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

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

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

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

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

Colombo

Things to Eat:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Things to See:

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

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

Things to Do:

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

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    Clearly in mortal peril here, people.

 


The West

Things to Eat:

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

Things to See:

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

Things to Do:

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

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

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

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

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

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    This is my friend Pride, and she’s the sweetest.



The South

Things to Eat:

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

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    Would it be weird if I went all the way back to Sri Lanka just to eat here again?

Things to See:

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

Things to Do:

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

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

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

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



The Hill Country

Things to Eat:

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

Things to See:

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

Things to Do:

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



The Ancient Cities

Things to Eat:

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

Things to See:

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

Things to Do:

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



Jaffna & The North

Things to Eat:

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

Things to See:

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

Things to Do:

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

The Best Gift I’ve Ever Received

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

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

 

The Best Gift I’ve Ever Given

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

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

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

Gift ideas that aren’t stuff:

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

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

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Does she even wear those earrings you gave her last year? Probably not.


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

They don't need more stuff. Give adventure instead. www.myadventurebucket.com

 

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Dear Galle…a Love Letter

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

To my beloved Galle,

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Until we meet again…

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

All my love,

Leslie


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

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

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

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

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

The “Monthly” Bucket- August/September 2017

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

www.myadventurebucket.com August September

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

Items checked off the bucket list this month:

#367- Pizza at Lombardi’s in NYC

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

#382- Attend the Iowa State Fair

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

#337- Visit Half Moon Bay on the California Coast

#588- Visit Sedona, Arizona

See? I told you I’ve been busy!

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

www.myadventurebucket.com
Touring the desert in Sedona, Arizona by Hummer

 

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

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

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

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

www.myadventurebucket.com
I know you just licked your screen.

 

New blog posts published:

July Monthly Bucket

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

What I learned:

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

www.myadventurebucket.com

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

www.myadventurebucket.com

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

www.myadventurebucket.com

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

www.myadventurebucket.com

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

 

What I read:

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

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

So Long, Sri Lanka! What’s Next?

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

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

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

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

So Long Sri Lanka MyAdventureBucket.com

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

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

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

I wonder how normal people do things.

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

So Long Sri Lanka MyAdventureBucket.com

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

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

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

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

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

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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!

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. 

 

 

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.

Good Morning, India!

Daybreak on my first morning in India. I’ve been up since 3:30 a.m. after getting less than four hours of sleep. Thanks, jet lag.

My first Indian breakfast. That bowl of hot looking stuff is called sambar but I just call it fire soup and it's delicious even if it makes smoke come out of my ears every day.
My first Indian breakfast. That bowl of hot looking stuff is called sambar but I just call it fire soup and it’s delicious even if it makes smoke come out of my ears every day.

I’ve already used the four days’ worth of wifi codes provided by the hotel. I’ve been here for 9 hours. Oops. I’m already reconsidering my decision not to rent a personal wifi hotspot “because I’ll have access at the hotel so I won’t really need it.”

I discover at 5:00 a.m. that there’s a mosque somewhere nearby. Some people would be annoyed by the early wake up call, but I love it. The sound of the adhan breaking through the predawn darkness brings me back to my first solo trip, when I discovered I’d booked a Mandalay hotel room next door to a mosque, and sat on the wide marble windowsill, hugging my knees and listening to the Muslim call to prayer for the first time.

Getting to the hotel last night was an adventure. The only thing more exciting than Indian traffic is Indian traffic at night, in the rain, while your taxi driver is texting because he can’t find your hotel.

Travel Tip: In addition to your hotel’s address, make sure you have their phone number handy before you travel. Many cabs in Asia don’t have GPS and your driver will want to call the hotel to get directions before setting out. Don’t rely on the promise of free wifi in the airport to pull up this information as most Indian wifi hotspots require you to have a working Indian phone number at which to receive an access code by text message.

It’s such a beautiful morning I’ve dragged my wooden desk chair out to the balcony to listen to the city wake up. I’m surrounded by Bougainvillea bushes and thin-leafed trees I’ve never seen before. It’s barely dawn but the traffic already sounds heavy on the main road. A flock of pigeons on the roof of the building next door is making a huge racket, and a local woman in a blue tee shirt is jogging around the block before the oppressive heat that is surely on its way.

Good morning, India! I could easily make this my office for the next few weeks.
Good morning, India! I could easily make this my office for the next few weeks.

Good morning, India. I could sit here all day but there is adventure to be had!

 

The Widow Who Opened My Eyes

Sometimes it’s the smallest, most insignificant moments that change our lives forever. I’ll never forget the older lady who sat across the table from me in my arrangement office all those years ago. She wore a tidy blue skirt suit and had her hair in tidy, well-sprayed curls. Her jewelry was conservative and her makeup was tasteful, but smudged, because she spent most of our meeting looking down at her lap and crying silent tears.

Her husband had just died, and I am a funeral director.

I’m sure she thought I was helping her that day, and I was, but when she opened up to me about her life she helped me in a way that I will never be able to repay.

Her life had been as tidy as her hair and her clothes and her pearl jewelry, so she came to our meeting well prepared. The funeral was pre-arranged and had been paid for many years ago, because that was the sensible thing to do. She knew how many copies of the death certificate she would need to handle the business end of her husband’s death, and she had already called the church and ensured that her pastor would be available to conduct the funeral service later in the week. Plans had been made for her two adult sons to fly home from out of state.

The only thing she hadn’t been able to sort out ahead of time was the obituary, and she needed my help. Her husband had been a very special man, and she naturally wanted the newspaper notice to reflect that, but she just didn’t know where to start. I’ve written hundreds of obituaries, so I started asking her questions about her husband’s life, hobbies, interests…special memories that might give us a jumping off point.

She continued to stare down at her lap for the longest time, until she finally looked up and me and said, “All he really ever did was work. He loved us so much and wanted to provide for his family, so he sacrificed everything he ever wanted to do in order to make money to support us. He wanted me to stay home with the kids and he wanted to send them to the best schools, so he just worked and worked. You’ve never seen such a hard working man. 60, sometimes 70 hour weeks weren’t uncommon. He missed so many birthdays and holidays with us, but he had a goal in mind. We always wanted to travel and see the world together; that’s all we ever talked about. All the places we were going to go once he retired. We would lie in bed at night and hold hands, talking about it. One day, we’re going to do all the things we’ve dreamed about, and it’s finally going to be our time.”

Her husband died two weeks before his planned retirement date.
They never took a single vacation.
They never fulfilled a single one of their dreams together.

Heartbreaking, isn’t it?
The entire time this poor woman was spilling her heart out to me, alarm bells and panic sirens were going off in my head while a giant neon sign flashed: THIS WILL NEVER BE ME!

I never told this lady about the switch she had flipped inside me, but I still think about her often, all these years later. When I know I’m working too hard, when it’s been too long since I took time off to travel, and most recently when I made the decision to retire from funeral directing to be a full time travel writer. I think about her small shoulders shaking under that blue suit as she cried for the death of her husband and all of their lost dreams.

Don’t be so tidy, folks. Working and planning and saving are wonderful things, but not at the expense of the things that you lie in bed at night and dream about. You can always make more money or make do with fewer material things, but lost time is never coming back. Don’t get so busy building your life that you never actually get to live it.

The world is incredible and full of beautiful, amazing things just waiting for you to go and discover them.
The world is incredible and full of beautiful, amazing things just waiting for you to go and discover them.
Don't postpone your dreams until tomorrow or next year or when the kids go off to college.
Don’t postpone your dreams until tomorrow or next year or when the kids go off to college.
What are you waiting for? Once you see how much beauty is out there, you'll never be the same.
What are you waiting for? Once you see how much beauty is out there, you’ll never be the same.