Let’s face it: travelling in your early twenties can be very challenging as a big portion of this age group has to rely on a student budget. And I was (and still am) no exception to that. However, about seven months ago I managed to travel throughout half of South-East Asia, with Sri Lanka being one of the stops. This article will give you a small break down of how I survived on my student budget, why Sri Lanka left me speechless and much more!
As cliché as it may sound, one of the elements that stood out head and shoulders above all others, were the people. South-East Asia, being known for its general hospitality, did not disappoint at any given point. However, Sri Lanka did noticeably have some of the most generous and welcoming people I have ever had the pleasure to meet. One remarkable example, was that of an adorable middle-aged woman who received me and my friend in her homestay in Ella, as if we were her own children. Not only did she fulfill every need we possibly could have (even the ones we did not even realize we would have), she went above and beyond her task as a hospitality worker. From making a traditional breakfast at the craziest times in the morning, to meticulously drafting out our route to our next stop and even waiting for our bus to arrive, she did her utmost best to make us feel at home.
Soon enough, we would realize that this lady was not an exception but almost formed the norm for the people of Sri Lanka working in hospitality. Another charming example was that of a driver who decided upon himself to tour us all around the tea plantations around Kandy. He drove us around for an entire afternoon, for not more than 10 euro’s (a plus for a student budget), accompanied by a smile and never-ending source of wisdom. Every town we passed he would know some fun facts, he would stop for the endless amounts of pictures we would take and would give us insights into local customs and habits. As many have said before, the people are what makes a place so magical!
Unforgettable train ride
On peculiar thing Sri Lanka is well-known for, is its picture-perfect train ride through the mountains. Depending on where you embark and where you decide to hop off, the train ride can take as much or as little as you want to. We opted for a mid-length train ride of about 6 hours, from Kandy to Ella. When we were doing our homework before leaving for this unforgettable trip, we read in about every other article about this once-in-a-lifetime train ride, which we should definitely take if we had the chance to. At first we were thinking: “What in the lord’s name can be this special about a train ride?”. However, after watching some inspirational YouTube video’s (as one does before leaving for ANY trip), we decided to take the ride anyway. And boy were we not disappointed!
Just like the videos show, the train is your typical slow train, in not the best conditions whatsoever. At first glance, you would not really consider taking it as it looks a bit rusty and not all that safe. But, if you take off your Western spectacles and open up your mind to a new experience, you will quickly realize how amazing this train ride can be. This train will take you through breathtaking mountain scenes which you usually only really see on your HD flat screens in the comfort of your home. On top of that, although not being the safest part of the ride, you have the opportunity to dangle out with your legs in the air through the open compartments in between the train carriages. But wait, now comes the best part: the prices for such tickets start at 1 euro! Again, a very student budget-friendly option which offers you a great view and an experience to tick off of your bucket list!
Disclaimer: Do keep track of your bags like you would in any other train, as it has happened many times before that a DSLR camera might go missing during such a ride.
Much like any island would, Sri Lanka has an incredible coastline with endless beaches. Moreover, given its geographical location, it has been a safe haven for many surfers for quite some years now. If you are feeling adventurous, make sure to pick up a surfboard and give it a try, although I would strongly recommend taking some basic courses to get familiar with the current and surfing in general.
Another great part of being in such an exotic location is the incredible wildlife and nature in general. Although I did not have the time and opportunity to go whale spotting, I can definitely recommend taking out one afternoon of your schedule to plan in such an activity, as it tends to be a unique experience. On top of that, being in Sri Lanka, it will most definitely be quite a bit more affordable than most other locations in Western civilizations.
Student budget or royal palace
Although I have been picturing Sri Lanka as this very budget friendly place to visit as a student, the other end of the spectrum can be found as well. Much like any country that has experienced the presence of Western tourists, Sri Lanka has been expanding its hospitality range in the latest years. To keep up with whatever luxury standards some of us may have, extravagant hotels have become less and less rare over the recent years. Especially since Sri Lanka has been discovered a few years ago by travelling agencies selling it as the perfect “honeymoon” experience for newlyweds. This means that, for those of you who can afford it, more luxurious variations of the Sri Lanka experience can be found, making it an all-around appealing destination for many.
But don’t worry, for the adventurous ones amongst us: there are still a vast majority of hostels and homes stays available! Since Sri Lanka is only starting to become a sought-after destination, the country largely remains at its pure and raw state, making it effortlessly beautiful and enigmatic.
Nature in its purest form
The last feature of Sri Lanka that really tied me to finding an unconditional love for it, was the never-ending nature. As I mentioned before, Sri Lanka is only at its beginning stage of being explored by the West. This means that so far, the country has remained at a very pure and vastly untouched form. Coming from a nation such as Singapore a few weeks prior, you can only imagine how surprised and (positively) overwhelmed I was upon exploring Sri Lanka. I had never seen leaves so green, trees so tall or waterfalls so deep as at that very moment. A lot of oohs and aahs were spent in those ten days, leaving me breathless at several occasions.
Although I like being self-conscious about my carbon dioxide foot-print, I do not have the most environmentally sustainable lifestyle. And I own up to it. But, seeing such a never-ending amount of nature in its purest form, has definitely left its marks into my brain, and even made its way into some of my behavioural patterns. Of course, I am not pretending like I had this epiphany which changed my life forever. But, I do have to admit that this country had some damn insane landscapes!
My advice and budget
A first big advice I will immediately put out as a sign of caution: keep track of the rain season. Although the rain season usually entails of short daily rainfalls, sometimes the timing can be really awful and could potentially ruin some excursions you have planned. My advice would be to go somewhere between November and April, as the rain season in the South West will most likely be over and this is the most sought-after region by tourists.
A second disclaimer is that in my opinion, this country should be discovered backpacker style. This allowed me and my friend to have the rawest experience possible, including meeting some interesting locals and especially not having to worry too much about the budget.
A last piece of information I will include is my budget and how you could potentially make your way to Sri Lanka too! Firstly, I spent about 300 euro’s in Sri Lanka in a little less than ten days, excluding flights. Fortunately, due to being already in South-East Asia, I managed to cop some flights at a very low rate. However, for many of you reading, you will most certainly be leaving from Europe or some other part of the world which may or may not be in direct proximity of Sri Lanka. But do not worry, as many flights to Sri Lanka should be on the more affordable side. You should, however, keep in mind that this part of the trip will most certainly take up the largest portion of your budget, which does not seem too dreadful!
Keeping in mind my advice and loosely framed budget, Sri Lanka forms one of the best travelling experience I have had so far, and is undoubtedly worth a try! I would also definitely recommend going rather sooner than later, as it is slowly becoming a more sought-after destination. If you want to be part of the “cool” gang of early visitors, make sure to start planning your big trip to the beautiful island of Sri Lanka!
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