I'm off to Japan solo.
I'm sure the trip will go by in a flash. But the planning, that was slow and arduous.
Exciting, yes, but it took time!
I would research, then process the information, integrate it with what else I knew and then, maybe, make some decisions.
And then I'd reverse some decisions and make others. Over the course of planning this trip I've had at least seven – maybe ten – itineraries. Tokyo and Kyoto were a given but what about in between. I wanted to experience the countryside and smaller towns. At first my focus was on Lake Biwa, outside of Kyoto. But still, it's a big lake and I was struggling with where.
Then I chatted with a book club friend, Mina. She pointed me to Yudanaka for its onsen, the ancient Nakasendo Trail, and the mountain town of Takayama. These were highlights of an organized tour of Japan she took a couple of years ago. It made sense to me. History, small towns and the outdoors.
At first I was determined to do it all. I played with train schedules and cut my time back in Tokyo and Kyoto. But in the back of my head, I knew it was crazy. It would break my basic rule of trip planning: no fewer than three nights in any location. Five destinations in nine days is definitely a breach.
I reluctantly gave up Takayama and focused on Mogame and Tsumago on the Nakasendo Trail. But then accommodation wasn't available. I was back to Takayama and dropped the trail. Then, finally, with all the onsens in every location, I wondered whether I really needed Yudanaka. I dropped it.
Finally, I have my Japan itinerary finalized with 3 nights per location. I'll go to Tokyo, Kyoto and Takayama. I know what I plan to do. When I return, I'll let you know how closely I stuck to the plan and to my budget. Both are below, but let's start with the research process.
Japan Trip Planning Resources
I booked my flights a few months ago in an attempt to get the best deal. I think I missed it by a week but I try not to think about that. Next was figuring out what to do! Here are the resources I used most often.
- Solo Traveler. We have a category on Japan with a few posts in it written by readers who have been. I started there when deciding where to go in this small country that has so much to see.
- Tour companies. I then looked at a few organized tours to see what they included. Most hit the highlights of the larger cities. As I mentioned, getting out of the cities was a priority for me.
- Friends. I have a surprising number of friends with Japanese friends living in their homeland. Mina helped by focusing my itinerary outside the major cities. Glenda, who has been to Kyoto a number of times, convinced me that it is not a city to breeze through. There's too much there. Elizabeth connected me with a friend in Tokyo who I will be meeting one night. Dale connected me to a Canadian working in Tokyo who helped me with an accommodation issue.
- Global Greeters. I always check to see if Global Greeters are in a city I'm visiting. I have a greeter set up for Tokyo and I'm waiting for confirmation of one in Kyoto.
- Rome2Rio. I use Rome2Rio a lot when planning a trip. Put in a start and an end point and it gives you how to get there by various modes of transportation and how long it will take. It's pretty accurate though not perfect. You have to double check the specifics once you've made your choices but it is great for determining a reasonable plan.
- The Amateur Traveler. This is a great site. Chris Christiansen interviews people on a variety of travel topics. He's been doing it for years. You can listen to the interview and also read the transcript and use the links in the show notes. I listened to Hike Japan’s Nakasendo Trail – Episode 479 Transcript and confirmed that I definitely wanted to include this in my trip itinerary. Unfortunately, as I said above, it will have to be another time.
- Japan Rail Pass. Because my plan includes a number of stops the Japan Rail Pass makes sense. It can only be purchased by people who do not live in Japan and must be bought before arrival. I bought it online. It has to be ordered and delivered to your home so make sure you order in advance.
- Booking.com. I tried the site for Japan Guesthouses but I found it cumbersome as you have to submit a request and wait to hear back. When I did, my request wasn't available. This could take weeks. I went to my go-to accommodation site, Booking.com. During my search I booked 15 nights, carefully making sure that all were cancelable. Then, of course, I cancelled the ones I didn’t need ending up with my required 9. I went cheap in Tokyo and Kyoto with hostels. They look beautiful and I’ll thus be saving my money for Takayama, where I booked a traditional Japanese ryokan or inn. Booking all on one site I can see all my accommodation in one place and know that there are no gaps.
Japan Solo: My Itinerary and Budget
Here's my rough itinerary for Japan. I booked all my accommodation because it's a short trip so I don't have a lot of flexibility.
- Day 1 – Arrive Tokyo Haneda, Japan at 4:55pm. 1 night in hostel
- Day 2 – Take train to Kyoto. Booked into hostel for 3 nights.
- Day 5 – Train to Takayama
- Day 8 – Train to Tokyo
- Day 10 – Fly out to Sydney. Yes, I'm off to Sydney to visit family for a week after Japan.
And my budget including all taxes:
- Flight – Cdn$1,621 (a Japan return flight not my flight to Tokyo, Sydney, Toronto)
- Japan Rail Pass – Cdn$381
- Accommodation – 9 nights, Cdn$828
- Tokyo – 1 night in female dorm, Cdn$50
- Kyoto – 3 nights in female dorm, Cdn$150
- Takayama- 3 nights in private room with bath, Cdn$$528
- Tokyo – 2 nights in female dorm, Cdn$100
- Food – Cdn$600
- Activities / guides – Cdn$250
- Misc – Cdn$200
Total – Cdn$3,880
Let's make it Cdn$4,000 or US$3,090 or €2,493 or £2,211.
When I'm back I'll give you an update on what I actually did with my actual budget just like I did with last year's road trip around the Adriatic that included Italy, Slovenia and Croatia. Read Planning a Road Trip Around the Adriatic: Slovenia, Croatia & Italy and Travel Plan vs. Reality: European Road Trip.