I have successfully returned from my Japan vacation. Before returning to your normal programming – which will be interrupted with GenCon coverage soon enough – I figured I would go ahead and collate a few of my travel tips. I am not some travel guru by any means, but nevertheless these are some bullet points I wish I knew ahead of time:
- Technology is a lie. Don’t think that just because it’s 2014 that you will just be able to sail through the ridiculously convoluted air travel process. Despite “checking in” online weeks before the flight, I was specifically called out of line over the intercom (both leaving and returning) so they could verify my credit card; I’m not sure if this was just an American Express thing or what, but it could have been easily resolved by “checking in” at the front desk.
- Don’t rely on your smart phone. Related to the above, the airlines emailed me a boarding pass that was basically one of those QR Codes. Easy, right? Wrong. Sure, my phone was all charged up, but I didn’t anticipate the QR Code to go all 404 and not load in the airport. Thanks, Gmail.
- Google is pretty good at airplane tickets though. In addition to Kayak, Priceline, and whatever other plane ticket aggregate site you use, load up google.com/flights. If your vacation planning is a little flexible, the calendar feature will show you how to save literally hundreds of dollars by booking the flight for Tuesday instead of Monday (etc).
- Pick an aisle seat. You know how everyone always picks top bunk for ridiculous reasons whereas bottom bunk is objectively superior? Window seats are the top bunks of airplanes. Unless you want to ask a stranger permission to get out of your seat half a dozen times (even to just stretch your legs), pick the aisle. Besides, everyone is going to be closing the windows two hours into that 12+ hour flight anyway.
- The JR Pass might not be worth it. In a nation of highly advanced rail technology such that a large percentage of the population doesn’t even feel the need to own cars, how could an unlimited rail pass not be worth it? Well, pretty easily, actually. I didn’t research my routes correctly (friend I stayed with lived near Tokyo Metro, not a JR line) and I ended up having to purchase roughly $60 worth of train tickets out of pocket. Although I got “free” bullet train tickets to Kyoto, a round-trip would have been $260. So even if all my train needs were covered, it still wouldn’t have added up to the 14-day pass price of $464. A second round-trip somewhere in there would have saved me money, but my point is that you likely will already know how many bullet trains you will be needing to take.
- Holy Jesus are Japanese summers hot. If you are an average American living North of the Mason-Dixon line, you might only be aware of the biological process known as “sweating” from an academic standpoint. In the summer months in Japan, the process is more akin to weeping. From every pore. I recommend packing a suitcase full of moisture-wicking clothing (such as a Stillsuit), or failing that, clothes you feel comfortable swimming in all the time.
- Buy your Ghibli Museum tickets before your airplane tickets. Otherwise, you ain’t going there.
- Everything is at least $10. Just accept it.
- Paper towels have yet to be invented in Japan. Seriously, you aren’t going to find any; even napkins, which exist only in fast food restaurants, are more like tissue paper than anything else. Incidentally, this means that you will need to bring your own towel to public restrooms if you intend to wash your hands and not dry them on your pants.
And that, my friends, is that.