Believe it or not but this time next week I will be in Japan! This trip has crept up on me and I am still trying to squeeze in last minute planning and bookings. This is a brief post on how I go about planning a trip and building an itinerary. I try to keep plans open as change is bound to happen once you’re there, but I do like having a rough guide to follow.
Assuming I know where I’m going and the dates, the first thing I tend to do is turn to the internet (surprise surprise) and try to figure out my overall plan. I pretty much search ‘Japan itinerary’ or ‘must see Japan’ and a bundle of options will pop up. I tend to hit up TripAdvisor, National Geographic and the location’s own tourist sites (most cities have some kind of tourism/visit Japan etc). I’ll then look at existing tour companies like Contiki or in this case Inside Japan (I just google ‘Japan tours’) and see what routes they go and what places they hit up. From an hour or two checking out these sites and searching I’ll get a rough idea of what places I should hit up and a proximate route.
Next up I go to fellow bloggers! I’ll go through some of my favourites like Leave Your Daily Hell, Nomadic Boys and Legal Nomads and see if they happen to have visited where I’m going. I can also search Bloglovin or just Google for other inspiration and to find more specific bloggers. In this case I found two awesome ones called Karlijn Travels and Tofugu. Sometimes I’ll turn to YouTube and see if anyone has any insights or vlogs and Inthefrow and Amazing Phil had some good ones so I watched those. This stage tends to help edit and solidify my journey.
My route will be Tokyo to Kyoto to Nara to Mt Koya to Osaka to Hiroshima and back to Tokyo. It seems the best way to see a bunch but also be realistic about my duration in Japan. Now I repeat the first two steps and get more city specific e.g. ‘what to see in Tokyo’ and ‘top things to do in Kyoto’. The more traditional sites will give the tourist hotspots and then the bloggers tend to give more unique and exciting places. If there’s somewhere that truly takes my fancy I’ll then tend to search for that place specifically on YouTube, Instagram or Yelp and see what people think about it (or try and get some coupons).
Now with the internet I think people forget about books. Travel books are amazing and one of my favourite things to collect and read. There are many different book guide companies including Fodor, Frommer’s, Michelin, Monocle and Rough Guides. For this I focused on three as you can see below and thought I’d walk through them. First up is Lonely Planet and the potential ‘leaders’ in travel guides. They get very specific on location, accommodation and food. The book itself is softcover and flexible to fit in your bag as you’re on the go. They cover the whole country and therefore squeeze in a lot of info. Next is Wallpaper and their specific city guides. There are almost a hundred now and they have little tabs on the side with ’24 hours’, ‘shopping’ and other categories for easy referencing. I like them because they’re small and easy to carry around, they have a section in the back for making notes/drawings and they feature really beautiful photos of the places they talk about. I am now debating buying one of these every time I go somewhere and starting a collection I really don’t need haha. Last up is a delight and it is DK Travel. They divide their books by sections of the country and then go into great depth on spots to check out. I like them the most because they aren’t text heavy and feature many pictures, zoomed in street maps, museum floor plans and even pictures of the food and currency. For me I can’t just stare at text, I need something colourful and visual.
Another idea (and one I did) is to ask your friends. They might have been there or know somehow who has. One of my best friends Justin (who has been featured on several posts here) went to Japan a few weeks ago and gave me his itinerary. I got to ask his recommendations of where to go and what not to do and he is someone I trust and therefore really valued his opinions. Reading a stranger’s review online is ok but they might have completely differing impressions to you, where as a true friend should know what you’ll enjoy and take their own view out of it to benefit you.
Once I have activities, museums, architecture etc. down, it comes to the fundamental apsects. I’ll start figuring out where these things are located and try grouping them so I’m not going back and forth to different parts of Tokyo. I then think about necessities like accommodation and travel. Both of those I’ll tend to come across through all the previous steps by browsing on the internet or reading in a book. In this case the JR Pass kept on popping up which is essentially an unlimited train ticket similar to interrailing. If you’re thinking of going to multiple places in Japan definitely look into it as it is a money saver. In terms of accommodation we are staying in a variety as Japan is known for their hotels, hostels, ryokans, temple stays etc. and we wanted to experience them all!
Hopefully this helps a little bit if you’re planning a trip. I tend to send out a lot of emails to the tourist websites of each city and ask for their recommendations as well – it is their job after all! Lots of Japan posts will be coming over the next month and I’ll also be doing a help post on how I go about picking a destination in the first place. Happy Sunday!