COPYRIGHT © Mochi Things
I am a planner. What I mean is, that in general, I plan everything. I am organized and prepared and love to plan my days, weeks, outfits, trips, and vacations. However, planning a trip to Japan is a little different than planning a trip to Wyoming.
The first thing obviously before booking anything was figuring out what were the most important sights I felt I needed to see. I am pretty frugal so I wanted to find a way to see what I wanted without spending an insane amount of money. Originally, I thought we might just spend three days in Japan, but those three days were quickly increased to seven because I wanted to do more than just hang around Tokyo. I decided seeing Mt. Fuji, staying in a ryokan, and learning about the history of Japan were priorities. Personally, I was most interested in the history of Japan so I allotted for more days in Kyoto versus Tokyo. I also got a physical book, which was really nice because I had tons of information in one book rather than a million open internet browser tabs. I used colored tabs to mark my book pages for each city in Japan. I searched and searched for itineraries and researched the costs of guided tours as well as tried to figure out train schedules.
Though some of these suggestions may seem like obvious tips, here are a few things to help you plan a trip overseas.
1. Familiarize yourself with the geography of the country (and cities) you are visiting.
My sense of direction is stunted. Based on the amount of traveling I have done in my life, it shouldn’t be and I am sure my parents are very ashamed of my ability to get lost. Though my map reading abilities have improved, I get overwhelmed and easily confused. Because we are traveling throughout Japan, I studied the country map, and the city maps as well. The set up of the prefectures and wards within the prefectures confused me a bit but I think I am prepared to at least navigate us to train stations. That’s another thing, I have never lived in a large city so trying to figure out a transit system to most may seem like no big deal but to me, I am a little terrified.
2. Learn some phrases in the country’s language.
Not only am I a failure in the art of “not getting lost,” I am also a failure in learning languages. Yes, my grandmother is Japanese, and I own Rosetta Stone and countless books which help you learn Japanese. Now, ask me if I am even semi-fluent in Japanese. The answer is no. I know some conversational phrases, greetings, and words but mostly I can count to ten, sing children’s songs, give dog commands (sit, shake, etc.), and say one curse word. I also can’t read hiragana, katakana, or kanji. Thankfully there is Romaji (the representation of Japanese sounds using the western, 26-letter alphabet). But I have a pocket reference guide and I can at least ask “Excuse me, do you understand English?” in Japanese.
3. Exhaust all internet resources.
I have Googled, searched Pinterest, watched YouTube videos, and read blog post after blog post about how to plan a trip to Japan. I made lists upon lists of things to do, buy, and pack.
4. Start planning early.
It’s one thing to drive somewhere in the United States for the weekend or a week but if you’re leaving the country, you need to start planning early. I know procrastinators love procrastinating. Believe me, I understand you weirdos, because I live with one but this is one time you need to fight your desire to put things off till the last minute. I started planning my outfits for this trip right after we booked our flights.
5. Check if you need a visa.
We are also going to China. Thankfully, my husband knows people there because this is his third trip teaching at the same university so we have tour guides and transportation. I am happy I don’t have to worry as much about getting around Jinan, China as I have about getting around Tokyo, Hakone, Kyoto, and Osaka, Japan. One thing we did have to worry about was getting approved for a visa. Some countries, like China require a visa. You need to give yourself plenty of time for the visa approval process.
6. Use Ebates
I use Ebates all the time for online shopping. I used Ebates when booking our flights and some of our hotels through Expedia. I ended up getting $139 cash back which was a nice bonus.
7. Other Information
- You may need vaccinations or it may be important to know that you can’t drink the water in the country you plan on visiting. Again, Google and Pinterest are your friends.
- Call your credit card company or login to your online account to authorize usage outside of the country.
- Make a living will. I believe you do not have to have this notarized but just requires a couple of witness signatures. A real will requires lawyers but a living will is a good idea just in case something happens to you and medical treatment is required. Give this to someone you trust to handle your medical treatment.
- Send your itinerary and travel information to someone organized that you trust so at least someone has an idea where you are through the duration of your trip.
- Take cash with you so do not have to worry about foreign transaction fees unless you have a credit card that doesn’t charge those. But remember, a lot of street vendors do not accept credit cards.
- Buy a wifi sim card or rent a pocket wifi. We are renting a pocket wifi in Japan so that we can use Google Maps and other applications while navigating the cities. Interestingly, Japan does not have free wifi everywhere and using data overseas is expensive.
- Download Viber. If you have wifi, you can message people phone to phone so make whoever you may need or want to talk to download the Viber app as well. It’s free and nicer than emailing back and forth.
- Learn a little about the culture of the country you are visiting just to make sure you avoid any faux pas.
- Make a packing list. I know this is obvious but it’s really necessary because you are going to want to buy things and avoid over packing or even worse, under packing.
- Buy a travel wallet and all the travel accessories you want. I bought a cute travel wallet so that all my important things can be in an easily accessible pouch. I also bought more clothing cubes to keep my things organized in my suitcase. Mochi Things has some cute things. I also bought a medium sized (bigger than a carry-on and smaller than a typical large suitcase) from Tj Maxx for $50.
- Carry a backpack. Look I know all those girls look cute carrying their Louis Vuitton purse but having one backpack with everything in it is going to be much easier to deal with than a carry on and an expensive purse.
- Public Transportation. For Japan: We decided against the JR Pass which seems like a really convenient way to travel around Japan. However, it is really expensive and based on our calculations, we do not think we will average $36/each a day in transportation expenses. Instead we are getting a Sucia Card and just adding money to it so that we do not have to worry with loading cash at the ticket kiosk or constantly swiping our credit card.
- Download the Documents 5 application on your phone for free and sync your typed itinerary and maps you find online to your phone for easy access.
- Download the GPS My City application for $5 for directions to sights as well as the ability to create your own itinerary and map out your routes around the city.
I’ve done some of the work for you. Check out my Asia Travel Pinterest board for tips from actual professional travelers.