Solo Female Traveler Interview: Carrie Mann

Hey Adventurers! I’m back with another awesome solo female traveler for you to meet! I caught up with Carrie Mann of Trains, Planes and Tuk Tuks to talk about my favorite subject: solo travel, of course! Carrie is a woman after my own heart, as you’ll see when you read her account of befriending a group of villagers in Laos.

Where are you from, and where are you currently residing? I’m American — originally from New England, but I’ve lived in Washington, DC my entire adult life.

Where is your next destination? I’m deciding between Kyrgyzstan, Indonesia, Nepal, or Peru for an early September trip.

How long have you been traveling? I’ve been traveling my whole life, but I took my first solo trip — to China — 7 years ago.

What’s on your bucket list? Current top-three are: 1. See the mountain gorillas in Uganda, Rwanda or DRC. 2. The Annapurna Circuit trek in Nepal. 3. Iran — when I can get a visa to travel independently.

What’s the craziest thing that’s ever happened to you while traveling? Good crazy or bad crazy? (I have plenty of travel-fail stories if you want the latter…)

Five years ago, I did a jungle trek in Laos. After two days in the jungle, my group and I swam across a river to get to a Khmu (hill tribe) village for a ride back to town.

Our guide was from the village, and one of the other people in my group spoke a little Lao. So they conversed a bit and apparently reached the conclusion that we were all invited to the chief’s house to drink some Lao Hai (local moonshine) and be initiated into the village life.

The next thing I knew, I was sitting on this bamboo porch, in a circle with all the men in the village. In the middle, there was a giant urn filled with concentrated Lao Hai and two bamboo straws. The chief had a metal cup. The idea was you fill the cup with water, pour it into the urn to dilute the liquor, and drink until the liquor level is back to where it was before you poured in the water. So we went around in a circle and everybody drank from the urn. We sat around chatting (or mostly hand-gesturing for communication) for about an hour.

It sounds like a little thing, but even in the moment, I was thinking “I can’t believe this is happening. This is the 21st century. People don’t spontaneously gather on porches in the middle of the afternoon to initiate a handful of strangers into their village.” But there I was — the only woman in the group — in this village with no cell phones, no computers, (probably no electricity), joking and laughing with these strange men who spoke no English. We didn’t even pull out our cameras. It was a travel experience I never could have dreamed of.

 

What’s your favorite place in the world and why is it so great? It may not sound that exciting, but I really love Mexico. I’ve been three times and still want to go back.

In terms of sights, it has everything — an ancient wonder of the world (Chichen Itza), amazing beaches, fascinating museums, jungles, volcanoes…you name it. I could spend months exploring Mexican history through Diego Rivera’s murals alone.

It’s also culturally fascinating and unique. The food is good. It’s cheap to travel in and easy to get around. And no two parts of the country are the same.

On top of that, the whole country just exudes a good-times vibe. When I step off the plane, I can feel the stress of travel bounce right off me. People are friendly, but more than that, it’s just a much more laid-back place than the U.S. — and only a three-hour flight!

What lessons have you learned from travel? The big one is “don’t panic; everything is going to be fine.”

When you travel alone on a tight budget, sometimes things don’t go your way. Hotels might be full. Restaurants might be closed. Buses could break down. You might have a hard time pulling together a good group of people to do an adventure tour with.

Travel helps put these minor annoyances into perspective. As long as my safety isn’t at risk (and it’s very, very rare for my safety to be at risk), I’ve learned to avoid freaking out, stay clear-headed and solve the problem, then laugh it off.

I’ve applied that lesson at work and in relationships with friends and family. A big project doesn’t go my way? While I might have once been tempted to hide in the bathroom and cry, now I use it as a learning experience and let it go.

On a less serious note, I used to be extremely shy. Travel taught me to not worry so much what other people think of me and just dive in and talk to strangers.

How do you combat loneliness when traveling solo? I actually feel like I spend less time alone when I travel solo than when I travel with friends or family. I meet more people. I think when you’re alone, you look more approachable to strangers.

I’m often an object of locals’ curiosity — especially local women. They’ll chat with me, show me around, or invite me to spend time with them and their families. I also usually stay in hostels instead of hotels, since it’s easier to meet other backpackers. Finally, public transportation — trains and buses — are great places to make new friends. I just look for anyone else with a beat-up backpack or suitcase and ask where they’re headed!

What advice would you give a woman who wants to start traveling but is struggling with doubts and uncertainties? I have doubts and uncertainties every time I get on a plane, so I know how you feel. But the hard parts are deciding to go and getting there. Everything kind of falls into place after that. After all, walking around, visiting museums, eating great food, going to the beach, and enjoying nature are not exactly hardships. You may never feel fully prepared — but that’s okay, you don’t have to be. People will help you. So just go!

Also, recruit an encouraging friend to watch you buy your plane ticket. When the doubts creep in, they’ll put you back on track!

 

Here are all the places you can follow Carrie and her adventures:

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/trainsplanesandtuktuks/

Twitter: www.twitter.com/carrieem

Blog: www.trainsplanesandtuktuks.com

 

There you have it- Don’t panic; everything is going to be fine! Definitely words to live by. Now I think I’ll go find some friendly villagers myself. Or at least some moonshine… Happy adventuring, Carrie! 

PS, definitely go see those gorgeous Ugandan gorillas. Standing face to face with one of these incredible creatures was the absolute highlight of my entire life. You can read about it here.

Like this? Check out more awesome solo female travelers like Carrie here!

 

Technological Witchcraft: Outsmarting a Common Hotel Scam

Technological Witchcraft: Outsmarting a Common Hotel Scam.

A Story of People Not Knowing Who They’re Dealing With, As Usual.

Taking a chance on a hotel or guesthouse without many reviews is always a crap shoot. Sometimes you get lucky and discover a great new place before the unwashed masses. Sometimes you end up having to pretend you’re a witch just to get a good night’s sleep.

I was excited about this accommodation; the price was right at a whopping $10/night, and the only other English review had described it as “delightful” with a charming host family and frolicking monkeys on the roof every morning. And only a 3 minute walk from the beach! I was sold. I booked a three week stay and prepared to spend mornings swimming in the ocean and afternoons writing with a pot of tea.

Technological Witchcraft: Outsmarting a common hotel scam
I never frolicked in this ocean even once.

The host family does, in fact, seem charming when I arrive. They eagerly show me to my little jungle cabana and provide me with the WiFi password.

The charm doesn’t last long.

Working up a sweat as I unpack my suitcase, I try to turn on the A/C, only to find the remote missing from the wall holder. I search the whole cabana but come up empty handed. The ceiling fan just isn’t cutting it, though, so I head up to the main house in hopes they have a spare.

“Excuse me, the air conditioner remote is missing from my room. Do you happen to have a spare?”

The guesthouse owner is all smiles. “Oh, we took it out. You have to pay 500 rupees a day extra for it.”

We just stand there and smile at each other for a minute.

“Um…what?”

“Yes,” she nods vigorously. “500 rupees, please.” She holds out her hand. “You book a room without A/C, so you have to pay if you want it.”

“…I’ll be right back.”

I’m not a fan of looking like an idiot despite how often I do it, so before saying anything else, I want to make sure I actually had booked a room with A/C. I check the booking confirmation on my phone and I’m relieved to see “air conditioning” listed under the room amenities. I’m just as smiley as the guesthouse owner when I return to her porch, pleased that we can now clear up this little misunderstanding.

“Ok, see, right here on my booking confirmation, it states that the room does have air conditioning…” She’s refusing to look at the screen, and the smile has vanished.

“500 rupees.”

“Ma’am, I’m not going to pay more for air conditioning when my booking confirmation states that I’ve already paid for a room with A/C.”

She shrugs, and looks angry. Apparently she was counting on this scam going off without a hitch. I wonder how many other guests have just paid it without question. Having reserved the room through one of the major booking websites, I let the guesthouse owner know I’ll just contact them to clear up the issue with her. Her eyes get wide.

“No! Do not contact, please.”

“Yes, I’m going to. I’ve showed you my booking confirmation so you can see that I booked a room with air conditioning. If you want to continue to argue, you can argue with them because I’m not paying any extra.”

Bizarrely, she calls over one of the small children playing on the dining room floor and asks him to explain to me that I need to give them 500 rupees. I can’t believe I’m even humoring them at this point, but I show my phone screen to the boy anyway. He also refuses to look. “500 rupees!” Little droplets of spit accompany his shout. Oookay, we’re done here. I turn and walk back to my cabana. It’s hot, and my frustration doesn’t help.

Technological Witchcraft: outsmarting a common hotel scam
Seriously, not even one damn frolicking monkey? There is literally no frolicking here whatsoever.

Five minutes later, I’m sitting on the edge of the bed, still staring at the confirmation email on my phone, wondering how I’m going to get through to these people…when I recall another hotel on the other side of the world where this phone saved the day. A hotel where I used a universal remote app to turn on the TV instead of going in search of new batteries. I check to see if I still have the  app installed. I do. What are the chances that it’s able to control a wall-mounted air conditioner?

Very good chances, it turns out, and five minutes later I’m lying in the path of a glorious blast of cold air, feeling extremely pleased with myself.

Less than an hour later, there’s a knock at the door. It’s the guesthouse owner, apparently wanting to continue our conversation. She has brought her teenage daughter along to assist in the negotiations. The girl is the picture of smiling diplomacy. “Hello…I came to help explain why you can’t use the A/C?”

I match her smile. “Oh, you don’t have to waste your time. I’m actually completely uninterested in continuing this conversation and I’m definitely not going to fall for your scam.”  

Before she can reply, she notices the air conditioner running and the smile melts. “But…how?”

I’m still smiling as I start to close the door.

“Please! How did you start the A/C without the remote?”

“Magic!” I chirp, turning the deadbolt.

I’m not so smug four days later when my room sits untouched by housekeeping and they refuse to answer the door when I go looking for a fresh towel. I spot the guesthouse owner entering the local market and when she notices me, she looks horrified and ducks inside as I approach her. Apparently they believe I actually had turned on the air conditioning by magic, and are avoiding me (and the room) because I’m a witch.

Oops.

I end up leaving the guesthouse (where I never heard any damn monkeys on the roof anyway) and moving into a hotel with an oceanfront balcony suite nearby. But just to make sure they’re left wondering long after I’m gone, I unwrap a bar of soap and draw an evil eye on the mirror before I go.

Technological witchcraft: outsmarting a common hotel scam
The view from my new hotel balcony. I regret nothing.

What have we learned here today? Always keep your hotel booking confirmations, don’t give in to obvious scams, and keep a universal remote app on your phone at all times. Also, use your technological witchcraft sparingly unless you want to use the same gross towel for three weeks. 

 

 

Extending Your Sri Lankan Tourist Visa

Sri Lanka is rapidly becoming one of the hottest new tourism destinations, thanks to its combination of gorgeous beaches, incredible temples and landscapes, lovely people and rock-bottom prices. Luckily, they make it simple to visit by issuing visas electronically before you travel at eta.gov.lk.  I had my email confirmation within 12 hours of applying online, and my visa was good for 30 days from the date of entry into the country. That’s more than sufficient for your average vacation, but what if you want to stay longer? Since I’m a nomad and have no office to hurry back to, I wanted to spend a little more time exploring the island. A two month extension (giving you 90 total days) is available, but you can’t apply for this online. The extension will only be granted at the Department of Immigration in Colombo. I had read online that this was a quick and painless process and you can just stroll up to the visa counter, get a stamp, and be on your way.

LIES. SO MANY LIES.

I ended up wasting a boatload of time because all of the information I had read before my trip was either completely outdated or so inaccurate I assume the authors of those articles were actually talking about a different country altogether.

Because I don’t want you darling readers to suffer the same fate, I have documented the entire visa extension process here, so you can breeze through the process and get back to exploring Sri Lanka. Well, maybe “breeze through” is a bit optimistic; you’re still going to have to sacrifice four hours of your day here. There’s no way around that unless you use one of the many visa couriers around Colombo to take care of this for you. I spoke to several people who did that, and I’m sure they were all happy with the experience, but I was determined to sort it out myself, for several reasons:

  1. How hard can it be? I hate paying someone else to do something just because I can’t sort it out myself.
  2. It irks me to pay someone to do something that I should be able to do myself.
  3. I just can’t bring myself to hand over my passport to someone I just met and trust that they’re going to bring it back to me the next day. What if they lose it? What if they get in a tuktuk accident on the way to the passport office and it goes flying off a bridge? What if they’re mugged?

If you, too, are determined to sort out your visa extension yourself, read on for everything you need to know.

Before you go:

    • Get visa pictures taken. Expect to pay 300-400 rupees and make sure you tell the photo shop operator that you need visa pictures, not passport pictures. There are tons of photo shops with aggressive touts lining the streets around the Department of Immigration office, but any mall photo booth can provide these for you if you’re out shopping.
    • Bring your own pen! And a notebook to use as a lap desk. The office doesn’t provide pens and there are only two small, wall-mounted writing stations in the entire office since they remodeled and took out the long writing counter.
    • Get there early. They stop processing applications at 1:30 p.m. and the place is a madhouse by 10 a.m. If you’re traveling to Colombo from elsewhere on the island just for a visa renewal, consider coming the day before and spending the night so you can get to the office soon after they open at 8:30 a.m.
    • Bring a book, Kindle, etc., and don’t make any plans for the next few hours. There are signs up throughout the office telling you that the visa extension process will take approximately four hours, and they don’t lie.

 

  • TAKE NOTE! The office has moved from the old centrally located spot referenced on some websites. The new building is in the suburb of Battaramulla, on Sri Subhuthipura Road. All the tuktuk drivers know where it is, just tell them you need to get to the passport office. For extra insurance, take a screenshot of the Google map listing showing the address and phone number (this is good advice for anywhere you need to go in Sri Lanka, actually!) If you’re coming by bus, the Department of Immigration website has a list of bus routes that will reach them.
Extending Your Sri Lankan Tourist Visa
No one cares what an ugly government office looks like, so here’s a lovely Buddha instead.

While You’re There:

  • When you arrive at the Department of Immigration, go into the main building, walk straight ahead and turn right (walking around all the rows of chairs that fill the center of the room). Go out the doors and across a walkway to the second building. The visa office is on the fourth floor. As you enter the building, turn to your left and pass a large staircase to reach the elevator bank. Look to your right: these are the elevators that go as far as the 9th floor; the ones on the left are for the 10th-19th floor only and won’t stop on any lower floors.
  • Exit the elevator on the fourth floor and take a right out of the elevator bank. The visa office (Wing C) is straight ahead. You can pick up an “Application for Extension of VISIT Visa” at the token issuing counter as you walk in. Note: You can also download the application from the website before you arrive, assuming you have a printer where you’re staying. It’s really short, though, so it’s not worth going to a lot of extra effort to fill it out ahead of time.
  • Fill out the application using that pen I told you to bring. There are a couple of wall-mounted writing stations to use, but if you listened to me and brought a notebook with you, you won’t have to wait for one of these. Notice the little canteen in the corner. This should tell you how long you’re going to be here. Avoid the coffee at all costs.
  • Affix one of your pretty mug shots visa photos to the top right corner of the application. There are bottles of glue on the wall mounted writing stations. Yes, I know the bottles are labeled “baby cologne,” but trust me.
  • Bring your completed application back to the Token Issuing Counter and hand it over along with your passport. The employee will enter a few details into the system and give you a false sense of hope that things are moving along nicely. A receipt (“token”) will print out and be handed to you along with your passport and application. The employee will smile kindly and motion you into the Wing C Waiting Area. You’ll go cheerfully, not realizing that you’ve just been sent to purgatory.
  • Keep an eye on the two flat screen TVs at the front of the room. These will display the token numbers ready for processing. No verbal announcements are made; you have to keep watch.
  • When your number appears on the screen, approach the counter under the televisions and hand your token/receipt to the queue master.
  • FYI, while you’re waiting, you can consult the large poster on the wall detailing visa extension fees for various nationalities. All prices are listed in US dollars. If you’re from neighboring India, you’ll only pay $3 for the privilege of extending your stay, while citizens of Tanzania have to pay a whopping $200. My American passport will cost me $100 for my extension.
  • The queue master will scan your ticket and direct you down the hall to the B Wing Waiting Area. You might get excited again, thinking that things are finally progressing. Don’t. Keep your book/iPad/knitting project out because you’ve only been sent to sit and wait in a different room. There are more flat screen TVs here for you to watch; once again, don’t get distracted and forget to watch for your number. No announcements will be made, and numbers don’t always appear on the screen in consecutive order.
  • When your number appears, it will be accompanied by a letter to designate which of the four glass cubicles you are to enter for your “interview” with an immigration officer. Don’t be nervous, it’s not as intense as it sounds. My interview consisted of watching the young officer in a lovely red and orange sari finish filing some paperwork for a few minutes, and then nodding when she asked, “You want to stay another two months?” She gave a little Indian head wiggle, said, “OK!” and directed me to go wait in the payment area until they were ready to take my payment.
  • The payment area (AKA Shroff Counters) is back down in the C Waiting Area, ahead and to your right as you enter. There is another screen where you will sit and wait for your number to appear before you will be allowed to go forward and pay.
  • You used to have to bring cash to pay for your visa extension, but that is no longer the policy. They take Visa and Mastercard now, and there are no extra fees for paying by card.
  • After you’ve paid, take your printed payment receipt across to the Dispatch Waiting Area (still in area C) to sit and watch one last monitor for your number. You’re in the home stretch!
  • At some point, an employee will enter with a huge pile of passports and the staff at the counter will sort them and start calling out numbers. When your number is called, go forward and present your payment receipt, sign the logbook to confirm that you’ve received your passport, and you’re done!

So there you go. Step by step instructions on extending your Sri Lankan tourist visa. If you use these instructions on your next trip, please drop me a note in the comments and let me know if they were helpful to you! If you find anything has changed in the future and needs to be updated, please let me know so I can keep these instructions as current as possible. Happy adventuring!

Extending your Sri Lankan travel visa
Now you’ve got this out of the way, it’s time to get back to having fun!

Psst, before you go! If you enjoyed this post, you might also like this one!

Sick in Sri Lanka: Yet Another Time I Almost Died

Posts on this site may contain affiliate links. Using these links costs you nothing, but helps to maintain this site and occasionally buy me dodgy generic medicine in foreign countries. 

Know what’s better than being sick and alone in a third world country, ten thousand miles from everyone know you know? Basically anything.

I had big adventuring plans for today, but here I am, still in bed late in the afternoon because I woke up feverish and feeling like I had a ball of razor wire stuck in my throat. No doubt the culprit is all the toxic smoke I inhaled yesterday while taking photos in a gorgeous old cemetery. What kind of moron wanders around a cemetery while they’re burning huge piles of poisonous trash? In my defense, a thunderstorm was rolling in and the sky was ridiculously atmospheric. Well, I never claimed to be smart. But look at these gorgeous photos:

Sick in Sri Lanka

Sick in Sri Lanka

Sick in Sri Lanka

But back to my current predicament.

Did I mention the power has gone out so I’m lying here in the 90 degree heat without so much as a fan? I wonder how long it generally takes a human being to sweat to death. If I’m still alive when the power comes back on, I’ll Google it. 

I muster up the energy to check my trusty Lonely Planet for the location of the nearest reputable medical facility. It appears to be about a 45 minute tuktuk ride away. Through madhouse Colombo traffic in the sweltering heat. That sounds even less appealing than death, so I don’t bother to get up.

Learn From My Mistakes

Here’s how you can be a little smarter on your travels than I generally am:

  • If you’re traveling to a place with a known air quality problem, bring a scarf or bandanna to cover your mouth and nose when necessary. Even if, for some reason, you don’t like poking around old cemeteries.
  • Have a well-stocked first aid kit, especially if you’re traveling alone and you don’t have anyone to go and fetch you supplies. I’d kill for a few throat lozenges right now. From now on I’m just going to assume I’ll be getting the plague at every destination and pack accordingly.
  • Yes, that lovely Airbnb apartment in a leafy suburb looks very appealing, but how far will you be from the nearest medical services in a worst case scenario? This may not be a huge concern in the developed world, but if you’re traveling off the beaten path, you could find yourself a long way from adequate medical facilities.
  • Keep some flexibility in your schedule in case illness does strike and cause you to have to rearrange some plans. Out of 8 days in Colombo, I have two that I purposely left wide open. This would have been more than sufficient if I had only been sick for two days. As it turns out, I’m sick for the rest of my time in Colombo and I end up missing nearly everything on my list. Including the once-a-year Vesak Poya celebrations. I’m still a little bitter about that, to be honest. 
  • Know the generic names for any kinds of prescription medicine you think you might need on the road, but keep in mind that you might not be able to get what you’re used to at home. I desperately want some NyQuil to knock myself out and stop my persistent cough, but discover it was outlawed in Sri Lanka several years ago. I end up dragging myself to a pharmacy and explaining my miserable condition to the pharmacist, who gives me a packet of pills wrapped in white notebook paper with a few handwritten words of instruction. I don’t realize until later that it’s nothing but generic Claritin. Pharmacies are plentiful and very inexpensive here, but you need to know what you’re looking for.
  • Last, and most importantly: don’t be as stubborn as I am. Seek real medical treatment when you need it. Preferably before you find yourself coughing up blood in an Airbnb and deciding you should just pack up your belongings to make it easier for the homeowner when you die. (Spoiler alert: I survived, barely. But I was sick for nearly two weeks and it really put a damper on the first part of my trip. Don’t let that happen to you!)

 

 

Hotel Review: Kalahe House

I had the pleasure of being hosted at Kalahe House for the purpose of this review. As always, all words and opinions are my own.

 

In Stephen King’s landmark work of nonfiction, On Writing, he describes his idea of the perfect writer’s retreat. Secluded cabins set in the woods with an unobtrusive staff who prepare your meals and never disturb your afternoon nap. Could someone let him know I’ve found it?

My first glimpse of Kalahe House; I'm already charmed.
My first glimpse of Kalahe House. I’m already charmed.

If you’re looking for seclusion, Kalahe House has it in spades. As I write this at the dining room table, night has fallen and the grand wooden doors that line three walls of the room are open to the woods and rice paddy that surround the property on all sides. I can’t see a single artificial light but the ones in sconces around the room, and the only sounds are those of monkeys, frogs, and insects performing their nightly concert. It’s hard to believe this sanctuary is only a fifteen minute tuktuk ride from Galle’s busy (but extremely charming) Dutch fort.

The sunny living and dining wing of Kalahe House. I may have lost track of the amount of time I spent sitting here with a pot of tea, daydreaming
The sunny living and dining wing of Kalahe House. I may have lost track of the amount of time I spent sitting here with a pot of tea, daydreaming
A view of the surrounding rice paddy through the trees at Kalahe House
A view of the surrounding rice paddy through the trees

When I arrived at Kalahe House early this afternoon, I was met by the extremely efficient Prasanga, who takes care of everything from meals to massages (yes, they provide spa treatments as well. What better way to keep your creative juices flowing than a deep tissue massage under the flowering trees in the garden?)

Before I even managed to extricate myself from the taxi, Prasanga had seen my bags to my room and made afternoon tea appear on the living room table. Did I say efficient? I meant magical. Within minutes he had determined what I wanted for dinner and set off to the local market for fresh ingredients, leaving me to explore the beautiful house and grounds.

Exploring the gardens of Kalahe House
Exploring the gardens of Kalahe House
How gorgeous is this jackfruit tree?
How gorgeous is this jackfruit tree?

There’s no TV to distract you from what you came here to do: write. (Don’t worry, there is WiFi, so you’ll be able to fact check that article on the go…or post pictures of your beautiful home away from home to make all of your friends and family jealous. Whichever.)

My room has a cozy alcove with a beautiful wooden desk, a comfortable chair, and plenty of natural light. It’s an extremely inviting spot to sit down with my notebook and get to work…just as soon as I take one more stroll around the gardens for inspiration.

Writing and meandering have always gone hand in hand, so when I need a longer walk to clear my head, I wander down the drive and start exploring the surrounding countryside. There is absolutely no hint of the nearby expressway or the city of Galle itself. A local man in a traditional sarong and a plaid shirt waves as he passes buy on an ancient Royal Enfield motorcycle, but I see no other people.

I’m visiting Kalahe House at the start of the annual southwest monsoon season, which means I’m treated to a lovely rain shower every afternoon to help lull me into that aforementioned afternoon nap. Don’t judge; it’s hard work churning out these masterful works of literature in paradise.  Especially when there is a very inviting bed sprinkled with orchids only steps from your writing desk.

Back to the dining room: the soft rattle of china on a wooden tray announces Prasanga’s arrival with dinner. He has prepared an amazing spread of traditional Sri Lankan chicken curry with rice and accompaniments, followed by more tea and a fresh fruit platter. Just as I decide I’m far too stuffed to take another bite and head back to my room, the local monkey population decides to put on an impromptu acrobatic show in the trees outside. Prasanga warns me that they may decide to frolic on the roof in the morning, and hopes they won’t wake me. His tone is apologetic, but I can’t think of anything more charming.

As it turns out, the monkeys like to sleep later than I do, and nothing disturbs my sleep. As Prasanga prepares what turns out to be the best breakfast of my trip so far, I ponder the most pressing issue I’ll have all day. Shall I venture into the gorgeous old fort and wander around the ancient streets in search of artistic inspiration, or settle down in my sunny writing nook for another day of unhurried creative effort?

The answer, of course, is both.

No detail is overlooked at Kalahe House
No detail is overlooked at Kalahe House

I’m happy to report that I finished four articles while sequestered at lovely Kalahe House, and emerged feeling even more inspired than I did when I arrived. In need of a creative retreat of your own? Kalahe House is located on the outskirts of Galle, my favorite city in Sri Lanka.  Find more information or book your stay at www.kalahehouse.com.

Solo Female Traveler Interview: Sky Fisher

Hey Adventurers! You all seem to enjoy reading about my travels, so I thought I’d share the love and bring you some tales of other solo female adventurers. I thoroughly enjoyed catching up with the lovely Sky Fisher and her pura vida attitude; I think you will, too.


Where are you from, and where are you currently residing? I’m from Pennsylvania, USA. I grew up in a tiny town no one has ever heard of in Northeastern PA and then moved to western PA, about an hour outside of Pittsburgh, for a few years. I left the States in June 2016 and have been living in Playas del Coco, Costa Rica since October 2016.

Where is your next destination? Even though I’ve been in Costa Rica since October, I still consider it a travel destination. There is SO much here to explore so I make it a point to go to a different part of the country for a few days every month. Beyond that, I’m heading to Nicaragua in June for a few days and will be visiting the States and doing an East Coast road trip in the fall!

How long have you been traveling? This trip officially began in October 2016 so I’ve been on the road for about 9 months now. Before that, I took some time to explore more of the United States and I also took my first solo journey to Central America in 2015. Traveling isn’t something that I’ve always done, though – I actually had never left the East Coast until I randomly decided to go on a school trip to Guatemala as a junior in high school!

What’s on your bucket list? SO MANY THINGS. A few of my top bucket list things right now are learning to speak Spanish, visiting every country in Latin America, seeing the Northern Lights, and road tripping Iceland. I don’t really keep a true bucket list, though – basically I just want to see, learn, and do everything!

What’s the craziest thing that’s ever happened to you while traveling? I don’t actually have any crazy wild stories! Most of my travels have been pretty calm and I’m okay with that!

What’s your favorite place in the world and why is it so great? Guatemala! Guatemala was the first country I ever visited. I was 16 years old and fell completely, 100% in love with everything about it. I haven’t returned in a few years but it’s still my favorite place in the world. There is so much history, culture and beauty throughout the country. The people are incredible too!

What lessons have you learned from travel? There’s a saying in Costa Rica, “pura vida”, which literally translates to “pure life” but is more or less all about having a laid back, don’t-get-upset-over-nothing, chill attitude and while it seems to come naturally to all of the locals, it’s definitely something I’ve had to learn! To just take a breath, relax, and let things be. It doesn’t matter that plans changed or that we’re leaving half an hour late (nothing is ever on time anyway!) and I don’t always need to know every single detail of everything before it even happens. Not everything needs to be controlled. Just relax and go with the flow!

How do you combat loneliness when traveling solo? My main method is, honestly, to just talk to others. Be social in the hostel. Smile. Be proactive in suggesting doing something or getting dinner as a group. Most people are just waiting for someone else to ask!

What advice would you give a woman who wants to start traveling but is
struggling with doubts and uncertainties? You can do it! Travel can seem overwhelming at times but it’s so worth it. Just remember that there’s no “right” way to do it! There’s a thousand different travel styles. If you’re not comfortable doing eeeeeeeverything solo – don’t! It’s okay to join a tour (I haven’t yet but I want to try Contiki) or to pay extra for a private service. For example, when I crossed the border from Bocas del Toro Panama to Puerto Viejo Costa Rica, I took one of the shuttle services. It just made my life easier to not have to worry about the details myself. But, honestly, if you’re even considering traveling solo – DO IT. It will change your life!

Here are all the places you can follow Sky on her adventures:

www.skyvsworld.com

www.facebook.com/skyvsworld

www.twitter.com/skyvsworld

www.instagram.com/skyvsworld

Happy adventuring, Sky!

Become a More Patient Human: Travel in India

Do you feel like you could stand to be a more patient person? Have you thought about traveling in India? As an earnest proponent of the “whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” school of character building, I can’t recommend traveling in India enough as a way to become a better human being.

As I write this, I am sitting in a rather dingy hotel suite in Chennai, mentally congratulating myself for not completely losing my mind with the kind, well-meaning, and utterly ineffective staff.

Knowing I had a 14 hour layover in this absolutely boiling southern Indian city, I had the utter stroke of genius to book a hotel an hour from the airport. Yes, I’d have to get up at 2 a.m. to return to the airport for my onward flight, but this hotel was right on the beach and it had a gorgeous pool! I envisioned myself lounging poolside all afternoon with a fruity umbrella drink before putting in a few hours’ work in the office area of my opulent six-room suite.

Have you ever noticed how my plans always seem to go to shit?

After an uneventful 55 minute flight from Bangalore (during which we were served lunch, even though the cabin crew barely had time to pass out the boxes of sandwiches and mango juice before turning around to collect the trash; American carriers, kindly take note), I land in Chennai, collect my suitcase (that I bought last night after deciding that backpacking was utter bullshit) and exit the airport in search of my pre-booked taxi.

My pre-booked taxi, I should add, that never shows up.

See? More patient already. I randomly choose a taxi counter, arrange a cab, and 5 minutes later I’m in the back of an ancient black Vauxhall, plunging into the melee of central Chennai. At every nauseating turn, I remind myself that I’ll be lounging poolside shortly.

Do you feel like you could stand to be a more patient person? Have you thought about traveling in India? I can’t recommend it enough.
Even though it’s miserably hot and ridiculously chaotic, Chennai *is* beautiful.

We finally make it to my hotel, but not before my driver attempts to deliver me to two other hotels and a seafood restaurant. He’s really convinced that the latter is the right place, and calls the parking lot security guard over to help him argue with me.

Naturally, the security guard is on his side. “Yes, you are definitely in the right place, madam!” It’s not until I threaten to get out and walk the rest of the way that the driver believes I’m really not staying the night at India’s version of Red Lobster.

We drive the wrong way down a one-way street to arrive at my hotel, but apparently this is OK because he honks the horn a lot. I’ve learned that, in India, you can disobey any traffic rule you want as long as you make liberal use of your horn while doing so.

The hotel manager is round and cheerful and welcoming as he takes my bag and ushers me inside. “Which way to the pool?” I ask, hoping he doesn’t notice the rivers of sweat running down my arm as we shake hands.  

“Oh, sorry madam! The pool is being now closed for maintenance.”

I can almost feel the increased patience flowing into my body.

Another employee pipes up. “You can always go across the street to the beach, madam!”

“OK. Is the water safe for swimming?”

“Oh, no. Current is too strong. Definitely do not go for swimming.”

<Deep, deep breath>

While I’m sure it would be lovely to bake on the sand on a 95 degree day without any way to cool off, I decide to pass on that. I guess I’ll be spending the afternoon holed up in my room, getting caught up on work.

“Oh, madam?” I’m halfway across the parking lot when the hotel manager calls after me. “Sorry, sorry. WiFi is not working today. Sorry!”

Do you feel like you could stand to be a more patient person? Have you thought about traveling in India? I can’t recommend it enough.
The exact expression on my face at that moment.

Patience. So much patience.

Please note: I absolutely love India, and the Indian people. I would never dissuade anyone from visiting India, especially my beloved Bangalore. But, ah, when you go? Bring a sense of humor.

Do you feel like you could stand to be a more patient person? Have you thought about traveling in India? I can’t recommend it enough.

The Monthly Bucket- May 2017

 

 

This post may contain affiliate links. As always, using these links costs you nothing, but helps support this blog and my weekly pedicure habit. Also we’ll be best friends forever. 

My Adventure Bucket Monthly Collage May 2017

Where in the world am I? Ayubowan from gorgeous Sri Lanka! It’s monsoon season here on the west coast but I’m still having a blast. I’m a little late with the monthly recap- sorry about that! Internet access has been a little bit spotty lately. There are a lot of great things about life in the tropics, but reliable WiFi is unfortunately not one of them.

Items checked off the bucket list this month: #542- explore ancient temples in Sri Lanka- this will be ongoing for the next two months. There are so many gorgeous temples to see! Photos and blog posts coming soon.

Highlight of the month: Not a typical monthly highlight, but visiting the Tsunami Photo Museum in Hikkaduwa. Although it’s very basic and not at all professionally put together, this is one of the most poignant and gut-wrenching museums I’ve ever seen. It’s on par with the World Trade Center in NYC in terms of sheer emotional savagery. I had a hard time maintaining my composure when the owner of the museum showed me the tent in which her family lived for six months, surrounded by tens of thousands of bodies waiting in the tropical heat to be identified and buried. No photos were allowed in the museum, but imagine two small, damp shacks filled with grainy photos and handwritten accounts of the day, all variations on a theme of “a huge wave came and ripped my children out of my arms, took my family and my house and I never saw them again.”

Although the tsunami struck 13 years ago, there are still many homes and businesses that were never rebuilt.
Although the tsunami struck 13 years ago, there are still many homes and businesses that were never rebuilt.

Lowlight of the month: Having to move out of a guesthouse two weeks early because the owners thought I was a witch and refused to come near my room to clean it. My life is odd.

Best meal: Vegetable Kotthu at a street stand in Colombo. Think Stovetop Stuffing on spicy south Asian steroids. Watching the chef throw it together on a hot griddle with a giant cleaver was almost as great as eating it.

Honorable mention to the last dinner I had at the Max Wadiya in Ambalangoda, during which I swear a tiny crab overheard me discussing with the waiter that I don’t eat shellfish, apparently appointed himself my tiny crustacean guardian, and spent the whole meal circling my table and watching me. I swear I’m not drunk, this really happened.

New blog posts published:

Good Morning, India!

Hotel Review: Max Wadiya, Ambalangoda, Sri Lanka.

Barefoot Dentistry: Not as Horrifying as it Sounds.

What I learned:

  • A universal remote app on your phone is crucial when traveling in countries where they are liable to hold the A/C remote hostage in hopes of getting more money out of you. (But be aware that this might cause the owners of the guesthouse to think you’re a witch and refuse to come near your room to clean it. FYI. Yes, I’m still a little bitter.)
  • When a hotel review mentions karaoke that lasts into the wee hours of the night, PAY ATTENTION. For the love of dog, do not disregard this information and book a two week (nonrefundable) stay at this place which will make you think about flinging yourself off the balcony while drunk German tourists belt out “Eye of the Tiger” for the third night in a row. Or something. However, if you do find yourself in this situation, an email to the hotel’s parent company mentioning that you were hoping to review them for your 50,000+ social media followers will instantly get you an upgrade to a top floor suite. Or so I’ve heard. Wink wink. 
  • Sri Lanka has a marvelous invention known as a pastry truck, which is like an American ice cream truck but it drives around selling fresh bread and baked goods out of the back. It even plays music like an ice cream truck. Why does this not exist everywhere??
  • Coconut rotti with pineapple jelly is incredible.
  • There’s no such thing as NyQuil or other common western cough medicine here. It’s worth the luggage space to bring some with you.

What I read:

Prosperity for Writers by Honoree Corder. I love books about intention and positive thinking, and this was a great quick read. If you’re a writer or other creative type, check it out!

Rickety Buses Bumpy Roads: Travels in India Nepal Peru Bolivia by Michelle J. Coote. I love reading about other solo women adventurers, so I had high hopes for this travelogue. The author definitely had some interesting adventures, but there were unacceptable typos and parts of the book were clunky and in desperate need of a good editor. I’m not knocking self publishing, but if you’re the only person who looks at your book before it’s for sale, it’s going to be obvious.

What’s next? More Sri Lankan goodness! I’m here through the end of July and during the month of June I’ll be working my way up through the center of the island to the hill country and the Ancient Cities. This means more gorgeous old temples to explore! First, though, I’m spending another ten days in my new favorite city of Galle on the southwest coast. I passed through this gorgeous old Dutch fort town after leaving Hikkaduwa and thought I’d be able to see everything in two days before moving on. Technically you can; it’s a pretty small city and very compact, but I fell in love and hated to leave. As soon as I reached Tangalle I knew it was a mistake and came right back the next day. This means I cut several things from my planned itinerary and I might never reach Arugam Bay, but as I sit here on my balcony, watching the ocean over the fort ramparts and listening to the call to prayer from the mosque up the street, I don’t mind one bit. Some places just automatically feel like home, you know?

Galle, you are gorgeous and I love you.
Galle, you are gorgeous and I love you.

 

PS- are you following My Adventure Bucket on Facebook? I publish lots of new content there that never makes it to the blog, so check it out!

Barefoot Dentistry: Not As Horrifying As it Sounds

This post may contain affiliate links. Using these links costs you nothing but helps to offset the expense of running of this website and my weekly pedicure habit.

The sign outside the second-floor clinic instructs all visitors to remove their shoes before entering, and the staircase landing is littered with sandals. OK, apparently this is a thing. I briefly consider turning around and leaving, but I’m bolstered by the fact that I’m wearing my lucky Harry Potter underwear. Also, I just saw my first two sacred cows, which seems like a good omen. I’m about to have dental work in India, and I’m starting to think this was possibly a Very Bad Idea™.

I was totally serious about the cow thing, by the way. They're everywhere. I was also serious about the underwear thing but I'm not posting pictures so stop asking.
I was totally serious about the cow thing, by the way. They’re everywhere. I was also serious about the underwear thing but I’m not posting pictures so stop asking.

I feel better as soon as I step inside the clinic. Everything is clean and modern and sterile. I’m handed an iPad on which to check in. The receptionist has perfect hair and looks like he just stepped out of a J.Crew catalog, except he’s also barefoot.

As soon as I finish signing in and taking an extremely unflattering picture of myself with the office tablet, J. Crew leads me up another flight of stairs to the exam room, which is similarly spotless but full of Buddha statues and a small radio blaring Indian pop music.

Buddha statues = instant calm. Take note, Western dentists.
Buddha statues = instant calm. Take note, Western dentists.

Also, is it a bad sign when your dentist has the Doctor’s Book of Home Remedies on his office bookshelf? Asking for a friend.

Dr. Narayan cuts right to the chase, asking me what’s going on. I go into show and tell mode, and he only interrupts to ask a few questions. He can tell right away that I’ve been putting this off for some time, and that there was trauma to the tooth in question. He smirks when I tell him the story of being head-butted in the face by a rambunctious dog while drinking a beer.

“Well,” he says pushing back from his desk, “let’s have a look.” I pad along barefoot behind him into the treatment room. This is probably my last chance to bolt and I’m totally missing it.

The room is as bright and sterile as any Western dentist office, and he uses all the usual tools for the exam, but there is no forgetting where I am. He explains every step of what’s needed in distinctly Indian terms. The root of the tooth is like a sleeping tiger. Bacteria rise up like warriors. Etc. I try to close my eyes during the exam but he gently admonishes me to keep them open. “I know you are scared. Watching what goes on will remove the fear.”

Here's a lovely flower because I understand that absolutely no one wants to see a picture of me having dental work done.
Here’s a lovely flower because I understand that absolutely no one wants to see a picture of me having dental work done.

It only takes a few minutes for Dr. Narayan to decide I need a root canal and we should begin immediately. OK, hold up, I only psyched myself up for an exam. I was not prepared for this at all. “You’re already here,” he says, reading my mind again. “Best just to get it over with.” He’s right, of course, but I must not look entirely convinced. “I promise it won’t hurt a bit, and you won’t even need any anesthesia.” It’s not polite to call your doctor a big fat liar, so I tell him to go ahead.

As it turns out, he wasn’t a big fat liar at all. I would hereby like to insist that every dentist I’ve ever seen to go to India and take a few lessons from this guy. Especially Dr. Kmon, who was a really big jerk to me when I was six.

Fifteen minutes later, having experienced zero pain whatsoever, I was on my way. Who would have guessed that one Indian doctor could cure a decades old fear of the dentist’s chair?

I ended up going back for three additional visits for a follow-up, a temporary crown, and a permanent crown. My entire cost for four office visits, a root canal, and a porcelain crown was $230. I did a little bit of cost comparison with US averages, and it appears that a root canal on a front tooth can cost in the neighborhood of $900. If you need a crown, expect that to be over $1000. You might have insurance that minimizes your out of pocket cost, but if not, that’s a huge expense. I suddenly understand why so many of my American friends have chosen to have their dental work done overseas. For the cost of one root canal and crown in the US, you can fly to the dental tourism spot of your choice, stay in a nice hotel for a couple of weeks, enjoy a lovely vacation, and get some top quality dental work done while you’re there.

Worried about getting dental work overseas? I was, too (especially the whole barefoot thing, but I got over it) but I did a ton of research and got personal recommendations from other travelers, and I couldn’t be happier with the experience. The dentist I chose came highly recommended with over 18 years of experience and training in both India, Europe, and North America, and has trained dentists all over the world. I hope I don’t get too much hate mail from American dentists, but I wouldn’t hesitate to do it all over again and now I completely understand why so many people have chosen to travel for their medical and dental procedures instead of paying outrageous prices at home.

Have you ever traveled for a medical or dental procedure? Tell me about your experiences in the comments!

Hotel Review: Max Wadiya

I had the pleasure of being hosted by the phenomenal Max Wadiya hotel for this stay, but, as always, all opinions are my own.

Sitting by the ocean, drinking a king coconut, has proved to be the best medicine I’ve tried so far. I’ve been sick for a week before arriving in Ambalangoda, but I start to feel better almost immediately. There is no such thing as stress at Max Wadiya, and somehow my body knows it. I can feel the tension melting out of my body as I sit on the wide tiled porch of this coconut jungle by the sea.

You feel more relaxed already, don't you?
You feel more relaxed already, don’t you?

I’m pretty sure I have this island paradise all to myself as I have seen no one else since my arrival, except Ranjan the manager and the team of barefoot staff boys who scurry around, mopping and delivering refreshing drinks like a silent team of gentleman ninjas.

The in-house chef is currently preparing my lunch, which will be served in a terracotta roofed gazebo near the edge of the sand and I’m worried I might be too distracted by the view of the enormous waves to eat. One of the barefoot boys has spent the last ten minutes carefully arranging tableware and polishing glasses because everything at Max Wadiya must always be perfect.

I can’t quite decide what I should do after lunch: walk along the beach or lounge by the pool? This will prove to be the most difficult decision I have to make at Max Wadiya, whose motto is “No Watch, No Wallet, No Shoes, No Menus.” No watch, because there are no set times for anything. Want to sleep late? You’re not going to miss breakfast. Prefer to get up with the sun and walk on the beach before breakfast? They’ll be ready when you are. No wallet, because your stay is all-inclusive. No shoes, because who wears shoes in an island paradise? I kicked off my flip flops when I arrived and didn’t put them back on until I left (and even that was somewhat grudgingly!) No menus because you don’t order; the chef will surprise and delight you with a creative presentation of whatever is fresh from the market and the sea that day. Everything is catered to your taste and ensuring you have an absolutely flawless experience.

Last night’s lack of sleep is catching up with me fast. I have a feeling tonight will bring the best night’s sleep I’ve had in quite a while. There is nothing like drifting off to the sound of the ocean right outside your door. (Spoiler alert: I was right; I slept like absolute royalty in the Tangerine Suite’s heavenly four-poster bed, with its crisp, high end linens. There was definitely no pea under the luxurious mattress.)

Max Wadiya is the kind of place where you use words like “laze” and “puttering.” I find myself putting down my notebook every so often just to get up and stretch a bit, stare out at the ocean, listen to the fountain in the koi pond in the courtyard, notice the breeze and the tropical greenery as far as the eye can see. You get the feeling nothing has ever been done in a rush here. The hotel grounds nudge right up against the water’s edge, so the air is always hazy with ocean mist, giving the whole place a soft, dream-like quality.

If Walt Disney were to open a Sri Lankan resort, I think it would look a lot like Max Wadiya, with its pineapple parrot garnishes and frangipani blossoms drifting gently into the saltwater pool.

I had heard that the food at Max Wadiya was magnificent, and I expected it to be good, but I had no idea I was in for such a feast. I had warned Ranjan when I arrived that I generally have the appetite of a small child and I was recovering from an illness so there was no need to go overboard at mealtimes. He paid absolutely no heed and utterly spoiled me with the freshest, most incredible meals I’ve had since arriving in Sri Lanka.

Lunch on the first day was all I needed to regain my lost appetite from being sick: a chopped salad of lettuce, cucumbers, tomatoes, and red onion in a weightless vinaigrette, new potatoes and haricots verts roasted in fragrant garlic, and lightly glazed fish, grilled to flaky perfection.

 

Everything is as perfect, graceful, and gracious as if Martha Stewart has taken up residence on a South Asian island. Every meal that follows is equally splendid, carefully arranged and garnished and presented; served al fresco next to the sand, where the booming waves drown out all of the noise from the nearby road and make you feel completely alone in a tropical paradise.

My morning walk along the beach- not a soul to be found.
My morning walk along the beach- not a soul to be found.

After lunch, Ranjan gives me a tour of the property, which consists of the original villa, full of antiques and incredible sunset views out over the ocean; and a separate wing with two spacious and gorgeously decorated suites. There’s a saltwater pool tucked into a secluded coconut grove, and a pavilion where yoga, massage, and Ayurveda treatments can be arranged, if you’re so inclined (and you probably will be, if you can pry yourself out of the bathwater-warm pool).

Our last stop is Ranjan’s pride and joy: the cement tank from which he has released over 7000 baby sea turtles from eggs that he has hatched. He beams as he explains that locals from all over Ambalangoda bring him turtle eggs from endangered nests, and he personally tends to the eggs and releases the newly hatched turtles into the sea in the predawn darkness. The opulent luxury of Max Wadiya would be reason enough to visit, but knowing that your vacation dollars are going to support the endangered turtle population of this beautiful island is a wonderful feeling.

Every sunset is a little bit different. Collect them all!
Every sunset is a little bit different. Collect them all!

Do you have “Imagine I’m royalty living in a tropical paradise and being waited on hand and foot by the most gracious and accommodating staff imaginable” on your bucket list? (Hint: if you don’t, you should really add it!) Max Wadiya is the perfect place to check it off. If you decide to pay this magical oasis a visit, tell them Leslie sent you, and be sure to send me a picture!

Max Wadiya is located at 147 Galle Road (Parrot Junction) Urawatte, Ambalangoda, Sri Lanka. Find more information or book your stay at www.maxwadiya.com.

Ranjan (center, blue shirt) and the staff of Max Wadiya stand ready to make your tropical vacation dreams come true.
Ranjan (center, blue shirt) and the staff of Max Wadiya stand ready to make your tropical vacation dreams come true.