil war, this tiny island nation is beginning to get notice in the backpacking world, and rightly so. It’s a travellers treasure trove, filled with rich history, exploding with untouched wilderness and as for meals and accommodation—the locals are friendly and the price is right.
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Ladies, if Sri Lanka is calling your name, but travel companions are lacking, don’t sweat it. For female solo travelers, stepping out of the airport here can seem a bit daunting at first, but, after making the trip solo without the help of a guide, I wouldn’t do it any other way. Here are 8 tips for the wanderlustin’ women seeking adventure in Sri Lanka.
You don’t have to rely on taxis all of the time. In fact, the less you use them, the better I say. Public transportation is quite reliable, fast and cheap as can be. Better yet—you are going to get some spectacular views of the country and make new local friends. Lean out the open doorway of an old British colonial train or squeeze onto a bus, bumping along as the Singhalese tunes pump you up for your journey. You may get a few curious stares—but don’t sweat it. Put your shoulders back, exert an air of confidence, and enjoy the ride.
If you are going to jump on a tuk tuk, grab one with a meter. Some drivers will try to scam ya, and ladies—we are especially susceptible. I know I got jipped a couple of times at least, but try to get an understanding of the area and price ranges beforehand. If you can’t get a meter—ask a few tuk tuks for prices to compare before choosing one.
I made a mistake. But in the end, it was also a valuable lesson. Throughout my trip I kept to the conservative guidelines, and didn’t dress like a local superstar—flowy pants, long loose shorts and modest t-shirts. On my last day, I thought, “no problems thus far, I’m experienced enough here to wear whatever the hell I want.” Stupid. I hopped on a bus and not even three minutes into the trip, an eager gentleman moved right next to me and proceeded to chat it up the entire time, ending in “Why can’t I have your phone number? What about Facebook?” and let’s not forget the intense stares. Damn you jean cut offs and crop top…damn you.
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So, my dear girlfriends, keep to the conservative guidelines. Especially when traveling to temples—you will need to wear long pants to enter.
Attitude is Everything
Be pleasant—it goes a long way, and you will find that when you are a young madam traveling alone, there is kindness and help all around. You may get some eyes popping when you say you are traveling alone, and an even more incredulous stare when you say, “No, I’m not married, actually.” But don’t stress it. After chatting with taxi drivers and others on the train/bus about directions or stop offs, you will find the local people to be genuine and adamant about helping in any way possible. Some will even offer tips about the area you are going to, how to not get ripped off, staying safe on the move and what areas to avoid traveling alone.
If you are an English speaker, try to learn a few Singhalese phrases, but don’t fret—many Sri Lankan’s know a least a bit of English or can understand. The hospitality and kindness in this country never ceased to amaze me, and I never had problems reaching out for guidance.
Bring a packet of baby wipes or toilet paper with you. In many rural areas you will be faced with squat toilets and a faucet with a bucket for washing. Ladies, squat toilets are great for tush toning, but drenching yourself and all of your stuff is not. It’s also a good idea to keep a packet of feminine products with you at all times. Might want to think about how you pack your stuff to prevent theft too.
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Listen to Your Heart
Always listen to your gut—it will never lead you astray. If you feel uncomfortable, or there’s that one “too nice” guy that keeps following you and asking where you’re going, be firm but polite and get the heck out of there. Tuks tuks and taxis are everywhere, so if you feel threatened or lost—flag one down, give them your accommodation address, and regroup at home base. It’s also a good idea to let loved one’s and accommodation staff know your whereabouts just in case.
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When Not to Go Alone
Sometimes it’s just best to not go at it alone. One of those times is when the sun sinks and the moon rule the heavens. This isn’t just for the foreign female travelers—but even the local women aren’t out and about alone at night.
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I traveled overnight by bus and I’m not joking when I say I was the only female passenger. Luckily, everyone ended up falling asleep all over each other. It was actually kind of cute seeing all these grown men cuddling on each other’s shoulders. I wasn’t bothered and nothing terrible happened, but it was a nerve-wracking experience that I wouldn’t repeat.
Ladies, get ready to go crazy in the markets. In the capital city Colombo, you must check out Barefoot for one of a kind hand colorful hand-sewn cotton products from household wares to clothing. Also, take a look around Odel, Laksala for souvenirs and walk around the Old Dutch Hospital for tons of cute shops, cafes and to meet other travelers.
Enjoy the Ride
Don’t be dissuaded from taking on Sri Lanka. With tourism just beginning to bud, there is so much off the beaten path to experience. With lush green mountains, sparkling beaches, temples and ancient cities—you will find everything your adventurous heart and soul craves. And be prepared to fall in love with the Asian culture and people—because you will fall head over heels. So, my independent, travel lovin’ lasses, hop on a colonial train and climb those winding tracks over countless tea plantations and into the sunset—Sri Lanka will forever hold a special place in your heart.
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Courtney is a full-time writer covering soccer, travel and the outdoors. You can find her scouting out hole in the wall joints for the perfect carnitas taco, jumping in the ocean under the light of a full moon or exploring the beautiful Florida wilderness and documenting her adventures in her blog, www.localtravelgal.wordpress.com.