If you’ve been reading my posts over the last month, you will be fully aware of the fact that I have loved my time in Sri Lanka. It’s a beautiful country with amazingly warm, friendly people and I would highly recommend it to anyone who asks.
Since my friend Kat left after our stay in Arugam Bay, I’ve visited Mirissa, Unawatuna, Galle, Hikkaduwa, Mount Lavinia and I’m now spending my final night in the country in Negombo. In this time, I’ve been going back to my usual habit of travelling solo.
I really enjoy travelling on my own. I’m not a socially awkward loner by any means – in fact, so far on my adventures I’ve taken a great deal of comfort in how easily I’ve met and connected with other travellers. That’s not to say that I don’t enjoy my own space though, and you may remember that that’s exactly what I was craving throughout my stay in Singapore.
Since going solo in Sri Lanka, however, I’ve actually started to feel a little bit lonely for the first time since leaving home seven months ago. It’s safe to say that Sri Lanka isn’t exactly a huge tourist hot spot (not yet, anyway!) and doesn’t feature on many backpacker itineraries. There are positives and negatives to this.
Firstly, it’s really nice to visit places that are – at this moment in time – still relatively untouched by tourism. You won’t find places like Koh Phangan and Vang Vieng in Sri Lanka, which are overrun by boozed up westerners just out for a cheap, debaucherous night out. Not that there’s anything wrong with that – I actually really enjoyed my time in both those places (minus the two days I spent glued to the toilet with food poisoning in Vang Vieng!), but it’s nice to have a change every now and then.
The downside to this is, obviously, that there are less backpackers around to meet. I would say that at least 95% of the tourists I’ve encountered here are either small groups or couples. When I was travelling with Kat this wasn’t an issue but since travelling alone, I’ve started to notice it more.
Perhaps the biggest side effect of a low amount of backpackers is a low amount of hostels. For a solo traveller, hostels – and the common areas they tend to have – provide a great place to mingle with fellow travellers. Whenever I turn up to a new destination on my own, one of the first things I do is head down to the common area to see who’s around. More often than not, this results in meeting people who I go on to spend quite a bit of time with.
Now, I’m absolutely fine with my own company. In fact, there are some days when I enjoy nothing more than tiring myself out sightseeing, grabbing some food and kicking back with an episode of Boardwalk Empire (or whatever series I happen to be watching!) before a fairly early night. Maybe I’m getting old. However, this last week in Sri Lanka I’ve found myself having days where the only interaction I have with people is ordering food and drink, and telling tuk tuk drivers that I’m not interested in their services. Even for me, that can be pretty lonely.
It’s not all bad though. I’ve found that during the quieter times I’m being more productive. I’m writing more, drinking less and even trying to learn Mandarin through a Rosetta Stone course. More on that in the future.
I guess what I’m saying is this: Sri Lanka has been amazing. I’ve never been so naturally charmed by a country, its people and the surroundings. As a solo traveller though, it’s worth considering how good you are with your own company. The hostels I’ve stayed at have been great, so it’s only right that I mention them: Peddlers Inn in Galle Fort and Colombo Beach Hostel in the Mount Lavinia area of Colombo. It’s just a sad thing that hostels, right now, are fairly few and far between in Sri Lanka.
I’m sure that will change in the near future but for now, if you’re planning to travel Sri Lanka on your own, I’d recommend bringing a good book!