Lost Girl's guide to Sri Lanka's toilets

So you're off to Sri Lanka? Congratulations you're going to have a wonderful time. It's a beautiful country with incredible food, friendly people, it's adjective, adjective, adjective, basically you've made the right choice.

Let's get down to business.

The toilet situation in Sri Lanka may come as a surprise to many visitors. Do not let it put you off, just be prepared.

The traditional Sri Lankan toilet is a hole in the ground, some nicer ones have ceramic tiles surrounding said hole, some have elevated places to put your feet when you squat to do your business. As in every country the standard of facilities will vary from place to place, my advice is for the most... surprising... 

No more eating with your feet.

There is no flush. Generally there is a tap with a small bucket. You fill the bucket from the tap and use it to rinse the hole and sometimes the surrounding area.

This means that sometimes the surrounding area is wet. You'll usually be going in in sandals or bare foot if it's a toilet in a temple or a Kovil. The water is probably clean, but lots of toilets also have a little tap outside you can use to rinse your feet after.

Take toilet paper or have a small pack of tissues on you.

There is no toilet paper. In lots of toilets there's a little hose that people use as a douche, if you fancy it and, traditionally, people use their left hand for cleaning (which is why you only eat with your right).

Take antibacterial hand gel.

For whilst there will be a tap there will almost never be soap. And, just a reminder, you eat with your hands in Sri Lanka.

Take mosquito repellent.

And use it on your bum. Depending on how rural you are the toilet is likely to be in an outhouse. These small shed-like structures are no match for Sri Lanka's millions of mosquitos.

There are no bins.

A ladies' worst nightmare. If you're using feminine hygiene products and you're staying in a rural area, there will be a place where they burn hygiene products and nappies and similar, try and ask a local lady. If you're on the road you have two options, taking a little plastic bag to transport your product to a bin or putting the product down the hole (toilet). I HATE writing that but it really is one of the only options. There are campaigners in Sri Lanka working to make women's health and hygiene a priority, so as soon as I can give some better advice I absolutely will...

Also while we're on this topic I haven't seen ANY tampons on sale, although apparently you can buy them in the capital Colombo. Ladies take supplies with you.

There are no locks.

I walked in on an elderly Sri Lankan lady on the loo on my flight over to Sri Lanka. I apologised profusely (and in English, which I don't think she understood), then I spent a while having an internal rant about people who don't lock the door and then seem surprised when you walk in on them. I now know that locking the door probably wasn't second nature to her as lots of toilet doors in Sri Lanka have no locks. Some won't even stay shut on their own. But, because you're squatting, the door is a useful hand hold for balance. If the door is swinging open an embarrassed smile and point at the door is normally enough to get the next lady to hold it shut for you.

Look for Rest Houses and Supermarkets.

Government run rest houses are dotted about towns, cities and on main roads. These are likely to have pleasant, sit down toilets, but charge a small fee (50rupees). If the supermarket has a toilet it's usually a sit down one and you can use it for free.

Train stations and hotels also have sit down loos, you normally have to be travelling/staying to use them, but as previously mentioned the Sri Lankans are (sorry to generalise) really lovely, so it's probably worth an ask.

In conclusion:

Take tissue paper.

Take anti-bac gel.

Take tampons.

Be prepared to stand in questionable liquid.

Don't barge in to an unlocked loo as it might be occupied.

And perhaps start toning up those thighs in preparation for your trip. Fingers crossed with all that squatting you'll end up with a kardshibum.

 

Ps. Also if it helps, despite drinking copious amounts of water, I need the bathroom way less than at home, probably because I'm sweating so much! So you probably won't need to face those loos that often...

Travel gear

Here is a 'living list' of what I've bought for my travels and how it's working out for me. I'll keep updating it as I travel and use everything. The links below are to Amazon, mostly because I make money if you click on them, BUT before I buy anything I do a product search on Google to make sure Amazon is currently the cheapest.

My bag: 

The Ospery Fairview 55 Women's Backpack, Amazon around £120

bag.jpg

Pros: I LOVE my bag. When I was researching I found the main thing travellers liked was a bag that opened like a suitcase. This bag does that, it's really comfortable to wear as it's been designed specifically for ladies. Also it's a pretty colour. It has a day bag attached to it so you could reattach that for air travel and get away with travelling with an extra bag.

Cons: After asking for this bag as my family Christmas present a friend told me that the one thing she wished she'd had while she was travelling was a bag with wheels. Ospery also do bags with wheels that incorporate everything I love about my own wheel-less sack.

Travel fears and how to conquer them

In twenty-four hours I will be in the air on my way to Bangkok. However, because I am a human, I am having a few fluttery butterflies floating around the old tum-tum and bouncing off my pelvis like leaden yo-yos.

I mean to say I'm a little lot worried about some huge and insignificant things. So I am writing this blog entirely for me. If you happen to share some of my 'Oh my god I'm leaving my home for several months' fears, then keep reading, my words of wisdom may help you too.

I am worried about the following-

I am worried I might get bitten by a rabid monkey.

I am worried I might die in a plane crash. I booked a very cheap flight with Air Asia X which had a great safety rating, however Air Asia has a terrible safety rating and apparently they're the same thing.

I am worried I might get a STD or a STB (sexually transmitted baby).

I am more worried there will be no one I fancy on the two continents I am visiting and I will reach a significant celibacy benchmark (I'm not saying which) and I'll be visiting a monastery and they'll look at me as purity personified and they'll trap me in a tower so pilgrims can travel from miles around to marvel at me.

I am worried I'll be eaten by a shark.

I am worried I'll be eaten by a crocodile.

I am worried I'll be eaten by a dragon. They're actual things in Indonesia.

I am worried I won't make any friends.

I am worried I'll make too many friends and they'll all invite me to different places and I won't be able to choose and I'll end up sitting, starring at a wall, paralysed by indecision.

I am worried by the phrase 'Trip of a lifetime'. It's everywhere. I don't want this to be my final adventure.

I am worried my travels will change me so completely I won't be able to return to normal life in January.

I am worried I'll come back exactly the same.

I am worried I won't have fun.

I am worried I'll run out of money.

I am worried I'll drink or take something silly, including medical drugs, and die.

I am worried everything at home will change, my friends, my family, my work situation.

I am worried that nowhere will feel like home.

Yes. I am worried. Imagine my brain as a shoreline. The 'I'm so excited I could pee' is the wave rushing up the sand, the 'but I'll probably die' worry is the water being sucked back into the sea.

So I shall build a sea wall out of logic and optimism to trap all my excitement and keep my worries at bay! (Don't think too hard about that metaphor, it doesn't make sense).

Let's conquer those fears!

I am worried I might get bitten by a rabid monkey.

When's the last time you got bitten by an animal? (Cat's don't count because they're arseholes). If you're worried about rabies have the shot for extra protection. £150 is quite a lot, but worth it for peace of mind and avoiding certain death.

I will point out that you (me, not you, lovely reader) have very recently had your shots which is why your arm is currently dead.

I am worried I might die in a plane crash. I booked a very cheap flight with Air Asia X which had a great safety rating, however Air Asia has a terrible safety rating and apparently they're the same thing.

You'd have to be REALLY unlucky. Statistically you're far safer in a plane than a car. Also Air Asia doesn't crash that often, it just catches fire and has to land early, so you'll be fine.

I am worried I might get a STD or a STB (sexually transmitted baby).

Use protection. Dingbat.

I am more worried there will be no one I fancy on the two continents I am visiting and I will reach a significant celibacy benchmark (I'm not saying which) and I'll be visiting a monastery and they'll look at me as purity personified and they'll trap me in a tower so pilgrims can travel from miles around to marvel at me.

Pack a grappling hook and rope and/or stop being ridiculous. Your choice.

I am worried I'll be eaten by a shark.

When's the last time you went deep enough to be anywhere near a shark? Also, statistically, you're safer in a shark than you are in a car.

I am worried I'll be eaten by a crocodile.

This is legit. Sensible, logical brain approves of this fear. Don't go to the bit of Australia where crocodiles hide in all water (sea, lakes, ponds, puddles) and if you do, don't go near water, including the shower, until you leave.

I am worried I'll be eaten by a dragon. They're actual things in Indonesia.

Logical brain has looked into this and they probably couldn't eat you, there's guards everywhere. But their bite will give you blood poisoning. Just give them a wide berth.

I am worried I won't make any friends.

Travelling is like Freshers week. Everyone wants you to like them and after a week you'll never see them again. Except for the few you really connect with. There's a lot of people in the world, someone's bound to take to you.

I am worried I'll make too many friends and they'll all invite me to different places and I won't be able to choose and I'll end up sitting, starring at a wall, paralysed by indecision.

Flip a coin. If you don't like the result do the other thing. If you have more than two options create a coin flipping knock out tournament or similar.

I am worried by the phrase 'Trip of a lifetime' it's everywhere. I don't want this to be my final adventure. 

Come on. It's a thing people say. If you want to go on another trip you'll make it happen. Relax and enjoy this one, no pressure to make it spectacular, it'll probably happen on it's own. It is a stupid phrase though.

I am worried my travels will change me so completely I won't be able to return to normal life in January.

I am worried I'll come back exactly the same.

For those two - again stop putting pressure on yourself. There's not going to be some kind of incredible metamorphosis. You are not a caterpillar. You are already the type of person who has organised the trip of a life time (sorry). Know you'll have fun and see what happens.

I am worried I won't have fun.

Remember when you walked past a bus by the side of the road and thought it was hilarious? (Or another finding hilarity in something mundane example) You have fun at home, you'll have fun abroad.

Context- the bus had a big poster by the local council saying 'Don't blame the bus for your child not getting to school on time #getagrip' on it. 

I am worried I'll run out of money.

Budget. Dingbat. Make an effort to do volunteering and save on accommodation (and make friends) or earn some money online doing writing or something.

I am worried I'll drink or take something silly, including medical drugs, and die.

Don't. Know when to institute the 'dodgy London bar' rules- Bottled beer only/ handbag on you at all times. No recreational drugs (expensive anyway) and seek actual medical advice if you get sick.

I am worried everything at home will change, my friends, my family, my work situation.

When's the last time anything changed? Think about what you were all doing this time six months ago, or a year ago, or two years ago. We chug along and if it's going to happen, it'll happen regardless of where you are. There's not many places you couldn't get home from in less than a day.

Also maybe the change will be entertaining, like Cornwall, which in a Brexit fuelled haze decides to declare its own independence and shears away the earth that attaches it to the rest of the UK and floats off into the Atlantic. 

'Darling shall we go to Cornwall for our Summer holiday?'

'Where is it now?'

'Near Barbados'

'No let's go to Bognor Regis'

I am worried that nowhere will feel like home.

Isn't that the point? And there will always be cities and in those cities there will be cinemas and in those cinemas there will be Marvel films and isn't that what home really is?

There we go, feeling better? If my sarcasm to hand-holding ratio is a bit off for you remember the following-

You are good at staying alive, you've done a great job up to this point.

Change is healthy and inevitable and often REALLY slow. If you have WiFi you're never that far from home.

Plan, have fun, be mindful of your safety.

These are all wise words I shall attempt to live by. 

I'll let you know how I go...

 

Ps. If you wanted a physical action for conquering your fears try the following-

Camomile tea with honey.

16 star jumps facing east.

Bake a cake and stir your worries into the batter, then give the cake to your sworn enemy.

Yoga.

Stroke a dog. Not a rabid one.

 

You're welcome.

6 months to go, my budget woe(s)

Six months to go until I leave the UK to do… something… somewhere… Here’s what I’ve got so far.

Where am I going?

At this point I have bought a ticket to Bangkok in June and planned a tour of the Red Centre in Australia in October. Everything else is up for grabs. I'm hoping to stay in South East Asia until October, then head to Australia, then New Zealand and see how much money I have left.

I am VERY aware of the weather. British Summer Time means Monsoon Season for most of South East Asia. I know that I am going to steer well clear of the Philippines and their Typhoon Season, that I need to go to Cambodia sooner rather than later, that Thailand and Vietnam are still okay during their wet seasons and that Indonesia is completely different and supposed to have great weather for the whole time I’m out. I organise stuff for a living so it’s very tempting to plan my entire trip, but I’m not going to do that. I’m going to “live in the moment” and “stay places as long as I “need to.”” It’s going to be all spiritual and spontaneous and stuff, you just wait.

Money!

Louise Delphine Caroline Therese Comerford was an incredible woman, she was born in the South of France in 1926. The Italian side of her family attempted to kidnap her when she was four. She travelled on a boat from France to England through the U-boat infested Straits of Gibraltar during World War Two. In 1944 the British Army would not accept her application, because of her Italian mother, so she joined the Free French instead. She was taken out to dinner by Charles De Gaulle. She was also my Nana.

Nana passed away a few years ago. The above is the tip of a Nana shaped iceberg of stories, but I couldn’t just say ‘a relative left me some money and now I’m going travelling’. Nana left me some money, £5k to be exact, it went into my housing deposit fund and now it’s coming back out and I’m going travelling. I feel like Nana would approve, and probably worry quite a lot, but all she wanted was for her family to be happy. I think about her every day and feel like she’s with me as I plan the incredible adventure she has made possible.

Touching tributes aside, I will also be saving like crazy for the next six months. I will pay my 2017-2018 tax before I leave the country, six months earlier than I normally would (ouch) but hopefully I’ll still have an extra grand or so to go into the travel pot.

Flights

Flights are a big cost, but I know how many I am likely to take, can make an educated guess at how much they’ll be...

London to Bangkok- £320 (I saved some money on here, there’ll be a blog about this)

*Possibly* Bangkok to Sri Lanka, round trip - £250

*Probably* Kuala Lumpur to Sydney – I’ve found flights for £130 in October… it’s SO CHEAP for an eight hour flight that I’m tempted to buy it now and make it work.

Sydney to Ayers Rock, round trip - £322ish I should really book that soon, and I should look at it as £160 each way and I should stop thinking ‘Oh my god Australia is so expensive! How is that the most expensive thing I’ve done so far?! Stupid, beautiful, massive, expensive, interesting country that I really want to see more of!’

*Probably* Sydney to Auckland – So, I’ve found a flight for £127 in late October 2018, BUT I won’t book this one until close to the time I want to travel, probably around the time my friend Kate tells me to bugger off. However if I booked the flight for a fortnight’s time it’s still only £250. So I’ll budget £300 for that.

And then… if I’m out of money I’ll probably come back.

Auckland to London- That’s an entire day in the air, probably more! Anyway, if I booked a fortnight in advance, at this time of year, which it is likely to be, the average price is £715. So let’s say £800 set aside for actually getting home.

Flights budget- £2,122

I just worked that out for the first time. That’s quite a lot isn’t it? If I go to Sri Lanka my outgoings will be next to nothing, (I'll write a blog about that), so that £250 can come out of my accommodation and food budget… even so.. £2k on flights… okay! Good to know.

Budget

With that in mind I’m going to stop my ‘But South East Asia’s really cheap right?’ train of thought and do some actual maths.

Most of the blogs out there suggest $35 a day for a solo traveller. I can recommend Goats on the Road, which had a brilliant article, it broke down the expected daily budget by country. 

$35 a day is $1050 a month or £780 once converted to GBP.

So… I have enough to travel for three months.

Okay then.

I’ll add another cheeky month in there because of my Sri Lanka plans. But still I have a problem. My money gets me to expensive, expensive Australia and then that’s it. And beautiful, expensive, picturesque, expensive New Zealand will be so tantalisingly close!

I’m not going to decimate my savings, I’m not going to decimate my savings (she says, rocking backwards and forwards) so I need to make my money go further. Or I need to save more. Or I need to earn more? Six months to go... CLIFFHANGER!!!!

What's my motivation? Or 'My Life as a Lost Girl'


An Actor is told by a director to move a chair.

The Actor asks, ‘But what’s my motivation? Why would I move that chair?’

The Director responds, ‘You are rearranging the room as a metaphor for your inner turmoil.’

The Actor nods and moves the chair.

The Director turns to the Stage Manager and whispers, ‘I just need that chair there for the next scene.’

The Stage Manager nods because she already knows.

That story has very little to do with the rest of my blog, I just enjoyed writing it, sorry.

It does, however, sum up pretty succinctly what it’s like as a Stage Manager in a rehearsal room, maybe when I’m writing about my life in the theatre you can give that another read.

I’m in my early thirties and I’m about to put my life on hold, and eat into my savings, by going travelling. Why? What’s my motivation? I feel self-indulgent writing a blog post purely about what’s going on in my head, but, maybe if you’re in a similar place it’ll help. If not, skip to the travel planning.

My motivation is threefold; career, home and love.

Career

Right now I’m on a train, the engine runs on offers of amazing jobs, one after another are consumed, powering me through years of my life. Every now and again I pass a station.

‘Alight here for academia’ a cheery voice announces.

I can’t. The engine can’t be stopped.

‘Next station Writer.’

I’d like to stop here, I’d like to live here actually, but I only have the time for the odd weekend trip.

‘Alight here for a job where you don’t work every evening and weekend and you can go to life events like your friends weddings…’

Not a chance. I’ve just fed a 6 month tour to my engine.

‘You have reached your final destination.’

I know, “whinge whinge whinge” I’m lucky to have a job I love, but I have made sacrifices for it. It has consumed almost every other aspect of my life. See, there they go, social events, love-life and occasionally my mental health all sacrificed to the hungry god of theatre.  

So, Career is motivation number one. Maybe I need to do something else with my life, or maybe giving my life to theatre is the right decision, the main thing here is I am claiming that decision and I want to take my time to make it. 

Home

Me two years ago: ‘I have a new life plan! I’m going to move to Hastings!’

Me a year ago: ‘I have a new life plan! I’m going to move to Cardiff!’

Me four months ago: ‘Bristol’s nice isn’t it? Hi Bristol Old Vic, here’s my CV.’

Me two months ago: ‘I have a new life plan! I’m going to move to Edinburgh!’

I probably don’t need to explain much more about motivation number two. I live in London, I don’t really want to but that’s where I can get the best jobs.

It’s the London paradox- I live in London because I can earn enough money to buy property anywhere but in London.

I’d like to own my home and have saved up enough for a deposit (I know, I know, let’s see how long THAT lasts) but I have no idea where I want to live, mostly because I don’t know what I want to do…

A little part of me thinks that I might not come back to Britain for a while. It’s my country and I do love it, but fuck the Tories, fuck austerity and fuck fucking Brexit, I’m off on an adventure.

Love

Love is all you need eh?

Not me! I’ve been busy!

It’s hard to date when you work in theatre, you mostly rely on meeting people at work. That’s happened a few times for me, it did not end well…

It’s hard to date in London. People are busy, people say things like ‘Oh I can’t go out on a school night and I’ve got plans for weekends for the next three months.’ Or they say ‘Want to go out tonight?’ and you respond ‘Are you mental? It’s a school night.’

But not holiday Helen! No! Holiday Helen is open to love, although it’s not her priority because she’s having a wonderful time making friends and exploring new places. Holiday Helen never looks for love and apparently that makes her way more attractive than Regular Helen. I really enjoy being Holiday Helen. We’re going to have a great time in 2018.  

So, motivation three, I am single, I don’t have a child, but if I do want one that’ll have to happen within the next few years. THE TIME IS NOW! This is my window. I’m not expecting to meet Mr Right as I wander round South East Asia, but stranger things have happened.

Also, in a Frozen-esque twist, one of the my great loves, is my friend Kate who returned to Australia at the start of the year. I don't like not seeing her, so I'm going to fix that and visit her and her family during her holidays.

And number four…

In conclusion, because you always have to have a conclusion, I don’t know what I’m doing with my life and if I continue without change I’ll end up a sixty year old bitter spinster, living in a house share in North London, who ran out of patience with actors way before her menopause.

And to conclude my conclusion with my most compelling argument-

Why put your life on hold to travel? I'm not. Travel may not solve all my problems, it may not answer all my questions, but it's going to be on hell of an adventure.