Tuesday, March 11, 2014

La-La-Lanka!

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2012. That was the year I had earmarked for a trip to Sri Lanka with a couple of my friends. But fate intervened. My brother met a lovely girl in April that year and decided to get married. That same year. In December! The same month I was to be off to the island nation. A bittersweet feeling ensued with having to abandon travel plans but a celebration in the family was  a very valid reason. Cut to 2014. And Sri Lanka has still not happened. Work and other priorities took over since the last few months. I wasn't even planning any travel even though at the back of my mind, the thought remained.

You know one of my favourite past-times is to browse travel-related websites and blogs. I've always enjoyed reading up about a particular place and dreaming of what it would be like to be there. Of course, that would then mean running searches on some of the trustworthy websites for airline fares, accommodation options and general information regarding any paperwork like visas for international destinations.

Sri Lanka still holds one of the top spots on my wanderlist. Reasons? Well, I give you three obvious ones:

1. The place itself! Duh!
Sri Lanka has a lot to offer. Travellers can soak up the sun at a beach or chug through the countryside in a train or be surrounded by lush plantations or even get in touch with their spiritual side. From whatever I've heard and read about the country, there's only been positive feedback. And the food! If those TV shows about Sri Lankan food are anything to go by, the avid foodie in me can't wait to try out native delicacies.

2. "So much to do, so little time."
It's not too far from India so it won't hurt my annual leave quota. I could take 5 days off from work and that effectively means 9 days in all (with the weekends on either side of the 5 days). That means exploring a lot more than if it involved travelling to the other side of the world. Time saved is always valuable. Plus it means I can do one more long trip in the same calendar year (Cambodia? Pondicherry? Now that's a topic for a separate post.)

3. The foreign exchange rate!
At the time of writing this, 1 USD = 130.510 LKR. Which means, 1 INR = 2.14 LKR. Which means MORE money to spend on a worthwhile experience and not have to worry about everything being expensive!

Now, now, now... it's not all good news.

Let's face it! Flight fares are expensive these days. Even heading to a place like Sri Lanka or Thailand will burn a small hole in your pocket. What do you skimp on? Especially when you're a female traveller, staying at a cheap-but-shady accommodation is ruled out because of safety reasons.

BUT here's where a resource like Skyscanner comes handy. I've been using the Skyscanner Flights app on my Android phone for a while now after a friend recommended it to me. The app is fantastic in itself. It tracks air fares across multiple airlines and gives you the best rates. And once you've figured what to pick, it directs you to the airline website or travel agent for the bookings. Simple!

You can filter your search not just by price (even though that's my main reason of using Skyscanner) but also by airline, class of cabin and even landing/take-off time.

One feature of the app which is beneficial to on-the-spur travellers who are not tied down to a 9-to-5 job is to search for any destination for any date from your country. That gives you fares across the calendar and you can then probably grab a bargain. 
Click to view a larger size
I just realised the website also offers hotel and car rental options. Wonderful! If you seen the screenshot above, June fares seem a tad better. With a stopover at Chennai, a SpiceJet return ticket could cost just under Rs. 16,000 per head. Not bad.
 
My smart travel checklist for Sri Lanka (or any place) would also include:
- Visa requirements, application and related documents
- Accommodation research
- Outline of an itinerary (which could be flexible)
- Research about the weather and essentials regarding safety
- Talking to people who've travelled there before and/or talking to any locals you may know
- Reading travel blogs/websites
- Setting aside a budget for the trip
As for the last point, if you're not born with a silver spoon, you better start saving for a trip anywhere. 
For now, I have about two-and-a-half months to research and plan. I'm looking to visit Sri Lanka after mid-June. I know it's the rainy season, but one look at Shivya's posts about her Lankan getaway in June 2013 tempted me a great deal. In particular, I'm hoping to try this train ride to Ella. The photos are just breathtaking. It also helps that my friend is game to join me in June. 
Ok, here's what I'm thinking: Take 8-9 days off exploring Colombo-Negombo-Kandy-Ella-Nuwara Eliya and maybe if possible, Galle or the Sacred City of Anuradhapura. The last one because it's a World Heritage Site and also because I know a local who hails from Anuradhapura. Would be nice to visit. Right now, I'm only in the very first phase of my research. So if any of you have travelled to this part of the world, please feel free to share your tips and advice.

Fingers crossed, this trip will happen. It's been almost four years since I took a long vacation and Sri Lanka is definitely a destination I would love to have stamped on my passport.
Cheers,
~j~
NOTE: This post was originally written as an entry for #TravelSmarterWithSkyscanner contest hosted on IndiBlogger. It's also the first time I'm participating in a contest. But win or not, I'm definitely going to Sri Lanka this year. :)

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