sri lanka, you had me at "ayubowan"
My visit to Sri Lanka — a teardrop-shaped island off the southeast coast of India — was unexpected. While my work in the travel industry often requires trips to the Caribbean and Mexico, this was the first time I was sent to Asia on behalf of my organization, and nothing could have been more exciting. I departed for the 10-day journey fraught with anticipation of the unknown.
I was set to join up with the rest of the group alongside a colleague, Adriana, the Team Leader of our Liberty Travel Englewood location. While we'd only met in passing prior to our departure, once we grabbed pre-flight coffee in JFK, I could tell that we were on the same wavelength. There were a few options to travel to Colombo from NY, but we both chose to fly Emirates and couldn't wait to experience their world-renowned service.
Dubai layover ✔
...did I mention the Emirates Business Class lounge has a Moët & Chandon champagne bar?
While I no longer sell travel, the mission of my participation in this travel agent familiarization trip (or FAM for those of you who know the industry lingo!) was to capture the value of a guided adventure. Admittedly a skeptic of organized tours, all of my misconceptions were shattered during this immersive experience with Peregrine Adventures. From the minute our plane touched down in Colombo, we were escorted from the tarmac; an undeserved luxury which was indicative of how well we'd be taken care of for the remainder of our time in Sri Lanka.
this is the best way to land, hands down
we were swiftly escorted through the disembarkation, immigration screening and baggage claim process
The first night of the tour called for a group meet and greet, plus an overall orientation to what we could expect from the Peregrine Adventures experience. Right away, it was clear that our local leader, Sampath Kulathunga (or "Sam" for short!), was going to be the key to our integration into the local culture. He wasted no time teaching us all about the history of this complex country, and even threw in some language lessons.
Ayubowan is the word used in Sri Lanka to greet someone. It indicates wishes for a long life. You generally greet someone by joining two hands in prayer-like manner and saying "Ayubowan."
As industry experts, travel agents are expected to know the ins and outs of the destinations they offer clients. FAMs are opportunities to gain that knowledge first-hand. Beyond learning about the offerings of a supplier, these trips also foster bonds between agents that go beyond the competitive nature of the business. I felt so fortunate to be amongst a diverse group that hailed everywhere from New Jersey to Southern California to Northern Canada; we all had something to learn from one another.
While documenting the trip with social-first content was my main priority, taking in the essence of the destination was a steadfast personal endeavor. My connection to this part of the world was cemented back in my India study abroad days, and while I expected it to feel similar, Sri Lanka had a distinct set of charms I was not expecting. First and foremost, I was touched by the kindness of its people.
Check out more about the hospitality we experienced in this article I wrote for Liberty Travel.
the pineapple man
moments before I shot this roadside, our kind friend here sliced a pineapple directly from the farm in the background
Naturally, when working in this industry, your standards for service are heightened. It's actually a constant battle when traveling to put those — often unrealistic — expectations aside! But in Sri Lanka, it wasn't the hotel or restaurant workers who stood out. It was the ordinary people: the vendors on the side of the road, the shopkeepers and the temple-goers that made the lasting impression. Every single individual we encountered exuded an open-minded spirit and excitement to share their culture.
expect to feel relaxed in this spiritual oasis
I'm going to be writing a secondary blog post about the must-see spots in Sri Lanka, but wanted to wrap this one up with my overall take on why this hotspot is #trending. Beyond its infiltration of our social feeds, the political and social climate is opening the island up to a massive surge in tourism. Investment in the infrastructure of this developing nation is creating an economic boom built on the potential for up to five-million annual visitors by 2020 (according to our knowledgeable local leader, Sam).
To sum it up, visit before it becomes mainstream. And don't forget, traveling Sri Lanka with a tour operator like Peregrine Adventures or their more affordable sister brand, Intrepid Travel, offers you the opportunity to see it all. Always feel free to ping me with any questions about your travel planning.