Wanting to travel but having none of your family or friends want to go with you? Easy! Do what I did – push those feelings aside, pick a destination, jump on the opportunity, take a solo trip there, and don’t forget enjoy every minute of it! (Also flaunt it in their faces)
I’ve always wanted to travel to Japan to know more about the culture, try all the food, and buy all these weird but “amazeballs” items that you can only acquire there! I decided to run with it, I booked a return ticket and settled on 18 days for my trip around Tokyo, Osaka and Hiroshima.
Being a good Samaritan that I am, I’ve written down the my best travel hacking tips, saving you the stress, confusion, and embarrassment to make your Japan trip an enviable breeze.
1. POCKET WI-FI to save your trip/life
Since I couldn’t really read a map to save my life (for reals), first thing I did before going to Japan was to rent a Pocket Wifi that I can instantly use. After reading reviews, comparing prices, and features, I decided to settle on Japan-Wireless. First, they’re cheap-ass (compared to the others) and second, their enquiry response rate is amazingly quick as well! Being a paranoid freakazoid, I tend to bombard people with questions before I decide on things – and Japan-Wireless didn’t disappoint. I emailed them more or less 6 times, all satisfactorily answered within a day so I was sold and settled on them.
Pro-tip: Make sure you order them 2-3 days prior to your arrival for processing time and delivery.
How do I pick it up?
Once you’ve arrived in Japan, you can pick it up from Narita/Haneda Airport post office or any post office nearby where you’re staying (Post office at Narita opens from 8.30 am to 8 pm, Haneda from 9 am to 5 pm). I actually arrived at 6 am, 2 ½ hours earlier than the opening hours of the Narita Airport Post Office, so I had mine conveniently sent to my AirBnB host which worked out perfectly. Also, the “free WiFi” at Narita airport did not work for me at all, so I ended up having to go to the nearest 7 Eleven to inform my host of my arrival.
Pro-tip: Almost every 7-Eleven in Japan has free Hotspot / Wi-Fi!
2. JR PASS for travelling around Japan
A JR Pass is a train pass that can only be bought by non-Japanese residents, it eliminates the need to buy a ticket for each ride. Only get a JR pass IF you know you’ll get your money’s worth with travelling throughout multiple cities in Japan. Passes can also be used to make reservations on the Shinkansen.
Where can I use to JR pass?
JR Pass only works for trains that are operated by the JR Lines and several Shinkansen services (excluding the Akita and Yamagata lines). This excludes Private rail and Subway line, in which you have to pay extra for them (usually 140 – 300 yen, depends how far you wanna go or where you’re staying). They don’t usually covers smaller suburbs, so if you’re staying in one like I did, usually you’d be paying 2 x 140 to 200 yen extra per day for a return ticket.
2 Types of JR Pass
There are 2 different types – Green and Ordinary
Green JR Pass: Special car privilege on the JR Line train reserved for the elite.
Ordinary JR Pass: Be prepared to get squished like a sunkist orange during rush hours (I am not joking, it is BRUTAL!).
This image isn’t mine, but I kid you not when I say this picture isn’t an EXAGGERATION! I’ve actually seen people acting wildly cause they’re desperate to get on the train. My ass is pretty broke so I went with Ordinary (Green costs $100+ more), and it was more than enough for me.
True story, I actually sat on the reserved car for Green pass holder for a good half an hour before I got busted. When I did get busted, I ended up using the ‘KONICHIWA NO JAPANESE’ card and not having to pay extra (YES!). Unfortunately all good things come to an end, and I got moved to the ordinary car section to fight for my life during rush hour (picture below). Still, getting to sit down ¾ of my trip on the train was pretty awesome, especially after 8 hours of walking!
Pro-tip: Order JR Pass at least 4-5 days before your trip to Japan since it takes a couple of days to get it delivered to you after you’ve paid for it. Once you’re in Japan, you CAN NO LONGER buy them. Go to their website for more details.
3. HELPFUL APPS & WEBSITES
To make your stay in Japan so much easier, here are some of the apps you should download and sites you should check out:
Hyperdia app tells you which train to take at a particular time. It requires internet so the Pocket Wifi Tip above surely helps! This is a MUST-DOWNLOAD, it’ll make travelling very efficient.
Pro-tip: The biggest advantage of the app is being able to count the stations prior to your stop.
Pro-tip: The Jourdan app is a must because it shows shorter train transfer times. There is a downloadable app for Jorudan for iPhone and Android but unfortunately it’s only in Japanese, therefore I recommend going to their website.
This is a no brainer really. Google Map + Portable Wi-Fi = Trip made! This combo has saved me so much time for not having to ask for directions to the locals every time I go anywhere. I just had to know the name of the place / cafes / restaurants in which I wanted to go and just input it in and Voila! I’m pretty sure most of you’ve downloaded this app but if you haven’t, then YOU’VE BEEN LIVING UNDER A ROCK.
Since it’s pretty common knowledge that most Japanese (especially the older generations) don’t speak much English, this app is a Godsend! The only downside for it is that it requires internet connection to use, again, get Pocket Wi-fi! True story – I actually had a 15-minutes conversation in which I and this store assistant were communicating solely using this app. NO WORDS WERE SPOKEN.
Initially I wanted to ask her several questions before making a purchase, but since she couldn’t understand what I was saying, I had to use the app, and turns out she got it on her phone too! Definitely one of the weirdest and most surreal conversations I’ve ever had, but I ended up getting all my questions answered and able to was able to confidently make my purchase.
TIMEOUT TOKYO & KYOTO (WEBSITE)
Check out the events and festivals that are happening around Tokyo during your stay on the TimeOut website. I actually found out about a Sakura Illumination event from TimeOut. They also have lists of best restaurants and Japanese delicacies that I recommend you try out especially if you’re a foodie! Checkout both TimeOut Tokyo and Kyoto, but just keep in mind that TimeOut Kyoto isn’t quite as updated as its Tokyo counterpart.
For my trip, I brought quite a big one since I’m a packrat and to bring lots of souvenirs from Japan. The size wasn’t a problem since I could usually put them at the very back, behind the last row. However, if the train is almost packed or the space at the back is fully occupied, you might get into a bit of a problem. My luggage when placed under the train seat, gave almost no legroom, making me have to rest my feet right on top of it. Thankfully there wasn’t anyone sitting beside me so I didn’t have much of an issue with it. Another disadvantage of bringing a bigger (and heavier) luggage is that you will most definitely need to use elevators when travelling between stations and this will take a bit of your time. If you’re planning to stay at different hostels during your trip, you might want to make use of the coin lockers at the major train stations. A fellow traveller whom I met on the trip introduced me to them since he was carrying a huge 8-kgs backpack and had to constantly changes hostels, therefore he ended up using coin lockers to store his backpack during the day, and took it back before he goes to his hostel at night.
Pro-tip: If you’re carrying a big luggage, make sure you reserve the very back seat when using Shinkansen.
Pro-tip: Coin lockers are available to store your luggage for 24 hours. Major stations usually have small, medium and large-sized coin lockers.
5. FLAUNT IT in their faces
Who says travelling alone is no fun? (Okay I might still be bitter about no one wanting to travel with me) but Instagram is the BEST APP to “indirectly” tell your friends to SUCK IT – they’re back home working their 9 to 5 jobs while you’re out there travelling on a vacation to JAPAN! Make perfect sure to take photos of the (beautiful) food that you ate, (beautiful) things that you bought and (beautiful) places that you visited – Yes, everything has to look visually stunning to get the maximum ‘SUCK IT’ effect! It’s also really useful to remember places you’ve been and which you’ve enjoyed most in case you’re revisiting Japan.
Now, feel free to add if you think I missed / wanna ask me something!