The “Monthly” Bucket- December 2017/January 2018

Hello from the Outer Banks of North Carolina! I know I’m starting to sound like a broken record, but I blinked and several months went by. Oops? I’m never without a good excuse, though, and this is no exception. I’ve been extremely busy starting another website! My Adventure Bucket isn’t going anywhere, but I’ve been working hard on some more huge life changes that will lend themselves to an entirely new travel niche (and checking off more bucket list items!). Details soon!

(As always, posts on My Adventure Bucket may contain affiliate links. These links cost you nothing to use, but help support the running of this site and my inability to drive past a Starbucks without getting a venti chai latte. I only promote products and companies that I use and believe in myself.)

Collage of Colonial Williamsburg and Outer Banks photos

Where in the world am I? The Outer Banks of North Carolina, searching the beach for wild horses and drinking awesome locally distilled rum. (Not at the same time, FYI.)

Boats in marina Manteo North Carolina MyAdventureBucket.com

Items checked off the bucket list lately: #374- Visit Colonial Williamsburg during the Christmas Season. And it was beautiful! Unfortunately I was severely delayed in writing a post about it because immediately after my trip, my sweet dog/adventure buddy got extremely sick and had to be hospitalized, and it’s hard to write when you’re sobbing your face off for days at a time. More on that later. 

Colonial Williamsburg window detail MyAdventureBucket.com

Highlight of the month: Bringing my sweet girl home from the hospital, knowing she was going to make a full recovery. (See lowlight below)

Bonus highlight: going to the grocery store and finding a magazine with my face in it! If you’re local to North Carolina, my interview in Cary Living magazine is on the newsstands now.

Posing with Cary Living magazine MyAdventureBucket.com

 

Super extra bonus highlight: Publishing another article on Intrepid Travel.

Lowlight of the month: Sitting in the state veterinary hospital while my precious adventure buddy got an emergency blood transfusion to save her life. The silver lining was the amazing staff at the North Carolina State Veterinary hospital who literally saved my little girl’s life when another emergency veterinarian said there was nothing else they could do. This whole experience was the lowest point of my entire life. 

Murphy Ann the adventure dog getting a blood transfusion MyAdventureBucket.com
Murphy Ann was such a trooper throughout the whole awful experience.

Cheap Travel Tip of the month: A little something new I’m adding to the monthly bucket. It physically pains me every time I hear someone say they would love to travel but they don’t have a spare $5,000 (or some other supremely inflated amount) to take a vacation. Y’all. You do not need a ton of money to travel, and there are literally thousands of ways to save money on trips. I’ll share at least one tip with you every month to make sure you’re not sitting at home, daydreaming about your bucket list instead of going out there and living it. There are probably thousands of other ways I haven’t thought of, too, so please email me your own tips and I’ll share them in upcoming posts.

This month’s cheap travel tip:

Valentine’s Day is coming up- are you planning a romantic getaway with your sweetie? Hotel deals abound, but don’t forget about Airbnb! They have so many cool and unexpected accommodations; checking around North Carolina I saw hundreds of places I’d like to stay, from tree houses to yachts to trendy tiny homes and container houses. And some of them are remarkably inexpensive. (They get even cheaper if you stay for at least a week!) I’ve used Airbnb all over the world, so it doesn’t matter where you’re traveling. Save money, stay in a cool place that’s not a generic hotel, and have way more privacy? Sounds like a winner to me. Use my affiliate link for a free $40 travel credit.

Gorgeous cabin on a peaceful mountain lake
Photo by Luca Bravo on Unsplash

And a bonus tip, just because I love you. If you haven’t yet, you *must* sign up for the Scott’s Cheap Flights newsletter ASAP. I have booked my last two trips through deals that Scott found and have saved literally thousands of dollars thanks to him. He found the flight deal that I used to book my trip to Melbourne. $525, people. Round trip. With a checked bag. TO AUSTRALIA. 

Best meal: The beer glazed burger with goat cheese at Outer Banks Brewing Station. Absolutely divine. But you have to take my word for it because it was so dark all of my pictures came out horribly and I deleted them. 

New blog posts published:

They Don’t Need More Stuff: Give Adventure Instead

60+ Things to Eat, See, and Do in Sri Lanka

Ultimate Sri Lanka Packing List

10 Things to Do in the Outer Banks in the Winter

What I learned:

  • There is an absolute tick epidemic along the east coast of the US and your dog can become infected with a deadly disease even if you apply tick preventative and never see a tick on them. Monitor your babies for any sign of illness and take them to the vet immediately if you suspect they could have received a tick bite.
  • How to make travel videos for Facebook and YouTube. Apparently video is the hip new thing that all you young whippersnappers are doing on the intertubes nowadays, so I figured I should get on board.
  • Despite growing up in New Hampshire, my body is no longer able to deal with cold weather. The cold, wet North Carolina winter has made my fibromyalgia flare up like crazy. As much as I’ve come to love this state, I’m ready to head south for warmer temperatures for a while.
  • Alllllllll about the awesome Outer Banks for an article I wrote (coming soon to a major travel news outlet near you!)
  • How to level and hook up an RV at a campsite. (Psst, that’s a hint!)
  • I’m not the only funeral director who left the business and became a blogger! Check out Greg and Holly Johnson over at ClubThrifty.com for awesome tips on saving money to travel.

What I read:

  • Lonely Planet Melbourne & Victoria in preparation for my upcoming travels. If you have any Australia travel tips, please send them my way!
  • Travels with Rachel: In Search of South America by the hilarious George Mahood. I read everything this man writes as soon as I can get my hands on it.
  • Chaos by Patricia Cornwell. Unpopular opinion alert: I’ve been reading the Kay Scarpetta novels for so long that they’re starting to feel really formulaic and unoriginal. But for some reason I still feel compelled to add each new one to my Kindle as soon as I see it.


I’m going to be spending a lot of time on airplanes in a few weeks because, in case you didn’t know, Australia is about a zillion hours away. If you have any good book recommendations, please share them in the comments!

What’s next?

SO MUCH. I’m still not ready to spill all the beans on my next venture, but trust me- it’s big and exciting!

In the meantime, I’m packing my bags to head to Australia in three weeks to drive the Great Ocean Road, snuggle some koalas, and try not to get punched in the face while taking a kangaroo selfie.

Got any travel plans for February? Tell me about them in the comments!

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10 Things To Do in the Outer Banks in the Winter

I’ve been wanting to check out the famed OBX since I moved to North Carolina last year, but a conversation with friends made me think I would have to wait until next summer to visit. I was happy to discover (and you will be, too!) that the Outer Banks in the winter are just as magical as they are when the tourist hordes start to descend in June.

(Psst, as always, posts on My Adventure Bucket my contain affiliate links. Using these links costs you nothing but helps support the running of this site and my ridiculous Haribo Starmix habit.)

“We should rent a beach house in the Outer Banks with the whole gang!”

It’s Saturday night in early November and the “whole gang” is out to dinner. I’m never one to turn down an adventure of any sort, so naturally I’m the first one to enlist. “When? I’m free any time.”

“Oh, well, not until late spring or early summer. Everything closes in the winter.”

“Everything?”

“Everything. I don’t think you can even get to the Outer Banks in the winter.”

I can’t really fault my friend for thinking so, because it’s a common misconception. Most people who visit the Outer Banks only do so in the summer, because who takes a beach holiday at any other time of year?

People who love to travel without crowds, that’s who.

I had the opportunity to visit the Outer Banks in January and I was very pleased to discover that, contrary to popular belief, the entire place wasn’t boarded up and deserted. I had a fantastic time, and came home with a list of 10 awesome things that you can do in the Outer Banks in the winter:

  1. Taste some killer “Kill Devil” rum at Outer Banks Distilling. This was the absolute highlight of my trip, and I came home with a new favorite rum. And a box of rum balls that barely made it through the night, but let’s not talk about that. The guys who run the place (the first and only legal distillery in the Outer Banks) are absolute experts at what they do, and you’ll come away from a tour knowing more than you ever thought possible about how to make rum. As a bonus, they’re as funny and passionate about their craft as they are knowledgeable. And did I mention the rum balls??

    Kill Devil Rum Outer Banks Distilling Things to do in the Outer Banks in the winter MyAdventureBucket.com
    I can neither confirm nor deny that these bottles were full when I got there.
  2. Explore isolated stretches of beach in search of wild horses. If you don’t have your own 4×4 vehicle, the Corolla Wild Horse Fund offers year-round tours. If you haven’t added this to your bucket list yet, you will after reading about the conservation efforts that have gone into protecting these beautiful creatures from human encroachment and activity. These horses are descended from the Mustangs brought here by Spanish explorers, and are severely endangered. 

    things to do in the outer banks in the winter MyAdventureBucket.com
    Photo by Kevincollins123
  3. Horseback riding on the beach, Hatteras Island. I know, you’re bummed you can’t pet the wild horses in Corolla. Me, too. Here’s the next best thing, though. Hatteras Island Horseback Riding offers year round beach rides. Time it right and you may just have the whole beach to yourself.
  4. Hike the tallest living sand dune on the Atlantic coast at Jockey’s Ridge State Park. Guided informative hikes are offered year round, so you can learn all about the fascinating things that lie under the dune, having been swallowed over the years by the shifting sands. things to do in the Outer Banks in the winter MyAdventureBucket.com
  5. Visit the Wright Brothers National Memorial. Educational programs are offered throughout the year at random times, but even if your visit doesn’t coincide with a ranger-led program, you’ll still get fantastic views and a great place to contemplate how two engineers from Ohio came to the beach and taught themselves how to fly.
  6. Bird watching at Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge. 90 minute guided walks are offered year round if you’d like to learn about the nearly 400 species of birds who make this refuge home for all or part of the year. You can also wander the 13 mile long sanctuary on your own, keeping an eye out for endangered creatures like the red wolf and the loggerhead sea turtle.
  7. Have breakfast with stingrays or make lunch for an otter. The North Carolina Aquarium on Roanoke Island is open year-round for regular visits and special programs. Bonus: they offer free admission on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. 

    NC Aquarium Roanoke Island Things to do in the outer banks in the winter MyAdventureBucket.com
    Photo by Robyn Budlender on Unsplash
  8. Winter Lights at Elizabethan Gardens. Maybe the only good thing about how early it gets dark in the winter: you don’t have to wait as long to head over to this locals-favorite annual spectacle in Manteo and take a stroll through a glittering winter wonderland.
  9. Take a quick trip to England without ever leaving the OBX. In the center of Ocracoke island is a small plot of land considered to be British soil, as it’s perpetually leased to the British Commonwealth. Why? Because it contains the bodies of four British sailors killed off the Carolina coast in WWII. The entire crew of the HMT Bedfordshire died in the attack, but the bodies of the other 33 men were lost at sea.
  10. The Frisco Native American Museum. We spend a lot of time talking about the lost Roanoke colonists, but the Native American tribes inhabiting the Outer Banks already had a thriving society when the English arrived. This small but impressively designed and lovingly curated Hatteras Island museum is open year round (limited hours in winter so call ahead). A 70+ year labor of love, the museum contains thousands of artifacts the founder has collected throughout his life.

Things to do in the outer banks in the winter MyAdventureBucket.com

Enjoy your winter vacation in the OBX! What else do you enjoy doing in the Outer Banks in the winter? I’m sure there are lots of other activities I missed- tell me about them in the comments!

Things to do in the outer banks in the winter myadventurebucket.com

If you enjoyed reading about things to do in the Outer Banks in the winter, please pin this! 10 Things to do in the Outer Banks in the Winter MyAdventureBucket.com

If you enjoyed this post, don’t stop here. Check out some more travel inspiration!

Ultimate Sri Lanka Packing List

I created this Sri Lanka packing list after spending three months on the island and realizing there were quite a few things I wished I had brought with me. This post does contain affiliate links, which help to maintain this website and my dog’s organic broccoli habit.

Everyone loves packing lists, right? Just having a list of something makes you feel more organized.

Whenever I’m planning a trip, one of the first thing I always search for is a packing list, especially if it’s a country I’ve never visited before.

Sri Lanka was no exception. Unfortunately, once I was actually there, I found that every Sri Lanka packing list I had read in preparation for my trip were a little, um, lacking. If you’re a 20 year old Instagram goddess you might be able to spend a month on the island with only a dozen flowing dresses and a selfie stick, but I found there were quite a few things I wish I had brought with me.

Lucky for you, I wrote them all down, so you can be much better prepared.
Please note: there are tons of general packing lists on the Internet and I assume most people understand that they should bring pants and a toothbrush on their trip, so I’m going to skip the basics and just focus on the things you’re definitely going to want in Sri Lanka.

Without further ado, here is everything I think you should have on your Sri Lanka packing list:

Baby wipes. I almost always travel with these anyway, but somehow I completely forgot to pack some on this trip. If only I’d had a list…

Hand sanitizer. Once you see your first train bathroom, you’ll understand.

Safety pins. Apart from preventing a variety of wardrobe malfunctions, I wish I’d had a safety pin with me every time I visited a museum and paid the camera fee to be allowed to take photos. The ticket agent would give me a slip of paper and a microscopic straight pin with which to attach it to my shirt. I would then spend the next hour trying to keep it attached while my camera bag strap continually knocked it onto the floor.

Spray bottle of rubbing alcohol for shoes and sweaty clothes. Keep your luggage fresh, and disguise the fact that you’ve been wearing that tee shirt for 3 straight days.

Dryer sheets. Along the same lines as the rubbing alcohol, tucking a few dryer sheets into the nooks and crannies of your suitcase or backpack will keep everything smelling clean long after it actually is.

Portable Wi-Fi like Tep. I almost always carry Wi-Fi with me when I travel, but I decided to skip it on this trip for a couple of reasons. One, I was going to be in Sri Lanka for three months, making the rental cost pretty high. And two, on past trips I’ve ended up not using the device very much because I had reliable Wi-Fi in hotels and other public areas. Unfortunately, that was not the case in Sri Lanka. Even hotels that advertised reliable Wi-Fi were subject to frequent service interruptions and the signal rarely reached the rooms even when it was working.

Sri Lanka packing list MyAdventureBucket.com
It’s way easier to be an Instagram goddess with reliable Wi-Fi.

Sunscreen and mosquito repellent. It’s getting easier to find these products and you won’t have any trouble locating them in Colombo or the main tourist strip down the coast, but they’re much more expensive than what you would find at home and the selection is very limited.

Benadryl and Claritin. I thought I was being super resourceful by taking a small first aid kit with me, but because I’m an idiot, it didn’t have either of these things in it. I lost an entire week of my trip due to getting a sinus infection that I thought was the flu. I suffered in sweaty, miserable solitude in my Airbnb until I worked up the strength to walk a mile to the nearest pharmacy in the 90 degree heat.

(Speaking of Airbnb: sign up here for a free $40 travel credit, which will go a long way in Sri Lanka.)

Cough drops. Between the sinus infection and the air pollution in Colombo, my throat was painfully raw. I did manage to find throat drops at the local Cargill’s supermarket, but it was another long, hot walk when I was feeling near death.

Hair product. Because I was traveling for so long, I made the (wrong) decision not to devote precious packing space to bringing all the toiletries I would need for the entire trip. I knew I would be making several passes through Colombo and I assumed (wrongly) that I would be able to pick up anything I needed while I was there. One day I will learn that everything I assume is probably wrong, but today is not that day. Anyway that’s how I ended up sitting in a salon chair with a bunch of random chemicals burning my scalp while an old Sri Lankan lady chugged gin straight out of a bottle. (Side note: if someone tells you that you can buy boxed hair dye in Sri Lanka, they’re not lying, but what they’re not telling you is that the only color you’ll be able to find is black.)

Dry shampoo. You’re going to be hot and sweaty and your hair is going to get nasty. Trust me.

Sri Lanka packing list MyAdventureBucket.com
My hair never looked this good on vacation, so here’s a random stock photo model. Isn’t she lovely?

Contact solution. Another thing I wish I had brought enough of for the entire trip. As it turns out, you can only buy this in optometry shops in Sri Lanka, and you won’t find these outside the main tourist areas.

Pajama pants. Not just for sleeping, I wore these darling pants constantly and they were so ridiculously comfortable I decided to never wear anything but pajama pants again for the rest of my life.

Sri Lanka packing list MyAdventureBucket.com
Yes, I climbed Sigiriya in pajama pants. Fight me.

Energy bars. Most restaurants will close down for a few hours in the afternoon and not reopen for dinner until around 6 p.m., by which time you might be so starving and hangry that you collapse in the first restaurant you find and sadly eat horrible veggie fried rice with ketchup while internally berating yourself for missing out on hot cheese kotthu. For example.

Extra memory cards and spare camera batteries. Despite how earnestly the entire country tried to kill me, Sri Lanka is ridiculously photogenic. You’ll have a tough time finding decent photography supplies anywhere here, so bring more than you think you’ll need. On that note, having a good camera is a must here. I still regret all the trips I took before I got a “real” camera. If you’re looking for something that’s going to take amazing photos without you needing to be a professional photographer, I can’t recommend the Sony mirrorless A6000 strongly enough.

 


A flask. Only half kidding. If you enjoy a cocktail before dinner and your trip falls on the full moon Poya day, you won’t be able to buy alcohol anywhere.

Multiple credit cards. I had two situations arise while I was in Sri Lanka that necessitated my bank closing the account and issuing me a new card. Luckily I had a third credit card and a debit card with me.

A lightweight umbrella. Between the unrelenting sun and the sudden monsoon rains, there are many reasons to have an umbrella with you. I didn’t pack one and spent a lot of time drenched and/or sunburned.

Chapstick. Speaking of getting sunburned, have I mentioned that the sun is really powerful here? I was constantly re-applying Chapstick to combat the drying effects of the sun and the salty air.

The appropriate travel adapter. Sri Lanka was the first country where my usual universal converters didn’t work. I ended up buying a couple of cheap converters at the supermarket in Hikkaduwa. You’ll want to bring a universal adapter anyway, because you never know what kind of outlets you’re going to encounter. I’ve been in Sri Lankan hotel rooms with 3 different kinds in the same room.

Laundry detergent for washing your own clothes in your hotel room. I brought a few packets with me, but after I ran out I had to rely on hotel laundry services. Hotels with self-service laundry machines don’t exist in Sri Lanka and I had some terrible experiences with sending my clothes out to be cleaned by the hotel. One hotel lost my favorite pair of pants, another ripped two seams out of my second-favorite pair of pants, and they all wanted to count everything (including dirty underwear) in front of me, which is a special kind of embarrassing. If nothing else, I would carry laundry detergent and wash my own undergarments so I wouldn’t have to stand there while a teenage errand boy sorted through my unmentionables. (If you’re on a shorter trip, you can always just pack your oldest, rattiest tee shirts and underwear and toss them as they get dirty!)

A travel clothesline. Even if you’re not going to do your own laundry, you’ll probably go swimming and need a place to hang up wet clothes so they can dry properly and not turn your bag into a festering mildew colony.

Clothes that cover knees and shoulders. You can’t swing a string of prayer beads in Sri Lanka without hitting some kind of temple or religious site, and they all require modest dress. Please don’t be that clueless tourist prancing past temple entrances in short shorts and a bikini top while outraged locals stare in horror. At the very least, carry a sarong or large, versatile scarf with which to cover up. Opt for white or light colors as much as possible; in some places like Anuradhapura, you won’t be allowed to enter temples wearing black. The locals wear white as a sign of respect, and you’ll be so much cooler if you follow their lead.

Sri Lanka packing list MyAdventureBucket.com

A heavy long sleeve shirt for cooler hill country evenings. I don’t think a jacket is necessary unless you’re really cold natured. I hate being cold and I was comfortable in a flannel button-down layered over a tee shirt. (And it was a fantastic break from the heat!)

Sunglasses and/or a wide brim hat. I had sunglasses but wish I had made room in my luggage for a hat. The sun really is brutal, especially along the coast. Plus then I could have pretended I was a 20 year old Instagram goddess in a flowing dress.

Tampons, Thinx, menstrual cup, whatever combination of feminine contraptions you use to deal with Satan’s Sacrificial Waterfall. You won’t be able to find tampons outside of a few stores in Colombo, and the ones you find aren’t going to be what you’re used to at home. I relied on a combination of tampons and Thinx panties, but if trying to use a menstrual cup hadn’t caused me permanent emotional scarring, that would have been a better option. Maybe one day I’ll write about that experience, but only after the trauma fades enough for me to discuss it without needing to do straight shots of Johnnie Walker Blue.

(Side note: If you’re thinking about trying Thinx before your next trip, use this link for $10 off!)

http://ref.thinxify.me/hKVam Sri Lanka packing list MyAdventureBucket
This will probably be you, right before you prance through a field of daisies in your new Thinx.

Kindle Fire. I finally hopped on the e-reader bandwagon and bought a Kindle before my trip so I wouldn’t have to carry so many physical books around with me. It was also good for watching the occasional movie. I’m not a TV watcher, but if you need digital entertainment you’ll want to have some movies or shows loaded on your Kindle or laptop because many of the hotel rooms I stayed in didn’t have televisions in them.

 


Notebook, pen, and printed itinerary showing the addresses and phone numbers of all of your hotels. Extra credit if you have them translated into Sinhala (or Tamil if you’re going up north) because not every taxi and tuk tuk driver can read English. Most appreciated having the information on a piece of paper they could look at and almost all of them preferred to call the hotel and get verbal directions in their own language.

Travel Insurance. I did have travel insurance, although I didn’t end up using it on the trip. While in Kalpitiya, I managed to contract the mystery virus that was sweeping through the area and I honest-to-goodness thought I was going to die. I thought about contacting my travel insurance for a medical evacuation but I was too sick to pick up the phone. I’m extremely fortunate that years of doing stupid things like drinking tap water in Burma have apparently made me immortal, because I slowly started to recover on my own. If I hadn’t, getting transported to the nearest western-style hospital outside the country would have been astronomical.

Sri Lanka packing list bonus: 3 things you definitely don’t need to take with you:

Jeans. It’s going to be like a billion degrees. Jeans will make you miserable. Fashionable locals in Colombo do wear them, but it was far too hot for me to worry about trying to blend in with them.

String bikinis. I like to get my tan on as much as the next Florida girl, but Sri Lanka is a very modest country. No one is going to say anything to you if you lounge around the beach in that tiny two-piece, but the locals are definitely going to notice. If you’re traveling solo, wearing a tiny bathing suit is going to get you a lot of (presumably unwanted) attention. Whatever you do, definitely don’t wear your swimwear off the beach. And don’t even think about trying to avoid tan lines by going au naturale on the beach. If you’re up around Jaffna or anywhere in the north, you’re going to need to swim fully clothed. It’s that conservative.

Travelers Checks. Leave these dinosaurs at home and just hit the ATM at the airport when you land to stock up on cash.

 

If you’d like to receive a free printable copy of my ultimate Sri Lanka packing list in checklist form, enter your information below:

OK, you’re packed! Have a fantastic trip! Don’t forget, if you’re planning to stay over 30 days, you’ll have to extend your visa while you’re there. (You can’t get a longer visa before entering the country.) I wrote a handy guide to extending your tourist visa here.

Wait, don’t leave me. Have you read everything I’ve written about Sri Lanka?

If you found this Sri Lanka packing list helpful, pin it!

Sri Lanka packing list MyAdventureBucket.com

60+ Best Things to Eat, See, and Do in Sri Lanka

Ceylon. The Pearl of the Indian Ocean. Teardrop of India. With descriptors like these, it’s no wonder Sri Lanka is fast becoming one of Asia’s hottest tourism destinations. If you’re planning a trip and looking for things to do in Sri Lanka, you’ve come to the right place. I recently spent three months exploring this tropical paradise, and this is my personal list of the best things to eat, things to see, and things to do in Sri Lanka.

(As always, posts on My Adventure Bucket may contain affiliate links. Using these links costs you nothing but helps support the maintenance of this site and my dog’s organic broccoli habit.)

To make it easy for you, I’ve broken my recommendations down by region.

Because these are solely my personal recommendations, you won’t see anything from areas I didn’t visit. Although I saw a lot in three months, I’m sure I also missed some really excellent things. Feel free to let me know in the comments if you have some recommendations I missed!

Colombo

Things to Eat:

  1. Sunday brunch in the Barefoot Garden Cafe (704 Galle Rd, Col 3). Purely for the atmosphere, the tea, and the live jazz in the afternoon. Have a browse through the shop when you’re done; it’s a sweet rabbit warren of books, textiles, and other unique souvenirs you won’t find at the kitschy airport kiosks.

    Best things to do in Sri Lanka www.myadventurebucket.com
    More tea, Vicar? Indulging in a pot of real Ceylon tea in a sunny garden is a fabulous way to spend a Sunday afternoon.
  2. Vegetable kotthu at any no-name dive joint. You can find kotthu all over, but the very best ones come from the sketchiest looking little roadside stands. Walk out of your hotel around 6 p.m. and follow your nose. If you’ve never had kotthu, the best way I can describe it is “spicy Sri Lankan Stove-Top Stuffing on steroids.” Half the fun of eating kotthu is watching the chef prepare it on his flat-top griddle with knives and sizzling spices flying. 

    Best things to do in Sri Lanka www.myadventurebucket.com
    If you could feel the heat emanating from this spicy plate of kotthu, your eyes would water.
  3. OK, this isn’t something you eat, but the blackcurrant iced tea at Tea Avenue (55 Barnes Pl, Col 7) was outstanding.
  4. Mouth-watering fried dumplings at Momos By Ruvi (43/1D Galle Rd, Col 4). One of my favorite meals in Colombo, and ridiculously cheap to boot. It’s hidden down an alley, so you may have to search a bit, but it’s worth it. 

    Best things to do in Sri Lanka www.myadventurebucket.com
    Don’t feel bad if you didn’t know what a momo was, either. All you need to know is that they’re delicious.
  5. Chicken tacos at Let’s Taco Colombo. Ignore the recently-opened Taco Bell and come to this family-owned startup serving the first real Mexican food in Sri Lanka.

    Best things to do in Sri Lanka www.myadventurebucket.com
    What? You can’t eat curry every day, can you? Long live Taco Tuesday.
  6. A proper Sunday roast at a proper British pub: the Cheers Pub in the Cinnamon Grand hotel puts on an incredible spread. Despite the unfortunately smoky atmosphere, my inner Anglophile doesn’t allow me to pass up this favorite English tradition, no matter where I am in the world. It’s pricey by Sri Lankan standards, but the food is excellent.

    Best things to do in Sri Lanka www.myadventurebucket.com
    This is only a photo; please don’t lick your screen.
  7. Masala dosa and other Indian delicacies at Shanmugas (53/3 Ramakrishna Rd, Col 6). Having come to Sri Lanka from a very enjoyable stay in Bangalore, I was experiencing severe Indian food withdrawals. This modest vegetarian joint hit the spot amazingly well.Best things to do in Sri Lanka www.myadventurebucket.com

Things to See:

  1. Wolvendaal Church (Wolvendaal Lane, Col 11). This whole building is a work of art. Built in 1749, this little church at the edge of hectic Pettah is an absolute jewel. From the carved wooden furniture to the ornate Dutch colonial tombstones used as floor pavers, I spent at least an hour wandering and admiring.

    Best things to do in Sri Lanka www.myadventurebucket.com
    Little bits of aesthetic magic are hidden literally all over this timeworn historical treasure.
  2. A tree full of enormous flying foxes in the center of Viharamahadevi Park.
  3. Gay pride celebrations every June. If you’re visiting from a western country, these gatherings might seem like no big deal. But here in a country where homosexuality is illegal, these inspiring activists put themselves at risk to wave the rainbow flag. Check out this article I wrote for the G&LRBest things to do in Sri Lanka www.myadventurebucket.com
  4. Arthur C. Clarke’s house (25 Barnes Pl, Col 7). Although this private residence isn’t open to the public, if you’re a fan you’ll definitely get a thrill from being able to stand outside the very house where the sci-fi master lived for so many years. According to this article, the inside has been kept exactly the way it was when he died.

Things to Do:

  1. Attend the Vesak Poya celebrations in May. This major Buddhist holiday is celebrated throughout the country, but at Gangaramaya Temple, this is the Sri Lankan version of New Year’s Eve in Times Square. Only without the freezing temperatures and inability to find a bathroom.
  2. Get a pedicure at Nail Anatomy (14 Reid Ave, Col 7). After walking around sightseeing all day, the peppermint cooling gel is pure bliss.
  3. Or, go all out with a spa treatment at Amber Spa at Colombo Courtyard.
  4. Sunday afternoon at Galle Face Green. It seems like the whole city comes out here to Colombo’s front lawn on Sunday afternoon to walk, fly kites, soak in the sun, and sample treats from the myriad food vendors. Pull up a chair, order a Lion Lager and a plate of spicy kotthu, and settle in for some magnificent people-watching. Best things to do in Sri Lanka www.myadventurebucket.com
  5. Shop for souvenirs at the Laksala Museum Store. The shop has a ton of cute things and they’re not ridiculously overpriced. If you’re not a huge museum buff and/or you’re short on time, don’t feel guilty about skipping the National Museum. I loved the architecture and the old Dutch tombstones, but otherwise found it dark, stuffy, and rather poorly presented. After shopping, stop in the attached cafe for a fresh lime soda.
  6. Wander around Borella Cemetery for a few hours. The final resting place of sci-fi author Arthur C. Clarke and most of the city’s well-heeled dead, Borella Cemetery is a fabulous place to spend an afternoon. I don’t know about you, but I love to visit cemeteries in other countries and marvel at the different ways we find to memorialize our loved ones. See how many tiny Buddhist shrines you can find hidden in the trees. Learn from one of my myriad mistakes, though- don’t stick around too long if they’re burning plastic trash in the cemetery, which is unfortunately a common waste disposal  method. As I learned the hard way. Best things to do in Sri Lanka www.myadventurebucket.com
  7. Take your life into your hands by riding through the city in a tuktuk. OK, you’ll probably be fine, but…hang on, just in case. 

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    Clearly in mortal peril here, people.

 


The West

Things to Eat:

  1. Fresh pasta at the Dolphin Beach Resort. I know you’re not in Italy, but you may be second-guessing that after you taste one of the resident chef’s homemade pastas. The spaghetti carbonara I had here was the best pasta of my whole entire life. Best things to do in Sri Lanka www.myadventurebucket.com
  2. Fruit salad with ice cream at Top Secret, Hikkaduwa. This backpacker joint is anything but a secret anymore. The food is just OK, but this chilly dessert was an absolute godsend on days it was too hot for anything more substantial. Best things to do in Sri Lanka www.myadventurebucket.com
  3. Vegetable fried noodles at Tree Tops, Hikkaduwa. If all the spicy curries have your stomach a little on edge, this is just the kind of comfort food that will set you to rights. Added bonus: you’re basically eating in a tree house. 

Things to See:

  1. The Tsunami Photo Museum, Telwatta. Bring your Kleenex. This family’s tiny, handcrafted display of the devastating 2004 tsunami will rip your heart out. En route to the museum, take note of how many hulking shells of decimated homes and buildings still sit abandoned. Best things to do in Sri Lanka www.myadventurebucket.com

Things to Do:

  1. Lounge by the pool at one of Kalpitiya’s fabulous resorts. Yes, lounging by the pool is a no-brainer when you’re on vacation in a tropical paradise, but it’s even better here. The constant winds that make the Kalpitiya Peninsula one of Asia’s best kitesurfing spots also ensure you can sunbathe for hours without ever getting too hot or sticky. 

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    The massive oceanfront pool where I spent nearly all of my time at the Bar Reef Resort in Kalpitiya. Because it was the off season, I had this lovely scene all to myself most of the time.
  2. Touch a baby sea turtle at the Sea Turtle Hatchery & Rescue, Hikkaduwa. It’s a small rescue center so you won’t need a lot of time, but it’s more than worth a visit to support this grassroots conservation effort. Best things to do in Sri Lanka www.myadventurebucket.com
  3. Watch the technicolor sunsets on the beach near Ambalangoda. Yes, all sunsets are beautiful. But these sunsets are something special. 

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    No filter necessary.
  4. Shower under an enormous sperm whale skull at the Bar Reef Resort. Yes, really. 

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    The resort manager informed me that this is the only giant sperm whale skull shower in the world. Who am I to argue?
  5. Get an Ayurveda massage. For about $20 US or less, a nice person will spend an hour pummelling your sore muscles and marinating you in so many oils and spices you’ll feel like a pork roast. A really, really relaxed pork roast. 

    Best things to do in Sri Lanka www.myadventurebucket.com
    Embrace your inner pork roast, friends.
  6. Buy some of these darling and ubiquitous soft pants that all the roadside shops have on display. Once you realize that it’s socially acceptable to wear things that feel like pajamas out in public, you’ll never go back to suffering for the sake of fashion. 

    Best things to do in Sri Lanka www.myadventurebucket.com
    This is my friend Pride, and she’s the sweetest.



The South

Things to Eat:

  1. Vegetable curry at Spoon’s Cafe inside the fort. This crimson-fronted walk-in closet of a restaurant serves some of the best curry in Galle. Grab an outside table just after sunset, place your order, and get in some great people watching as the two young men in the kitchen start filling the air with mouth-watering aromas, laughter, and tinny Bob Marley tunes. Best things to do in Sri Lanka www.myadventurebucket.com
  2. Gelato from the Pedlar’s Inn, Galle Fort. They change up their selection every day, and after three weeks in the fort, I can confirm: they are all amazing. Grab one late in the afternoon to enjoy as you stroll along the fort walls.
  3. Fresh mango slices with paprika. Trust me on this.
  4. Hummus, Greek salad, and literally anything else on the menu at Chambers (40 Church Street, Galle). The best hummus I’ve ever had in my life, and one of the top three meals I had during my three months in Sri Lanka. I hate to repeat restaurants while I’m traveling because I always feel like I’m going to miss out on all the other great places around, but I came back to Chambers three times. It’s just that good. 

    Best things to do in Sri Lanka www.myadventurebucket.com
    Would it be weird if I went all the way back to Sri Lanka just to eat here again?

Things to See:

  1. The Dutch Reformed Church (Church & Middle Streets, inside Galle Fort). If you enjoyed poking around Wolvendaal Church in Colombo, you’re going to love this antique beauty. From the stunning exterior with its curved moulding to the tombstone-paved floor and stained glass windows, there’s enough here to keep history and architecture buffs occupied for a good long time. Best things to do in Sri Lanka www.myadventurebucket.com

Things to Do:

  1. Take the train from Colombo to Galle or vice-versa. Secure your baggage and lean out the open doors with the hand rails for support. The track runs right along the ocean in some places, and you’ll feel the salty sea spray on your face and arms. Bonus points if there’s a light, cooling rain. Best things to do in Sri Lanka www.myadventurebucket.com
  2. Take an early morning or sunset stroll around the Galle Fort walls. Sunset will be crowded; that’s when the whole city comes out to relax and reconnect. Trust me, you’re going to want to grab a gelato and join them. Best things to do in Sri Lanka www.myadventurebucket.com
  3. Get a pedicure at the Galle Fort Spa. This was one of the most relaxing pedicures I had in Sri Lanka, and that’s saying something. Instead of traditional pedicure chairs, you sit on a cushioned bench on the wide back porch and watch for monkeys frolicking in the plumeria trees while the aesthetician works her magic on your tired feet. 

    Best things to do in Sri Lanka www.myadventurebucket.com
    Yes, I’m wearing these pants again.
  4. Watch for whales! If you stay inside the walls of the fort, try to get a guest room facing the water. I spent many happy hours relaxing on my guesthouse balcony with a cocktail, watching humpback whales migrate past.
  5. Crash a wedding inside Galle Fort. Or, just watch from the sidelines. Sri Lankan brides are uniformly stunning with their colorful gowns, flawless makeup, and flower-accented hair. On one sunny Saturday I counted no less than 14 weddings taking place inside the fort, each one more elaborate than the last. 

    Best things to do in Sri Lanka www.myadventurebucket.com
    You’ll want to stop short of crashing the reception, though. Don’t make it weird.
  6. Drink a “Galle Fort” cocktail on the balcony of the waterfront restaurant A Minute By Tuk Tuk in the Dutch Hospital Shopping Complex while watching a storm roll in over the ocean. 

    Best things to do in Sri Lanka www.myadventurebucket.com
    Take lots of pictures like this one and you, too, can make your friends back home hate your guts.
  7. Listen for Galle’s musical garbage truck inside the fort. No one leaves their trash outside to attract vermin; when they hear the pastel truck’s soft classical melody, residents walk outside to deposit their refuse directly into the truck. It’s a terribly elegant way to deal with such an unsavory task.



The Hill Country

Things to Eat:

  1. Chicken curry at Villa Rosa. If you’re a guest of the hotel, you’ll even be invited to join the chef on his daily trip to the local market and help out in the kitchen. 
  2. Anything on the Menu du Jour at Ceylon Tea Bungalows. In my collaboration with this hotel, I described it as being less like a hotel and more like going to stay with your doting Grandma. That absolutely extends to the dinner table, where you can relax with a glass of wine under the stars while they whip up some delicious comfort food for you. Don’t pass up the chance to try the spicy beet curry if they offer it. Best things to do in Sri Lanka www.myadventurebucket.com
  3. Chicken samosas on the train. You might not even be hungry, but when a man with a large plastic bin hops on your train and yells, “Hot hot very fresh samosas!” you need to flag him down. Period.Best things to do in Sri Lanka www.myadventurebucket.com
  4. Baskin Robbins flavors you can’t get in other parts of the world. Try a Roses & Cream, made with pink and white rose ice cream and real rose petals. Your breath will smell like Valentine’s Day.

Things to See:

  1. Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic, Kandy. The holiest site in Sri Lankan Buddhism, this is the one spot in Kandy that you just can’t miss. The temple itself is absolutely gorgeous, and the reverence with which the locals approach it is beautiful to watch. Photos are allowed, but read up on appropriate temple etiquette before you go so you don’t inadvertently become that clueless tourist taking selfies with a Buddha statue. Best things to do in Sri Lanka www.myadventurebucket.com
  2. The World Buddhism Museum. On the same grounds as the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic, this was one of my favorite museums in Sri Lanka. It’s very well laid out and takes you on a journey following the spread of Buddhism throughout the world.
  3. Kandy Garrison Cemetery. Yeah, you may have noticed I have a thing for cemeteries. This little hilltop graveyard is a fantastic history lesson, though. If you want to know what became of the British officers who settled in Kandy, well…here they are. Keep an eye out for the charming young man who tends the cemetery; he is an absolute wealth of knowledge. He knows the story behind every monument here and will happily tell you about all of them, including the “very very fat man” who succumbed to sunstroke while fleeing a rampaging elephant. Best things to do in Sri Lanka www.myadventurebucket.com

Things to Do:

  1. Take a stroll around the Peradeniya Botanic Gardens. You can easily pack a picnic lunch and spend an entire day here if you’re a nature lover. And if you enjoyed the flying foxes in Colombo, wait until you catch sight of the massive colony that roosts here. Thousands of them fill the trees near the avenue of majestic royal palms; walking under them with your eyes glued skyward will make you feel like you’ve stumbled into a prehistoric jungle. In the unlikely event that enormous bats aren’t your thing, the orchid house is breathtaking. Best things to do in Sri Lanka www.myadventurebucket.com
  2. Take the train to Ella, or anywhere else in the hill country. There’s a reason this is considered one of the most beautiful train rides in the world. Photos don’t do it justice, and you can experience all of this breathtaking beauty for just a few dollars. If you’re feeling extra fancy, pay a dollar more and get a first class reserved seat in a glass observation car for the ride of your life. Best things to do in Sri Lanka www.myadventurebucket.com
  3. Walk to Ella Rock. Make your trip to Ella worthwhile, because it’s mostly a huge tourist trap. If you replaced the mountains with the beach, you’d be in Hikkaduwa. But the mountain views are legitimately gorgeous and worth the stroll. If you can stand a little bit of tourist trap atmosphere, make a brief stop at Cafe Chill for an Ella Mule: cardamom-infused vodka, lime, local ginger beer, and fresh ginger. (Then get back on the train and head somewhere with fewer backpacker hostels and juice bars.) Best things to do in Sri Lanka www.myadventurebucket.com
  4. Get up at the crack of dawn for a visit to Uda Walawe National Park. Have you ever had a herd of wild elephants all to yourself? You can here. Worlds different than the crowded Yala, Uda Walawe always seems to get passed over for its hectic sibling. I left my guesthouse in Galle at 5 a.m., spent two hours trying not to hurl on the winding mountain roads, and arrived at the gates right when they opened. Without another tourist vehicle in sight, I spent a brilliant morning riding through the empty park, spotting elephants and loads of other wildlife with no other company besides my jeep driver and guide. Best things to do in Sri Lanka www.myadventurebucket.com



The Ancient Cities

Things to Eat:

Keeping it real here: I don’t have anything to recommend in this category. I ended up eating in my hotel most of the time, due to a combination of illness and not having other options within a reasonable distance. Between bland hotel food and lackluster local options, there’s nothing in this category I can recommend. I’m hoping one of my readers can make up for my failings in the comments!

Things to See:

  1. Dambulla Cave Temples. Despite the disastrous day I had surrounding my visit to Dambulla, I had an absolutely amazing time poking around in these ancient caves. It’s a pretty steep trek to the top, so wear comfortable shoes and bring lots of water. And watch out for the monkeys. Best things to do in Sri Lanka www.myadventurebucket.com

Things to Do:

  1. Climb to the top of Sigiriya. This ancient rock monastery has come to symbolize this whole exotic island, and once you get there, it’s easy to see why. It’s an even tougher climb than Dambulla, but the views from the top (and sense of accomplishment) are more than worth it. Beware the extreme winds you can encounter as you near the top; at one point I was crawling on my hands and knees to avoid becoming a human kite. Please note that is not on this list of things to do. Best things to do in Sri Lanka www.myadventurebucket.com
  2. Join the throngs of white-clad Buddhist faithful on a pilgrimage to Sri Maha Bodhi on a full moon poya day. Make sure and go early if you want a chance of getting near this sacred tree; by mid-morning, the crowds and heat will be unbearable. Black and very dark clothing is prohibited, so consider adapting the local dress code. (Wearing all white will also keep you as cool as possible!) Best things to do in Sri Lanka www.myadventurebucket.com



Jaffna & The North

Things to Eat:

  1. Ice cream at Rio in Jaffna. The perfect spot to cool off on your walk around town. You’ll see everyone here from elderly Buddhist monks to groups of young men on motorcycles. When you’re out braving the punishing northern sun, the mango sundae is the best 200 rupees you’ll spend all day.
  2. The morning pastry buffet at the Jetwing Jaffna Hotel. Find the things that look like skinny croissants rolled in coarse sugar crystals and eat 15 of them. This is nirvana. Best Things to Do in Sri Lanka www.myadventurebucket.com

Things to See:

  1. Puja at Nallur Kandaswamy Kovil. This regular ceremonial worship inside Jaffna’s massive golden temple is like a rock concert for your soul. There’s drumming, elaborate ritual, and shirtless men running around with fire. Expect it to stir the very pit of your stomach.
  2. The Mantri Manai, the ancient Minister’s Quarters of the fallen Jaffna Kingdom. If you’re a history buff, be prepared for heartbreak. Decades of war means precious little attention has been paid to preserving, excavating, and protecting Jaffna’s archaeological treasures. At the time of my visit, I was able to walk right into this and other priceless historical sites unquestioned. Unfortunately, vandals and graffiti artists have been afforded the same freedom. If you can overlook layers of spraypainted initials, you’ll marvel at the bones of this grand old structure. Best Things to Do in Sri Lanka www.myadventurebucket.com
  3. The Mansion at Old Park. Like the Mantri Manai, this former British colonial governor’s residence is an architectural work of art that has been allowed to fall into heartbreaking disrepair. I spent hours walking around and taking photos without anyone bothering me because there is no official protection or preservation for this crumbling piece of history. If you haven’t had enough of my beloved flying foxes yet, there’s a tree full of them in the back of the playground next door. Best Things to Do in Sri Lanka www.myadventurebucket.com
  4. Thousands of Hindu temples like sweet shop candies piled up into the sky. The intricate detail of these carvings is made all the more remarkable by the fact that you’ll only see a tiny portion of them from your vantage point on the street. Best Things to Do in Sri Lanka www.myadventurebucket.com

Things to Do:

  1. Wander down any random Jaffna street and marvel at what remains of the elaborately appointed old homes, mouldering and overgrown but still as captivating as an aging beauty queen. There’s no denying that war has ravaged this city ferociously, but the beauty is still there. If you have a little imagination, you can see what a paradise this place once was. Best Things to Do in Sri Lanka www.myadventurebucket.com

There you have it, adventurers: my personal list of the best things to eat, things to see, and things to do in Sri Lanka. Did I miss something? Do you have favorite things to do in Sri Lanka that I missed? Let me know your favorites in the comments!


Looking for more things to do in Sri Lanka? Check out all of my Sri Lanka posts.

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They Don’t Need More Stuff. Give Adventure Instead.

Posts on My Adventure Bucket may contain affiliate links. Using these links costs you nothing but helps support the maintenance of this site and my weekly pedicure habit.

It’s that time of year again- “holiday gift guide” posts are popping up on all of your favorite websites. They promise to help you find that perfect gift for everyone on your list. The only problem is, no one you know needs more stuff. You might think they do. They might think they do. But I promise- stuff is a prison. Give an experience instead. (Everyone needs more adventure!)

Almost a year ago, I got rid of 95% of my belongings so I could adventure around the world unencumbered. I was apprehensive at first, but once it was all gone, it was the most freeing feeling imaginable. I know I had way too much stuff. I know you do, too. Because everyone does. Source: 15 years as a Funeral Director, listening to thousands of families discussing what on earth to do with all of Mom/Dad/Grandma/Grandpa’s stuff now that they’re gone. 

The Best Gift I’ve Ever Received

Several years ago, I dated a man who was a phenomenal gift giver. One Christmas morning I unwrapped an envelope containing a description of my gift: a trip to Minnesota to drive a tank and crush a car with it. Not only was it the most badass gift imaginable, it also got me a mention on CNN Money because I did the tank drive in a floor-length camouflage skirt and flip flops. (Woo, fame!) I can’t recommend the experience enough, so if you think this is something someone in your life needs, check them out at DriveATank.com. 

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Surveying my destruction. Yes, this was every bit as fun as it looks.

 

The Best Gift I’ve Ever Given

A year of adventure. Not going to lie, I think I really hit it out of the park with this one. I purchased a tabletop globe in a wooden stand and cut it in half. (This is way harder than it looks, FYI, and should not be attempted on Christmas Eve while marginally tipsy. Or so I’ve heard.) I found 12 envelopes lined with an antique map print and labeled them with the months of the year. In each envelope I inserted a card with a description of that month’s adventure. In January, we visited an ethnic restaurant we’d never tried before (I enjoyed Ethiopian food, he didn’t, but we both had a blast!). In February I sent him on a Valentine’s Day scavenger hunt that ended with a fancy dinner at my house. In March we did a weekend-long tour of Florida’s best craft breweries. Etc., etc.

Just a smidge better than a new video game, right?

It only takes a little bit of creativity to come up with a fun and meaningful adventure gift that your recipient will love. Here are a few ideas to get you started. (Bonus: most of them can be sorted just as easily as you would order any other gift online. So even if you do all of your shopping on Amazon, you’re still covered.)

Gift ideas that aren’t stuff:

  • Spa day
  • Tinggly gift certificate or other experience gift cards
  • Dinner out
  • Restaurant gift card & an offer to babysit
  • Plan a trip! Anything from camping in the county park or splashing out on a flight & hotel or something in between. Even a small adventure is better than none at all. And I might be biased, but I happen to think helping someone check something off their bucket list is just about the coolest gift you can give. 
  • “Upgrade” an upcoming trip the recipient already has planned. She’s going on a cruise? Pay for a shore excursion. He’s going to Europe? Book him a city tour with a company like Intrepid Travel. They’re planning a tropical getaway for spring break? Pay for their SCUBA certifications to help them have an even more amazing time.
  • Sign the recipient up for a class at a local community center or adult education program. Bonus points if you take the class together.
  • Indoor skydiving, ziplining, etc.
  • Wine or beer tasting
  • Cooking lessons, surfing lessons, etc.
They don't need more stuff. Give adventure instead. www.myadventurebucket.com
This is, like, way more fun than socks.
  • If you live near a body of water, check for day sails, sightseeing boats, etc. I’ve taken boatloads (ha!) of friends on a Schooner Freedom sail in St. Augustine, Florida. Everyone always has an amazing time.
  • Book a family photo shoot.
  • An annual membership to a local museum/science center/planetarium/theme park, etc.
  • A plane ticket for a far-flung friend or family member to visit you.
  • Tickets to a sporting event.
  • Horseback riding lessons or a trail ride.
  • A ride in a train, or a hot air balloon, or a horse-drawn carriage.
  • Enroll the two of you in a mud run, color run, or obstacle course.
  • A gift certificate to an airline, hotel, or travel agent.
  • Pay for a young (or not-so-young) relative to get their first passport.
  • A visit to an ethical wild animal sanctuary.
  • Many zoos, museums, and other attractions have “behind the scenes” tours that you can find on their website. I’ve gifted behind the scenes tours to an aquarium and the National WWII Museum in New Orleans, and both were extremely well received. Everyone likes to feel like a VIP!

Bonus tip: Every single woman you know who has young children wants an overnight stay, alone, in a nice, quiet hotel. Trust me on this.

They don't need more stuff. Give adventure instead. www.myadventurebucket.com
Does she even wear those earrings you gave her last year? Probably not.


OK, cool, but I’m like totally broke. Now what?

No worries. There are still plenty of super cool experiences you can give.

  • Recipient hates to cook? Offer to come over and make a homemade dinner & clean up afterward.
  • Scan the local events calendar for your city & make plans to take them on a free city tour, holiday open house, etc.
  • If you live in or near New York, score tickets to a TV show taping.
  • Schedule a brewery or distillery tour; these are usually free and provide samples at the end.
  • Sign the recipient and yourself up for a day of volunteer work at a local soup kitchen, Habitat for Humanity build, etc. Bonus warm fuzzies, no charge.

These are great, but I need more inspiration. Where can I find more ideas?

  • Groupon! This is a treasure trove of awesome gift ideas. Looking at my local area deals, I see flight lessons, photography classes, driving experiences, and hundreds of other things that would make great gifts. I may or may not have also bought a car detailing for myself. (Try to have a little more self control than I do.)
  • Airbnb Experiences. Not just for booking someone’s guest room anymore, Airbnb now has an “experiences” tab where you can book photo shoots, local tours, cooking classes, and all sorts of cool things in a neighborhood near you.
  • The local newspaper events calendar. Find gallery openings, festivals, shows, musical performances, etc.
  • A local community college. The ones closest to me offer art and STEM summer camps for teens, 50+ learning, and classes in finance, creative arts, and languages.
  • Travel deals websites like Travelzoo. In addition to flights and hotels, they usually have deals on sports and event tickets, restaurant discounts, and other creative gift ideas.


No doubt your mom loved that sweater you gave her last year (which looked a lot like the one you gave her the year before, if we’re being honest) but I’m going to be real here: you can do better. Also, your dad doesn’t want another insulated coffee mug. He wants to drive a race car.

Are you giving any experience gifts this year, or do you have fond memories of one you gave or received in the past? Tell me about it in the comments!

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Dear Galle…a Love Letter

Have you ever visited a place that was too special to be summed up in an ordinary way? The minute I arrived in this southern Sri Lankan city, I fell in love. I know I’m not the only one; huge numbers of Galle’s fantastic old houses are being bought up by expats, which lends to the fort’s multicultural air. I originally only planned two nights in Galle before moving on to points east, but felt such homesickness the day after I left that I impulsively hailed a cab to go back and stayed for three weeks. I completely derailed my itinerary, but I don’t regret it for a minute. 

To my beloved Galle,

It has now been four months since I left your rocky walls and boarded the train. Not a day has gone by that I haven’t imagined myself sitting on the balcony of my small guesthouse, looking out over your embankments to the crashing surf full of passing ships and migrating whales.

Dear Galle...aLove Letter www.MyAdventureBucket.com

Though we only had a few short weeks together, we made so many memories, and they will stay with me forever.

I could have gladly spent the rest of my life wandering your hidden alleyways and walking your fort walls at sunset, gelato in hand. 

Dear Galle...aLove Letter www.MyAdventureBucket.com
Every evening the citizens of Galle converge on the fort ramparts to fly kites, stroll hand in hand, and take in the spectacle of the sun setting among the waves.

 

I miss so many things about you. Your street dogs who stole and broke my heart in equal measure. Your Dutch scrolls reaching into the tropical skies, whitewashed walls keeping the secret of mystical blooming courtyards. Grey bricked streets ending in ancient beachfront steps cracked with bougainvillea roots. I loved it all.

Dear Galle...a Love Letter www.myadventurebucket.com

You are glittering jewels and white plumeria, salt air and swaying palms, ornate history and softly crumbling magic. Nowhere have I ever felt so instantly at home.

Dear Galle...a Love Letter www.myadventurebucket.com

 

I have danced in the falling snow in Athens and sailed over the fairy tale landscapes of Bagan, climbed through misty mountaintop jungles in Africa and floated through the Balinese surf. And still you are the most beguiling place I have ever seen. Equal parts tropical island and walled medieval kingdom, you are as singular as you are lovely.

Dear Galle...a Love Letter www.myadventurebucket.com

Until we meet again…

Dear Galle...a Love Letter www.MyAdventureBucket.com
Can’t you just smell the salty air?

All my love,

Leslie


No matter how much I travel, some places just capture my heart in unexpected ways. Usually it’s the places I never expected to love; the runners-up, the “if I have room in the itinerary I’ll squeeze this place in” spots. If you ever find yourself in my beloved Galle, take some time to stroll the fort walls at sunset, and please- give her my love. 

Dear Galle...a Love Letter www.MyAdventureBucket.com

Want to read more of my Sri Lankan adventures? Start here.

Want to visit? Galle is located in southern Sri Lanka, a short drive or train ride from the capital Colombo.

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The “Monthly” Bucket- August/September 2017

Uhh…what happened? I landed back in the US, got hit with some killer jet lag, blinked, and then suddenly it was the end of September. Oops. Sorry about that. I’ve gotten up to some really neat stuff, though!

www.myadventurebucket.com August September

Where in the world am I? Settling into my new home in North Carolina after being a nomad for almost 6 months. From two weeks in India to three months in Sri Lanka to six weeks of road-tripping the US with my faithful adventure dog, it feels really good to sit still for a few minutes.  

Items checked off the bucket list this month:

#367- Pizza at Lombardi’s in NYC

#169- Drive the entire length of Interstate 80 from New York’s George Washington Bridge to the Bay Bridge in San Francisco

#382- Attend the Iowa State Fair

#221- Browse through Moe’s Bookstore in Berkeley, California (the 100th thing I’ve checked off my list!)

#337- Visit Half Moon Bay on the California Coast

#588- Visit Sedona, Arizona

See? I told you I’ve been busy!

Highlight of the month: Picking up my best girl from summer camp! If you’re a dog person, you’ll understand- being separated from your best friend for four months is the absolute worst! She had a great time at summer camp, though, and I know she was well taken care of while I was off poking around ancient temples in Sri Lanka. I sure do sleep a lot better with her sprawled out across most of the bed, though. We immediately made up for lost time by setting off on a 6 week road trip around the US!

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Touring the desert in Sedona, Arizona by Hummer

 

Lowlight of the month: Having to cancel my month-long trip to Brazil due to Hurricane Irma. I should have been celebrating my birthday on September 24th by heading to the airport in Fort Lauderdale, but apparently Mother Nature had other plans. 

Best meal: Duck fat cheese fries at Village Whiskey in Philadelphia.

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That’s my friend Matt getting the perfect instagram shot of his duck fat cheese fries. Say hi, Matt!

Super close second: Carne Asada Waffle Fries at Loco Patron in Scottsdale, Arizona- one of my favorite cities on the whole entire planet.

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I know you just licked your screen.

 

New blog posts published:

July Monthly Bucket

I look like a great big slacker, don’t I? Oops. Sorry about that! In my defense, I’ve been working on some other projects, too. Like this article for the Gay & Lesbian Review:  Pride in Sri Lanka: Still an Act of Rebellion

What I learned:

  • Always get the travel insurance! I would be out a huge chunk of money from my canceled Brazil plans if it wasn’t for my World Nomads travel insurance policy. I used to travel without insurance all the time, and I’m really lucky that something like this never happened to me before. World Nomads policies are really inexpensive, and you need to have one when you travel, period. (If you use my affiliate link to sign up for your policy, it won’t cost you anything, but I’ll receive a small commission to help with the running of this site and my weekly pedicure habit.)
  • It is pretty much impossible to lick the butter cow at the Iowa State Fair because they keep it behind glass.
  • The Residence Inn by Marriott Austin South takes a Polaroid of every dog who stays there. How cute is this??

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  • Restaurants all over Scottsdale have started offering doggie menus. Murphy Ann really likes Dog Biscuits and Gravy for breakfast.
  • The Grand Canyon is a really nice hole in the ground, but it gets unbelievably hot during the summer. (And September is still summer in Arizona!) Bring tons of water, especially if you’re visiting with a four-legged friend.

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  • Prickly pear margaritas are amazing.
  • When in Sedona, get up before sunrise at least once and do a hike through the desert while watching hot air balloons glide overhead.

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  • Everything you’ve ever heard about California traffic is true, and then some.
  • Watermelon beer is amazing (I’m looking at you, 21st Amendment Hell or High Watermelon)
  • Utah is gorgeous.
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Like, seriously gorgeous.
  • Lincoln, Nebraska is super dog friendly and adorable. Who knew?
  • The Iowa State Fair sells hot beef sundaes and they’re exactly as amazing as you’re imagining.

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  • Cleveland is also super dog friendly and adorable. Who knew??

 

What I read:

What’s next? I had to rewrite this section because I was supposed to be on a plane to Rio de Janeiro on September 25th for a month of picking coffee beans, lounging on gorgeous South American beaches, and trying to look cool in Brazilian cocktail bars. Then Hurricane Irma happened, the Brazilian consulate in Miami had to close unexpectedly, and I wasn’t able to get my visa in time. I’m really, really bummed, but I also know how lucky I am that this devastating storm only caused me a relatively minor travel interruption. Considering how many people lost their lives and homes and businesses, I’m only going to thank my lucky stars that some travel issues were my only problem. Instead of Brazil, I’ll be writing about my new home in North Carolina and throwing myself into the planning of my next big bucket list adventure, driving Australia’s Great Ocean Road.

Did you get up to any cool adventures in August and September? Got any good travel tips for Australia? Leave a comment and let me know!

The Monthly Bucket- July 2017

Hey adventurers! I hope everyone had a fantastic July. Mine was certainly eventful- here’s what I got up to this month.

Where in the world am I? I just landed back in the USA at the end of July after nearly four months in India and Sri Lanka. I am currently gorging myself on all the American fast food I’ve missed (I love you, Steak N Shake) and gearing up for two months of road tripping around the country.  

Items checked off the bucket list this month: #542- explore ancient temples in Sri Lanka. This was a three month project! Check out some of the amazing temples I’ve been exploring:

Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic Kandy Sri Lanka MyAdventureBucket.com
Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic, Kandy
Dambulla Cave Temples Sri Lanka MyAdventureBucket.com
Dambulla Cave Temples
Nallur Kandaswamy Hindu Temple Jaffna Sri Lanka MyAdventureBucket.com
Nallur Kandaswamy Temple, Jaffna

#365- Deep fried hot dogs at Rutt’s Hut in Clifton, New Jersey

Deep fried hot dogs Rutts Hut Clifton New Jersey MyAdventureBucket.com
Yes, deep fried hot dogs. Dog bless America.

 

Highlight of the month: Climbing the ancient rock monastery of Sigiriya! I was really nervous about this, guys. I’m not in the best shape and my health has been kind of sketchy on this trip as you know. But I made it to the top! And not without considerable effort. Apart from the sheer physical exhaustion, I was also contending with potential swarms of wasps and huge wind gusts that could easily blow a person (or at least their camera) off the rock. At one point I was down on my hands and knees crawling up some steps because the wind was blowing so hard I couldn’t stand up. But the important thing is, I made it! Even if coming down did take twice as long because my knees were absolute Jell-O.

Sigiriya Sri Lanka MyAdventureBucket.com

Did you accomplish something awesome in July? Comment below and let me know so I can celebrate with you!

Lowlight of the month: Getting stuck with the absolute worst driver on the planet while moving from Kandy to Habarana, Sri Lanka. Proof that, even when you do your research and use a reputable tour company, you can still be stuck with a complete nincompoop. Read all about it here.

Best meal: Pan fried dumplings at Momo’s by Ruvi in Colombo. These things were amazing. If you’ve never had a momo, you should go get some immediately. Actually just get on a plane and come to Sri Lanka because I have to assume these are the best on the planet.

Momos by Ruvi MyAdventureBucket.com

New blog posts published:

Hotel Review: Bar Reef Resort

Hotel Review: Dolphin Beach Resort

June Monthly Bucket

Solo Female Traveler Interview: Cali

Dambulla Cave Temples & the Worst Driver EVER

Hotel Review: Ceylon Tea Bungalows

Hotel Review: Villa Rosa, Kandy

Highlights of Kandy, Sri Lanka

Hotel Review: The Other Corner

Solo Female Traveler Interview: Charlotte

Spa Review: Amber Spa, Colombo Courtyard

So Long, Sri Lanka! What’s Next?

What I learned:

  • Fish pedicures: actually the best thing ever.
  • Sri Lankan road construction crews have no problem whatsoever using a jackhammer at 3 a.m. Never travel without earplugs.
  • The train is never on time. Like, ever.
  • Jaffna, Sri Lanka is home to some of the most beautiful buildings I’ve ever seen…and they’re rapidly crumbling into ruin. Can someone please do something about this?
  • Arrack (the local coconut flower liquor) and ginger beer is amazing.
  • Sri Lankan desserts are so sweet they’ll make your teeth hurt. Proceed with caution.
  • There are spas in Europe where you soak in a tub full of beer. This right here is why Europe is always going to lead the rest of the world into the future.
  • There’s a donut shop in Los Angeles selling donuts filled with ice cream. Maybe Europe has a little competition.
  • Upgrading to Emirates business class is worth every penny.
  • The sprayer hose next to all of the toilets here makes for a handy weapon if you encounter a large insect while getting into the shower. Welcome to the tropics.

 

What I read:

A Man Called Ove  by Fredrick Backman- this book tore my heart out, flattened it, folded it into an origami swan, and then set it on fire. But it also made me laugh, hard. I only read it because someone recommended it to me, and I’m so glad they did. Put this one way, way at the top of your reading list.

I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai- yes, I’m way behind in reading this book, but I’m so glad I finally did. I love to surround myself with positive people and inspirational stories (because who needs more negative crap, seriously?) and this book gave me wings.

What’s next? I’m spending the month of August driving the entire length of I-80 from New York City to San Francisco, and seeing lots of cool stuff along the way. Including a giant butter cow at the Iowa State Fair. Tune in next month to find out if I was able to get close enough to lick it.

Posts on My Adventure Bucket may contain affiliate links. Using these links costs you nothing but helps support the upkeep of this site and my daily cheeseburger habit. 

So Long, Sri Lanka! What’s Next?

Wait, didn’t I just get here? How can it possibly be time to leave Sri Lanka already?

I’m killing an afternoon in a Colombo coffee shop until my taxi arrives to take me to the airport. I’d love to take another stroll around the neighborhood, but as I’m going to be stuck in these clothes for about 45 hours, I’m trying to stay as sweat-free as possible. You’re welcome, fellow passengers.

The last three months have been a fantastic adventure, and I’ve made some memories that will last forever. Like being the only visitor to sit and watch a family of elephants just after sunrise in Udawalawe National Park. Or being run out of a guesthouse on suspicion of being a witch.

I have left pieces of my heart all over this gorgeous little island- mostly with the hundreds of sad-eyed street dogs who trusted me enough to approach me for a bit of food, and love.

So Long Sri Lanka MyAdventureBucket.com

When I first told friends and coworkers that I was quitting my job to travel full time, starting with a brief stint in India and three months in Sri Lanka, many of them said I was crazy. Well, obviously. But who wants to be normal? Normal is boring, and no one is handing out prizes for being a martyr and giving up on your dreams.

If what I’m doing is crazy, the way I’m doing it is downright insane. Who lets a random computer algorithm determine where they go and how they spend their life? Well, I do, and it’s a terrific amount of fun, actually.

I’m only in Sri Lanka today because my Random Bucket List Picker chose it from my massive list after I completed a train ride across Canada. I was only on that train because the RBLP decided that’s where I should go after visiting the Scottish highlands, after exploring ancient Buddhist temples in Indonesia, etc., etc.

I wonder how normal people do things.

The last three months have flown by in an absolute blur of ancient temples, gorgeous beaches, breathtaking train rides, amazing food, and approximately 175 gallons of Lion beer. You have to admit, there are worse ways to spend a summer. I will miss this quirky little island paradise (and street cart samosas) but the next adventure awaits.

So Long Sri Lanka MyAdventureBucket.com

As always, the next adventure has been randomly chosen for me by the Random Bucket List Picker: driving the entire length of Interstate 80 from New York to California. With my favorite canine copilot by my side, naturally.

So Long Sri Lanka MyAdventureBucket.com
She’s cute, but she’s absolutely useless with directions.

As a bonus, there are quite a few other bucket list entries I’ll be able to cross off along the way. No, I’m not going to tell you ahead of time what they are- what fun would that be? I have to make sure you keep checking back for more stories.

I have set aside six weeks for this adventure, which should be plenty of time to get myself into all kinds of predicaments. I hope you will follow along with me!

Don’t miss any of the adventure- follow me on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest, too.

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Spa Review: Amber Spa, Colombo Courtyard

Leslie’s Rules for Traveling, Part One: always begin and end every trip with a spa ritual. I figured this out on my first trip to Greece and I’ve tried to stick to it as much as possible ever since. Apart from just being a big fan of pampering the heck out of myself at every opportunity, I really do think this helps to keep jet lag at bay. Not to mention that awful post-vacation “Ugh I’m so exhausted I should have just stayed home” feeling. Since my three months in Sri Lanka are drawing to a close, I decided to visit the Amber Spa at Colombo Courtyard for a relaxing massage to get me in full trip wind-down mode.

This was a very good idea. I opted for the Signature Amber Massage, which is a traditional deep tissue massage, and the therapist was outstanding. She used just the right amount of pressure (lots) and beat all of my tension into submission. (But she did ask a few times if the pressure was OK, so don’t be alarmed if you like a lighter touch.)

I have to add a note for my fellow modest girls who might not have experienced a massage in Asia before: it’s common here for the therapist to uncover you to the waist in order to massage your stomach and collarbone areas, but if you’re not comfortable with that, it’s no big deal. Just mention to your therapist that you’d like your chest to stay covered the whole time. (Or forget, like I did, and then squeal and yank the sheet back up and cause your therapist to apologize profusely. Either way.)

The spa itself is located off the pool area in the middle of Colombo Courtyard, and is accessed by walking across an elegant stone bridge over the pool. Even though the hotel is located right on busy Duplication Road in the heart of Colombo, the treatment rooms are completely serene and they manage to block out all of the traffic noise with thick walls and tranquil music.

Amber Spa MyAdventureBucket.com

Amber Spa also wins my award for the most gorgeous robes I’ve ever seen in a spa, goldenrod yellow with a beautiful floral print.

Amber Spa MyAdventureBucket.com
I need to find one of these to take home…

The whole atmosphere of the inner courtyard and spa area is full of fountains, koi ponds, ornate lanterns, and soft seating arrangements. It has a clean, Morocco-meets-Miami Beach look. 

Amber Spa MyAdventureBucket.com

Amber Spa MyAdventureBucket.com

Amber Spa MyAdventureBucket.com

Amber Spa MyAdventureBucket.com

When I left the spa an hour later, all of the usual pain in my back and hips is gone, at least for a while. I also smelled like a frosted spice cake, thanks to the scented massage oil and the spice-filled pillow that covered my eyes during the second half of the treatment. The smell reminded me of some of the solid perfumes I’ve gotten from Egypt in the past, and I surreptitiously sniffed my arm several times while walking down the street. I hope no one noticed.  

Amber Spa is located inside the Colombo Courtyard Hotel. Find more information, including a full menu of spa treatments here.

Like this? See more reviews here.

Amber Spa MyAdventureBucket.com

I had the pleasure of being hosted by Amber Spa at Colombo Courtyard for the purposes of this review, and as always, all photos, words, and opinions are my own.

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Amber Spa MyAdventureBucket.com