Decision to go
I was excited to plan a recent weeklong trip to Tokyo and Kyoto around Memorial Day 2017. I know everyone prefers to go to Japan around cherry blossom season but the prices were astronomical and the timing never seems to work out for me to go around that time of the year (I am a March Madness avid fan and I hate to travel in March!). So after planning two prior trips to Japan and canceling them for various reasons I decided to try not planning the trip and going on 3 weeks lead time! That seemed to do the trick.
Quickly planning my solo trips
With very little time to plan, I kicked into gear my standard rules for solo travel planning (in no order).
- Rule #1: Pick modernized hotels at reasonable prices with top notch Tripadvisor Reviews. Nothing sucks the energy out of a solo trip more than being stuck in a hotel that isnt clean or close to anything of consequence. I pound the pavement in serious fashion when I travel so I need a clean comfortable place to lay my head at night. I’ve gotten out of the habit of needing “luxury” (although it never hurts). Just modern amenities and cleanliness.
- Rule #2: Always know how I will get from the airport to the hotel and how far a distance that really is. Even better, have a pre-booked option ready to go.
- Rule #3: Learn the exchange rates in advance and have plenty of cash on hand for the trip.
- Rule #4: Have my “go bag” well stocked. One of these days, I’ll blog about my go bag. It’s a life saver. You’d be AMAZED how often I go to foreign countries and have a hellish time trying to translate medicines or simply can’t find something I really prefer to have. Now I make sure to have my favorite moisturizers, antihistamine, Excedrin, and so much more in my go bag. More importantly, I always want to make sure my go bag is restocked after every trip so I can simply grab and “go”!
Redeeming miles for FIRST CLASS!!
Where to go in Japan?
There are a lot of decisions to make on a trip to Japan. One of the first is to decide where to go once I got to the country. You could spend months in Japan and not see the country. It is geographically small but rich with visual feasts and cultural wonder! I knew I had to go to Tokyo (it just seems like an automatic) plus I love big metropolises so I knew I’d take a liking to the city. I also knew I wanted to go to Kyoto. On the other hand, I also wanted to go to Hiroshima, Mt Fuji, Sapporo, Osaka, and so many other places. But in the end I decided not to overload my trip and dilute the quality so I went for Tokyo and Kyoto only for this trip. (I’m already mulling a return trip to go to Sapporo in the winter for an icy cold trip!). For your first visit to Japan, I think this is a good option. It gave me a real clear picture of the country in a short period of time (a week).
Japan Rail Pass
I also had to decide if I wanted to buy the infamous JR Pass. There are many opinions online about it but in the end I decided that if I was going to travel from Tokyo to Kyoto and then back to Tokyo to fly out of Narita the pass would be well worth it.
The JR GREEN pass I found to be very useful. I needed to inbound and outbound from Narita and the JR green pass not only got me a round trip ticket to and from Kyoto but also covered my cost on several inner cities trip and a lengthy trip from Kyoto to Nara.
I also bought the west Kansai pass before leaving the US, thinking I would really need it. Not only was exchanging it a real pain (since there are multiple JR ticket offices both in and out of Kyoto station but only ONE at Kyoto station will exchange this pass) but it was useless. I was in Kyoto for three days and never saw any use for it that my regular JR pass didn’t cover. So my suggestion is to get the JR pass if you are traveling multi city but skip the regional ones unless you know in advance how you’ll use them. I tend to travel more on a whim. I like to be flexible and go as more on instinct instead of a rigid plan when I travel. So for me I want maximum flexibility, which the main JR pass allows for.
Internet and Connectivity in Japan
Finally, I had to decide prior to leaving on whether to pre-purchase the “myfi” device that is offered in Japan. It was around $84 and I got it from Global Advanced Communication. I was concerned about not having wi-fi in the country based off my reading prior to going and it turns out this was a mistake. I really did not need it. In my case, Verizon has an international plan (which I previously had) that offers service in 100 countries for $10/day. Yes it comes out to the same price on an 8-day trip but when I use my unlimited Verizon international roaming plan, I can also receive phone calls and make them using my regular phone (not needing Skype or some other app). If you are in Japan longer than a week and/or do not have an international phone plan (you SHOULD if you are going to travel) then this may be worthwhile for you. I will say that connectivity in Japan was never an issue. It’s a highly modern country with lots of free wi-fi (even in public spaces). So this is one expense you could take the chance to skip if you are otherwise covered.