Trains, Trains, TRAINSπŸš†

Japan planning (cont’d)

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Hey there. Been a while. The last time I wrote a post I still had 5 months until my trip to Japan. Now I’m down to 5 weeks. Time is flying by. Still not fast enough though, because I’ve been ready for this trip since 5 yesterdays ago (I have no idea what that means, but you get my point, right?). Well the holidays took up a lot of my energy since Christmas season is literally the most wonderful time of the year for me. Once the holiday season rolls around, all else goes out the window for me and I am dead-set focused on decorating and shopping lol. But anyway, it’s over and my focus has reverted back to planning for Japan.

So, with the majority of essential planning taken care of a few months ago (i.e. lodging, flights, location planning), my main focus has been on understanding transportation and scoping out general sightseeing locations. Transportation in Japan seems to be heavily reliant on the train system. There are local trains (metro system) and trains that travel between the prefectures (shinkansen a.k.a. bullet trains). Local travel doesn’t seem like it’ll be too difficult a task. I’d expect it to be pretty similar to the metro systems here in the States. The language barrier will probably be the trickiest part, but, luckily, Japan seems to be relatively English-friendly with a lot of its public amenities.Β I did want to get a better handle on how to manage my inter-prefecture travels though, since the shinkansen are slightly different, and the cost is significantly more than tickets for the metro, which appears to run an average of no more than Β₯1000 (~$10). And that estimate would be for longer distance metro rides. A train ride from Tokyo to Kyoto can run about Β₯18000 (~$180). So, you can see the obvious difference there. I did some research and came across a very valuable resource for someone who is looking to travel from prefecture to prefecture, as I am. It’s called the JR Pass. JR is a railway company in Japan (the most prominent one, from my understanding). They own not only shinkansen, but they also run some of the local lines in Japan. The rail pass is something that’s available exclusively to foreigners to help cut the costs of train travel. The pass allots you unlimited train travel on the JR owned trains for a set price of about $250 (it fluctuates slightly depending on where you purchase it from and, I believe, the currency exchange rate). So, instead of having to pay ~$360 for round trip travel between Tokyo and Kyoto (~$180 each way), I’ll pay $250 for the rail pass and still be able to use it again for any other trips I take using the JR train system, without any additional costs. Sounds like a great deal to me. The pass can be bought for either a 7, 14, or 21 consecutive day interval. The $250 estimate is for the 7-day pass, which I finally purchased last week for my boyfriend and me. There are different travel agencies that the pass can be purchased from. This site lists some of those agencies. I was originally going to purchase my passes from the Japan Experience site, but I ended up finding a Japan based travel agency called HIS International Tours that sold the pass for a couple bucks less ($247 each), and, since we could pick up the passes from their office (same day, might I add), I was also able to dodge the shipping fee πŸ‘πŸΎ. With this purchase out of the way, I’m about 75% ready for the trip.

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*Sidenote:Β What the agencies sell are actually vouchers for the JR Pass. Once you get to Japan, you can then exchange the voucher at a midori-no-madoguchi (essentially an office for JR) for the actual pass that will be used for travel within Β the country. Click here for more info on the process.

My next focus will be on purchasing Yen and packing. I have been keeping tabs on the exchange rates through XE.com, and I’m just trying to get the best deal I can. The rates were really good around the end of last year, but, unfortunately, I hadn’t done any research until January since, you know, Christmas had taken over my every thought. I’m paying for it now, because I don’t really see the rates being as good as they were at that time. What can you do? So, for about the next 2 weeks, I’ll be keeping my eyes peeled to see when my bank hits a pretty decent exchange rate so I can jump on it. I hear that you don’t want to wait too late to to purchase foreign money because it does take some time to process and ship to you since large amounts are not usually carried at the bank branch stores. I had bought Β₯1000 for my boyfriend as a little gift for Christmas in anticipation for our trip, and, at that time, I was informed that they only had about Β₯8000 (~$80) on hand. So, not very much at all.

In my next post, I’ll be looking to do an update on when/at what rate I ended up doing the currency exchange, as well as a look at how/what we packed. So, be looking to hear from me in the next few weeks. Until then… ✌🏾.

Home(s) Away From Home

Japan planning (cont’d)

This one’s just a quick update on how the planning for Japan is going. And…lodging βœ”οΈ. I have officially completed my quest for adequate lodging for the duration of the trip. I literally started losing sleep over this. I was staying up ’til the wee hours of the morning (on a work-night) stressing over finalizing the broad overview of our itinerary. I needed to figure out where we were going, the duration of our stay in each city, and try to understand the structure of the prefectures so that I could locate the best areas for us to stay based on our plans. On top of all this, I was juggling between hotel sites and Airbnb trying to make reservations. What really added the stress was when I realized how quickly things were getting booked. It seemed as though almost as soon as I’d find a place that caught my eye and saved it, I’d look at my wish list within a few hours and it’d be gone. I realized the seriousness of deciding to travel at such a popular time of the year. I had to start jumping on things and quit my second-guessing. Within a matter of three days, I had our itinerary set and the places we’ll be staying at booked. I feel like a huge weight has been lifted off now that I’ve gotten this taken care of. So, our itinerary looks a little something like this:

  • Tokyo
    • Shibuya- 2 days
    • Minato- 2 days
  • Kyoto
    • Shimogoyo Ward- 1 day
    • Nakagyo Ward- 1 day
  • Osaka
    • Chūō- 2 days
  • Kanagawa
    • Hakone- day trip
  • Tokyo
    • Shinagawa- 2 days

So, now that that’s out of the way…let me go cry in a corner over the depletion of my savings fund 😭 #moneyproblems (all worth it for the #lifedream).

Take 2

Let’s try this again…

Hisashiburi desu! Where have I been?! lol. To be completely honest, the answer is nowhere. I haven’t done a darn thing in the past couple months. The Australia/ New Zealand trip that I alluded to in my last post never happened (on account of me and my often complicated personal life 😢). Even though I haven’t had the opportunity to get out and around much, that doesn’t mean that I’ve put a stop to my daydreams. I’ve been determined for the past year on getting to Japan, and I mean business.

So, I’ve been busy mentally outlining an itinerary for my Japan travels for the past month or so, and, as of this weekend, I’ve finalized a generalized plan of when/how I’d like the trip to go. My boyfriend will be tagging along, so I consulted with him about a few things to make sure that everything jives for both of us, and now I’m off! First step was making sure that I had the free time to go abroad. I’ve pretty much always known that I wanted to go to Japan in the springtime so as to revel in the beauty of the blossoming sakura 🌸. So with my ideal dates in mind, I marched into my supervisor’s office on Monday morning and demanded the time off. Ok, so that is not the way it happened at all lol. I fearfully walked in with a look of guilt on my face, readying myself for a negative response. (January-June is a very busy time for my department, and it’s pretty taboo for someone to take time off during those months. Once July rolls around, you quickly see everyone scurrying off to week-long vacations to recuperate from the stress of the previous six months). I made my case, assuring my supervisor that the week I was requesting off is in the small window of “down time” that we get between projects, and that I’ve kept my workload pretty reasonable by managing my tasks appropriately. I wanted him to know that my being gone for a period of time will not result in chaos *fingers crossed*. Surprisingly, he approved my request and wished me luck in my travels. Phew…that took about 10 lbs. of weight off my shoulders. Now I just have to worry about the other 90 lbs. that comes with planning my first ever international trip! 😨

So, I now had my dates planned out and my schedule cleared. But things didn’t get real until last night. Last night…I put on my big girl panties…and made moves. Last night…I was determined to put my fears behind me and take a leap forward. Last night…I booked our flight. Soooo scary thinking about it. I woke up with a knot in my stomach just thinking about what I’d done. Did I make the right move? Should I really take this trip? Did I pick the best dates? All these thoughts came rushing in. I have only 24 hours to reconsider things. After that, these tickets become nonrefundable and it’s a done deal. As I type this post, I have one hour left to decide before my purchase becomes completely final. I had to take a deep breath after that last sentence. My boyfriend has been reassuring me all day that I made the right decision in making the moves toward making this trip a reality. His words helped significantly in allowing me to feel at peace with my decision. So, with one hour left to take back what I’ve done, I can say that I’m feeling pretty confident in going forward with everything. Step 2, booking flights βœ”οΈ.

Now I’ve just got to get down to business planning out our time there. Hotels, activities, cities to visit, landmarks to see πŸ—ΌπŸ—»πŸ―β›©. I’ve got to get all of these things planned out. I’m slowly making progress with these as well. I am planning our trip around visiting the prefectures of Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka. Today, I booked where we will be staying in Osaka via Airbnb. So there’s another thing checked off the list. Even though we have 5 months until departure, I’ve got to get the ball rolling on reservations. Because of the time of year that we are going, things are getting booked up fast. Spring is a VERY popular time for tourists and nationals alike due to the hype of getting a chance to witness the cherry blossom trees in full bloom. The pressure is definitely on πŸ”₯.

I’ll do my best to give updates leading up to our departure from the States. In the meantime, wish me luck with all these planning shenanigans. Japan, here I come!βœˆοΈπŸ—ΎπŸ‡―πŸ‡΅

Venture #3

Yosemite 🏞

A bit of a last minute trip, but I went to Yosemite. It was a quick getaway for my travel partner’s birthday. It was a 5.5 hour drive each way,and we made the mistake of not sticking to our planned schedule, resulting in our afternoon arrival when the intent was to make it mid-morning. Oh well. It was our first time and we didn’t quite know what we were looking forward to. We chalked it all up to a learning experience to be better prepared for a future visit. We took the “back way” to get there. Heading up through the 395 to the 120. We started up in the Tioga Pass, but didn’t get too far before we realized we were in need of gas. The map provided to us at the entrance showed a gas station about 5-6 miles down the road. So we headed down the road, only to find that there was no gas station. We drove down to the visitor center to inquire as to where the gas station was and were told that it was no longer there. The next one was 40 miles away! Well, we needed gas so…we made our way hoping that we’d make it on the quarter tank we had left. We had initially intended to only drive through the park a couple miles, sightsee, then settle in for the evening (we had lodging reserved back down in Mammoth – a 45 minute ride south of Yosemite). We figured we could start anew in the morning Β and catch an earlier start and do a couple hikes at the west end of the park. Once again, our plans were altered due to poor planning on our part. Next time we know to fill up whenever we get the chance lol. So now we were going further into the park than we had initially planned. But we made the most of the drive. It took us about an hour to finally get to the gas station, and, once we did, we made our trek back to where we started. The drive down allowed us to see what spots we wanted stop at on the way back, so that was a plus. We hit up the lookouts that caught our attention, got these lovely pictures that are shared below, and left. We were pretty beat from the drive and looking forward to dinner and resting up for what we had planned for the next day. We stayed atΒ the Mammoth Mountain Inn, which was just steps from the lifts that take you up the mountain. The accommodation were nice. You could tell it was an older facility from the rooms, but the lobby area was more updated and exactly what you’d expect for cabin-style lodging. I’d love to come back during snow season to really take in and enjoy the true mountain cabin vibe. It was little difficult at the time, being that it’s June and 85Β°F outside. But I digress. We grabbed pizza in the village and made our way back to our room. We ate and fell out lol. Before we knew it, it was morning and, once again, we were off to a bad start. We, lazily, decided to stay until check out time at 11a.m. We didn’t make it back to Yosemite until around 12:30p after getting gas and a bite to eat.

Sidenote: we ended up at a nice little spot called Stellar Cafe down on Main Street, next to the Chevron station. A good spot for those who are a little more health conscious. We both ended up getting açai bowls (very good, I might add). Sorry for the digression. Back to Yosemite.

Back we were at Tioga Pass. Since we had made all the pitstops we wanted on the east end the previous day, we headed straight for the west end toward Yosemite Village. So we drove and drove for another 1.5 hours. By the time we had made it to the other end it was already 2:30 and we knew we had another 6 hour drive to get us back home. There was no way we were going to be able to do any hikes and make it back at a decent enough time to get ready for work in the morning. So we decided to quit. We accepted our loss and took it as a teaching moment. Now, we know we mustΒ get as early a start as possible. Start at the west end of the park, as that is where most of the hiking trails are. And, if we’re going to do an overnight trip, plan to stay in the park. So we made our way back to LA.

The trip wasn’t a complete loss though. I enjoyed the drive (we didn’t hit any traffic there or back), got to spend quality time with someone I hold dear to my heart, went somewhere I had never gone before, was able to revel in the majestic beauty of nature and God’s great creations, and got some great pics to share and look back on. All in all, I had a great time and can’t wait to do it again (the right way, haha).