Let's face it: traveling in your early twenties can be very challenging as a big portion of our age group has to rely on a student budget. I was (and still am) no exception to that. However, about seven months ago I managed to stop by Sri Lanka on my journey through half of South-East Asia. 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 above everything else was the people. Sri Lanka noticeably had some of the most generous and welcoming people I have ever had the pleasure to meet. One remarkable example was that of a kind 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 had), 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 realized that this lady was not an exception but represented the norm for Sri Lankans working in hospitality. Another charming example was that of a driver who decided to show us around the tea plantations around Kandy. He drove us around for an entire afternoon for less than 10 euros (a plus for a student budget). His smile and never-ending source of wisdom were the highlights of the tour. Every town we passed he knew fun facts about. 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
One peculiar thing Sri Lanka is well-known for is its picture-perfect train ride through the mountains. The length of the ride depends on where you embark and where you decide to hop off. 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 about this once-in-a-lifetime train ride in every other article we saw. At first we thought: "What is so special about a train ride?". However, after watching some inspirational YouTube videos (as one does before leaving for any trip), we decided to take the ride anyway. And boy were we not disappointed!
Just like in the videos, the train is a typical slow train. At first glance, it looks rusty and not all that safe. But, if you take off your Western lens and open up your mind to a new experience, you will quickly realize how amazing this train ride can be. This train took us through breathtaking mountain views. On top of that, although not the safest part of the ride, we had the opportunity to dangle our legs in the air through the open compartments in between the train carriages. The best part? The prices of the tickets start at 1 euro! Again, a very student budget-friendly option which offers a great view and an experience to tick off of your bucket list!
Disclaimer: Do keep track of your bags like you would on any other train. A DSLR camera has already gone missing a couple of times during such a ride.
Like any other island, 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. I would strongly recommend taking some basic courses to get familiar with the current and surfing in general.
Sri Lanka also has incredible wildlife and nature in general. Although I did not have the time and opportunity to go whale spotting, I can definitely recommend taking one afternoon in your schedule to plan such a unique activity. On top of that, it will most definitely be quite a bit more affordable than most other places in Europe.
Student budget or royal palace
Although I have been painting Sri Lanka as this very budget-friendly place to visit as a student, the other end of the spectrum can be found as well. Sri Lanka has been expanding its hospitality range in the latest years. Extravagant hotels have become less and less rare. Especially since Sri Lanka was rediscovered a few years ago by traveling agencies who sold it as the perfect "honeymoon" experience for newlyweds. For those of you who can afford it, more luxurious variations of the Sri Lankan experience can be found, making it an all-around appealing destination for many.
For the adventurous ones among 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 untouched and as effortlessly beautiful and enigmatic as it was before.
Nature in its purest form
The last aspect of Sri Lanka that really got me was the never-ending nature. This means that so far, the country has remained in a very pure and vastly untouched state. Having just come from Singapore, you can only imagine how surprised and (positively) overwhelmed I was when 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 aware about my carbon dioxide foot-print, I do not have the most environmentally sustainable lifestyle. And I own up to it. But seeing nature in its purest form definitely impacted me and even influenced my behavior. 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 insane landscapes!
My advice and student budget
The first word of advice I can give is to keep track of rainy season. Although rainy season usually consists 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 rainy season in the South West will most likely be over and this is the region most sought-after by tourists.
A second disclaimer is that in my opinion, Sri Lanka 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 our budget.
Lastly, here's how I budgeted and how you could potentially make your way to Sri Lanka too!
First, I spent about 300 euros 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, many of you reading 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. 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!
Keeping in mind my advice and loosely framed budget, Sri Lanka is one of the best traveling 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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