Sri Lanka is deservedly growing in popularity and gaining a spot on many of our bucket lists. A lush, tropical island paradise, it offers pristine beaches, spectacular wildlife, vibrant culture and is still relatively unspoiled by tourism.
Women travelling solo in Sri Lanka should feel safe; take the usual common sense precautions and you would be unlucky to run into serious danger. The biggest challenge facing solo female travellers in such a conservative and male dominated society, is the attitude of men towards women, particularly Western women.
This shouldn’t deter you from travelling solo. I spent almost three months on my own surfing in Sri Lanka and had an amazing time, but being aware of the potential pitfalls will help you avoid them. The following seven tips will arm you with the information you need for an amazing trip in this wonderful country.
1. Be Aware
The single most important thing you can do is simply be aware and conscious of the sad fact that many Sri Lankan men have a regressive attitude towards women. Travelling alone, you will be treated entirely differently to that of when you are in the company of a man. This can range from uncomfortable staring on the street right through to propositions and sexual advances, seemingly out of nowhere.
Be friendly and polite, but always remain cautious and be mindful of giving the wrong impression. Even being the slightest amount over friendly can be taken as an invitation.
Not every Sri Lankan man will behave inappropriately, but being aware of, and prepared for the fact that first impressions may not be what they seem, will help to avoid any potentially unpleasant situations.
2. Dress Appropriately
Sri Lanka is a conservative country and dress standards for women are modest. You may receive attention no matter what you wear but you can lessen it by covering your knees and shoulders and by not wearing anything tight or revealing. On public transport in particular, you will feel more comfortable the less skin you have on show.
Temples and other religious sites will not allow you entry with bare knees or shoulders, so keeping a scarf in your bag can be handy for when you need to cover up.
In the beach towns, whilst it is socially more acceptable to wear short-shorts and bikinis, you will still receive the same, if not more, attention even on the beach. What you wear, therefore comes down to your own personal tolerance level for the attention.
Public nudity is illegal in Sri Lanka so sunbathing topless is an absolute no wherever you are. I would also suggest that a thong style bikini is not advisable.
3. Don’t Be Afraid to Lie
One thing you can almost guarantee as a solo female traveller in Sri Lanka is that at some point, you will be asked if you are married and where your husband or boyfriend is. Oftentimes this is a just harmless question borne out of genuine curiosity as to how a woman could possibly be travelling alone. Even so, never give away that you are on your own. Don’t be afraid to lie and say that your husband/boyfriend is at your hotel, or that you are on your way to meet him.
Declaring that you don’t have one is at best going to encourage a barrage of other questions you likely won’t feel comfortable answering (Sri Lankans don’t seem to have same social boundaries as Westerners), and at worst act as a green light to an advance.
Some solo female travellers opt to wear a fake wedding ring, though there is debate around how much of a difference this really makes in deterring men from hitting on you.
4. Avoid Drinking and Smoking in Public
It is not socially acceptable for a woman to drink or smoke in public in Sri Lanka so choose where you do this carefully. Places with larger numbers of Western tourists such as the beach towns should be fine, otherwise it is probably best avoided.
If you are going out at night, ask if your accommodation can arrange a tuk tuk for you. Most will have at least one trusted driver they can call. Arranging in advance for the same driver to pick you up is also sensible.
5. Be Wary of Crowds
Buses and trains in Sri Lanka are by far the cheapest way of getting around but are usually packed. This can mean men sitting closer than you’re comfortable with or getting a little too close when squeezing past in the aisle. If you feel that someone is taking advantage of the situation, don’t be afraid to firmly tell them to stop.
On public transport, sit rather than stand where possible, and if you have the choice, sit next to a woman.
Beach parties are another hotspot for wandering hands and can become very crowded as the night goes on. At the risk of being groped, try to situate yourself so that you do not have to squeeze through the crowd to get to the bar or toilet, or leave before the masses arrive.
6. Trust Your Instincts
Don’t worry about being polite or causing offense by quickly getting out of a situation that you’re not comfortable with. I got myself into two sketchy situations early on in my trip that could have been avoided if I had just listened to my gut.
Make up an excuse as to why you have to leave, and go. It is better to trust your instincts, leave a situation and be wrong, than wait around and be proved right.
By the same token, do not allow yourself to be talked into something you are not happy with, for fear of causing offense by saying no.
You may also like: 10 Tips for Backpacking Sri Lanka on a Budget
7. Go Out With Someone Else
Being out in the company of a man, a couple or even another woman can make a huge difference to the amount of attention you receive. If you have the opportunity to tag along with someone else or a group, take it. Most people will be more than happy to have you along and it can make life significantly easier.
If you do go out alone, the tips above should serve you well. Look confident, be assertive and enjoy.
The Good News
Don’t be discouraged; travelling in Sri Lanka is not a trial of constant hassle and harassment. The vast majority of people are wonderfully kind, friendly and helpful; I spent almost three months travelling solo here and my experience was overwhelmingly positive.
For the most part, any unwanted attention is just an annoyance and can be dealt with by ignoring it. Take all the usual common sense precautions you’d take when travelling anywhere, and with the addition of these tips, you should enjoy an amazing trip that’s memorable for all the right reasons.
Have You Travelled Solo in Sri Lanka?
How did you find it? Let me know your experiences in the comments below.
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