Without a doubt, backpacking Sri Lanka is one of the best travel experiences we have ever had!
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.
First up ...
Choosing the right bag to backpack to Sri Lanka is an important topic, so I figured I would give this it’s own section!
In order to choose the right one, you’ll need to consider a few things, such as:
For us, our visit to Sri Lanka was a part of a longer 3 month journey around India and Nepal as well.
As such, we had our typical backpacking bags with us, which includes one larger 50-70 litre bag each, as well as 1 smaller daybag each.
We’ve used a lot of bags over the years and also seen all kinds of other bags being used by other travellers.
In that time, we’ve come to the conclusion that Osprey make, not just the best bags for Sri Lanka, but also every other country in the world.
They are great quality and last for years, relatively lightweight, comfortable to wear and often come with added features; like padlockable zips and space to connect a smaller daypack on the outside.
If you’re travelling for a few weeks, or even a few months, this should be plenty of space for you.
In fact, in our next 3 month backpacking trips after this (we went to Central America and then The Philippines) we only actually took one 70 litre bag between us!
At first we thought this was a crazy idea and we wouldn’t have enough space, but I can honestly say that for 2 people this was absolutely loads of space.
And, I can confidently say that we always have much more stuff than average backpackers, due to Cazzy’s diabetes equipment and all of our tech and gadgets for work.
Here are our 2 recommendations:
Now, down to day bags, a crucial part of your Sri Lanka packing list.
Once again, the exact one you go for is dependant on a few things, when making your choice consider:
Personally, I have used the same day pack now for over 4 years; and I don’t just use it when away, but also when I’m back at home.
It has been thoroughly used and abused and is still going strong.
Can you guess what brand it is?
That’s right, Osprey!
We use that day pack for most of our active days exploring, but Cazzy’s day bag is a bit bigger and better suited to carrying laptops around and lots of other gadgets.
Perfect for our second trip to Bali when we had to pack enough clothes for 3 days on the road with just our moped.
That way, we have the best of both worlds.
My top travel 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:
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.
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!
Packing clothes for Sri Lanka is quite a personal thing and will come down to your own tastes.
But for me, here is what I took on our 3 month tour that included 3 weeks in Sri Lanka:
When it comes to dressing in Sri Lanka as a woman, you’ll be happy to hear it’s all very relaxed (though you hould still be respectful of their local religion).
The only exception to this is in Arugam Bay which is home to a majority Muslim population.
They ask that you don’t wear swimwear (bikinis etc) whilst on the street, only on the beaches.
Sri Lanka fashion in general is quite diverse and the most popular item that locals wear is a saree and they’re easy to pick up at a market in the country.
They are great for beaches, and covering shoulders for temples; so I recommend you invest in one!
Actually, since markets are quite cheap, it’s easy to pick up all forms of Sri Lanka clothing, shorts, dresses, flip flops etc, so you could pack light and buy a few bits out there.
Cazzy usually takes more clothes than me and even then I have to persuade her to leave a few things at home (she’s not taken to the whole minimalism thing which is as much love as me).
Here’s what her female Sri Lanka packing list looks like:
I think one of the reasons people take far too many clothes with them travelling is that they are worried they’re going to have to fork out lots of money on getting clothes washed.
In reality, it’s never very expensive to get clothes washed in Sri Lanka.
Cazzy and I have one dry bag with us that serves as a dirty clothes bag.
Once it gets mostly filled, we find somewhere that does washing (most hotels and hostels will do this; and if not there will be a local offering this) and pay them.
It never takes longer than a day and in Sri Lanka I don’t believe we ever paid more than 1,200 LKR to get the majority of our stuff washed.
If you’re running low on pants, socks or t-shirts, you can wash these quickly in the sink or shower, just take a bar of cleaning soap with you or pick one up at a local store.
It’s important that you always take a small first aid kit with you wherever you travel. Most of the time you won't even need it; but it’s always great to have it there for when the occasions arise.
Here’s what our basic travel first aid kit contains:
To help get you started, I recommend picking up a basic first aid kit that contains 90% of the things you need (you can then add in anything else that you think you’ll need).
If you don’t yet own a travel first aid kit, then here’s a good option to buy.
It contains the majority of what you need and you can then just add in any other items you want to take with you.
Plus, it’s small enough to tuck away in your backpack and not take up much space.
Cazzy and I share a toiletry bag and just fill it with all the things we need. This includes:
I thought it relevant to include a quick section on what travel cards you will need for your visit to Sri Lanka.
As a rule of thumb, we always take 4 different travel cards with us.
Question: Why do we have 4 and why do we spread them out?
Well, to cover any worst case scenarios of our travel gear getting stolen!
If someone stole my wallet (or I lose it) then we have the backup ones in our big bags.
And vice versa, if someone stole (or the aeroplane loses) one or both of our bags, then I have those in my wallet as a backup.
We also try to keep about $50 US dollars in one of the bags as a last minute resort as well.
This is a pretty universal currency and is enough to get us out of a sticky situation if we are stuck somewhere with no other cash and no ATMs.
The two banks that we found didn’t charge for withdrawals were Bank Of Ceylon and People’s Bank.
This is based on us using mastercards for withdrawals.
There are lots of other banks in Sri Lanka, but they always charged us for withdrawals.
If you are from the UK, then you shouldn’t have much difficulty getting one of these; in fact it’s very simple for both.
Simply head to the App Store or Play Store (depending on whether you’re Android or Apple) and download the app.
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.
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.
Read Also: Monzo vs Revolut: Which Is Best For Travel?
As standard, here’s some important documents you’ll need to include in your Sri Lankan packing list.
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, as well as a wide angle lens. 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!
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.
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.
Here’s a few other things we included in our Sri Lanka packing list.
Here’s a few items that a lot of people pack for Sri Lanka and I think are completely unnecessary ...
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Everyone’s idea of what to pack for Sri Lanka is slightly different, but hopefully this guide has helped give you a thorough idea of what you actually need.
But more importantly …
What you don’t need!
If you have any questions about our list or have any recommendations of what you would take, then let me know in the comments below.
For help planning the rest of your Sri Lanka adventure, here’s some other guides you might find useful: