1. You are your own advocate
Strangers that you meet may be nice, but they won’t fight for you as much as they would for themselves or people in their inner circle. They won’t even know what you want until you ask for it.
So speak up and be your own advocate. Haggle for that better price, raise any concerns you have, and ask the safari driver to stop so you can take a picture of the Sri Lankan national bird that nobody else is interested in because it looks like a common chicken (just, you know, a random overly-specific example).
2. Experiences are better when shared with other people
While I haven’t necessarily felt homesick or lonely yet, I have realized that experiences are better shared with others. Not necessarily friends and family (though of course that would be ideal), it could just be a friendly stranger that you met at the hostel or during the activity itself.
I noticed this from the safari and whale watching, when I was part of a group and alone, respectively. On the safari, I was a lot more engaged, had a lot more fun, and was less bored, in general. Climbing Adam’s Peak was also a bit of a struggle, though admittedly for other reasons too.
An experience is just overall more enjoyable when you have someone else to point things out to, to share small jokes with, and to turn to when you can’t believe what you just saw. And it’s nice to have someone to split tuk tuk costs with and to look after your things on the beach!
3. Don’t judge things right away
When I first arrived at Nethuli guest inn in Ella and realized how far up the mountains it was (at minimum, a 30 minute walk), I was pretty upset that I had booked something so remote. I added up the tuk tuk costs in my head and even started looking for other available places.
However, within an hour, my opinion had changed and I was convinced that it was the best place I had stayed thus far. It was run by a family who made wonderful home cooked meals and went out of their way to ensure that their guests were comfortable. When I ordered dinner and sat down to eat on the porch by myself, the grandpa paced up and down the driveway, saying “you single, I security.” It didn’t take too long to fall in love.
So don’t dismiss something if it doesn’t seem ideal at first. It may turn out to be fantastic, and even if it’s not, there are always positives to be found.
4. Experience it in person, not through your camera
Though pictures and video help capture the moment, trying to get the perfect pictures will cause you to miss it entirely. This is a principle that I already knew, but yet I found myself sinking into the trap again on this trip.
For the procession and whale watching in particular, I was so absorbed with capturing a good photo that I looked through my camera most of the time. The ironic part is that the pictures for both were even more of a disappointment than usual when compared with the original, due to low lighting and distance.
It’s a fine balance because I don’t want to end up with no pictures at all, that’s better than the alternative of not really experiencing it at all.
5. Don’t blindly follow reviews
My accommodation booking strategy has been to filter by the lowest price range and then sort by rating. This worked out great for the first few locations, but I realized with the last few places that good ratings do not necessarily translate to a good experience for me.
The place where I stayed in Mirissa, the Paddy Field View Resort, had a 9.9/10 rating on booking.com. Surely it must be AMAZING, right? But it was on the outskirts of Mirissa, a 35 minute walk to the beach and a minimum 300LKR tuk tuk ride away. For a budget-minded traveler like me who wanted to be close to the center of the action, this was terrible. But for a couple on their honeymoon who wanted something nice and quiet, it was wonderful.
I’ve seen this setting on booking.com before and just ignored it. But now I know. Use it!
6. You can build anything with a little imagination
Most places that I stayed in either had built-in mosquito nets or something over the bed that I could use to hang my own, but the last hostel I stayed in gave me nothing to work with. After suffering through the first night, I decided that I had to make something happen for the second. Using the few tools I had at my disposal (my backpack, the pillow, and a broom), I fashioned this tripod fort:
Was it the most comfortable night I’ve ever had? No. But was it mosquito-free? YES. It was a little awkward when they came looking for the broom, though.