Happy New Year, everyone! The first post of the year and this first week has been great for progress on my travel plans. There wasn’t too much to do at work and after confirming that I want to travel to Japan this year, I spent the whole week searching on Google Flights and Skyscanner for cheap flights from London to Tokyo.
Firstly I had to decide on a time frame and I knew I wanted to take advantage of using the bank holidays in England which are Good Friday, Easter Monday and the Early May Bank Holiday, so I narrowed it down to leave on or before the 14th April (Good Friday) and arrive back in England on or after the 1st May (Early May Bank Holiday). Both Google Flights and Skyscanner have been really useful tools because I can work out which date has the cheapest deals and I managed to find return flights on suitable dates for around £400! On Google Flights, I have also used a feature to track prices of flights I wish to save and also get alerted on any price increases and decreases.
Secondly, I had to pick the dates and who to book the flight through. I have initially read up that it’s best to book directly with the airline because booking through the agency that books the flights for you creates more terms, conditions and hassle. So I only used the deals I found on Skyscanner as a reference for the price ranges around that time. I found a good deal directly with an airline for £430 but I didn’t know too much about the airline as I never flew with them before. After asking a colleague the next day, he said that he recommends the airline but upon checking the prices again that evening, the prices bumped up to £468! It was Wednesday so I thought I’d get advice from my Dad when he comes back home on Friday as I never have booked my own flights before.
So this morning, I got an email of a price alert I created on Google Flights and I found flights with another airline that my Dad has flown with for £430 and I knew I had to get it. And guess what? I actually did it. I booked my very first flight and I feel so relieved to finally lock in my solo trip to Japan, after reading many travel blogs for months, getting inspired and wanting to cure my travel bug.
However, after searching for events happening in Japan on the dates I am travelling, I only just realised that the last week of my 3-week trip is Golden Week! If you don’t know what Golden Week is, it is the longest period Japanese workers get off because of a number of holidays during this time. While it is good to enjoy the festivities, it can be very busy during this time, thus it will be more difficult to book accommodation and plan days out because of the busy period. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not put off by this; I’m looking for more challenges to getting out of my comfort zone and I do plan to sort out my itinerary to see where I’d be to either avoid the hustle and bustle of Golden Week or get right into it by getting involved and seeing what Golden Week has to offer to a solo traveller.
Now that flights are finally booked, here are my next steps:
I have started to use this Sample Itinerary as a basis for where to go. I don’t many places in Japan rather than the usual hotspots such as Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka, so doing more research on places like Kanazawa, Takayama and Nagoya have really helped me on deciding how much time I want to spend in traditional places and in modernised places. Also after reading about the best places to be to avoid the Golden Week crowds, I have initially decided to spend my last few days in Tokyo and move around more from place to place in the beginning of the trip. From what I’ve read, Tokyo appears to be quieter during Golden Week as most people will travel out of the city to places like Kyoto, the islands, or outside of the country. Therefore having my last leg in Tokyo before catching the flight back home will allow me to wind-down and explore the lesser known places in the capital.
I have frequently been looking at the Japan Rail Pass (JR Pass) that offers unlimited travel for 7, 14 or 21 days in Japan. While the cost is very expensive as a 21-day JR Pass will cost less than or around £400 (only a bit less than my flight!), I will be saving money if I take the long train journeys as buying tickets individually can be more expensive. This is something I will still need to look into and also on alternative options such as coach/bus travel and domestic flights.
Initially, I thought it will be flexible when it comes to booking hostels in Japan, but with Golden Week warnings that accommodation can be booked from 3 to 6 months in advance, I need to continue my research to decide whether I book most of my accommodation before I depart or whether I have the flexibility to book hostels when I am there. Accommodation is the next highest cost to Transportation, so I need to plan accordingly if I am to stick to a budget. Oh, and I am also looking into Couchsurfing and just created an account. This will be more of an adventurous option and will allow me to interact with the locals and explore their local culture and customs.
This only requires a little bit of research as I will have to plan where to eat once I am there. Therefore I am only looking at the options for food budgets such as eating from street vendors, convenience stores, ramen stalls and worthwhile restaurants.
I haven’t thought a lot of this through as this is something I’d like to spontaneously plan out if I were to meet other fellow travellers from hostels. I’ll only be focusing on a budget for places that require an entrance fee. I know many places are free and I also hope to explore more places off the beaten path.
Self-explanatory, really. Anything can happen, especially when travelling solo, so it’s good to get covered if I do ever need it.
Money, Money, Money
I’m also doing research on the best way to manage my finances when I’m away in Japan. I’ve heard that many places like Hostels do not accept card payments and I will need to look and compare for travel cards that have the least rates when spending on my card and withdrawing cash at an ATM with my card. I will also need to look at how much I am willing to carry on me as I know ATMs are not available everywhere and they can be unavailable for certain periods of the day.
Kit List and Gadgets
This is more for when I have completed all of the above. I need to check the weather forecast to see if, for example, waterproofs or extra layers are required and this will determine the size of the backpack I will carry. Also, I need to sort out valuables to bring with me to make the trip easier and memorable, such as my unlocked iPhone to make calls domestically and also internationally using WhatsApp or Skype, and my cameras which are a cheap-ish digital camera and GoPro video camera. Security is also very important for this trip so I will need to ensure travel documents are copied to the cloud and emailed to myself and parents. I will also need to think about how to keep my valuables such as passport, money and gadgets safe when I am travelling solo.
Here’s a quote to finish this post off:
“A ship in harbor is safe —but that is not what ships are built for.” — John A. Shedd
That’s all for now. Thank you for reading and I will update you more on my travel plans.
Only 94 days to go!!!