Ladies, it’s official. Sri Lanka is one of our favourite travel destinations of 2019, and if you make the pilgrimage, it’ll no doubt be one of yours too.
This little dot in the Indian Ocean may well be well and truly open for business to backpackers now, but the island still has that whole ‘untouched’ thing going on. Think beach huts and hammock-clad hostels on unspoiled tropical beaches, and misty villages high in the hills. Then there’s gorgeous temples, ample wildlife encounters, great food and authentic interactions with some of the warmest locals Asia has to offer.
We’re not usually ones for blanket statements. But to give you an idea of exactly what makes Sri Lanka such an intriguing destination, we’ll say this. It’s a bit like a smaller (ie. easier to get around), chilled out and polite version of its big, brash brother, India.
And it pulls this off without losing any of that charm, culture, or eye-popping colour.
There’s Hindu and Buddhist temples… without the hoards people, cows and transport outside to battle through. There’s relaxed market strolling… without being followed for an hour and a half by someone trying to pap you with their Nokia 7650. And we’re sorry India, we love you, but there’s also much much more comfortable public transport.
It’s reasons like this, that makes us female travellers especially desperate to get a taste of this country: it’s every bit ‘authentic Asia’, without the gnarly bits we sadly have to deal with so frequently as female globetrotters.
So, if you’re reading this, we guess you’re wondering what is it like for a female traveller, venturing to Sri Lanka alone?
But we know that if you’re still reading this, you’re probably after some proper encouragement and first-hand safety advice, so I’ll try and make myself useful by sharing some tips and observations about what it’s really like…
1. Don’t overthink
Ever had a funny rash or a headache, Googled it and diagnosed yourself with a terminal illness on WebMD? Type ‘female safety’ into the search bar, add whatever country you’re heading to alone, and within minutes, you’ll end up honing in on dramatic first-hand accounts from women who had been in some way harassed there… even if there are glowing reviews of the locals from others to balance it out. It’s human nature to complain online about bad experiences. That’s why you’ll find reviews of similar harassment cases that happened just about anywhere else in the world, too. So remember to take note of all the nice reviews, too.
2. Make friends
Spoiler: Sri Lanka may not have as many happy hours, hostels or dorm rooms as southeast Asia does, but what it does have, is heaps of other solo travellers just like you. When you first arrive, check into the Kandy City Monkey, Colombo Downtown Monkey, or Hikkaduwa Beach Monkey hostels, and you’ll find your tribe in no time. If you’re in Arugam Bay, The Folly and Hideaway are two other awesome places to hang out with a book and a beer if you’re hoping to meet fellow travellers.
3. Relax (this one might take a bit of practice)
How safe someone feels whilst travelling anywhere, is completely relative to the individual. For example, one young woman who has travelled extensively would be at home on a public bus rattling through the Sri Lankan countryside. Yet it’s natural for a first-time traveller to Asia to mistake an innocent, curious look from a local as something threatening. I promise you, it’s not.
A local’s arm unavoidably rubbing against a rib on a crowded train carriage could be interpreted by someone new to the situation as an attempted robbery. By all means, feel your pockets and check it isn’t, but the truth is, it’s rammed about the train and they probably can’t help it.
An invitation from a tuk-tuk driver that appears all too miraculously when you need one most, to some girls would be a Godsend for their tired legs (ie. me, in 40-degree heat, every time), and to others, something to elicit their scepticism.
Stay alert, stay aware, always use your judgement. But remember to relax and enjoy too. Otherwise, what’s the point in going?
You’ll be amazed at how far it can get you.
5.Practice saying ‘is tu ti!’
This is ‘thank you’ in Sinhalese.
One thing you’ll learn very quickly in Sri Lanka, is that the locals absolutely love helping a backpack-clad damsel in distress out in any way they can.
You’re much more likely to be invited back to someone’s house for a bowl of curry and a round of charades than pickpocketed. So I guess it would only be polite to learn how to thank them in the local lingo.
6. Lay off the booze
Sri Lanka’s beaches do have some unreal nightlife, and the potency of that arak is truly wicked, but Full Moon party, this ain’t. Leave your weekend-loving, blackout drunk self at home, and keep your wits about you whilst you’re out enjoying the fresh night air. Sri Lanka is not the place for waking up in your hostel bed, lacking belongings and steeped in regret.
7. Don’t be alone at night. Ever.
Serious hats on now. Whereas female travellers are pretty safe to roam wherever they wish in daylight, under no circumstances, should you ever walk home alone after dinner, or get yourself into a position where you’ll have to grab a tuk-tuk back to your accommodation alone late at night. Tell your hostel owner what time you expect to arrive back, and be the first to get dropped off if a group of you are off to hit the hay and the rest are staying somewhere else.
8. Cover up
Respectful and easy to do!
9. Call or email home often
Reasons why Colombo airport is great:
1. Because there’s a regular bus service that takes you from arrivals to the heart of Colombo city centre
2. Because it’s home to around thirty shops which all sell nothing but TVs and washing machines – a fascinating concept
3. (Most importantly) Because you can nab yourself a Sri Lankan SIM card, and have it put in your phone before you even leave the air-conditioned safety of the arrivals lounge.
Use it to let ma, pa or your best friend – basically, anyone who cares enough to remember you’re in Sri Lanka – know where you are regularly (even if that means just sending them photos of beaches and coconuts) so they can raise the alarm if you’ve taken too long to report in safe.
10. Just remember this one thing:
The same rules on keeping safe as a female, apply to Sri Lanka as they do anywhere else in the world.
So to summarise? Sri Lankans are some of the friendliest, most helpful and most accommodating people you’re likely to meet on your adventure. And depending on how you spend your leisure time, you’re likely to experience less bum grabs and gropes than you’d encounter in most UK nightclubs.
So ladies, rejoice. 99 percent of men respect women, 99 percent of drivers respect the roads, and just remember, everyone is absolutely thrilled to have you.
After a month travelling as a solo female in Sri Lanka, I left unable to believe I’d worried so much about my safety in the first place. Happy travels in Sri Lanka!
Want more Sri Lanka travel advice? We’ve got heaps of information on the island’s highlights and the best time to hit them up on our destination guide. Head there sharpish for the cheapest flights and awesome adventure tours. Or, if you’re looking for more solo travel inspiration, head to our hub!