Sri Lanka: The Other Side to Female Solo Travel

I love solo travel and it’s my preferred mode of travelling more often than not. Recently I’d written a few posts on women travelling by themselves in Morocco and in India and how at times it can get quite difficult. There can be a few downsides, sure, but one particular experience I’ve had in Sri Lanka recently has shown me a beautiful side to solo female travel and I owe it all to a home stay called Charm Inn in Anuradhapura.

    Enroute to Anuradhapura

“You’re travelling alone?” a  concerned voice on the other end of the phone asked me.

When I replied with an affirmative saying that my train had been delayed he replied, ” Don’t worry, my family and I will look after you”.

In any other context, that comment would have annoyed me. I don’t need “looking after”, thank you very much. This was different. It was the sort of concern I am familiar with from back home in India. It made me smile.

True to his word, Mr. Shelton and his family did look after me, just like another member of the family. My first night in, I wanted to go and grab some dinner. It was past 7 p.m and Mr. Shelton insisted that I eat with the family that night. “It’s simple food if you won’t mind?”, he said and half an hour later there was a feast of chicken curry, pumpkin bhaji, dal and rice on my plate. Days later when I was checking out, he refused to charge me a single rupee for that meal.

   A pot of coffee, a lush verandah & a solid wifi connection. I found bliss in Charm Inn.

Every day as I’d step out to go for a walk or a swim, he’s asked me where I was heading and when I was likely to be back. He’d then accordingly advise me. Obviously, a young girl travelling solo was a cause of concern here and come evening, they wanted to make sure I was back home safe. Mr. Shelton’s homestay is the exact sort of place my mother would want me to stay in every time I traveled somewhere. His wife and daughter live in the house too and moving around them, sharing their kitchen and their laughter made me want stay in Anuradhapura a lot longer than I planned to.

Mr. Shelton is also a Carrom expert. And what is that? Basically, if pool was a board game it would be carrom. So, since Mr. Shelton didn’t take being beaten kindly at all, the games got quite intense. Not that he had anything to worry when it came to the occupants of his homestay. At one point, three of us played against him and he still won. That’s Anuradhapura nightlife for you. I loved it even though I was a mortifying carrom player.

The family’s hospitality didn’t end in Anuradhapura. I mentioned I was moving on to Kandy and they recommended an inexpensive colonial (and safe as they pointed out) hotel and managed to get me a great deal on the price. The next evening as I sat on my hotel balcony overlooking the Kandy Lake my phone rang. It was Mr. Shelton calling to check if I had reached and if everything was as I expected in my hotel. I assured him I was quite alright and would soon be meeting my travel buddies which seemed to reassure him a lot.
To have someone be worried about my whereabouts in a new country miles away from home is not something I’ve been used to and it felt nice. It can get frustrating sometimes when you’re on the road and certain experiences in certain countries are beyond your reach just because you’re a woman. This time was different…I managed to have a much richer and local experience because I was a girl traveling solo. Of course, the family is incredibly nice to all their guests but they have a young daughter themselves and therefore ensuring the safety of someone else’s daughter came naturally to them. They went out of their way to talk to me, make sure I was eating enough veggies and ensured I was being a good child by ringing my parents to let them know how I’m doing. After months of wandering and living solo I on my part enjoyed this bit of parenting.
   Eating my veggies and fruits in Anuradhapura
Before I left Sri Lanka, I called Mr. Shelton and his family to say goodbye and to let them know I was making it out of the country well and truly alive and safe. All through the rest of my journey, I met many wonderful people but none who were able to carve a niche in my heart the way a family of three in Anuradhapura had.

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