You’re in Japan, great! You’re there for classes, but that doesn’t mean you won’t have time to travel. You might end up going in places in large groups, but some people don’t like the feeling of being in a parade of people. Maybe you want to enjoy the anonymity of being by yourself, or maybe you’re the only person who wants to go to Tokyo Disneyland. I know I did, and I had a great time doing it.
Traveling by yourself can be amazing, but it can be intimidating if you haven’t tried it before. Here are some tips from my own experience:
Make a Plan
This is true whether you are travelling by yourself or with friends, but when you go somewhere it’s a good idea to have a plan. The plan doesn’t need to be an explicit itinerary. No need to say “wake up at 8, eat at 8:30, go to the train at 9:00, museum from 9:35 to 11:15”. That being said, have an idea of what you want to do. Kyoto, Tokyo, Osaka, and other tourist destinations are huge, and its easy to get overwhelmed if you don’t have any ideas of what you’ll be doing.
I tended to have a vague outline of what I wanted to do. I paid extra attention to when I wanted to leave in the morning and how I was going to get to where I wanted to go. If it was an overnight trip, then I made sure I had a place to stay at. Afterwards though, I just had a list of places I wanted to see and used Google Maps to get me there.
On this note though, don’t feel too restricted by an itinerary. Sometimes, just wandering around and getting “lost” in a new area is the best way to explore your new surroundings! If you do this though, make sure you’re not actually lost – know where the train station is and how to get back to either JCMU or your lodging for the night.
I had pocket WiFi and was comfortable enough on public transportation not to worry about the smaller details of travel. You don’t need WiFi or data – using maps or planning your routes beforehand works just fine if you’re comfortable doing so. If you’re not comfortable traveling an unfamiliar area without WiFi/data, you can download maps in advance or find your way to a 7-11 to borrow their free WiFi.
Be Comfortable on a Train
The key to exploring Japan is to know your way around public transportation. You can get almost anywhere if you know how to work the trains and buses. Japan’s trains are some of the best in the world, but to the uninformed the system can be intimidating. A more detailed guide will follow, but for now just know that tickets can be bought at almost any station before you get to the platform. If you happen to buy the wrong ticket, it’s not a big deal; you can get the fare adjusted at the counter before exiting the station.
If there is one thing you need to know about trains, it would be that most stop running at night. Know when the shuuden (終電, last train) is. If you miss it you will not be coming home, and if you have class the next day you will have a rough time. You’ll need to find a place to stay, like an internet cafe, capsule hotel, or other less-than-comfortable places. Just know when the last train back home is, and be sure you’re on it.
If you don’t feel comfortable on the train, the entire trip can be stressful, so if it’s your first time, try bringing someone who knows how to work the trains with you to show you how it works.
Maybe it’s trite, but really, the other two points were just other ways to make sure you’re safe while traveling. Going places by yourself is fun and exciting – I did it because I think there is something enticing about being in a big city or a small town where no one knows you and you have everything to yourself. But if you’re feeling uneasy at all, that fun quickly turns into misery. Trust me, I’ve been there.
Make sure a friend knows where you’re going and when you’re going to be back, and let them know if your plans change. If it’s a multi-day trip, let our Student Services Coordinator know what your itinerary is, how to best contact you during the trip, and where you will be staying – that way, they can reach you should something come up.
It goes without saying that you should minimize your personal risks as much as you can – all the more so if you’re traveling by yourself. If you start to feel like you might be in over your head, contact someone who can help you navigate it: a friend, someone who’s been in Japan for a long time, JCMU staff, and so on.
All of this might sound scary, but don’t fret: most trips end without any major bad hiccups, so don’t worry too much! Just make sure to stay safe and avoid doing things that you wouldn’t do back home.
There is something to be said about traveling alone. That said, don’t let this stop you from traveling with friends either. I’ve done both and each were fun in their own ways. It all depends on what you want to accomplish and what you think you’ll enjoy.
In short: be safe and have fun!