Solo Female Traveler Interview: Cali

Hey Adventurers! I’m back with another awesome solo female traveler to introduce to you! Meet Cali, from Cali O on the Go! I felt like Cali and I were instant besties because she, too, knows what it feels like to be charged by a hippo. If you don’t, you probably want to do your best to keep it that way. Trust me on this.

Where are you from, and where are you currently residing? I am from Boston, Massachusetts and I reside in the area when I am not traveling.

 Where is your next destination? Guatemala!

How long have you been traveling? I have always had some level of interest in traveling, but it truly became an obsession about two years ago. I quit my job, sold my belongings, moved back home (from Texas to Massachusetts), and started traveling the world, mostly full-time, mostly solo!

What’s on your bucket list? What is not on my bucket list? One place I really, REALLY want to go is Madagascar. I just love nature and wildlife and Madagascar is home to some very unique species. I also love adventure and adrenaline so I am always on the lookout for unique adrenaline pumping activities to add to my bucket list.

What’s the craziest thing that’s ever happened to you while traveling? I was charged at by a hippo at a campsite in Zambia. Luckily it was a warning charge, which is atypical of hippos as they usually charge to kill. We were separated by an electric fence which was not actually electrified due to planned daily power outages during the dry season in Zambia.

What’s your favorite place in the world and why is it so great? I know you know this is one of the hardest questions you can ask someone! Uzbekistan was a special country for me. It had an amazing balance of history (the Silk Road), culture, delicious food, and the friendliest people.

What lessons have you learned from travel? My favorite lesson I have learned is the recurring theme of generosity. Regardless of where I am in the world, I have been humbled by the generosity of local people. They offer assistance, food, or anything they have, even if it is beyond their means, in order to help improve my experience in their country. It is a lesson I truly try and implement when I am back home.

How do you combat loneliness when traveling solo? I try to turn it into appreciation. For me, when I am traveling solo, I am very rarely alone. Whether that be because I am staying in a busy hostel or I have joined a popular day tour or the locals strike up a conversation with me because I am alone. When I do truly find myself alone or potentially lonely, I force myself to appreciate that moment. Finally, I am by myself. I will likely go for a long walk, or binge eat local delicacies (because that is not my favorite way to make a first impression when I am among new friends), or find a quiet park and read a book. I use it as the time to do things I like to do, but don’t want to do with other people.

What advice would you give a woman who wants to start traveling but is struggling with doubts and uncertainties? I have gone off on my own so many times now and I always psych myself out into a whirlwind of doubts prior to leaving. That feeling is SO normal whether this is your first trip or you are a seasoned traveler. Being at home is easy and comfortable and I don’t have to think. But traveling is an opportunity to see the world, be resourceful, and open your eyes to culture, food, and scenery you’ve never experienced. Don’t let your inhibitions hold you back. All you have to do is take that first step to go. Book that plane ticket, know you can’t back out and your instincts will take care of the rest. You will surprise yourself and you won’t be disappointed.

So there you have it, the world according to Cali! I love what she has to say about experiencing acts of generosity all over the world. I have experienced the same thing, over and over again, and it’s always so humbling.

Cali myadventurebucket.com

Catch up with Cali here:

www.calionthego.com

www.instagram.com/diagoncali

www.pinterest.com/calionthego

If you enjoyed this post, check out some other awesome solo female travelers here and here!

The Monthly Bucket- June 2017

Happy June, adventurers! OK, I know it’s July 3rd and I’m late again, but I’ve been stuck in some pretty remote places this month. Don’t feel sorry for me; they were all amazing!

Where in the world am I? Two thirds of the way through my great Sri Lankan expedition! This month I’ve visited Galle, Udawalawe, Colombo, Kalpitiya, Kandy, Ella, and Bandarawela.

www.myadventurebucket.com
Hiking around the hill country town of Ella. Quite a change of scenery from the coast!

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

www.myadventurebucket.com
Shri Sudharmalaya, Galle
www.myadventurebucket.com
The Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic, Kandy

Highlight of the month: Hanging out with elephants (and elephant babies!) at Udawalawe National Park. I went early (and I do mean EARLY!) in the morning and had the whole place to myself. Not another tourist in sight, and the weather was perfect. June is supposed to be the start of monsoon season in this part of the island, but I had a cool, breezy, sunny day.

www.myadventurebucket.com

Lowlight of the month: Arriving in the secluded paradise of Kalpitiya Peninsula only to be struck down by a random virus as soon as I got to my hotel. Fever, chills, nausea, extreme joint pain; I would have called my travel insurance company for a medical evacuation if I’d had the strength to make the call. Thankfully I made a full recovery without medical intervention, but I later read in the local paper that doctors were perplexed by a mysterious Dengue Fever-like virus exploding in the Kalpitiya peninsula throughout the month of June. Um, yikes?

Best meal: It’s a tie! I really can’t choose between these two:

1. A simple Greek salad and freshly made hummus with grilled flatbread at Chambers inside Galle Fort. I will never, ever go back to eating store-bought hummus again. Chambers, you have ruined me.

June best meal
I may or may not be planning a 10 hour train journey across the country just to have this one more time before I leave.

2. The spaghetti carbonara at Dolphin Beach Resort in Kalpitiya. I know you’d traditionally think of something seafood-based at a Sri Lankan beach resort, but trust me when I say this was the best pasta I’ve ever had in my life.

www.myadventurebucket.com June
It’s OK if you just licked your screen. I did, too.

New blog posts published:
May Monthly Bucket
Become a More Patient Human: Travel in India
Solo Female Traveler Interview: Sky Fisher
Hotel Review: Kalahe House
Sick in Sri Lanka: Yet Another Time I Almost Died
Extending Your Sri Lankan Tourist Visa
Technological Witchcraft: Outsmarting a Common Hotel Scam
Solo Female Traveler Interview: Carrie Mann
No Bus to Kalpitiya: Public Transport in Sri Lanka

What I learned:

  • I’m going to Australia! I fired up my random bucket list picker and let it choose another adventure, so I’ll be heading to the Land Down Under soon to drive the Great Ocean Road. But first, I’m going home to the US for a two month road trip, and then popping down to Brazil to pick some coffee beans. I hope you’ll be following along on all of my adventures.
  • Galle is the most magnificent little city in Sri Lanka and I should definitely live here. It’s so darling, the garbage trucks play classical music so you know when to bring out your trash.
  • You know a man really loves you when he finds a way to have a random cake delivered to you even though he’s 10,000 miles away.
  • Transportation around the island is always more complicated than the Internet suggests.
  • Every time I sit down, a stray animal appears. I have embraced this as my spiritual gift.
  • Sri Lanka’s hill country has the most magnificent climate, and you should definitely visit. While June on the southern coast is miserably hot and sticky, the hills are crisp and cool and perfect. 
  • Getting your roots touched up in a Sri Lankan hair salon is a nerve wracking experience. I almost said “hair raising experience” but even I would have hated me for that.
  • Kalpitiya is full of chipmunks who will sneak into your cabana and abscond with all of your tea, sugar, and creamer. I choose to believe that they are having little chipmunk tea parties somewhere in the woods.
  • You can make an outdoor shower out of a sperm whale skull.
  • Sri Lankan gay rights activists are some of the bravest, kindest, most inspirational people I’ve ever met. June is Pride Month all over the world, but it’s extra special in a country where homosexuality is illegal and people are fighting for their basic human rights. 

What I read:
Stephen King’s On Writing for the billionth time
Jon Vrom’s The Front Row Factor. I loved this book about transforming your life into a series of “front row” moments.
Eleventy billion brain-numbing articles on the technical aspects of blogging that would make your eyes glaze over if I even started to list them all.

What’s next? One more month of exploring ancient temples and exotic beaches before I head back to the US for a while. I can’t wait to see my dog after four months apart!

Don’t forget to follow My Adventure Bucket on Facebook if you haven’t already! Have a fantastic July (and for my American readers, please be careful with your fireworks! Happy Independence Day!)

This post may contain affiliate links. These links cost you nothing but help to support the upkeep of the blog, and my room service habit. 

Hotel Review: Dolphin Beach Resort, Kalpitiya

I had the immense pleasure of being hosted by the Dolphin Beach Resort for the purposes of this review, but as always, all words and opinions are my own. Furthermore, I’ve been in Sri Lanka for two months at the time of this visit and Dolphin Beach is, hands down, the most incredible accommodation I’ve had on my entire trip. I would, without question, go back on my own dime and stay in their gorgeous tents and eat their amazing food for a ridiculously long time. 

So this is what it’s like to go “glamping” in paradise. Glamping, or glamorous camping, is a trend that has grown like crazy over the last few years, with more and more secluded destinations getting in on the act. Instead of pitching a tent and rolling out your sleeping bag on the ground, these resorts set up permanent tents on real foundations with real furniture and indoor plumbing.

Dolphin Beach Resort, Kalpitiya

My first thought upon entering my tent was that I’ve been transported to Harry Potter’s Quidditch World Cup tent; it looks like a normal tent from the outside, but on the inside it’s magically enlarged and furnished with all the comforts of home. Every time I enter the tent during my stay I imagine I can hear the flute music from the tent scene just before the Death Eaters pop in and ruin everybody’s fun. If you’re a Harry Potter fan, you know what I’m talking about! And just like the movie, I find myself gazing around the tent in fascination, saying, “I love magic!”

Dolphin Beach Resort, Kalpitiya
Look. This is inside a tent! Tell me this isn’t magic.

Sadly there’s no quidditch being played on broomsticks outside the tent, but if you do need to get your sporting fix, there’s incredible kite surfing that you can watch from the beach or the pool. Kalpitiya is, after all, currently the hottest kite surfing destination in Asia, and Dolphin Beach runs a kite surfing school in which you can enroll if you’d like to experience the thrill for yourself. I’m more of a “spectator with a nice fruity cocktail” type myself, but to each her own.

Dolphin Beach Resort, Kalpitiya
There are more gorgeous, private lounging spots than there are rooms, so you can always find a nice secluded place for your sunset cocktail.

As with most resorts in Sri Lanka, Dolphin Beach employs an army of ridiculously polite and helpful young men to take care of everything from carrying your luggage to arranging your meals. They are uniformly kind and solicitous and eager to please. And frankly, adorable.

Dolphin Beach Resort, Kalpitiya
It would be creepy to post pictures of the staff, so here’s a beautiful flower bowl outside my tent that they create every morning.

Several times a day, the serving boys bring me a menu and I get to
order all the food and adult beverages I want while floating in the
pool next to the ocean. I don’t even remember dying, but apparently
Heaven is a lot easier to get into than you think.

Dolphin Beach Resort, Kalpitiya
You can literally be lying here by the ocean while people bring you cocktails.

Speaking of menus… I was told by the Dolphin Beach manager when I arrived that Maduka would be taking excellent care of me and would recommend the best dishes on the menu for every meal. I eagerly awaited his arrival at my magical tent the first afternoon to put his culinary knowledge to the test. He arrived at 5:00 sharp, as promised, and presented me with the evening’s dinner menu. Before I even had a chance to look at it, Maduka said, “You have to have the pasta.” OK, I’m already skeptical. “Pasta” and “Asia” aren’t usually two things that go together. I’ve had several pasta dishes on this trip so far, and they have been uniformly disappointing. Maduka insists. “We have amazing chef. Please, try the pasta.” OK, fine. I order the spaghetti carbonara and prepare myself for a lackluster dinner.

Dude. You guys. THE PASTA. This, right here, is hands down the best meal I’ve had in Sri Lanka. This chef could be making pasta in Italy and be a star. Thick, creamy, al dente, freshly made pasta, in the most amazing Parmesan sauce with great big hunks of bacon. This is the best pasta I’ve ever had in my entire life, and somehow I’m having it in a grass roof dining hut on the beach in a random town in Sri Lanka.

Dolphin Beach Resort, Kalpitiya
Just…just look at how beautiful this is.
Dolphin Beach Resort, Kalpitiya
I love how sustainable this resort is while still being luxurious. They grow their own produce and it’s delicious.

After two days of frolicking in paradise (and stuffing myself silly with that amazing pasta) I’m really, really bummed to have to leave. Of course, they don’t make leaving easy; upon hearing that I have a long drive ahead of me, the manager insists upon packing me a lunch and sending me off with enough food and bottled water to feed an army. As I drive away, I’m already thinking about how I can rearrange my schedule to come back…

If this sounds like your kind of vacation, you can find more information or book your stay here. Please order the spaghetti carbonara and send me pictures.

Dolphin Beach Resort, Kalpitiya
The resort really comes alive at night, with these glowing lotus flowers and illuminated orbs all over the property.

I also had the pleasure of staying at Dolphin Beach’s sister resort, Bar Reef Resort, and you can read about that stay here.

Dolphin Beach Resort, Kalpitiya
Did I mention that the sunsets are absolutely spectacular?

Hotel Review: Bar Reef Resort, Kalpitiya

I had the pleasure of being hosted by the incredible Bar Reef Resort, Kalpitiya, for the purposes of this review. As always, all words and opinions are my own. 

If you ever read any Swiss Family Robinson tales as a child, you’ll feel right at home as soon as you arrive at Kalpitiya’s Bar Reef Resort.

Bar Reef Resort Kalpitiya www.myadventurebucket.com

This eco resort is an environmentalist’s dream, without sacrificing even the tiniest luxury. The beds are kitted out in high end linens, but they’re washed by hand and hung to dry in the sunshine to conserve electricity. The whole resort is a flowering tropical paradise, but apart from being gorgeous, each plant was specially chosen to bolster the threatened bee and butterfly populations.

You probably won’t be thinking about the eco-friendly aspects of the saltwater infinity pool while you’re floating away the afternoon, but it’s still nice to know. And if it makes you feel better to know that the entire menu is organic and locally sourced, go ahead and order an extra dessert. It’s Sri Lanka, they’ll just smile at you.

Also, this is probably the only place in the world you can shower out of a giant sperm whale skull. I didn’t even know this was on my bucket list, but I’m adding it retroactively because it’s that cool.

Bar Reef Resort Kalpitiya www.myadventurebucket.com
Seriously, it’s a giant sperm whale skull and you can shower under it. How cool is this?

I’m traveling during the “off season,” but all that means for Kalpitiya is that it’s kite surfing season. They put up a few woven screen barriers around the pool and the dining pavilions to keep the sand out, but otherwise it’s business as usual. 

This small peninsula on Sri Lanka’s west coast is fast becoming one of the best kite surfing spots in all of South Asia. During the week I’m here, I meet groups from as far away as France, Germany, and Australia who have come here just to experience the famous Kalpitiya winds at the various kite surfing resorts popping up all over the beach.

Bar Reef Resort Kalpitiya www.myadventurebucket.com
Nothing goes to waste at Bar Reef Resort, including coconut shells.

Gliding along through the massive infinity pool as the famed Kalpitya
winds make waves on the surface, I think this must be what it feels
like to be one of the dolphins who makes her home off these choppy
shores.

Bar Reef Resort Kalpitiya www.myadventurebucket.com
THE POOL. I’ve been in Sri Lanka for about six weeks now, and this is my favorite resort pool so far.
Bar Reef Resort Kalpitiya www.myadventurebucket.com
The faucet in my outdoor bathroom.

At the end of the day, sitting in a thatched roof pavilion with a cold beer and candlelight, feeling the ocean breeze across your sun-warmed back is just about as close to heaven as you’re going to get.

Things I Loved:

  • The incredible attention to detail. Nothing is overlooked, no matter how tiny. The outdoor bathrooms would still be gorgeous even if the faucet wasn’t a conch shell, but these small touches make everything feel special.
  • The enormous pool! I felt like I was swimming to India.
  • The magnificent staff, whose attention to detail surpasses even the interior design. I mentioned after lunch on my second day that I had been under the weather when I arrived; the next morning at breakfast I was presented with a delicious homemade porridge known for curing tummy troubles.
  • The utter lack of plastic and man-made materials. Bar Reef Resort takes their commitment to the environment so seriously. Throughout my stay I only saw two items made out of plastic: the light switches in the cabanas, and the water bottles. The manager and resident naturalist assured me that he’s working to source a local supplier of glass bottles so even these will soon be a thing of the past. The staff collects fallen palm branches and other natural debris and turns it into everything from cabana roofs to bathroom coat hooks.
  • The solitude. During my stay there were very few other guests; only one small British family and a solitary kite surfer. I would have the entire pool area to myself for hours at a time, and it was unimaginable bliss. It helped that I wasn’t traveling during the peak season, but even when the resort is at capacity, you’re still talking about a very small number of guests. The cabanas and pool pavilions are arranged for maximum privacy, so you’ll never feel crowded.
Bar Reef Resort Kalpitiya www.myadventurebucket.com
The front of my darling little cabana.

Bar Reef Resort Kalpitiya www.myadventurebucket.com

Bar Reef Resort Kalpitiya www.myadventurebucket.com
Truly, no detail is overlooked.
Bar Reef Resort Kalpitiya www.myadventurebucket.com
The pool bar serves more than fancy cocktails; they’ve probably got an herbal tea for anything that’s ailing you, too.

If you, too, have some luxurious deserted island fantasies to live out, you can find more information and book your stay here. I also had the pleasure of staying at the Bar Reef Resort’s sister property, Dolphin Beach Resort. You can check out my review here!

Bar Reef Resort Kalpitiya www.myadventurebucket.com

No Bus to Kalpitiya: Public Transport in Sri Lanka

I really can’t stress this enough: when it comes to Sri Lankan transportation, you can’t rely on Internet information. I’m telling you this as I fester in a broken plastic chair at Pettah Bus Station, swatting away flies like an irritable cow. According to “the Internet,” there is a Kalpitiya-bound bus leaving from here once an hour.

This, of course, is a lie. Armed with this misinformation, I assume I can arrive at the bus station whenever I please and have less than an hour to wait before I’m on my way.

“Kalpitiya? No, there’s no bus to Kalpitiya.” The tiny man in greasy overalls is all smiles as he juggles a pile of wrenches from one gnarled hand to another.

Don’t panic, don’t panic, don’t panic…

“…not until 11:00.”

Whew.

An interested group of men appears in front of us, as an interested group of men always does when one is discussing how to get from Point A to Point B.

“11:00,” the youngest in the group agrees. “This bus right here.” He points to the shiny blue hulk in front of us with the flashy prismatic paint job.

More men join the discussion. One points further down the platform. “That way.” He’s the only one not smiling.

The rest of the group erupts in chatter, contradicting No Smile in Sinhalese I don’t understand. I take a seat on a filthy plastic chair and try not to be pissed that I got up at 6am for nothing. I’m stewing about missing out on an afternoon of lounging by the pool at my lagoon-front hotel.

After a few minutes, the youngest member of the group approaches and indicates that I actually should follow No Smile’s directions and head further down the platform. Apparently they’ve been arguing about it this whole time.

In the distance, I see a grimy yellow sign written in an alphabet I can’t decipher, with one word I do understand: Kalpitiya.

Hallelujah.

The bus driver at Bay #7 smiles as I approach. “Where are you going?”

“Kalpitiya.”

The smile fades. “Sorry, madam. There is no bus to Kalpitiya.”

“Not until 11:00, I know.”

He nods gravely. “Not until 11:00.”

“That’s OK, I’ll wait.”

This is, apparently, an unheard of proposition. It’s just past 8:30. He calls over another driver to help talk some sense into me.

“You can take this bus to Puttalam,” New Driver explains. He’s gesticulating as wildly as a man in a loud suit, hawking plastic crap in an infomercial. “Have the driver drop you off by the church before you get to the roundabout, then you can walk to the other bus station and take a different bus to Kalpitiya!” (What could possibly go wrong?)

I’m definitely not doing that.

“But the 11:00 bus goes directly to Kalpitiya? No changes?”

He reluctantly admits that it does.

“Ok, I’m going to wait for that one.”

He looks at me incredulously and shrugs at First Driver. ‘She’s clearly an idiot; I can’t help you,’ that shrug says.

I should note that only the red buses in Sri Lanka are government owned. They are generally considered to be ratty and inferior, and they pick up in a different place than privately owned buses. These are generally considered much nicer; some even have Wi-Fi. But because they’re privately owned, there is competition, and individual drivers will try to convince you to change your travel plans, even if it isn’t convenient for you. Stick to your guns unless you’re a lot more adventurous than I am.

No bus to Kalpitiya
On the plus side, there are lots of amusingly translated signs to occupy you if you end up with a long wait at the bus station.

Other things to know about taking the bus in Sri Lanka:

  • Unlike the train, you don’t need to buy a ticket in advance. Just get on; an employee will come around and sell you a ticket at some point after the bus departs.
  • Bus rides are ridiculously cheap; my 4.5 hour trip to Kalpitiya cost 198 rupees, which is a little over a dollar.
  • That cheap bus ticket came complete with 4.5 hours of Bollywood’s latest and greatest on the TV mounted above the driver’s head. Bring earplugs or headphones unless you hate yourself.
  • The “official” bus route might show few or no stops, but don’t kid yourself. They’re stopping at every bus stop they see and cramming on as many passengers as they can shove in. You won’t have that seat to yourself for very long.
  • Eating and drinking is fine on the bus; if you forgot to pack your own snacks, don’t worry. Vendors hawking drinks and food will randomly hop on and wander down the aisle. You can get a bottle of cold water for 50 rupees, awesome fried snacks, and maybe a large bag of coconuts.
  • Bus schedules for government owned red buses can be found on the National Transport Commission website here, but you’re still better off just asking someone.
No bus to Kalpitiya
The interior is as loud as the Bollywood movie marathon. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

In the end, I get to Kalpitiya mid-afternoon, in plenty of time to get in some pool-lounging time. Well, it would be plenty of time, except I immediately get sick with some kind of rare Dengue Fever-like virus and do nothing all afternoon except lie in the dark and pray for death. What else did you expect?

 

Like this? Read more posts like this one here

 

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.