For the most part in Sri Lanka you’ll be in quite hospitable environments with all modern conveniences. The only areas you need to be aware of any variations to normal are really where climate (higher places such as Nuwara Eliya hill station), forest (Udawalawe and Yale national parks) or whale watching introduce something out of the ordinary. As with most travel it’s down to comfort and common sense. Be aware of the environment you’re going into and how you like to feel generally.
With regards National Parks, you’ll find that most in the forests wear safari colours (khaki, beige, stone) & materials (cottons and breathables), partly to fit in with the environment, mainly because it’s the most practical as you’ll be sitting in a jeep for the most part which can get very dusty.
My suggestion is to take along some long sleeves and light jumpers for the early morning and evenings as it can be quite chilly.
I think the whole point of travel clothing is simply loose comfort and being at one with your environment. Avoid white as it’s too stark in the forests and shows every mark and give a miss to dark colours (black and blue in particular) as they attract biting insects.
As you might know, I’m unfortunate in that every insect known to mankind bites me; whereas as nothing bites Geoff when I’m around. That said, if you’re like me, it’s also useful to have long sleeves for dawn and dusk as this is when the bugs are most active. If you’re sensitive to sun then you’ll need plenty of protection anyway and its best to be wise about this as even under cover in a jeep there will still be times when you’re exposed to the sun.
Geoff and I seem to buy hats each time we travel as we prefer to buy cheaper department store hats that will squash flat, breath but absorb perspiration, ideally have a neck strap to keep them on our heads and wash easily. When we’ve bought super hats we’ve been more precious about them than necessary as they’re difficult to transport without damage and don’t seem to fare any better in terms of performance. It’s easier to throw away a cheapy if washing doesn’t resurrect it than part with a treasured fedora.
I like to take a couple of simple accessories such as a sarong and/or light scarf that can either wrap around my face as protection from dust or the sun around my neck and shoulders – or over my knees and legs if in shorts. Geoff’s taken to doing the same, especially if we’re in boats and canoes as the back of the neck is quite vulnerable and you can easily suffer from heat stroke if you’re not careful.
The chances are that you might get caught in rain or the middle of a cloud, so simply prepare for this with a light rain jacket. Sensible shoes (for walking) and a pair of sandals (for chilling or beach walking) are all that’s necessary and although I prefer a choice and a change, many people seem to be happy with the newer hybrid breathable waterproof trainers that cope with all environments.
Note: Sri Lanka, as with India, is a riot of colour so don’t be afraid to join in with your clothing choices. However, if you’re out on your own, the secret is to not attract too much attention to yourself. Sri Lanka is not a place where we’ve ever felt at risk but if you look like a victim you’ll probably become one. Always look as though you know what you’re doing and where you’re going and you’ll be fine. If you look helpless then, as in the wild, you’re more of a target. If you stick to the main thoroughfares and tourist areas then you will be fine, just be wary if exploring in more remote places. Females should avoid wandering around singly or in small groups as they can attract the unwelcome attention of marauding youths. Credit card fraud is on the increase so only use cash or ATMs attached to banks.
I’ve put together my suggested packing list and split it into two – Sri Lanka specific and General. It’s not exhaustive as you’ll have certain personal preferences but you should use it as a minimum. You can’t always guarantee to get laundry done when you want it so you might need to pack to allow for the three different environments you’ll find yourself in – city, forest, and marine.
Apart from the obvious this list applies to both male and female.
Pairs of casual trousers and a couple of pairs of shorts
At least one light cotton dress and clothes for hotel and evenings over dinner
4 or 5 long-sleeve shirts
4 or 5 short sleeve or T-shirts
A warm, showerproof jacket
A pair of walking shoes
A pair of sandals (casual and waterproof for canoe/beach)
Sarong, shawl or cloth wrap for neck, shoulders, legs.
Your normal selection of underwear
There are not many additional items that you wouldn’t already take on any normal holiday. For the most part your guides will keep you away from harm, in vehicles and boats that are fit for purpose and you’ll be eating food that’s as good as you’d get anywhere. If you relax and apply simple common sense then you shouldn’t have a problem and won’t need to take a pharmacy and hardware store with you. In our experience we only ever had problems with people who did things in the jungle that they wouldn’t dream of doing at home – such as the lady who left all her diabetes medication behind because ‘she wanted a holiday away from it all.’ She got one as she was out of it for some time! Anyway…
Camera – whatever you’re comfortable with – (or see Geoff’s list for more serious snappers).
Chargers, data cards and spare batteries.
Plug adaptors. In Sri Lanka the standard voltage is 230 V. The standard frequency is 50 Hz. You’ll find both standard three rectangular pin and three round pin sockets depending on where you are.
Water bottle or packs of bottled water – useful for when travelling between locations.
Water/dust-proof bag – for camera kit/binoculars or for dirty/wet linen
Sunblock and after-sun/moisturiser
Mosquito/bug repellent and Anthisan
Multi-purpose knife eg. Leatherman with knife, scissors, tweezers, screwdriver etc (don’t pack it in hand luggage)
Sunglasses with polarized lenses
Books/e-readers for reading during leisure time
Books on birds & wildlife – although you will find them in the lodges
A journal to record the wildlife you see and people you meet – unless you don’t mind loads of pictures of nameless beings.
Alarm – although many places wake you with tea/coffee it’s not gauranteed
Mini sewing kit – although I don’t think we’ve ever used it
Deck of cards – we always take them to while away the odd hour
Wet wipes/hand sanitizer – most gippy tummies are self-inflicted by hand to mouth contact
Sanitary and/or birth control requirements
Reading glasses – contact lenses are not always good because of the dust – but if you do bring them then bring spares and solution
Motion/sea sickness tablets
Antiseptic cream, anti-histamine creams
Basic 1st Aid kit for minor cuts and abrasions.
The bare necessities:
Pen, pad and Calculator
Passport – valid for at least 6 months with appropriate visas
Visa – given to us by ground agents
Yellow fever certificate (if coming from ‘at risk’ country)
Phone numbers for Ground Agents contacts etc.
Two extra passport photos, two photocopies of your passport, visa and travel tickets to carry separately from your travel documents
An additional form of photo I.D. e.g. driving license
Air tickets & vouchers
Emergency phone number and contact details
Credit cards, traveller checks and/or cash in currencies
Vaccination certificates (if required)
Medical history and prescriptions
Phone number of your driver/ car park at home
Home keys for when you return
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