What to Pack for Sri Lanka: One month in a Carry-On

Ella Rock

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Though small, Sri Lanka is an amazing destination packed with great beaches, vast tea plantations, and diverse wildlife. Sam and I were thrilled to spend a full month exploring the South Asian island nation last winter. This trip was also the first time we ever tried working remotely—and it ended up being a major success!

The biggest challenge for us was deciding what to pack for Sri Lanka in February. Our itinerary involved two weeks at the beach in Tangalle, a safari in Yala National Park, a weekend in chilly Nuwara Eliya, and a week of hiking in Ella. And because we hate checking bags, we were determined to fit everything we needed for the month into a carry-on.

Now that we’ve returned, we have a much better idea of what we were glad we packed, what we should have taken, and what we could have left at home.

Here is our complete guide to packing for Sri Lanka in only a carry-on.

Packing List for Sri Lanka

Little Adam's Peak

Luggage/Organizers for Sri Lanka

Carry-on Bag

No matter how long the trip, we nearly always travel with only a carry-on. Doing so saves us a ton of money on baggage fees and the stress of having nothing to wear when the airline randomly sends our luggage to Detroit. Or forgets to put it on the plane altogether, which happened when we visited South Africa.

For a trip to Sri Lanka, we strongly recommend choosing a backpack rather than a wheeled suitcase or a duffle bag. Public transit in Sri Lanka is often cramped with little to no luggage space. We took an “airport shuttle” that was crammed so full we had to hold our bags on our lap. So a backpack is a more pragmatic option.

My go-to is my Osprey Porter 46 backpack. I have taken it to more than a dozen nations and can’t recommend it highly enough. You can read our full review here. You can purchase it here.

Day Bag

In addition to a carry-on bag, we recommend taking a small day bag to hold your essentials during excursions. Sam loves this bag because it can pack down small and fit in his bigger backpack on travel days. I like this one because it’s cute and can replace my purse.

Packing Cubes

We are big fans of packing cubes, because they help keep our backpacks organized—something that becomes especially important on long trips! We have used these ones for years.

Ella Rock

What to Wear in Sri Lanka

When traveling for a month (or longer!), packing too many clothes is a huge temptation. Don’t do it! The best strategy is to pack enough clothing for roughly one week and plan to do laundry. Otherwise you will end up looking like the Hunchback of Notre Dame and cursing yourself for packing that 4th pair of shoes you never actually wore, because who wears high heels to a tea plantation??

All the guesthouses and hotels where we stayed offered affordable laundry service, and we usually got our clean clothes back by the next day.

These are all the clothes you should pack for one month in Sri Lanka.

1 Pair of Athletic/Hiking Shoes

Take a sturdy pair of athletic shoes or hiking boots if you’re planning an active trip. We did a lot of jogging along the beach and hiking in the hill country, so I packed my running shoes.

Just don’t take shoes you are desperate to keep clean, because they will likely look like they were trampled by a herd of migrating wildebeests by the time you get home. I packed brand new shoes and stepped in cow manure 30 seconds into my first hike. Tragic.

1 Pair of Flip-Flops 

On beach days or while walking around town (or using a sketchy shower), a good pair of flip-flops is a must. Sam and I are both big fans of Sanuks sandals. These are the ones I wear.

2 T-Shirts

Sri Lanka can be beastly hot, so be sure to pack a few light, breathable t-shirts. I prefer cotton, drape-y tops, because they feel cool on hot days but are still modest enough to wear to a temple.

2 Tank Tops 

Tanks tops are great for those extra-hot days. I mostly wore mine while hiking or to the beach.

2 Pairs of Shorts

The temperatures in Sri Lanka are sky-high, so shorts are essential. Just be sure to take a sarong or scarf to cover your knees if you plan to visit a temple.

1 Lightweight Dress

In warm climates, loose-fitting dresses are a great way to feel polished and stay cool at the same time.

2 Swimsuits

With some of the most beautiful beaches in the world, packing a swimsuit for Sri Lanka is a necessity. Because we spent two weeks on the coast and visited the beach every afternoon, I packed two swimsuits so I always had a dry one ready.

1 Swimsuit Cover-Up

I took a swimsuit cover-up to wear on the walk to and from the beach or pool to avoid getting my clothes wet and salty. Sam usually just threw on an athletic shirt.

1 Set of Athletic Clothing

If you plan to do a lot of hiking or jogging, pack breathable, quick-dry athletic clothes. Sam and I both packed one set of athletic clothing to wear on our sunrise jogs.

Full disclosure: They were downright foul after each wear, so consider taking two outfits if you’re an exercise fiend. Your travel companions will thank you!  

1 Sun Hat

In case I haven’t been clear enough already, the sun in Sri Lanka is intense. At times, we felt more roasted than the Kung Pao chicken at a bad lunch buffet. So be sure to wear a sun hat when spending extended time outside. No one wants to end up in the ER with heat stroke.

1 Set of Pajamas 

Since Sam and I stayed in air-conditioned guesthouses, we each took one set of pajamas and washed them each week. I love my nightshirt from Pact Organic, because it is super comfortable and keeps me cool at night. If you are staying in accommodations without AC, you may want to take more than one set of pajamas.

7-8 Pairs of Underwear

Pack enough underwear to last you at least a week. We prefer Ex-officio underwear when traveling. They are a bit pricy, but they are breathable and dry quickly if we have to wash them in the sink between laundry days.

5-7 Pairs of Socks 

Take enough socks to last a full week as well (which will obviously vary depending on how often you plan to wear shoes vs. sandals). We pack lightweight socks like these when traveling in hot climates.

1 Jacket

Though most of Sri Lanka is so warm you will want to dress as minimally as public decency allows, some parts of the country can get chilly at night. If you plan to visit the hill country—particularly Nuwara Eliya—we recommend packing a jacket. I like to take a jacket/sweatshirt on trips anyway because airplanes have roughly the same climate as Siberia.

1 Pair of Pants

Though I wore shorts almost every day our trip, having a pair of pants came in handy while in Nuwara Eliya and on the airplane. I took my Patagonia leggings because they are distinctly more comfortable than any other pants I own.

1 Sarong

We recommend packing a sarong or buying one in the country to wrap around your legs when entering religious sites. I bought a cute elephant sarong in Tangalle that doubles as a beach blanket.

1 Pair of Sunglasses

Be sure to take a pair of sunglasses so you don’t have to spend the entire trip squinting. Sam loves these polarized sunglasses because they are durable and cheap enough that we won’t be devastated if he loses them. Which is a clear and present danger. Not to stir up bad memories, but I distinctly recall an experience on Jekyll Island that involved Sam’s wedding ring, an ill-fated kayaking excursion (on Sam’s part), the murky depths of the Atlantic Ocean, and many tears (on my part).

Tangelle, Sri Lanka

Personal Care Items for Sri Lanka

Though I try to not to go overboard (sorry, too soon…) on the toiletries, certain products will come in super handy on a trip to Sri Lanka.

  • Sunscreen. Be sure to pack sunscreen to protect yourself from painful sunburns, skin cancer, and other such horrors. (Just keep it to 3oz or less if you’re traveling with only a carry-on).
  • DEET insect repellent. The mosquitos in Sri Lanka—especially along the coast—were quite possibly bred in the Underworld and have the demeanor of a rabid hyena. We found the bug spray options within the country to be pretty limited—mostly chemical-free, natural versions, which didn’t quite cut it for a mosquito-magnet like myself—so we recommend packing enough mosquito repellant to last your whole trip if you prefer stronger varieties.
  • Solid shampoo/conditioner. We love using solid shampoo and solid conditioner when we travel. They take up less space and lasts way longer than liquid versions. We usually buy ours from Lush.
  • Travel hairdryer. Not many of our accommodations provided a hairdryer, so take your own if you plan to use one. I like this one because it is dual voltage and fairly lightweight.
  • Sea salt spray. If your idea of a vacation involves spending less than five minutes per day on your hair, I recommend packing some sea salt spray to give your hair effortless beach waves in two minutes flat. I used this one nearly every day of our trip.
  • Deodorant. I usually pack a travel-sized version, but for this trip I took a bigger one so it would last the whole month.
  • Disposable razor. I never have trouble taking one of these through security at airports. Sam left his razor at home and grew out his manly beard instead.
  • Travel-sized toothbrush/toothpaste.
  • Though I don’t usually bother with a ton of makeup on holiday, I like to pack some basics—mascara, foundation, blush, etc. Try to choose a foundation that contains SPF.
  • Travel-sized hairbrush. I use this one.
  • Skin care products. The beach and sun are hard on your skin, so be sure to pack quality skin care products. Cetaphil is a good budget-friendly skin care line.
  • Medication. It’s always a good idea to travel with medication to treat common travel ailments. We recommend packing chewable stomach tablets, allergy medicine, and sleep aids. It’s also a good idea to pack AfterBite, pain meds, and bandages. If you’re prone to blisters, throw a few blister bandaids in as well. 
  • Hand sanitizer. We forgot to pack hand sanitizer and regretted it for the whole month. If there is even a slight chance you will use a public restroom, take hand sanitizer. Consider this a friendly warning…
  • Tissues. Many of the bathrooms I used in Sri Lanka (aside from the ones in our accommodations) did not provide toilet paper. Keeping a package of tissues in your bag when you’re out and about is always a smart idea.

Tangalle

Electronics & Travel Accessories for Sri Lanka

Voltage Converter/Power Adaptor

For most travelers to Sri Lanka, a voltage converter and power adaptor is necessary in order to safely use your electronics. Sri Lanka uses type D sockets and the voltage is 230 v. Note: the voltage/outlet type in Sri Lanka is the same as in India.

GoPro or Action Cam

One of the best ways to record your adventures in Sri Lanka is with a GoPro or Action Cam that is small and won’t be permanently damaged if you accidentally dunk it in the Indian Ocean. We use this one. It’s cheap, but it gets decent footage.

Power Bank

Our electronics always seem to lose power at the worst possible times. For that reason, we usually travel with a portable power bank so we can charge our electronics on the go. We use this one.

Hotspot

We found the Wi-Fi in Sri Lanka to be pretty rotten. If having reliable Wi-Fi is essential for you, we recommend traveling with a portable hotspot.

Note: Though many bloggers swear by Skyroam, we had a bad experience using our Skyroam hotspot in Sri Lanka (and India). The connection was super slow, and at times we couldn’t get it to connect period. We will look at other brands for future trips.

Kindle (Books) 

A gorgeous beach destination means lots of time to catch up on reading. Using a Kindle (or another form of e-reader) is a good way to save space and weight in your luggage.

That said, I’m a purist who would sooner eat live grasshoppers than read a book I can’t physically hold. I always pack a few traditional ink-and-paper books and save space in other ways. Just be warned that English books are hard to find in many parts of Sri Lanka, so stock up before you leave home.

Need a book recommendation? Check out our list of the best books to inspire wanderlust.

Ella, Sri Lanka

Miscellaneous Travel Items for Sri Lanka

Passport

Okay, so even though I stuck this waaayy down the list, it’s actually the most important item to pack. Because without it, you won’t actually be able to enter the country. Which would obviously be a major bummer. It is always a good idea to ensure your passport is valid for at least six month after you enter the country and has two or more blank pages.

Sri Lanka Travel Visa

Most travelers will need some sort of tourist visa in order to enter Sri Lanka. Be sure to check the entry requirements for travelers from your home country. We applied for an ETA online in advance for 35USD. You can apply here.

Pack Towel

Pack towels come in super handy on trips to Sri Lanka. We use these ones. are ultra-absorbent and super easy to throw into our day bags when we’re headed to the beach or on an excursion. They were a lifesaver during our two weeks in Tangalle.

Dry Bag 

We always pack a dry bag or two so we can protect our phones, camera, or other important items from the elements. We use ones like these.

Eye Cover & Ear Plugs

It’s hard to enjoy your trip if you’re dead exhausted the whole time. I’m a bit of an insomniac at the best of times, so I always travel with an eye cover and earplugs so I can get a good night sleep no matter where I am.

Laundry Detergent Packets

Though laundry service is fairly inexpensive in Sri Lanka, we took a few laundry detergent packets so we could wash smaller items—such as socks or underwear—in the sink between laundry days.

Guidebook 

We always travel with a physical guidebook to use as an on-the-ground reference. We find Lonely Planet guidebooks offer the best recommendations for budget travelers.

What else would you pack for one month in Sri Lanka?


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One Month in Sri Lanka with Just a Carry-On

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