Whether you are planning to visit Sri Lanka independently, travelling around as you fancy, or to holiday as a part of a package with hotel and touring included, there are a few simple points to bear in mind regarding your personal safety.
Muggings are not part of local culture although petty theft sometimes occurs. This can be avoided by removing temptation: don’t leave anything unattended on the beach, or put your mobile phone on a bus seat, or have your Kindle sticking out of a satchel.
In hotel rooms, where there is a safe, use it. If you have a hard shell suitcase that can be locked securely, keep valuables in that. Otherwise don’t leave things you treasure on view. Housekeeping staff are honest but some people will take advantage if you are careless.
It is better to carry your passport with you all the time, in case curious policemen request it for inspection, although that rarely happens. Keep credit cards and cash in different pockets about your person or in a hidden money belt. Handbags or purses with a strap can be sliced off in you’re in a crowded place, or snatched.
It’s a sensible plan to have photocopies of all your documents with details of the reference numbers, and keep them in a separate place to the originals. Don’t load yourself up with unnecessary documents, keepsakes, etc., that you won’t need in Sri Lanka.
If you must wear jewellery, don’t be ostentatious as chain snatchings by youths roaring past on motorbikes can happen. Dress modestly in public; Sri Lanka is a conservative country and scantily clad men and women away from the beach invite harassment, and worse. Topless or nude sunbathing’s a No No.
Sri Lanka’s climate is hot (and wet sometimes too) so having to haul around a lot of luggage in the heat or rain will leave you exhausted, annoyed and less alert than you should be. Half the stuff you might think of bringing is totally unnecessary. Lightweight cottons are the best clothing and everything – except your prescription medicines – can be bought in Sri Lanka.
Keep Your Wits About You
“Don’t talk to strange men” is something your mother might have told you. It applies in Sri Lanka too, especially in tourist areas where beguiling young – and old too – men lurk to lure the unwary into scams, such as visiting a craft or jewellery factory (they’ll get a commission on anything you buy), seeing crocodiles (usually water monitors) or a lobster dinner (commission again). Don’t be shy at saying “No” and walking off.
However, Sri Lankans are naturally friendly, hospitable and helpful people and, if you keep your wits about you, you could make loyal and concerned friends. Take local advice, especially about where to swim, as the seas are treacherous, and which roads to take and how to travel.
Even if you want to travel at the lowest price they way locals do, don’t. You, who can afford it, will be adding to the lack of space in packed local buses and crowded 3rd class carriages on trains. Public transport is cheap, so choose luxury train carriages or book a seat on an air-conditioned bus.
Travelling by road, though, is pretty terrifying as the standard of driving relies on faith rather than a highway code. When you are travelling in a tourist van or car, always buckle up. Three-wheeler taxis (tuk-tuks) are fun but insist on the driver keeping within the speed limit. Leave negotiating the traffic to him.
Sri Lanka is not a destination for sex tourism but encounters are possible. Be aware that AIDs exists although its prevalence is unknown. Less serious health issues could involve the consequence of being bitten by a mosquito. Local repellent oils, sprays, mosquito coils and electric operated mats and vaporising liquids can be bought locally.
While food make take some time for your stomach to get used to it, (it will either be bland hotel pap or fiery local dishes), anti-diarrhoea pills are available from ubiquitous pharmacies. Don’t be afraid to try new dishes but do avoid water and ice of unknown provenance.
Do not be shy about backing down. As a guest in Sri Lanka, you are not expected to intervene in disputes, or to explain how something is done your way or “at home.” Avoid public demonstrations or political meetings. Whenever trouble looks like brewing, leave.
For your own sake, don’t forget that you are in a foreign country with different customs and cuisine to what you are used to. However, if you feel frightened that something might happen to you, it really might. So relax and enjoy everything Sri Lanka has to offer, safely.