I’d been to Sri Lanka before; on a whirlwind, week-long holiday with a close friend and I was stoked to be spending a month or more exploring, surfing and eating my way around this beautiful island. Sri Lanka is known as the emerald jewel of the Indian Ocean, and it’s not hard to see why.
Despite being desperate to get to the beach after spending my last three weeks in Thai cities, I spent my first night in Sri Lanka sleeping on the floor of Colombo Airport. Firstly, because I’m a cheap dirtbag and will do pretty much anything to save a buck. Secondly, a piece of local advice I remember from my previous visit to Colombo kept ringing in my head: don’t out at night alone. I had landed at around 12:30 pm. While I tell myself and friends I slept in the airport because I wanted to save a couple of bucks, those words of advice would not stop running through is why I chose the comfort of not having to walk outside in the dark alone, over the comfort of a hotel bed.
I love solo travel and think everyone should try it at least once, although, I can’t deny that at times it is scary, daunting and uncomfortable. My first twenty-four hours into this Sri Lankan trip felt like that. I caught a train from Colombo to Dehiwala (a beach suburb, close by) the next morning. Trains always tend to make me happy for some strange reason; but on this one, I felt a little weird and uncomfortable. It felt like every single person onboard was staring directly at me. A friend from home’s sentiments echoed in the back of my mind: ‘If the locals give you any shit, just start talking about cricket.’ I laughed to myself and looked out the window, trying to focus on the beautiful scenery and ignore the uncomfortable feeling of so many eyes focusing on me.
Please don’t let this deter you have ever thought about traveling to Sri Lanka. It’s beautiful, unique, vast and the people are some of the kindest and genuine I’ve ever encountered. If you were blessed with a vagina at birth, and that makes you worried about going at it alone, don’t! Just remember to keep a few things in mind. This is what I learned from my week riding solo in Sri Lanka :
1.Cover up those lovely lady lumps.
Tourism is fairly recent here and has only really kicked off in the past 10 years after the civil war ended and Sri Lankans, as a rule, are quite conservative. They are not used to women flaunting what their mama gave them, as the more touristy parts of south-east Asia and western countries are. So before you head off remember to pack those dreaded ‘elephant pants’, a maxi skirt or dress and a sarong. Not just out of respect to the locals, but for your own comfort, especially when on public transport. You don’t really have to worry about this as much in the chill, surfy, beach towns, but in Colombo, the mountains and rural areas, these are necessities. Once, without thinking I walked out of my Colombo hostel and onto the street wearing shorts. Never again. Those stares I mentioned earlier get a hell of a lot more intense and what would be friendly chats, turn weird. This was one of the few times during my travels, along with whenever I have to pee in a squat toilet, I found myself wishing I had a dick. Men here can get away wearing next to nothing and no one bats an eyelid; whereas if you’re a woman and step out into the streets, a bus or a train wearing something above your knees, be prepared for a lot of strange questions, some weird arm touching and possibly a marriage proposal. If all you packed is booty shorts, go straight to any shop or market in Colombo where you will find some cheap hippy pants that will eliminate the awkwardness.
2.Wear a fake wedding ring.
I have not tried this personally. A friend suggested it while I was on the phone to them bitching about all the unwanted attention and I thought it was a genius idea. Sri Lankans are some of the nicest, chattiest people I’ve had the pleasure of encountering. I really enjoyed this, as you can probably gather, I talk a lot of…. Anyway, what I didn’t love was the fact that a lot of these friendly conversations would end in ‘Why are you not married!?’ A fake wedding ring would eliminate this aspect and you could go back to having a good old yarn.
3. Pack bulk tampons
They are impossible to find here!! I finally found some after going to about one hundred pharmacies. In my opinion, pads suck, especially when you want to do anything remotely active. They make going for a swim or surf impossible, which is torture because Sri Lankan beaches are absolute heaven.
4. BYO toilet paper.
I’m a big fan of the ‘bum gun’ and think it is way cleaner and more environmentally friendly than using toilet paper. However, sometimes you don’t get a bum gun and have to navigate cleaning yourself up with a bucket of water. I have not yet figured out how to do this without looking like I’ve been in a water fight or pissed myself. A stash of toilet paper comes in handy for these moments
5. Don’t open tinder.
Especially if it’s hooked up to your Instagram. Tinder is usually a funny way to kill the time. When I opened it for a giggle in Colombo, I wasn’t prepared for the million creepy direct Instagram messages I received shortly afterward. Someone told me this was because a lot of Sri Lankan men have only encountered western woman through porn, and they think being on tinder means you’re a prostitute or going to be an easy lay. Nice.
6. Channel your inner boss bitch.
Walk with an air of confidence, smile and be friendly. If anyone pulls anything that makes you uncomfortable or crosses your boundaries, kindly remove their hand from your leg (this happened to me on a bus) and tell them to fuck off, they most likely will oblige.
7. Keep an open mind and be kind.
This should go without saying when traveling anywhere, or just apply to your life in general. I’m guilty of forgetting sometimes, so I thought I’d add it to the list. The train ride I mentioned earlier probably would have been a lot nicer if I’d kept more of an open mind and just had a chat instead of ignoring the locals and being freaked out. As the days went on, I became more and more open to conversation and found that the majority aren’t being creepy. They genuinely just want to practice their English skills, find out more about you and your country and tell you about theirs. In the week I have spent here, I have been blown away by the kindness of the Sri Lankan people.
8. Talk about cricket.
If the conversation ever turns south, this actually works. It made me smile that whenever I’d say I was from Australia, it would be received with something along the lines of ‘Oh! Australia!? Good country, good cricket team! I love Brett Lee.’ Cheers for the solid advice Jimmy.