travel to sri lanka

In 2019, travel to Sri Lanka was set to be at an all time high. The Lonely Planet had just named the island ‘The Best Place to Travel in 2019.’ With various campaigns splashed across social media, travel writers and influencers filling up the pages of their blogs with images of dreamy, palm fringed beaches, and romantic jungle settings, a tourism boom seemed inevitable. Even my partner agency, Tripzter Travel, was in talks with a luxury travel brand based in Sri Lanka. We were mere weeks away from launching our own bespoke tours to the island jewel. The world was finally waking up to this ‘resplendent‘ landscape.

Serene Life in Ella

That all changed on April 21, 2019, Easter Sunday, when three churches and three luxury hotels were simultaneously attacked by suicide bombers across three different cities. Two-hundred and forty-five innocent Sri Lankans and foreign nationals lost their lives and it was the first time, after a decade of peace after the Civil War, that Sri Lanka had experienced a major terrorist attack. The fanfare around this newly crowned destination was silenced. And once again, travel to Sri Lanka was placed on most travelers ‘maybe someday’ list.

travel to sri lanka
Audience Hall at Temple of the Sacred Tooth

Well, we didn’t want to wait for someday. We knew how far the tourism industry had come before the attacks, and we also knew that travel to Sri Lanka would happen sooner than later. Two months after that Easter Sunday, we returned to our talks with Atravele, our luxury supplier in Colombo, and hatched a plan to get some boots on the ground. As an ambassador of sorts, the intention was to first, put our clients at ease, and demonstrate that Sri Lanka was safe, resilient, and still, very worthy of making the trip. And second, I wanted to showcase the uniqueness of this storied land, by covering as much ground as I could, and by experiencing as much as I possibly could. I spent twelve days exploring Sri Lanka by car, train, safari truck and by foot, zig-zagging across some 2000km. After the third or fourth day, I decided this was going to be where I launched my very first all-female private solo group.

Hill Country

From the moment I touched down back home in Vancouver, it was four months of research, countless emails back and forth, information sessions with clients, online discussions, and client polls all with the hopes of curating and designing the perfect Sri Lankan itinerary. Stephani Fernando, Inbound Director for Artavele and myself, would chat over WhatsApp into the wee hours of (my) morning, pouring over every detail. Choosing hideaways, calculating driving distances, hand-selecting culinary experiences, dreaming up authentic cultural experiences, and selecting archaeological sites, Stephani and I wanted to design a full sensory experience our guests would never forgot.

In mid-February of 2020, I launched my first all-female private group tour: The Great Ceylon Gathering. There had definitely been some interest in the tour itself in the days leading up, but within three days of the launch, I couldn’t keep up with the applications. It seemed that once again, Sri Lanka was on everyone’s radar, and come September, just in time for the Elephant Gathering, my group and I would be experiencing everything Stephani and I had worked so hard to architect.

Nine Arches Bridge

And then, Covid-19 struck. We all know what happened next. Cases out of China in January, a Canadian travel advisory the third week of February, and by mid-March, a complete border shutdown around the world. Once again, Sri Lanka, and every other destination was put back in the ‘maybe someday’ box. I was forced to cancel my tour, and the future of international travel became temporarily, uncertain.

Hardworking Tamil Tea Harvesters

Despite everything, this proud island nation has endured, Sri Lanka and its people are resilient, courageous and forgiving. The unspeakable acts of Easter Sunday were never a true reflection of Sri Lanka’s present, but merely a cowardly echo of it’s distant past. They have more than proven that they can come back from decades of civil war, they can survive attacks against their peaceful way of life, and now, they will show us that once again, the world will once again wake up to it’s resplendence. So let’s travel to Sri Lanka. Later.

Culinary Ceylon

**This post is dedicated to the 245 innocent victims of the Easter Sunday Attacks, the resilient people of Sri Lanka, my dear friend Stephani Fernando and the incredible team at Artravele and Walker Tours who work tirelessly every day to care for their clients and graciously share their beautiful country with the rest of the world.

post-pandemic trip

Thinking about your first post-pandemic trip yet? If you are currently in quarantine with your spouse, or kids, or both, you may not be sold on the idea of dragging the clan along on holiday. You’ve probably been day dreaming of 7 days of complete solitude on some tropical beach, with no human sounds for miles. Or, travel may be the furthest thing from your mind because you may have lost your job, or you might be struggling with a newfound anxiety around the idea of traveling because of this new existence we live in. Or maybe you are dying for a family escape because your spring break plans fell apart (just ask my clients) and you’ve been dealing with broken hearts and dashed dreams around the house. Life is anything but normal at the moment, but if you’re a true traveler, you know that we will return to travel. When those travel bans are lifted and after all of this social distancing comes to an end, maybe, and just maybe you’ll be convinced that a post-pandemic trip with the whole family is a great idea. Here are a few things to consider…

1. Travel is the Ultimate Way to Celebrate Milestones

Put your hand up if you’re celebrating your birthday all by your lonesome this month? There will be SO MUCH to celebrate when all of this is over, now tack on all of the missed birthdays, cancelled weddings, delayed graduations and family reunions. Travel is a perfect way to mark those occasions, and to give yourselves a re-do on all of the missed fun. Whether it’s renting out a Riad in Marrakech, taking a river cruise between your favourite European cities, or spending your time on a tropical beach in the South Pacific, as long as you’re all together, you have the perfect recipe for unforgettable memories.

2. Travel Rekindles Family Relationships

If life during this strange and frightening time has taught us anything, it’s that we are all way too busy. How many times have your heard your mom or dad scold you for not calling them more often. Or heard a sibling grumble that they haven’t seen you enough. It is especially difficult to make time to connect with one another if you’re living on opposite sides of the planet! My brother lives in Lund, Sweden while I live in Squamish, British Columbia. By most standards, we’re very close, but work, parenting, and life in general have gotten in the way of “checking-in” on eachother. Travel has a delightful way of disconnecting you from your routine, and when you travel with family, it’s the ultimate way to not only catch up, but build on that foundation. My family is planning to spend our first post-pandemic trip in the Caribbean for New Years!

post-pandemic trip

3. Travel Turns Family into Teammates

Traveling is a great way to bond, and learn from eachother in unfamiliar and challenging environments. When my whole family gets together around the dinner table (which is rare, because as I mentioned, my baby brother lives in Sweden), our biggest laughs always centre around some crazy family holiday we took where something went horribly wrong. Be it our Mom getting dysentery while driving across Mexico (yeah, that wasn’t so funny at the time), getting lost in East LA and asking for directions from a bullet-ridden gas station, or getting practically thrown into a van when a relative had to race into the middle of Nazareth in Israel to rescue us because of a mob of teenagers shooting AK-47’s into the air (umm, yes, my family is a bit on the adventurous side in case you haven’t noticed). You don’t have to experience anything that extreme to learn from eachother, but you certainly learn what eachother are made of when a crisis hits (Plus, you end up with some pretty badass stories…if you live to tell the tales!)

post-pandemic trip

4. Travel Makes You Appreciate The Importance of Time

I mentioned above that travel can help us rekindle family relationships and help create lasting memories, but it also teaches us to…the…MOMENT. This is something we are getting a serious dose of right now – living in the moment. And it’s not a state we are accustomed to. My biggest fear when this is all over, after all of the celebrations have died down, and we’ve returned to the rat race we’ll go on forgetting about eachother. We’ll forget this newfound sense of community, even if it is socially distant closeness. Family travel is an opportunity to hit the restart button, leave all negatives in the past. And remember, living in the moment actually can make time go less quick, and feel more rich.

We may be in quarantine for some time more, and that’s okay. Now is the time to conserve, practice lot’s of self-care, reach out to friends, family and loved ones and make sure your tribe is coping well. And if you’re up for it, it’s also a great time to hit up your favourite travel blogs, sites, and guide books, call a family Zoom meeting and start planning out where on earth you all want to take your epic post-pandemic trip!

Becoming a travel advisor was not a career I always dreamed of. I’m not what you would call a “natural born traveller”. Those who know me might be surprised by that fact, but nonetheless, it’s true. I wasn’t jet-setting around the world from infancy (like my own son). The extent of my travels, included family roadtrips, and the times we had to move because my parents were in the military. I wasn’t enamored with life on the road. I was a more of a reserved kid, with a big imagination. I loved the safety of traveling through books. I preferred skipping out on recess, and sitting cross-legged on the floor of my school library, flipping through the dog-eared pages of old National Geographic magazines. I was obsessed with Africa. The Great Migration. Endless herds of elephant, wildebeest, zebra being stocked by prides of lion splashed across those pages. But as much as I loved getting lost in those scenes, never in my wildest dreams, did I ever think I would travel there. Other people did that.

Or so I thought.

Fast forward a few years to one fateful day when I was strolling down the street and a glossy window display caught my eye. “Everything is better in Havana.” The advertisement practically shouted at me. I was intrigued. I had graduated high school a few months earlier, and unlike many of my friends who had taken off for Europe or Australia to trot around before Uni started, I didn’t have the funds to go on such adventures. But a quick little beach trip? I could swing that.

becoming a travel advisor
Trinidad De Cuba – Birthplace of My Travel Addiction

I breezed through the doors of the travel agency and was met with four sets of eager eyes. I was beginning to feel my palms sweat. “Hi,” I squeaked. I was just wondering about that ad on your win-” and before I could finish my sentence, they simultaneously replied, “I can help you here!” I slid into the closet chair to the door (in case I had to make a quick escape, lol). Turns out I didn’t need to escape. Because Sandra, my travel advisor, wasn’t just there to sell me a trip, she made it her business to make me fall in love not only with a place I had never been, but a place that was never on my radar.

Sandra knew Cuba like the back of her hand, and took upon herself to write out every not-to-be-missed activity she could think of. She told me what to eat, what to drink, what not to eat and drink, the climate differentiation from the mountains to the beaches, where the best dance clubs, hidden museums and daiquiri bars were, and how to escape the rowdy tourist hoards. She was a walking travel guide. She regaled tales of learning Salsa in Santa Clara, and taking a pottery class in Trinidad de Cuba. She told me where I could catch a Cuban ballet and gave me the name of a local guide who could show me underground art exhibitions. And to this day, I will never forget what she said: “Cuba isn’t fancy. It’s not there for you to be dazzled, it’s there for you to feel, to be moved by, to appreciate for what it is in this moment in time.” Sandra wasn’t just a travel advisor, she was a storyteller. And I wanted nothing more than to be a tiny An hour later, not only did I walk out of that agency with a trip booked, but a planted seed that would later flourish into a sixteen year long consulting career, a travel writing career that included an editing job with The Lonely Planet, nearly 80 passport stamps and a degree in anthropology. I guess that makes me a full travel convert.

becoming a travel advisor
Sao Miguel, Brazil

So why am I writing about becoming a travel advisor at a time like this? I mean, who in their right mind is looking at anyone working in the travel industry and thinking they missed their calling? NO. ONE. And I’m not going to sit here and pretend life is currently awesome. It’s been an endless tsunami of cancellations, disappointed emails, phone calls and messages, and obviously, devastating economic loss to my family. We as an industry are struggling. Yet I still think it’s the best job in the world.

In any given year, 98% of my job is making dreams come true. That isn’t the case for every travel advisor. Many of all of us started in brick and mortar shops, selling products we weren’t necessarily in love with, working for very little pay, working with clients that didn’t necessarily value our work. This career isn’t for the faint of heart. You have to earn your stripes. But when you start building those relationships, earning that trust, planning those family holidays, honeymoons, reunions, special occasions, you have a very unique window into people’s lives. They come to you to create, inspire and deliver something completely intangible, and incredibly memorable. Other than their loved ones, you are the one person in the world they turn to when they want to do something that makes them happy. If that isn’t a reason to love your job, I don’t know what is.

becoming a travel advisor
Enroute to Sri Lanka

Now, is it all rosy? No. Does it always go perfectly to plan? Absolutely not. That perfect hotel you hand chose may have let its standards slip since you were last there. Or that flight you booked with the amazing connection ended up being the flight from hell because of some sort schedule delay or substandard food, or lost baggage. Or, the virus of all viruses strikes, and everything to do with tourism grinds the entire world to an abrupt halt. No, this job isn’t perfect. So far from it. But I still love it. My clients are incredible, and they need me. They need me to stay positive, to keep my chin up, to keep inspiring them to travel, to encourage them to push their own boundaries by being an ambassador of sorts. We may all be grounded now, and this experience may change the way we travel forever, but becoming a travel advisor is a decision, that even in these trying times, I will never regret, and I cannot wait to get back to designing dreams.

Quad Biking the Dunes in Namibia