Exploring Sri Lanka Safely as a Female Independent Traveller

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When you’re on the lookout for fun in the sun, the picturesque destination of Sri Lanka is certainly up there as one of Asia’s best holiday spots. You can expect utopian beaches, stunning rain forests and unique world heritage – to name just a few highlights.

For independent female travelers however, the rules are a little different in this beautiful south Indian island. Follow these top safety tips to help ensure your Sri Lankan holiday is a problem-free one:

Don’t walk alone after dark – Unfortunately incidents of lone female travelers being threatened on the island of Sri Lanka is quite high. For this reason, it is always best to avoid walking out by yourself of an evening. Where possible take a taxi or use a tuk-tuk driver. Do what you can to keep from having to walk alone at night, it just isn’t worth it. If you’re in an area where there aren’t many cabs or tuk tuks, use the PickMe app, which is easy for English-only speaking travelers since it allows you to set your destination and not have to describe much to your driver.

When Taking Tuk Tuks– There are many unregulated tuk tuks in the city. It’s best not to use these if you can avoid it, but sometimes you won’t know any better. Either way, make sure your tuk tuk driver pushes the meter on before he starts driving. Sometimes they might look like they hit the button, but they don’t, meaning your ride is up for dispute at the end. Keep a close eye on your meter in the first few minutes of your ride to avoid, well, being taken for a ride.

Have an emergency contact ­­– If you’re new to the country you may not have an emergency contact nearby but, always have somewhere further afield that you can contact in the event of an emergency. One of the best things you can do when you arrive is stay in a gorgeous, locally owned guesthouse. It will make the transition into Colombo more comfortable, and will help you feel like you have a local friend. Penthouse Above the Sea is where I’ve stayed, and I’d recommend it to anyone. Chitra who owns the place is incredibly kind and hospitable, and will look out for you while you’re here. If you’re feeling uncomfortable in a tuk tuk, pick up your phone and start talking to someone about where you are. Or act like you are, if you have no one to call.

Be Ready for the Staring- It’s uncomfortable. Sometimes you feel like the entire street knows you’re walking down it. Are you a target? Or just an object of their attention? For the most part, it’s the latter, though being alone as a foreign woman in Sri Lanka can certainly be disconcerting, especially for the first few days when you first arrive. Understand that you’re not alone in your discomfort, and that you’re likely going to be ok. Try to ignore the stares coming your way, rather than returning them, which might rile them up even further. I always find myself looking down at the ground or straight ahead.

Avoid smoking and drinking in public – Both smoking and drinking are highly frowned upon, particularly by single women. If you are traveling alone try to avoid doing so outside of Colombo city and other tourist areas. If possible try to avoid doing so in public at all, this will minimize the likelihood of harassment.

Organize activities with locals – Just because you are traveling independently does not mean it isn’t safe for you to immerse yourself in the local culture. If it makes you feel more comfortable, organize activities with local people via a local-led tour company. There are all sorts of excursions and days out you can try with the help of a local guide to keep you safe and sound. Plus, planning activities with the people who live in the region will mean you can be sure you are experiencing the best parts of the country as opposed to purely the tourist hot spots.

Dress respectably – Whether you cover up or not, men will stare at you. Still, it might help to cover up to avoid becoming more of a target by dressing according to Sri Lankas respected standards. This means keeping shoulders and knees covered on public transport, not revealing your cleavage, and keeping bikinis and other swimwear to the beaches and hotel complexes. If you’re a tattooed woman (as I am), you’ll want to keep those covered up or you’ll be inviting extra attention and in some cases, physical touch. Unfortunately, men will leer at you here no matter what, as they have an unfortunate perception of western women. Some women I have met have worn fake wedding rings to also combat this.

Keep it friendly – A friendly and polite manner will be appreciated pretty much anywhere you travel and Sri Lanka is no different. It is worth noting however that Sri Lankan men and women do not have quite the same tactile and relaxed approach as many westerners. Be careful to keep it friendly, but not ‘over friendly’ which may give male acquaintances the wrong impression.  

Be cautious – Sri Lankan men are perhaps the greatest threat to a female independent traveller. If you are experiencing an overly-familiar or pushy male, don’t be afraid to lie and say that you are married and have your husband waiting for you nearby. Or be firm! Make it known that you’re not interested and you’re not afraid to make a little noise. If anyone rubs up against you on a train, bus, or on the street, make noise. Make it apparent you are not interested and they are likely to back off.

Hopefully these tips will not fill you with fear as there is much to enjoy in Sri Lanka. Just keep these pointers in mind when venturing away from the security of your hotel resort and you are more than likely to have a fantastic time!

* Photo by Ronald Saunders via Flickr Creative Commons

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About Author

Kelly Lewis is the founder of Go! Girl Guides, Go! Girl Adventures and creator of the Women's Travel Festival. She loves traveling and aims to inspire and empower women of all ages to get out there!

1 Comment

  1. Thank you. My husband has just died and i will be travelling alone to sri lanka in the holiday we planned together (it was not possible to get any refund). Your post has helped me enormously to prepare for this. Thank you again.
    Melanie

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