How safe is it to go it alone in Sri Lanka for a female foreigner?
It’s official. Sri Lanka is one of our favourite travel destinations of 2017, and if you make the pilgrimage, it’ll no doubt be one of yours too. This little dot in the Indian Ocean is well and truly open for international backpackers now, but the island still has that whole ‘untouched’ thing going on. It’s less ‘4* hotel resorts’ and more ‘beach huts and hammockclad hostels on unspoiled tropical beaches’. Then there are misty villages high in the hills, gorgeous temples, and encounters with wild elephants, whales and some of the warmest locals Asia has to offer. Basically, the reason we’re all going completely mad for Sri Lanka, is because it’s a bit like a smaller, more polite and easier to get around version if its big, brash and downright scary-at-times big brother, India. And it pulls this off without losing any of that charm, culture, or eye-popping colour.
There are amazing temples… without the hoards of people, cows and transport outside to battle through. You’ll be able to stroll through markets snapping photos and bargaining without being followed by locals trying to snap your photo. And we’re sorry India, we’ll always love you, but in Sri Lanka there’s also much, much more comfortable public transport. It’s reasons like this, that make us female travelers 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 when we go anywhere in this world. But what’s it really like? How safe is it to walk along the street at dusk, alone? And here’s where I might be able to come in.
I embarked on a month around Sri Lanka as a 24-year old female, on my own and fresh from a break up with someone who, up until the late stages of planning the trip, I assumed I’d be traveling with. The short answer is, its amazing. 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 worry too much or focus on the negatives
Ever had a funny rash, Googled it and diagnosed yourself with a terminal illness? Type ‘female safety’ into Google, add whatever country you’re heading to alone, and within minutes, you’ll have an entire memory bank full of dramatic first-hand accounts from women who got mugged. Even if there are glowing reviews of the locals from others to balance it out. Whether it be a bad meal or a rubbish product you bought somewhere, it’s human nature to complain online about bad experiences. Try to balance your worries out by reading those glowing reviews left by travelers, of the friendly, helpful locals and amazing experiences!
This one might take a bit of practice. How safe you feel whilst traveling anywhere, is completely relative to you as an individual. For example, one young woman who has traveled extensively would be 100% at home on a public bus rattling through the Sri Lankan countryside. Just everyday life for the globetrotting gal. Yet it’s natural for a first-time traveler to Asia to mistake an innocent, curious look from a local as something threatening. I promise you, it really, really isn’t. 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, the train is rammed and they can’t help it. Stay alert, stay aware, go with your instincts. But remember to relax and enjoy too. Otherwise, what’s the point in going?
3. Make friends
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 travelers just like you – especially female ones and you’ll find your tribe in no time. There are awesome places to hang out and pretend to do yoga in, to meet fellow travelers. Or gorgeous surfers.
You’ll be amazed at how far it can get you on the road.
5. Practice saying ‘thank you’ in the local language
This one goes for any country you’re traveling in. ‘Is tu ti’ is ‘thank you’ in Sinhalese, and trust us, you’ll be using this term a lot – because you’ll learn very quickly, if there’s one thing Sri Lankan locals love, its 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 say cheers!
6. Don’t be alone at night. Ever.
Serious hats on now. Whereas female travelers 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.
7. 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. Lock your blackout drunk self up 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 shame.
8. Cover up
Don’t attract unwanted attention by flashing the flesh. As in any religious Asian country, you should cover your arms and legs, both inside and outside of temples. Long pants, kimonos, beach sarongs, shawls. Basically, just go crazy for all the fabrics in order to cover up.
9. Email home often Colombo
Airport will be your port of arrival into Sri Lanka, and its a great place. Why? There are regular, efficient and cheap busses right to the heart of the city from the arrivals gate, and, more importantly, 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 send your mom, dad or your best friend constant reminders that you’re having the time of your life in Sri Lanka, in the form of photos of your sausage legs on beaches and coconuts. Also remember to update them on your plans, hotel address and movements, 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. Keep your sensible hat on, your belongings safe, look both ways before you cross the road, don’t take up invitations from strange men and don’t go out alone at night. Sri Lankans are some of the friendliest, most helpful and most accommodating people you’re likely to meet on your adventures around the world. 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 Vegas nightclubs. So ladies, rejoice. 99% of men respect women, everyone is absolutely thrilled to have you. After a month traveling 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! Statravel