If only I'd known that before I went
Hindsight is a wonderful thing.
I love planning events and happenings. I love the hours of research, cross-checking ideas and managing budgets and time-tables. But a few things always slip through the net and here is my list of shoulda-coulda-wouldas:
Buy annual travel insurance before anything else.
This is a very wise thing to do and one I didn't do. Luckily, there wasn't an "If only I'd not been so stupid!" moment (although one came close). The best thing to do is buy annual travel insurance as a matter of course. I know it's just another bloody insurance to add to the ever increasing list, but for a relatively small spend, it offers a big protection. The travel insurance covers all sorts of unforeseen eventualities. What if you are in an accident before you go? What if the aeroplane company collapses? What if your children get sick or you lose your job or someone dies? Our flights were most definitely a huge part of the budget and it wasn't the smartest move to buy them without any insurance. I naively believed that we would be protected somehow as I'd paid for the flights using my Mastercard but the protection only goes as far as to help towards goods not received (such as the airline going under) rather than cancelled or delayed flights.
If you're still not convinced buying insurance upfront in a good idea, it's worthwhile bearing in mind the increase in wild weather and terrorism we are experiencing in the world today. I'm not a paranoid android, but unless you've been living under a rock, floods swept through Italy and France in summer 2018, a huge blizzard hit the northeast American coastline in January 2018 and the Zika virus exploded across central America in 2015.
While we were in Sri Lanka in October 2018, we were quietly watching from the sidelines as the president sacked the prime minister and there were riots on the streets of Colombo. It very easily could have happened before we arrived and on a level of greater volatility. The country was, after all, only at peace from civil war since 2009.
Let your bank know you're going abroad and increase your ATM limit to the maximum
As Sri Lanka has a floating economy, the money isn't worth a great deal outside of the country. All currency must be retained inside the island which means there's not really any means to get hold of any before arrival and there is no point in hoping to exchange it past airport security on the way home. It's very easy to get it from the ATM at the airport or via the three (or possibly four) banks that great you when you exit passport control. These all offer the same rates. What they can't do, is take money from your debit card and give you cash in return. You can only take cash from the ATM using your card. The alternative is to bring your money in cash and then it is possible to exchange it for Sri Lankan rupees.
The ATMs are expensive. Due to my not-very-foreplanning I ended up paying out £46.37 in transaction fees over a two week period. Not smart. The ATMs would only let me take out 20,000LKR in the airport and from then on it varied from 40-50,00LKR depending on the bank. On average for every 50,000LKR (£225) withdrawn, I paid over £10 in fees.
However, if I'd increased my amount before I left, I believe it could have been as much as 100-200,000LKR. Ok, so the transaction fee may have increased but I would have made fewer withdrawals so saving myself a good few pounds. Or just taking a wedge over and exchanging it from pounds to rupees in one go at the airport.
In the grand scheme of things, this isn't a huge cross to bear; it just makes sense to save money where possible with a little effort.
Buy what you love, when you see it. DO NOT WAIT for a better price/opportunity/time!
I've learnt this over the years, so it doesn't just apply to this trip. No matter what, if you love the look of something, then just get it there and then. It may well be that you are greeted with a thousand of the things as you go through the airport on your way home, but it's quite unlikely. Get that pot, rug, shirt. Buy that trinket or piece of furniture. You will be glad you picked it up and schlepped it around with you. The UK has a pretty homogenised retail stance - what's available in one town, can be found easily in another and if not, then online will surely throw up what you're looking for. However, many small towns worldwide tend to specialise in a particular art-form or custom often with road upon road all seemingly selling the same things.