Is it safe to travel to Sri Lanka solo? In my opinion, yes! Sri Lanka is an incredible country to experience solo style.
My first trip to Sri Lanka was back in 2004, the first time I travelled solo 2015.
Since then I’ve had a whirlwind of experiences. If I knew what I do now back in 2015, I may have avoided a couple of more challenging moments.
I’ve written 16 tips summing up everything I’ve learnt so far, so you know what to look out for to stay safe and at ease on your travels.
1. As a solo woman, avoid one to one conversations with men on the road
Of course you’re going to talk with men during your trip, I would just avoid doing so one to one while you’re on the road- especially on public transport.
In Sri Lanka, local women don’t tend to be informally chatty with men they don’t know- again, especially on public transport.
Be wary if you’re approached out of the blue.
2. Avoid personal questions
If you do find yourself in a situation when you’re talking with someone and can’t easily step away, a journey with tuk-tuk driver is probably the best example, avoid answering personal questions.
I don’t mind being asked my name and where I’m from but anything beyond this I consider too far for a first encounter.
Questions that begin with a seemingly innocent ‘how old are you’, can soon escalate to ‘are you married’, ‘what is your job’ and or even ‘what is your salary’- I was asked all these questions consecutively on a recent train ride from Jaffna. The salary question (which I didn’t answer) was shortly followed by a request for money.
You will find there is often an underlying intention behind being approached by overly chatty and eager strangers.
The difficulty is ending the conversation once it has reached this more uncomfortable stage. It’s unlikely to become unsafe but can be emotionally and physically draining.
2. Stay close to Families
You don’t need to avoid interactions with all strangers. Families can be good fun, especially on public transport.
Despite potential language barriers, you can always communicate with kids without words. A lollipop or packet of sweets can help too!
So if you see a family group on public transport, stay close for an extra sense of safety.
3. Book a 1st class seat.
This is a teeny bit controversial as some of my favourite memories have been on regular 2nd and 3rd class seats.
If you’re having one of those days where you crave personal space or need a little extra comfort, there may be AC/ first-class carriages where you have much less chance of attracting unwanted attention.
This is especially worthwhile for long-distance journeys.
An alternate, upgraded option to local buses are luxury coaches which you can book online- the luxury is in the AC and designated seats. The prices are incredibly reasonable.
4. Learn some Sinhala and Tamil.
Sinhala and Tamil are the two main languages in Sri Lanka.
I am pretty competent in Sinhala- enough to give the impression I know more than I do which can be useful!
Tamil is mostly spoken in the upper part of the island (and the hill country), while Sinhala dominates the central province and south coast. You will, of course, hear both Sinhala and Tamil across the island.
Speak the words with confidence- don’t worry about the accent, it comes with practise.
5. Walk with confidence.
Wherever I walk, I make a conscious effort to project an image of confidence and familiarity.
If I’m orienting myself on Google maps, I aim to look as inconspicuous as possible. The art of solo travel is to not look vulnerable.
Despite my outward demeanour, I’m always aware of onlookers.
If someone makes you feel uncomfortable, walk straight into a nearby shop or cafe. If they’re still lingering outside after a couple of minutes and you feel unsafe, book a taxi or ask someone inside to help.
By all means, ask for directions from fellow pedestrians (not from said onlooker!), just keep the interaction short and intentional.
6. When travelling in public, don’t wear clothes that show too much skin. Try and dress a little local.
Every woman should be able to wear what she likes without being harassed. However, when visiting a country with a more conservative culture, this is not a wise mindset in certain areas- especially when travelling solo.
Think of Sri Lanka as two separate wardrobes- one for the beach and hotel and the other for wearing on public transport, exploring local towns, temples etc.
7. When possible, pre-book transport.
Apps for tuk-tuks and cars are becoming more widely available in Sri Lanka. I use Uber and Pick Me.
Both apps let you use your credit/debit card as the payment option instead of cash which makes it a little easier.
While it’s tempting to jump into the nearest available tuk-tuk, it’s often not worth the risk.
The meter may be broken or tampered with, or they may demand more than originally agreed when you finally reach your destination. It’s surprising how energy-draining this exchange can be.
Use apps or ask the hotel, hostel, restaurant, hair salon etc to arrange transport for you. If you find a good driver and plan to be in the area for a while, keep hold of their number.
8. Stay calm.
Travel in some parts of Asia is the ultimate test because each country has its own cultural norms which there is no real guidebook for.
Trust me when I say, the only way to overcome any issue in Sri Lanka is to not overreact, this tends to escalate things further.
Think things through calmly before reacting and don’t get caught up in the moment by letting a situation steal your inner peace and calm. Think logically, not emotionally. You will overcome it.
9. Pack so you can manage.
I have overpacked many times on solo trips in Sri Lanka.
The problem with overpacking is it’s tiring. Physically, which can lead to emotionally.