Think The Maldives Is Just For Newlyweds? Here’s How 4 Friends Did Their Dream Trip On A Budget

Niamh Foran and her friends didn't want to wait to go on the trip of a lifetime.

Four best friends, sitting in a Dublin bar in rainy January trying to plan an adventure that we could remember for the rest of our lives. “When are we all free?” “How can we afford to go somewhere far?” “How do we get the most out of our time and budget”? Eight months of saving, organising, check lists and excitement, we were ready to go. We decided on a two week trip – starting off in Sri Lanka and finishing up in the Maldives. Something that once sounded so unattainable to four ordinary girls was made doable when we put our heads together.

I know a lot of people can think of nothing worse than a long haul flight, but for me, that’s where the excitement begins. Hopping on an eight hour flight to an exciting location with your best friends sounds like a dream to me (and don’t get me started on my love for plane food – IT’S
SO PERFECTLY COMPARTMENTALISED!) Our first stop was Abu Dhabi – a three hour layover on an airport floor in the Middle East, watching a family of over excited kids play tip the can was less than ideal, but what had we to complain about?

Another four hour journey in the clouds and we touched down in Colombo airport, Sri Lanka. A week of new and amazing experiences began; including an elephant safari in an ethical sanctuary aimed at preparing baby elephants for life in the wild (less than €50 for two people for a three hour safari), staying on a tea plantation estate, hiking to Ella Rock and seeing as much of the idyllic country as we could squeeze in was a dream come true. From the traditional town of Kandy, where we learned about the country’s Buddhist cultures at the Temple of the Tooth (€8.50 entry, leave your shoes at the door) we hopped on the world famous train journey to the more tourist friendly Ella town.

We decided to ditch the comfort of the air conditioned bus and pay the 110 rupees (about 50c) for the pleasure – two and half hours of standing being surprisingly cold and cramped was over shadowed by some of the most stunning views I’ve ever seen in my life. Further stops in Galle, Unawatuna and Nuwara Eliya, staying the night in a tent full of ants, frogs and who knows what else on Udawalawe National Park, we saw as much of the country as we could have wanted and more. Waterfalls, monkeys and tea crops are the memories left in my mind of the country where many towns were wiped out during the tsunami of 2004. A humbling moment to realise that the town of Galle, our final stop, lost nearly 50,000 people 14 years ago – and has been built back up to its breathtaking former glory.

Next, it was the Maldives. When I thought of the Maldives I thought honeymoon central, Instagram dreamland, but unfortunately lots and lots of money…. NOT! We decided to do things a little bit differently. Day one, after touching down in Male airport after the short flight from Sri Lanka, we hopped on a traditional Dhoni boat, and let the sea take it from there. Six days of pure sun, sand and the crystal blue waters of the Indian Ocean and not a care in the world (nor a shred of Wifi).
Sure, the resorts are stunning, the huts on the private island look just as amazing in real life, but if you really want to see and experience the ways, customs and traditions of the Maldivians, this is the way to do it! The boat slept eight people, as well as five crew members, and allowed us to get lost in the tranquility of the ocean with our only worry being how many different types of tropical fish we would be seeing today. (The entire cast of Finding Nemo being the answer to that one.)

Sailing through the spectacular reefs, we stopped off on a different island every day, most of which were uninhabited and truly some of the most beautiful places I know to exist on this planet. Bodumohoraa, one of my favourite pit stops on the trip, was where we were surprised with a candlelit dinner on the beach, sitting at a table dug out just from the sand, I truly thought things like this were just for the people willing to fork out serious cash.What I learned about these people, from the strict Islam laws, to their traditional dances and drum performances (that I duly took part in) and the friendliness of their hearts, the entire experience was truly something that money can’t buy. And with my best friends, what more could you ask for?

Niamh’s top tips:

  • Travel in a group, even if you’re a solo traveller. Go with an organised tour company that will leave you with no worries on food, affordable accommodation, and transport all around the country that could end up costing a small fortune. You’ll meet some amazing people along the way.
  • Support the locals! The people of these fascinating countries are some of the friendliest in the world. The most resourceful, optimistic and all round happiest people are the ones that we sometimes look on as having nothing. Skip the souvenir shops and visit a local, ethical business. You won’t regret it.

  • Sri Lanka has a standard tipping culture (10-20%), whereas the Maldives doesn’t. But make sure to show tour guides and their crew your appreciation!
  • The Maldives is a strictly Muslim country. No religious symbols or anything with religious connections will be permitted into the country. Alcohol is banned for the locals, and can only be consumed by tourists in hotels, or in our case, on the boat. This means no booze from duty free in your layover airport will get past customs either. You may be told to cover up only on certain islands.

Getting there:

  • We flew from Dublin to Abu Dhabi with Etihad airways, then on to Colombo, Sri Lanka. Later in the trip, we took the 90 minute flight to Male with Sri Lankan Air.
  • We booked a G Adventures trip through Trailfinders. We were able to pay a €500 deposit six months before the trip, and then pay the remainder two months before we flew.
  • €2500 covered the entire two weeks, including flights, accommodation, breakfasts every day and most other meals, as well as transfers from town to town, and back to the airports. This price is for the two tours together, but if you’re interested in heading to the Maldives alone, around €1500 could get you there, back and everything in between, with little to no spending money needed.
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