Almost immediately (after leaving Colombo) we fell in love with the people and the incredible scenery the country offers.
And ever since our visit, it’s nice to see that Sri Lanka is becoming increasingly popular, especially amongst young backpackers looking to discover a beautiful country, still far from being overcrowded with tourists.
But to make the most of your time here, I wanted to put together an in-depth Sri Lanka packing list that took you through exactly what to pack and why.
There’s certainly a few things that I wish I had packed for Sri Lanka (but didn’t!) and hopefully this epic guide will help you avoid making any of the same mistakes we did.
All around the coastline of Sri Lanka, you have gorgeous beaches and the ground level is very low lying. Meaning that you can expect it to typically be pretty hot. This includes popular Sri Lanka tourist destinations like Trincomalee on the east coast and Mirissa on the south coast.
In the middle of the country, in popular places like Kandy, Nuwara Eliya and Ella, the country is much higher up. This makes it perfect for growing tea, which is one reason why visiting this part of the country is so amazing! But that being said, they are prone to a lot more rain and much colder weather.
So, if you plan on visiting all of Sri Lanka, like we did, you will need to take with your Sri Lanka clothing suited to all climates.
However, if your plan is to surf in Sri Lanka and spend all of your time on the south coast, then you can probably get away with having more warm-weather gear and foregoing the longer clothes.
3. Seasons in Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka is a great country to visit at all times of the year, you just need to know which part to head to and when.
First up, their seasons are based mostly around monsoons; these are:
Northeastern monsoon: December - February
Inter- monsoon season 1: March - April
Southwestern monsoon: May - September
Inter- monsoon season 2: October & the first half of November (This occurs across the whole island)
It’s not to say you can’t visit these parts of the island during their monsoon period, it just means you should be prepared for sudden and significant rain and wind.
We visited the whole of Sri Lanka between September and October (that’s right, during inter-monsoon season 2).
Overall, I would say we had hot, calm weather for 60-70% of the time.
Final thoughts on picking bags for travel to Sri Lanka
My top tip when it comes to picking any travel bag is to think carefully about how much space you ACTUALLY need.
Most first-time backpackers (ourselves included) take a bag that is far too big and then end up filling it needlessly with lots of unnecessary stuff.
In turn, this is much more inconvenient because:
You have more weight to lug around with you
You have to pay more to take everything on flights
You have more things to worry about when you are away
Instead, our policy is now to be as minimal as possible.
That’s one of the reasons we made our switch to just taking one big backpack between us and we’ve never looked back.
Now, we only have 3 bags to worry about, instead of 4, and it means that I can carry the bags and Cazzy has her hands free to worry about maps and whatever else needs sorted when we arrive somewhere new.
It’s also incredibly liberating to have only the bare essentials with you when travelling.
It allows you to much better appreciate what you have and to focus more on enjoying your travels.
In case you forget anything, you’ll be able to pick up most of the essentials you need when in Sri Lanka; especially in a city like Colombo.
What to pack for Sri Lanka: Travel Essentials
Great, now we have our bags sorted. It's time to start filling them!
In the name of minimalism and only taking with you what you realistically need, let’s start by looking at Sri Lanka’s travel essentials!
Once you download the app, you simply put in some personal details and then request to have the card sent out to your home address.
It typically arrives within a week and, once you have it, you login to the app again to register it.
From there, you are good to go and use it all around the world.
You simply top up in GBP and then when you withdraw money abroad or use a card to pay for something, you do so in Sri Lankan rupee (LKR), and Revolut/Monzo automatically converts it to the best possible exchange rate.
We have used both of these all around the world in every country we have travelled together, which as of writing is almost 3 dozen (see them all here).
If you’re from outside the UK, then I’m not sure if you can use them, but you can likely find an alternative.
We also always take our local bank card as well which, though they charge ridiculous fees, means we can hopefully get cash out in an emergency if for some reason Monzo and Revolut don’t work.
As standard, here’s some important documents you’ll need to include in your Sri Lankan packing list.
Passport - duh
Wallet to hold important documents - Keeps everything together in one place, so nothing gets misplaced
Copy of your passport and travel insurance - It’s useful to photocopy your passport in case you need to share the details but don’t want to get the actual passport out
Copy of your vaccinations - I always have this on me, because some countries may randomly ask you to prove what you have had at border crossings, including Sri Lanka. It’s also useful to have when you arrive at hospital if there is an emergency and you need some sort of treatment. On that topic … Do you need any injections for Sri Lanka? Yes! Here’s a useful guide to start, but I advise speaking to your travel doctor before you leave.
Print out of your travel insurance - Always, always, ALWAYS get travel insurance! And print out a copy of the policy documents in case you need them in an emergency at the hospital
Travel insurance - ensure it covers you, especially if your trip to Sri Lanka will end up lasting more than 30 days. If you’re from America, then World Nomads is usually a competitive option. If you’re from the UK or other countries you can still get a quote, though from my experience they tend to be much more expensive. In the UK, I always find Compare The Market offers the best options.
Cameras & other tech
Sri Lanka is easily one of the most beautiful and picturesque countries we have ever been to!
It’s the first country we went to where we started taking our travel photography a little more seriously and the first country we took our drone.
Here’s a look at all the gear we now take with us travelling, not just to Sri Lanka, but all countries.
Obviously if you’re only going for a short trip and aren’t fussed on professional photography, then a smartphone will handle most of your needs.
If you’re looking to get a little more serious about photography, then it’s best to pick yourself up a DSLR camera. From here, you can then go ahead and buy new lenses that connect to the front and allow you to take much higher quality shots. We’ve been starting to take travel photography a lot more seriously in recent years, and buying yourself a DSLR is a good starting point. Plus, there’s no better country to hone your camera skills than in Sri Lanka!
One thing you’ll soon realise is that Sri Lanka has incredible vistas literally everywhere! And I’m a big fan of wide angle lenses, as these allow you to capture a lot more of the landscape in really high quality.
We use this to capture high quality handheld footage, to then be used for editing videos together at a later stage. If you get the right one, this can often double as a fantastic photography camera, meaning there’s not as much need to bring a bigger DSLR as well.
We’ve tested a few underwater/action cameras over the years, and I must admit GoPro does a fantastic job. Sure, you can save a couple hundred quid by getting a cheap one from Amazon, but it simply doesn’t deliver the same results. The way I see it is, if you’ve already spent a lot of money on a trip to Sri Lanka, you may as well spend a little more and be able to capture some truly epic footage and photos from your time there. Especially if you plan to make the most of surfing, snorkelling and diving in Sri Lanka, which you should!
Sri Lanka is the first country we took our drone, and immediately knew the investment had been worthwhile! Having a drone allows you to capture some truly epic shots that would be impossible otherwise. Best of all, they really aren’t that hard to get used to, which is why there are so many drone hobbyists now wherever you go in the world.
Nowadays, a smartphone does so much more than allow you to make phone calls and texts. I’d say we use about ours for maybe 10-20 major tasks every single day; like managing social media, taking photos/videos, navigation, Skyping friends and family … The list is endless! Well, in Sri Lanka it’s really cheap to pick up a local sim card with data. So, before you leave, head to your phone store and check that your smartphone is unlocked so that it will work when you put foreign sim cards in it.
For us, laptops are a must have! When in Sri Lanka, one of ours even broke down and we were unable to find the parts to fix it (largely because Sri Lanka is VERY VERY behind when it comes to modern tech); so we actually had to buy a laptop from America through Amazon US and pay almost $USD100 in customs charges in order to get it delivered to Sri Lanka. All I will say is that when choosing a travel laptop, you should get one that’s maximum 15 inches (ideally 13) screen size and is as light as possible so it’s convenient to carry around.
With so many photos and videos taken in Sri Lanka, it’s a good idea to have a small, external hard drive in order to back it all up. Once every couple days, we transfer things from each device’s memory card, organise them and then create a copy of them on our hard drive. This makes our lives 100 x easier when it comes to the end of a trip and we need to put together new travel videos and blog posts.
A must have for all manner of devices. Just check what quality the footage you will be recording is. For example, if you're shooting 4K drone footage with 60fps, then you need a memory card that is capable of recording this. Also, how much footage will you be recording? If you’re shooting at such high resolution, then an 8GB or even 16GB memory card is going to fill up very quickly.
We bought one of these just before our trip to Sri Lanka and it was such a good buy! It allowed us to organise our dozen or so memory cards, to save us ever misplacing one (which has happened). Ours has a hard reinforced case, strong latch and is waterproof.
When you’re out and about for long days in Sri Lanka, having a power bank can literally be a life saver. Especially if you get lost, are out longer than you thought and your phone is about to die. I recommend getting a solar powered one, which you can clip onto your bag so that it recharges throughout the day.
A VPN (Virtual Private Network) is actually a software programme we downloaded onto our laptops, allowing you to maintain access to all the websites that we use frequently back home. It can even be used, with mixed success, to access your home version of Netflix.
Health & Safety
It’s important you know what to pack for Sri Lanka in order to stay safe!
Well, in Sri Lanka, you have two natural enemies to contend with on a daily basis; these are mosquitos and the sun.
So, beyond the first aid kit I ran through above, here’s a few health and safety must haves in your Sri Lanka packing list.
Mosquito repellant spray - In Sri Lanka, gnats and mosquitos are much more frequent in coastal areas (like Unawatuna), and tend to become particularly pesky around sunset time. Get a good quality mosquito spray before you go; sure it’s stinky but it could save you a lot of grief down the road.
Plug in mosquito deterrant - We bought one of these before our trip to Sri Lanka and used it a few times when our hotel room failed to have proper precautions in place. For example, some rooms have holes under the doors which allow bugs to get in and many have mosquito nets with dozens of holes in them. This device plugs into the wall and either emits a high frequency sound or releases small amounts of deet throughout the night in order to help keep mosquitoes & other bugs away.
Sunscreen - With Cazzy’s extra white skin, we always have plenty of this with us! Buying sunscreen in Sri Lanka can also be relatively expensive, so it’s best to pick up enough for your whole trip before you leave.
Antimalarials - Typically, the risk of malaria in Sri Lanka is very low, though it can increase slightly in the northern parts of the country (such as Mullaitivu). It’s best to consult with your travel doctor before you leave in order to see whether antimalarials are necessary.
Padlock - We have one small padlock for all of our bags; and though we never really felt uneasy about our belongings in Sri Lanka, you never know; so it’s handy to have one in your bag. Especially if you're boarding a public bus or train and need to put your bags in the hold compartment.
Here’s a few other things we included in our Sri Lanka packing list.
Collapsible coffee mug - Helps us to cut down on our use of disposable coffee cups whilst also fueling Cazzy’s caffeine addiction. Fold down ones are great as they take up less room in your bag, which is a plus!
Worldwide travel plug - We take at least 2 of these wherever we go; and it’s much more convenient having a worldwide one as we know that, no matter where we go, we will have the right adaptor for the job.
Pin to open sim card hole on phone - A small device that comes in massively handy when you’re travelling to multiple countries and need to switch and change your sim cards. I have a metal one that lives in my wallet and is there for the dozen or so occasions throughout the year when we need it.
Dry bag - As well as a small dry bag for dirty clothes, we also take a heavy duty one with us to countries like Sri Lanka where you can expect to spend a lot of time in or around the water. If you’re doing tours in Sri Lanka, such as diving, snorkelling or whale watching, then a good quality dry bag is a must have!
Quick drying towel - I love a big fluffy towel, and it’s one of the few home comforts that I really do miss when away! However, it’s just not practical when travelling whereas a lightweight, quick drying towel takes up very little space and is always dry and ready to use. That being said, all of the hostels and hostels that we stayed at in Sri Lanka provided towels anyway, so our own ones were only really for beach use.
Playing cards - I couldn’t imagine travelling without a deck of cards, we use these basically every day!
Earphones - I see some travellers carrying around big head phones; but they’re just not that convenient when you’re travelling a lot; instead small earphones do the trick.
Hand sanitiser - We keep a tube of this in one or both of our daypacks for when we are out and about and ready to have dinner. It’s a quick and easy way to help ward off any unwanted bugs and germs you pick up.
Here’s a few items that a lot of people pack for Sri Lanka and I think are completely unnecessary ...
An umbrella - Yes you will get sudden bouts of rain in Sri Lanka but, if you’re backpacking around then an umbrella is just inconvenient to have. We found that any half decent hotel in the hill country of Sri Lanka, where it rains more often, have these for you to borrow. Other than that, just slip on your light raincoat/poncho or just enjoy the downpour.
A stupidly big bag - I talked about the right backpack for Sri Lanka above. But I just wanted to reiterate a common mistake that travellers make, which is taking a bag that is far too big. If you have a big bag, then you will naturally fill it with all kinds of junk you don’t actually need.
A sleeping bag - Unless you plan on wild camping in Sri Lanka, then you don’t need to worry about this. If you’re staying in cheap hostels and you're worried about bed bugs, then a silk sleeping bag liner will do the job of keeping any unwanted intruders out and takes up virtually no space.
Portable WiFi - Local sims are dead cheap so pick one up when you arrive; either at the airport or at a local phone store.
Other items to add to your Sri Lanka packing list
When packing for Sri Lanka, everyone will want to take different things; and sure there’s probably a few things we didn’t take that would come in really useful for you.
So here’s a quick rundown of other items you may want to pack for a Sri Lanka vacation.
Packing cubes - We don’t actually use these, but we really should start! Many backpackers swear by them as the only real way to keep all your belongings properly organised.
Money belt - Just reminds me of Will in Inbetweeners 2
Kindle - Personally, I like to download books to the Kindle reader app on my phone; but if you’re a massive bookworm and intend to read a lot in Sri Lanka, then this could be a very worthwhile investment.
Hiking boots - Do you need hiking boots for Sri Lanka? Yes, if you plan on doing a lot of the bigger walks such as Adam’s Peak. Aside from that, if you don’t plan on doing anything too strenuous then you can save a lot of space in your bag by using a decent pair of trainers for everything (which is what we do).
Physical books/travel guides - I agree, there’s nothing better than having a proper book to read, instead of doing so on a device. You’ll find Sri Lanka travel guides and other books in almost every hostel and hotel, so feel free to pick up books as you move around Sri Lanka.
Ear plugs - Luckily, I am a very deep sleeper, but if you're not then these are a must have!
Waist bag - This formed a key part of my Camino packing list when I was hiking all day and needed quick access to my money and passport all day. But for general backpacking I just don’t see the need.
Multivitamins - I actually did pack these for Sri Lanka, but afterwards haven’t really bothered taking them on a regular basis. I’m really not convinced how much they do, I just try to eat a varied diet and hope that’s enough!
Massage ball - I discovered these after a recommendation from the legendary Tim Ferris! I take a small one if I’m on a trip where I do a lot of hiking.
Waterproof phone case - Personally, I’d rather just take a GoPro in the water; and leave my phone on dry land.
Selfie stick - Soooooooo 2015.
Underwater dome for GoPro - We really want to try one of these! We didn’t take one to Sri Lanka but wish we had!
Extension cord - We didn’t take this to Sri Lanka, but we do have started taking one of these with us on other adventures. It’s really handy for couples like us who each have two or 3 devices that always need to be charged.
Snorkel - If you are going to Sri Lanka to do a lot of snorkelling, then it would be a good idea to get your own rather than relying on questionable local equipment.
Binoculars - If you’re going to be doing a lot of safaris in Sri Lanka, then these could be a good bet.
Ask yourself … “Do I really need everything in my bag?”
Use your time in Sri Lanka to cut back on most of the luxuries you use back home. It’s so liberating when you can cut stuff out and leave it at home.
Plan your route around Sri Lanka first, before finishing packing
What you pack for Sri Lanka is largely dependent on where and when you are visiting. As mentioned at the top, Sri Lanka has such a varied geography and climate; so by planning your Sri Lanka itinerary carefully before you leave you can be more sure of exactly what clothes for Sri Lanka are actually necessary.
Make the most of the beauty of Sri Lanka
I went into pretty good detail above about all of the photography gear we packed for Sri Lanka. That’s because Sri Lanka truly is one of the most beautiful countries we have ever been to, and it’s a shame not to make the most of your time there by taking home as many memories as possible. As standard, a decent smartphone and an action/underwater camera is the way to go.
Remember, almost everything can be bought in Sri Lanka
Don’t panic and pack your whole house when trying to decide what to take to Sri Lanka.
Most things can actually be bought out there in major towns and cities.
That being said, it’s best to pick up any expensive electronic equipment before you go.
I'm an Economics graduate with a passion for travel. In 2016 I decided to ditch the office environment, work from my laptop and travel to every country in the world. You'll find me working out of a cafe in Bali, perhaps on a riverboat in Brazil or maybe even an airport lounge in New Delhi.