By Dimithri Wijesinghe
Shenelle Rodrigo is a social media influencer and content creator who widely gained popularity due to her newly launched, currently ongoing project #thisissrilanka, where she, together with fellow content creator Shehaan Thahir and photographer/videographer Yashvin Senanayake, travel around Sri Lanka in 22 days, documenting their adventure for a 22-part vlog series released on YouTube.
The vlogs come out every Monday to a forever increasing audience as the popularity of the project picks up speed amongst the masses, so much so that series even got a nod of appreciation from Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. We urge you to go and watch the entirety of the group’s vlog series – it is guaranteed to inspire you.
The videos are, of course, shot beautifully and the production element is high. The videos hold on to their authentic story – the very first vlog set the scene quite nicely, where we follow the team to Negombo and they immediately run into car trouble. We too share the trepidation the group feels, worrying that their journey may be cut short. A Lankan made, edited, and shot product showcasing the real beauty of our paradise isle, it’s something undoubtedly worth watching.
We met up with the group to discuss a few things we’re all wondering, and here’s what they had to say:
You’ve made travel vlogs before, but not to this extent. What inspired you to work on something of this scale and decide to travel Sri Lanka for your newest adventure?
It had always been on our bucket list to travel right around the country in a single trip. Knowing that we hadn’t seen a lot of our own country, this was a trip we always knew we were going to go at some point.
I started my YouTube channel and vlogged our backpacking adventures through Thailand and Vietnam in 2018 and it was something Shehaan and I really enjoyed doing. We knew we wanted to pursue further.
In January 2019, when Lonely Planet named Sri Lanka the No. 1 tourist destination, we figured now was the best time to vlog our adventures through Sri Lanka and share a local’s perspective of traveling through the island, offering tourists a more in-depth look into the beauty and diversity of Sri Lanka.
Having backpacked through Thailand and Vietnam previously, we also knew what kind of information tourists were looking for online when planning budgets and itineraries for trips of this nature.
Many followers have wondered if you led by the tourism authority to embark on this project, given the perfect timing of the project following the devastating hit on Sri Lanka’s tourism industry. What was your main objective in releasing this video series?
We had a number of goals which we wanted to achieve by embarking on this project.
The first and foremost goal was to actually complete this trip and successfully document our adventures within the span of 22 days. This was a resounding success and we are honestly so happy we got to do it. It’s a dream come true for Shehaan and me.
As my work revolves around social media and content creation, another of our main objectives was to create informative and unique content based on traveling through Sri Lanka. We knew there were many who wanted to go on similar trips exploring the wonders and charm of their own home. So, we wanted to show that it could be done for the price of a one-week trip to Thailand or Malaysia.
Another very important and rather broad objective of this series was to do our part in promoting the paradise island to the rest of the world.
We planned and executed the trip on our own. This is Shehaan’s strong suit and he takes great joy in getting on his excel sheets and plotting out the entire project. We did try reaching out to tourism authorities to get some support, but it was not successful. Hence, we decided to finance it ourselves and find strategic partners who’d want to come on board with us.
Our main objective, of course, was to capture the beauty of our island and create a unique travel series.
You’ve specifically chosen 22 days. Why the time limit and why not longer?
We would have loved to travel for longer as there is so much more to explore in Sri Lanka. But we wanted to keep it relevant to both the foreign and local tourism markets.
Most tourists are able to take between two to three weeks off with their annual leave for vacation. We wanted to show them how you could make the most of it by travelling through an entire country on a reasonable budget.
What was the planning process like? What did you have to get in order before you set off to travel the country?
Shehaan handled the majority of the planning process as we had backpacked through two Asian countries before. We knew what was needed to be planned ahead and what could be done during the trip.
We spent a lot more time planning how we wanted to document the series than plotting the itinerary. We knew this was a golden opportunity and we wanted to make the absolute most of it. This was the point when we invited Yashvin on to the project. We knew we needed a skilled videographer to help us do justice to this project. We invited Yashvin just a week before we left on the adventure and were thrilled that he was able to make the time for it.
As for the itinerary, we started with planning our budget for the trip and then moved onto the main cities and excursions we wanted to see, thereafter allocating the number of days to be spent in each city. We left accommodation bookings to do on the same day as we wanted more flexibility in terms of how long we could stay in each city. This proved to be the wisest move.
What were some of the biggest obstacles you had to face when planning the trip?
Time management would be one of the biggest obstacles. As we were trying to showcase the beauty of the whole of Sri Lanka, there were so many places we wanted to visit and document. We had to pick which we felt were the best and most practical. And this was so tough because there were so many great places and excursions, which we sadly had to drop out of the trip.
You are essentially travelling along the coast of the island and the route you’ve taken is quite interesting. What’s the reason behind this route and how did you allocate time to each location?
Yes, the primary objective of the project was to travel around the coast of Sri Lanka. It has always been our dream to do so.
However, as we wanted to showcase the diversity in experiences available in Sri Lanka, we also knew we had to visit the Cultural Triangle as well.
The time we dedicated to each city was based on the excursions we knew we wanted to cover.
Are you travel blog enthusiasts? If so, any favourites you recommend?
Yes we are! We’ve been inspired by many bloggers/influencers over the years, both internationally and locally.
Locally, we love what Travel_with_wife does in creating Sinhalese content around Sri Lanka and awareness on sustainable travel and among other issues. Internationally, there are too many to be honest.
What do you think about this new trend of documenting everything we do, particular things like travel? How do you think it has impacted society?
Information is everything today – the ability to follow others with similar interests and circumstances is truly revolutionary.
We were able to plan three months of travel around Southeast Asia entirely by looking at what others had done. We found so many places that even the local travel agencies had not heard of and we were able to save a lot more by doing it ourselves.
I believe if used for a good cause, social media can dramatically change the world we live in for the better. It may actually be the only way!
Unfortunately, we are still discovering the cons of it.
Although your vlogs aren’t all released yet, what can you say about the experience you’ve had by travelling Sri Lanka? Has it defied any expectations?
It’s been amazing and truly eye opening. There were so many misconceptions which we realised had been fed to us throughout our lives. There is so much more to Sri Lanka than one sees or hears on the news or TV. Our people are truly one of kind, especially when it comes to their warmth and hospitality.
The main highlight for us, which we did not expect, was the sheer diversity of our country. In every aspect, Sri Lanka is so beautifully rich in its diversity. And that is, in my opinion, this country’s strongest asset.
It is exciting to wait for the vlogs to eventually come out, but do you think you can share with us some special highlights, for example a must-watch number in the series or a place that really surprised or impacted you?
The entire series is amazing! You get to see how diverse the landscape of Sri Lanka is in a matter of hours. Each vlog has its own highlight, from driving on some amazing roads to whale watching to camping in the hills. We’ve got a load of awesome content to share throughout the series.
However, our favourite vlog would be the one we shot at the Clifflodge in Haputale (Vlog 4). It was an amazing experience and we are certain everyone is going to love it because you won’t expect to see such a place in Sri Lanka.
Any word of advice for anyone who wants to follow your footsteps or has been inspired to travel after watching your videos?
I say, just do it! Consider it an investment as opposed to an expense. There is so much for us to learn from travelling, be it local or internationally.
Your work was commended by the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka. How did that come about and what was that experience like?
It was honestly something we always hoped to achieve with this series. Getting recognition from either the Government or tourism authorities on a personally funded campaign such as ours is a real boost for freelancers as a whole. We also knew it had to happen in order for us to be able to reach a wider audience.
We had absolutely no idea that the Prime Minister was following our series online and were so pleasantly surprised when we received the message from him. It is super encouraging that they acknowledge and commend our work. It will undoubtedly encourage more locals to follow suite and create meaningful content around Sri Lanka.
The fact that you do not need to go through any authorities or be a high-up at a corporate to get the Prime Minister’s attention is truly an inspiration in and to the world we live in today.
We’ve always believed that the power of social media was one to reckon with. The fact that our home-made series was able to get his and many other prominent influential figures’ attention just confirmed this further to us. We hope it will only continue to increase as we continue to create more and more meaningful content!
Photos: Krishan Kariyawasam