The Ultimate Guide to Solo Female Travel in Sri Lanka

Let me start by saying that I’ve quite literally travelled all across Sri Lanka solo in every way you could possibly imagine. From cars, trains, bicycles, tuk tuks, boats, vans and buses to a hot air balloon and an army jeep, I have a lot of first hand experience as both a tourist and a resident. From my first solo trip 2 years ago (I travelled with family prior to this) to the guesthouse where I’m writing this in Jaffna, I have learnt so much between then and now by these many experiences.

I honestly do believe Sri Lanka is one of the safest countries in Asia to travel solo but as much as I love living here, unwanted attention, even harassment can be an issue for women. The question is, how to avoid it and stay safe throughout your travels?

To begin with, make a conscious effort to not only understand but respect the culture, follow some additional precautions and seek out other travellers experience and knowledge from blog posts such as this before you go. Fortunately, a lot of issues can be avoided when it comes to harassment but it’s easier said than done if you ‘walk in blind’ so to speak.

I believe a woman should theoretically be able to wear what she feels comfortable wearing without being harassed, however when visiting a country with modest & conservative values and culture, this is really not a wise mindset in certain areas, especially when travelling alone.

Calamansi Cove by ©Alice Luker

However politically incorrect as it may seem, for me as a liberal, friendly individual I have to make a conscious effort to hold back a little, especially when interacting with men in what would technically be described as working class professions such as tuk tuk drivers. When you assume they’re going out of their way to be extra helpful, there is a chance that a) more money will be expected as a tip/ they will overcharge at the end of the journey or b) if you’re coming across as ‘too friendly’ (in their mind), something else. Never assume. You may find my Tuk Tuk Survival Guide useful.

I hope my experience and travel tips will give confidence and prove invaluable to other women (and perhaps even men) in Sri Lanka, so here we are, my ultimate guide to safe travel for solo female travellers. The photos scattered across this post are all taken by myself on self-timer- this isn’t called the ultimate solo guide for nothing!

Ebb & Flow Jungalows near Weligama by ©Alice Luker

1. Avoid personal questions. Ironically I was inspired to write this guide having experienced someone asking too many personal questions on the train from Jaffna to Colombo. I was simply thinking, “here we go again” as it was a textbook example but decided to go along with it for research purposes as I was in a safe environment.

Questions that begin with a simple ‘how old are you’ can very soon escalate to ‘are you married’, ‘what is your job’ to ‘what is your salary’ (p.s red light) and someone telling you about their two babies can to the fact they don’t have enough money to support them. All of the above happened. And there is no denying that it happened because I’m a foreigner, despite explaining in Sinhala that I live here.

The way to overcome this is to simply not reply directly if something makes you uncomfortable because once they see you opening up to personal questions they will likely ask more. I’ve made the mistake in answering one or two before thinking I will be left in peace but trust me, it doesn’t work like that.

If I get the impression that someone wants to talk (which I’m quite the expert in these days) I often wear my earphones and listen to music or look busy on my phone, otherwise will be polite yet firm that I’m not interested in conversation. Being direct is not something which comes naturally to me but I’ve learnt to adapt to save time and energy.

2. Stay close to families. If you see a family on public transport or feel a little uncomfortable in general, stay close because they will 99.9% of the time be the safest to be around. If there’s a choice to sit in a carriage on a train full of males or another with children and mothers, be assertive and choose the latter, even if it means you are a little squashed between chattering children!Family groups can be fun to be with and if you have a few sweets in your pocket even more so. These are the people you can usually converse with in sign language or the children’s schoolroom English and have an authentic experience.

3. Book a 1st class seat or ticket. Now this is a little controversial as some of my favourite memories have been on regular 2nd and 3rd class seats but if you’re having one of those days where you just need your space or a little more comfort, there are often AC/ first class carriages where you have a considerably less chance of unwanted attention. This is particularly good advice for long distance journeys.

There are also luxury AC buses which you can book online, most often embarking from or in the direction of Colombo. Book a seat near the front. The prices are still incredibly reasonable.

4. Learn some Sinhala. There are two languages in Sri Lanka. Sinhala and Tamil. If I’m honest, the parts of the country where I feel most vulnerable as a solo female foreigner tends to be along the South Coast where the majority of tourists head toand Sinhala is spoken. Generally, it’s nice to meet and greet people in the native language and it also doubles up as a preventative method of people assuming your naivety. That said, remain sharp and vigilant regardless.

Speak the words with confidence, even if you’re not 100% about the accent- you will quickly learn as people will helpfully correct you and appreciate that you’re making an effort. Also, in some circumstances if the ‘sharks’ are unsure how much you can speak/ understand they tend to be a little more cautious of taking advantage of your vulnerability. 

Jetwing Kaduruketha in Wellawaya by ©Alice Luker

5. Walk with confidence. Whenever I walk I make sure to project an image of confidence, as though I am 100% sure of where I am and what I’m doing. If I look at a road sign I will do it subtly and inconspicuously, especially if people are watching. If this takes a little longer that’s fine.

Despite my relaxed demeanor, I’m also very aware of the people in close proximity and if I feel in any way uncomfortable, will take immediate action by walking into a shop or cafe, booking a taxi or both. The maps app is invaluable.

6. When travelling in public, don’t wear clothes that show too much skin. Try and dress a little local. When travelling in Sri Lanka I go out of my way to blend in. There’s a huge difference between walking along Unawatuna beach in shorts and a crop top and travelling on the local bus in the south coast wearing the same attire- which by the way, I really don’t recommend you do.

When amongst a crowd from all walks of life (again, I hate to stereotype but especially working class men) you need to be extra cautious. Wear light, loose comfortable clothing. It’s best not to flash expensive jewellery. When travelling in Jaffna and the North East, I like to wear long indian style dresses with sleeves and leggings.

7. When possible, use transport apps such as Uber or Pick Me in Colombo, Negombo and Kandy. In Colombo and Negombo Uber is an extremely reasonable and easy to use app- you can choose uberGo (mini car) or uberX (larger car). I regularly use it when travelling in and around Colombo, especially at night or when it’s too hot to travel by tuk tuk for the AC.

Pick Me is a Sri Lankan app which provide tuk tuks as well as cars and vans. They mainly operate in Colombo, Negombo and Kandy. I can’t praise them enough because it’s fair and equal for everyone which is exactly how it should be- I often book tuk tuks during rush hour (especially between 1-2pm when the children finish school) to get from A to B faster. As always, you still need to be alert but there is more security in booking through one of these reputable apps than hailing from the side of the road.

Both apps give you the option to use your credit/debit card as the payment option instead of cash which makes it a little easier when jumping around the city all day.

8. Be calm. Travelling in some parts of Asia is the ultimate test because each country has it’s own set of rules and cultural norms which there is no real guidebook for. Trust me when I say, the only way to overcome any issue is to not freak out because it will achieve nothing, only 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. If you have the option of leaving some non-valuable items behind at a reputable guesthouse/hotel which you plan to return to, this could be worth considering, especially if you’re in the middle of globetrotting around the world realistically with too much to manage. Consider what you need carefully and transport it in the most convenient, hassle free way. Use locks.

10. Allocate plenty of time for everything, it will often take longer than you think. The times I’ve been most stressed in Sri Lanka are when I haven’t managed my time efficiently. I would rather turn up ridiculously early and know I’m there on time than at the edge of sanity in panic mode.

When travelling to or from Bandaranaike International Airport I often book a room for the day/ overnight at Hangover Hostels which is just 5 minutes away. Attempting to estimate an arrival time through traffic in Colombo can be unpredictable (rush hour, protests and the occassional road block) so I find this helps sustain calmness before a flight.

11. Don’t take unnecessary risks/ trust your gut. If you feel unsafe where you are, walk away from the situation asap in a calm, inconspicuous yet brisk manner. If it means paying a little more money for a taxi on said occasion, do it. Never compromise your safety.

If your phone has or is about to run out of battery, plan your next move of where to charge it before it does- p.s invest in a good powerbank. Think one step ahead. Don’t rush. Above all, trust your gut if you feel something isn’t quite right it probably isn’t. Don’t let people pressure you into making quick decisions, take your own time. If you feel pressure from someone the chances are it will benefit them more than you.

Theva Residency in Kandy by ©Alice Luker

12. Be protective of your space. If someone is coming too close to you (F.Y.I try not to put yourself in situations where no one else is around), shuffle/move away to regain your space. Make sure they know your doing it because of them. If they don’t respect this, make an informed assumption that hints don’t work and move further away from said individual. I find bags or umbrellas particularly helpful in filling or creating this space if there is nowhere else to go ie: on a crowded bus or train.

Do not be afraid to make a fuss if someone is being inappropriate – a loud and firm ‘don’t do that’ is understood in any language!

13. Buy a local Dialog SIM card. Internet data, local calls, and to some extent international calls are very reasonable here in Sri Lanka. I use Dialog which is generally good for signal across the country. You can buy data/reload scratch cards in different amounts in even the smallest of ‘caddies’ or alternatively the shop will transfer it manually whilst you wait for text confirmation. I always keep a couple of spare scratch reload cards in my purse for emergencies.

Save emergency contacts in advance including the numbers of all hotels or guesthouses throughout your trip, reliable/safe/reasonable tuk tuk drivers you may have met, the tourist police of the area (just to be on the safe side) and any others that may be relevant. 119 is the emergency police number in Sri Lanka. I feel safer having this to hand even when I know the chances of using it is very low. Load onto your phone and have a paper copy also.

If, for example, your concerned about how to get from the train or bus station to your accomodation after dark, call in advance and ask if they can arrange transport for you. If they come across as reluctant at first, mention you’re travelling alone- I’m not one for drama but sounding a little ‘on edge’ can help in this situation.

Ceylon Tea Trails Tientsin Bungalow by ©Alice Luker

14. Utilise internet data, especially the maps app. When travelling in a tuk tuk or taxi, check the maps app to ensure your going in the correct direction. Subtly showing the map on your phone to the driver if you have concerns he’s taking you ‘the scenic route’ will give the instant impression that you’re alert, assertive and less likely to be easily taken advantage of.

Maps can also avoid a lot of unnecessary stress. I ran out of data once on route to Ella which was due to arrive around 8:30pm but running late. It was pitch black and raining outside which made it almost impossible to read each station sign so you can imagine how anxious I was about potentially missing my stop. Having data to use the maps app would have solved the problem. You can also pre-download maps when you have wifi for a specific area on the google maps app.

Using review sites such as trip advisor can also be useful to instantly (and subtly) check whether a place is reputable and safe, especially restaurants and accommodation.

When it comes to research, I like to make lists on my phone and recently downloaded an app called Anylist which I absolutely love. It’s simple and easy to organise. I’ve also conditioned myself to regularly screenshot maps  (with the nearest road names included) as backup in case the internet drops signal when I need it.

Ceylon Tea Trails Dunkeld Bungalow by ©Alice Luker

16. When booking accommodation, don’t be tempted by Tom, Dick or Harry’s (The Lankan version more likely Manoj, Prasan or Amila’s) friend’s place. As a solo traveller, it’s best not to consider accomodation without an online presence via someone you just met. It may seem considerably more affordable than other options but if it’s not rated online you have 0% security and it’s simply not worth it, especially if you have valuable personal items.

I use the Booking app a lot these days when travelling outside of sponsored work and if I plan to return, will request the offline rates to book directly. If they have a solid reputation on Bookings, Airbnb or any other site, it’s unlikely they would do jeopardise their reputation. Make safety your #1 priority.

At the time of compiling this blog post, Sri Lanka’s society is hierarchical. The lower echelons of society are patriarchal and for a minority, pre conceived assumptions regarding the lone travelling female is inevitable.

Don’t let any of the above scare you off as Sri Lanka is a beautiful, safe country and you will no doubt have a trip of a lifetime and meet some wonderful people along the way. Sri Lankan people are warm and friendly with a great sense of humour. If you heed all of the above tips, traveller traps can be avoided- knowledge is security!

If you have any tips of your own, please feel free to share them below. 

Disclaimer: Please note, these tips are all experienced based. As much as I respect any varying opinions of others, nothing shared in this post is uninformed or out of prejudice- I’m a foreign solo female traveller with over 13+ years experience in Sri Lanka


Published by

Alice Luker

I'm a photographer and travel blogger based in the UK, venturing across Sri Lanka since 2004.

31 thoughts on “The Ultimate Guide to Solo Female Travel in Sri Lanka”

  1. Also note that most maps application (Google maps) allow you to download the areas of the map you want, so it can be used offline.

  2. My tip is for when you want to avoid chatting: If someone wants to know your nationality (always the first question for tourists), tell you’re from a lesser known country. I stopped answering that I’m from Brasil since it triggers conversations about soccer or, even worst, some guys relates it to intimate waxing and gives me that nasty “scanning” look

  3. Very well written and I agree with all of the points.

    To add:

    – when people are trying to get too close to you in queues and markets etc., a loud “excuse me” works most of the time

    – I have recently started saying “stop harassing women in this country” to aimless men who try to walk with me or follow me. Try saying it when others are around, so that they get publicly shamed (ensure you don’t do this close to where you are staying or places you frequent though)

    1. Hi Sahdi, thanks for your input that is all very true. Confronting when safe and possible is a good idea but as you said something to wary of if its a regular route. When I travel at night in the dark (or anywhere I feel a little more vulnerable) I book a taxi. People then can’t follow me to where I live/stay. Safety always first.

  4. Great article, thanks for the tips! With gorgeous UNESCO World Heritage Sites, cool hill stations, gorgeous golden beaches, rolling tea plantations and delightful coastal villages, Sri Lanka is a joy to visit. However, there are numerous tourist targeted scams to be wary of

    Do be wary of the cigarette scam, tea shipping scam, fake gemstones, unofficial tour guides, spice garden scam, visa scam, safari scam, fake disabilities beggar, teacher beggar, place is closed scam, government tuk tuk scam, rogue tuk tuks, rouge taxi drivers, pickpockets and many more!

    1. Completely agree with you David. I will save that article for another day and make note of all you just mentioned. Thanks for your input, it’s much appreciated. I think if people had more access to information on how to stay safe/avoid scams, it would happen so much less and the country would be all the better from it.

  5. Excellent review – you really capture the real Sri Lanka. It’s refreshing to read such an in depth review, rather than the normal bland and sometimes biased reviews.

  6. Great and very important post about traveling in Sri Lanka. Yes this island is one of the safest country in south Asia. But still you have to be careful. Agree with your all points specially the respecting the culture. That way you can be friendly with everyone and be safe. Keep traveling. Cheers.

  7. Fascinating article. I really enjoyed and very helpful even for locals. Regarding people asking personal questions, it is not always meaning that they are up to ‘something’. In Sri Lanka, asking those questions are not considered as a serious matter from a typical Sri Lankan point of view. But people with an educational background won’t ask such a question even to a local person since they know that it is not nice to ask such a question. Different habits between different people.

  8. A couple of items that you can add to your list. Modest attire ought to be the norm unless watching on a South Coast beach. This cannot be over emphasized. I see young female travellers in short shorts all the time acting as though they were in London. LA or NYC.

    Avoid heavy drinking with unknown men. Several girls in Ella have had their drinks spiked with drugs years ago I know for a fact. They returned to their guesthouse after midnight disheveled and dis oriented. The police will not help you in Ella as they are bribed. One longtime establishment is notorious for this yet it remains the most popular place in town. I would not darken their doorway. Also they will put additional empty bottles under the table and charge you for them.
    Unplugging the meter in the tuk tuk in Colombo. If the meter suddenly is not working? Get down immediately or sooner. Never get into a tuk tuk without a working meter.
    I travel by public bus as much as possible.
    If anyone reccommends anything to you on the street, walk away immediately. Especially gems!!!
    Agreed better to say you are from Poland, Portugal, Ecuador.
    This is a “Buddhist” country. Do not assume naively that anyone employs “Buddhist” ethics. It will cost you dearly. I have learned a most expensive and costly lesson. Never partner with a local in business, properties or time-share arrangements. The court system here is VERY slow. First hand experience unfortunately buying some view property in Ella. Disaster. Do not invest what you cannot afford to lose.
    Be respectful at shrines, temples, dagobas. Do not turn your back to the Buddha to get a photo. Ultimate insult. Also bare arms, shoulders are rude.
    Sri Lankans tolerate a lot of offensive behavior because ultimately they need your money.
    Do not give out pens and pencils to kids. It creates a culture of beggars. Give directly to a school or monastery.
    Your most rewarding experiences can be volunteering for a worthy cause.
    Use filtered water no need to increase plastic pollution on this island. Carry your own container for water and refill it. Most places will boil water for you.
    Refuse plastic bags, straws, lids as much as possible and set an example for environmental awareness. It is a gorgeous country with many kind souls. That said those in the tourist sector can be cunning. By the same token if someone helps you with your bag be a decent person and tip them. Have seen so much rudeness at the airport.
    Better to find a moving tuk-tuk one parked at the railway station, in front of Odels, Crescat is looking for an easy mark. I guarantee you.
    Enjoy this paradise AND keep your wits about you. Never go with a man unaccompanied unless you are prepared for the consequences. You don’t want to have the experiences that I have had related to me. It will be YOUR fault in this society’s eyes. No unmarried woman is allowed to walk across the street alone here outside of Colombo.

  9. Hi, thanks for such an in-depth post about Sri Lanka.
    I’ve been thinking of a solo trip there for awhile already and am planning to go around May period. Probably just for a 4 – 5 days trip, may extend for another one or two days though, yet to decide.

    Wondering if there’s any suggestions of accommodation and places to visit given the duration of my visit. Or maybe there is some recommended tours that I can engage? How’s the command of basic English in Sri Lanka?

    I am a 36 yo female and am still new to the solo traveling scene. I have been only on a few solo trips, all within Asian, places like Bali, Thailand (Bangkok & Petchaburi, a small town 2hrs away from Bkk and Pai, a small town 3 hrs away from Chengmai), and Myanmar. As from my own experiences, I haven’t have much of an issue walking/strolling late at night at these places, but I’m always on alert. Sort of getting to know the usual night life of the locals, not talking about parties and drinking night.

    Therefore, as mentioned in the post, females are encouraged not to walk alone after dusk, so what do we do after dusk? Do we just stay in hotels or will there be any night activities available for groups? I’m one of those who love to maximize the time I have when I’m on a trip, so getting back to hotel at dusk isn’t really what I would have done.

    Read about the post on scams. It makes the trip sounds a little scary. With so many possible scams, how do we really differentiate them all and avoid them? Should we use cash more than credit cards there? How reliable are the money changers there? Should we change at the banks instead?

    Getting a little nervous now, a part of me wants to visit this beautiful country and yet a part of me is a bit worried about being alone there as a female traveler.

    Appreciates all the suggestions/information given for this post and many thanks in advance!


    1. Hi May,

      I wrote an in depth post about tips on Solo Female Travel in Sri Lanka. For the most part living in Sri Lanka over the past 2 1/2 years I’ve travelled solo. There are definitely some things to keep in mind to ensure a safe, enjoyable trip. It’s called ‘The Ultimate Guide to Solo Female Travel in Sri Lanka’- it’s quite easy to find by scrolling down on the ‘Blog’ tab.

      Taking money out from ATMs is incredibly easy- HSBC or Commercial Bank tend to work best with foreign cards. In areas of high density tourism (depending on where your staying) it shouldnt be a problem to go out after dark, just make sure to have a safe means of transport back to the hotel instead of picking up on the road. Ask where you’re visiting to call a taxi for you. One great thing about Sri Lanka is that people are incredibly helpful if you ask- they will always go the extra mile.

      Most people speak good English, tuk tuk drivers in the rural parts not so much. There are a few small tour companies who may be able to assist you- Ceylon Soul, Sri Lanka in Style or The Ceylon Guide. I know each company personally so can vouch for their professionalism- perhaps mention I passed on their contact.

      Good luck on your travels!

  10. Hi Alice,

    Thanks for the additional information and advice. Will do some research and find myself a more touristy place to stay.

    Appreciated & Happy

  11. Hello,

    Thank you very much for sharing this valuable and useful information.

    I’ll be doing a solo trip to Sri Lanka later this month. I’ve done several solo trips before and I’m very comfortable. My only slight reservation is not knowing how I’ll be received as a black woman solo in Asia, having experienced racism and ill treatment in other parts of the world. I get that this isn’t really something you can advise on but just I wanted to share.

    I would however like to ask if it’s okay for women to wear trousers in Sri Lanka? May sound like a strange question but I’ve been scorned on my travels before for not wearing skirts/dresses.

    Thank you

    1. Hi Nicole,

      Thanks for your message. I can’t imagine you will face issues as a black woman in Sri Lanka but as you mentioned it’s not something I have first hand experience in. Trousers are totally fine, I often wear trousers with a top or a dress with leggings and bring a wrap with me in case in the less touristy areas or when I plan to visit temples.

      I hope you have a great trip!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s