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Updated by Helix Digi Labs on Jul 13, 2023
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15 Money Saving Tips When you Travel in Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka is in general a very affordable country to travel around, but it always helps to budget so that you can enjoy more for less! The most important thing is to do your research beforehand so you know the approximate cost of things as this will help you to recognise if someone is trying to fleece you, and you will be able to bargain if you need to. Here are 15 tips that will help you save your pennies as you travel around this beautiful island.


Buy a local sim

The rates for calls, texts and internet are pretty low in Sri Lanka, so getting a local sim is a very cost effective move. There are booths at the airport itself that sell sims, and it would be convenient to buy it straight away there. There are packages and plans available on some service providers but even a regular sim card would work, as the rates are reasonable. Look through the different provides and choose what you think is best, but they are all fine for a short stay. You can also borrow a card from the place you are staying at, as hotels in Wadduwa Sri Lanka and other parts of the country will be able to arrange this for you. Either way, you would then have handy access to internet and not have to rely on Wi Fi, which isn’t freely available everywhere.


Don’t exchange all your money at the airport

The long and short of it is you won’t get the best exchange rate at the airport. The exchange rate won’t be as competitive as rates you will find elsewhere, meaning that you will lose some money in the process. While you may have to get some of your money exchanged, it may be better to plan ahead and sort out currency exchange with your bank. Or if you prefer, you can take out a small amount of money and use your card for cashless transactions abroad. Whatever your plan is, don’t forget to inform your bank in advance. There are also apps and services you can research to try to keep your costs down as well.


Download ride share apps

Ride share apps such as Uber or its local variant, PickMe are easy to use. These are regulated and are priced very fairly, with Uber priced according to demand and PickMe according to distance. Since drivers will be using GPS, you will be killing two birds with one stone by ensuring that you won’t get lost! This is also a much better option than ordering cabs from your hotel or hailing taxis off the road, and the drivers are trustworthy. Drivers hailed off the road might try to raise their price if they sense you are a tourist, but as the apps are regulated so this will never be a problem.


Use public transport whenever and wherever you can

The bus and train systems are very effective in Sri Lanka and are a part of the charm of the country. The train system in particular is very enjoyable, and it will cost much less to take the train up country than it will to take an A/C bus or hire a car. For short distances the bus system is quite usable. Check with your hotel as to what number you need to take, or ask someone at the stand as people are friendly and will be willing to give you the directions you need. Bus fares are also extremely low, and all in all this is a great way to keep costs down. There are apps with train schedules, and you can look up buses that you can book online.


Book tickets only from the Railway station office

Go straight to the source. Booking from other places, such as on the phone or through packages, might result in a fee that affects the price of your ticket. Buying from the railway station office will guarantee the face value of the ticket, which is usually quite low. This is an easy way of keeping your travel costs to a minimum.


Try out street food

Food in Sri Lanka is extremely cheap, but only if you buy from the right places. Because of taxes, dinners at restaurants will wind up being more expensive than you intended. Buy street food from shops that locals frequent, or from ‘saiva kades’ which specialise in Indian food (with a Sri Lankan twist of course). The food is plentiful and extremely cost effective, with entire meals costing just a few dollars. Try out kotthu, pittu, roti, paratha and all sorts of curries without draining your wallet. The portions are quite large and the food is guaranteed to be tasty!


Avoid places with high entrance fees

Some places in Sri Lanka have disproportionately high entrance fees for foreigners, meaning that a simple trip to a famous monument can end up being more expensive than you bargained for. Do some research online on places that are free to visit, or have a low fee. There are plenty of these, and it is likely that you will be able to discover a place that is not as popular as the more well-known places, and thus experience the site in some peace and quiet.


Opt for Home stays or Airbnb

Instead of shelling out on a super luxurious hotel, find homestays in the places you are visiting, or use Airbnb. Not only will it be cheaper, it will also allow you to really connect with local families. You will get the chance to taste authentic homemade food, and live like a Sri Lankan for a while! Homestays and Airbnbs also have unique atmospheres, and are sometimes more conveniently located than hotels or hostels. Those hosting you may also help you in other ways by giving you tips on what to see, or taking you there themselves. All in all this is a great way to not spend too much but get to experience the country on a deeper level.


Drink coconut water instead of sports drinks

We get it, Sri Lanka is really hot! Not only is it hot, it’s humid, meaning that you’re losing a lot of water during the day. But instead of buying a bunch of sports drinks or other expensive drinks to help with dehydration, why not invest in nature’s own drink of coconut water? Thambilis, or king coconuts, are sold by the road side for very little, and the store owner will immediately cut it open for you and stick a straw in, or you can opt to drink straight from the fruit! Coconut water is incredibly healthy, and will make you feel better in no time. It’s also extremely cost effective, and you can buy more to take to you accommodations to drink whenever you want to.


Use group or shared tours when taking a safari

The logic here is that if you fill up the capacity when booking a tour for a safari, the amount you will have to pay is less per head. It might also make for a more fun trip as you will get to know some fellow travellers! Using this tip will help you and bring down costs if you are travelling by yourself or as a duo or even a small group, as the price for a safari is the same regardless of the size of the group (up to a certain amount of people per vehicle).


Visit during the off season

The prices of everything go up during the season, so it’s best to visit during the off season. A few places around the island may be closed, and it is the off season ostensibly because of the weather but the truth of the matter is that it’s quite possible to have a good tour of the island during the off season. Most places are open and functioning, and will have the added bonus of being more peaceful during the off season. When it comes to weather, too, Sri Lanka generally has sunny weather throughout the year, and if it is raining in the place you want to go, you can find another place without rain to visit instead.


Take a city tour using a tuk tuk not a cab

If you want to take a tour of the city – specifically Colombo, then hire taxis using the PickMe or Uber apps instead of engaging a driver or hiring taxi cabs or booking a group tour on a bus. Don’t stick with one tuk for the whole day if you plan on hanging out at a lot of places, as the waiting charges will go up, making it quite pricey. Instead, book one when you need it and it will be quick and easy to flit from place to place at your own pace.


Avoid the touristy looking places for souvenirs

Everyone wants souvenirs to take home to friends and family, or to keep for themselves! Shops around touristy areas will have expensive souvenirs, however, that may not be as authentic as they seem. Look out for good quality souvenirs and research online for places that have handmade items. There are some shops that have items made by locals, and the owners will even talk to you about the process of making these items!


Spend more time in fewer places

Instead of trying to see everything that you can possibly see in the short time you are here, stay in one place for a while to really soak up the atmosphere. Not only will you save on travel expenses as well as entrance fees, you will start to get familiar with your surroundings and discover your own tips and tricks for keeping your costs down. You may even be able to make some friends and have some new experiences!


Pack light so you don’t have to use taxi

If you’re travelling on a budget, then try to keep your load as light as possible so that you can walk or take a train/tuk whenever you need to travel. Having too many bags will tempt you to take a cab, so try to keep everything bearable!