TT – How to plan a trip

Quick review on how to plan a trip!

  1. Who are you going with?  Why go with anyone, go solo!  If you can’t go solo, make sure you pick people that you can travel with; people who are like you when you travel.  So that means if you’re like me on vacations and like to rise early and make the most out of your day, sleeping late too, make sure your travel partner(s) does too!  This also entails activities, sights, capabilities and whatnot.
  2. When are you going?  Peak or non-peak season?  Make sure you research the climates, weather, activities, seasonal differences, prices, natural disasters, and limitations.  This is very important because if you decide to go during non-peak season to save money or whatnot, you may be expecting paradise but it could actually be a nightmare thus being the non-peak season; not always the case though, but it can be!  Also, activities and sights may be unavailable during non-peak seasons so be wise and research thoroughly!
  3. Where are you going?  By the way, these are not in any particular order!  I usually start with one and move onto another.  If you’re like me and want to go everywhere, then just pick a spot and start planning!  Of course during your research if it’s not the best idea, you can always switch and continue to do so until you find the perfect trip for your preferred time period.  Pay attention to location, climate, culture, environment and customs!
  4. Why are you going?  This is quite essential to any trip, especially if it isn’t open-ended!  I think that only open-ended trips can have an open-ended reason for going!  Try to match your location and activities with your purpose, if that wasn’t obvious enough.
  5. What are you going to do?  Kick back on the beach, drink/smoke all night long and party, outdoor activities like rafting and hiking, or maybe just sightseeing?  These should be match everyone’s tastes in your group, unless sometimes you split up; which is completely fine and actually preferable if you know each other well enough!
  6. How? How will you pay for the trip?  How will you get to your destination/what form of transportation suits your needs?  How will you get to the airport or station?  How will you get around your destination?
  7. Book the trip!  Use several sights to look at flights like Hipmunk, BookingBuddy, Expedia, Orbitz, CheapTickets, Priceline, etc.  Same goes for accommodation, there are many options like Couchsurfing, House Sitting, Pet Sitting, renting apartments from others like on Airbnb, hostels, hotels, motels, friends and family.  Think about your trip purpose, group and activities as everything should complement one another.
  8. Post-booking preparation entails little significant details like:
  • Whether or not to use cash or credit cards
  • Getting your passport, papers and documents required to leave (your country and enter another).  Make sure your passport doesn’t expire during your trip, you may not be allowed to even leave.
  • Take off from work!
  • Do you know how much you’ll be charged, if any, if you use your card internationally?  Can you even use your cards internationally?  Tell your bank/institution of your trip and make sure that they’re capable of being used, even if you don’t need them; you never know what may happen!
  • Also, as mentioned above make sure to look into tips, customs, culture of the destination so you’re not an ignorant tourist pissing off locals; you want to be friends with the locals as you get the best tips from them on food, activities, locations, etc.

Hopefully you found something you didn’t know about earlier or maybe the whole thing is useful for you!  This post more or less represents what goes through my mind when thinking or planning a trip of any sort.

Is there anything that I missed?  Maybe you plan your trips a bit differently?  If so, let me know! 🙂

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Episode 4 – Japanese Student Life (1)

I officially survived my first week as a Japanese language student!

It was no easy feat!  This week we had a daily Kanji, Chinese characters used in the Japanese language, exam along with loads of homework assignments!  I basically studied in class, obviously, but also right after classes finished to around midnight/1am daily.  Things will slow down a bit, it’s just like this in the beginning because everything should be a review from the first class; but since many students simply entered the school at this level, not everyone is on the same exact page yet.  I can easily state that my weakness is Kanji at this point, I can read them but writing is a different story; so many little details!

My weekly schedule at this point in time is below.  We have 45min class intervals with 10 minute breaks.  We have specific classes for reading, writing, speaking, grammar, etc.  There are also elective classes available that simply either reinforces your language abilities or your cultural awareness which is probably why my schedule will change!  I’m interested in taking a vocabulary, current news, and Kyoto culture electives!

  • M,W,F – 9am – 12:30pm
  • T,R – 9am – 3:10pm

3 Unique Japanese School Culture Differences:

  1. Attendance is very significant, you can fail even if you ace all the exams; there’s no leniency and also includes lateness
  2. We are not allowed to eat or drink during class, if we want to it has to be during the 10 minute breaks
  3. Shouldn’t go to the bathroom during class either, should be done during the 10 min breaks

Life outside school

This past week I got a new phone!  Except it is a flip-phone… I went from an iPhone 5 to a Samsung 740SC flip-phone.  Well, I didn’t have a phone for over a month so I guess I’ll settle with this just fine!  It’s about $30 for 2 months with unlimited text with same carrier customers, unlimited emails, and about 25 minutes of talk.  This will save me a lot of money considering it was about $70/month for an iPhone 5s.  Other than the phone, guess what I’ve been eating?!  Every night of this week, I had ramen!  Packaged ramen that is!  I have two different kinds, soy and miso; they’re good but I’m getting tired of ramen.  Why am I still eating only ramen for supper then?  It’s all I’ve got at home and when I’m coming home from school at 7-9pm on a daily basis, I can’t bother to get other groceries.  I’m also budgeting so eating out isn’t an appealing offer, plus I eat out for lunch already!  And, I’m actually quite broke right now without access to my other funds because I’m waiting for my debit card to arrive!!  It’s been 3 weeks already so I’m annoyed with the customer service they’ve been giving me; might write a post on that in the future after things settle down in the matter.

I don’t think I fully presented my case on the workload, just think of it this way:  waking up at 7am, being at school from 9-12/3, and studying at a cafe from then to 8, coming home to cook, clean and shower, then back to studying till 1am and off to wonderland; only to do it all over again the next day!  Don’t get me wrong though!  I’m enjoying it!  At first, I was completely overwhelmed but I’m getting used to the kind of work and in my studious mode!  It’s fun learning new things about the language, one step closer to adding Japanese to my background!  It’s exciting!  I also have quite an attractive sensei!  She’s adorable and awesome!  It only adds to the education right? 😉  Don’t judge lol

わくわくだよね!月曜日にまたはじまる!たのしをまっています!じゃ、またね!

TT – Hostels

Hostels have such a bad reputation in America, it’s not even funny.

I don’t think it’s even based off any real information, just the movie!

Hostels are one of the cheapest accommodation options around the world!  It’s especially best for solo travelers since you can meet so many other travelers too!  I like to research hostels extensively before booking one online.  I read many reviews, browse the internet and ensure that what’s being advertised isn’t false.  This way I avoid any unwanted issues.

Hostels are dormitory accommodation available to anyone.  Thus, you are to share a room with others.  Some offer private rooms for a higher price too, if you really need it.  Hostels also offer ladies-only rooms too!  The style of the facilities depends on the hostel itself.  Some hostels have rooms with a sink and mirror for brushing your teeth and getting ready.  However, the showers will be shared and you’ll have to carry your toiletries to and from the showers.  The showers could be quite private, and they could also not be; all depends on the style.  Some showers are all by each other but you get your own individual room and can lock the door behind you.  Others may simply have a curtain, or nothing at all.  If there’s a curtain or nothing at all, then I’m sure the hostel separates the showers be gender.  Otherwise if there are doors and locks, everyone shares them; at least in my experience thus far.

Aside from the facilities, in the room the hostel will provide a bed with sheets, pillow, blanket and a locker of some sort; so bring a lock!  Some people don’t even use the lockers, its kind of a traveler thing where you trust that I won’t touch your stuff and you won’t touch mine.  But if you are paranoid or simply not so trustworthy, you can use the locker!  Some hostels are quite strict about curfews, security, other people who aren’t staying at the hostel, and noise late at night but you can read all about that through their description and reviews.

Hostels usually have a lounge of some sort, maybe even a cafe and/or a bar as well.  Travelers can easily mingle inside the hostel anywhere they are!  Some hostels even have kitchens so people can use them; they know that people are on a budget and can easily save by cooking their own meals!  Most, if not all, hostels also organize events so check them out!  Also, there’s usually free wifi so you can always stay connected or plan out your stay there!  I remember using the hostel’s wifi to simply map out my day and take screenshots of directions and whatnot so I would not get lost; in addition to contacting anyone I was going to meet up with!

The hostels I’ve been to are the Hostel One Barcelona Centro, Generator Hostel London, and Hanoi Gecko Hostel.  1 was in Barcelona, Spain; 2 in London, UK; 3 in Hanoi, Vietnam.

  1. A fabulous hostel with computers with internet, lounges, bar, kitchen, private showers, shared bathrooms, lockers in rooms, and you have to be buzzed-in in order to get into the hostel.  I used hostelworld.com to book this place, it’s a great website to utilize for hostels!
  2. A popular hostel with a shop with necessities, a bakery, a cafeteria, a bar and lounge, shared showers with diminishing hot water if too many were using it at the same time, spotty wifi, cards and keys to get into the hostel and into rooms.  I booked this hostel with Agoda, it looks like they made some major renovations unless those pictures are how it looked before I got there in 2012.
  3. This hostel was called a hostel but was more of a hotel with private rooms and private bathrooms/showers.  They had a few computers with internet but no wifi throughout the hostel.  I don’t remember any other typical hostel facilities like a lounge or whatnot.  Nice staff but I don’t consider it an actual hostel.  I also booked this with hostelworld.com; good thing to note in Vietnam is that many places have similar names so be careful!

As I say with most things, you don’t need to feel insecure, unsafe, or worry about many things if you’re well prepared!  For me, I’ll research something until I feel comfortable about it; thus relieving any real concerns, so you should too!

Hopefully that relieves some tension about hostels!  Here are some other useful articles on hostels:

Please participate in the polls and let me know your thoughts in the comments!

TBT – Philippines (1)

My trip to the Philippines is unforgettable and not because it’s very beautiful, fun and scenic, but also because of the tragic event of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan; yes, I was in the Philippines in March 2011.  I remember it quite clearly probably because of the even;, on top of the excitement of being in the Philippines for the first time.

I was studying in Singapore for a semester that started in January 2011 and my flat mates and I became close so we started to plan a vacation together for reading week / spring break.  I brought up the idea of Japan because that would be freaking amazing; was always a dream (funny that I’m writing this post in Japan now, yay one dream completed).  After some initial research, we all agreed that it was out of our budget at the time so we brainstormed and came up with the Philippines.  After researching the cheapest route and accommodation, we booked it; fly from Singapore to Manila and Manila to Boracay (the airport outside).  2/4 of us had to go home early so the other 2 decided to check out El Nido in another part of the Philippines too.  We had a layover at Manila so we booked a hotel for that night and partied; luckily we made it to the airport the next morning.

One thing you should know about the Philippine airports is that you have to pay taxes/fees at the airport rather than it being included in the ticket; at least that’s how it was in 2011 for budget flights.  Once it was time to board, we all got up and went to the gate.  We had to board a shuttle bus that brought us out further outside of the airport to a secluded area where a tiny plane that sat less than 50 people waited.  If you’ve ever been to Asia, then you already know how they have smaller versions of things compared to America; for example, construction equipment, transport trucks, etc.  Think of this plane as an Asian plane in that regard and you’ll get the idea, unfortunately I do not have a photo.  Surprisingly the flight wasn’t bad, of course you felt a bit more turbulence but it wasn’t worth much of a concern, for me at least some others may disagree.  This is where it gets interesting though.

Everyone has to take a boat a short distance away from the airport to the Boracay island so naturally we did.  On the boat, we were instructed to put life vests on and the radio was turned on to a news station reporting a possible tsunami.  My Spaniard flat mate started to freak out, and initially I was too but more so just shocked by the news.  But once you took a look at the locals on the boat, they were calm with no care in the world; this calmed me down because of course they know best!  This did not happen for my friend, he could not take it and this lasted till the next afternoon when the warning dissipated.  It was just too surprising though, we just got off a plane to get on a boat to get to an island only to have a tsunami alert…
207169_10150213480357053_510507052_8553364_2263394_nATV ride in Boracay

208035_10150213485152053_510507052_8553437_6957336_nSnorkeling on a very cloudy and choppy day in Boracay, not advised for those who can’t swim well like me…

206792_10150213484732053_510507052_8553428_944491_nManny Pacquiao’s poster above his hotel in Boracay

IMG_0750Jeepney in Manila, cheap rides but if you’re worried about your safety don’t take them

IMG_0774This is how our night went in Manila, a couple random bars and nightclubs

IMG_0848Shooting a movie or music video in the park in Manila

IMG_0878Radio announcing the tsunami…see the date stamp

IMG_0889Boracay’s White Beach

IMG_0894Another view of White Beach

IMG_0940Nice stroll along White Beach

IMG_0982These vehicles are so popular in the Philippines, the ghetto kind of solutions

IMG_1021View of Boracay after ATV trip further up the island

IMG_1061Couldn’t leave out this cutie

IMG_1109Sunset on Boracay’s White Beach

IMG_1111Insert Palm trees

IMG_1147The nightlife on Boracay is actually on the beach!

IMG_1210Typical average Filipino boat

Again I must apologize for the date stamps, they are so annoying; I can’t believe I liked them at some point.  I will simply blame my parents for getting into it!  Or maybe I was already at the age where I can’t blame anything on them anymore 😦

Regardless, hope you enjoyed this week’s throwback!  Please follow/subscribe and like/comment!

TT – Packing Tips

You may think you know how to pack, but there’s always room for improvement!

Rolling

When you pack your clothes, roll them up and pack them into your suitcase/luggage.  Yes, I mean to roll them up, like take a t-shirt, fold it in half and start rolling it to the end.  This ultimately minimizes wrinkles but also frees up space so you can carry more!  Don’t forget that you can also take stacks of clothes and roll them up together; this may be preferable to minimize wrinkles as well.  When sticking these rolled up clothes, just stack them tightly next to one another, and on top.  You can even squeeze them in small spots after most things are in.

Hollow Items

If you are carrying anything hollow, you can fill them up with stuff too!  For example, when I was packing to come here to Kyoto, Japan I brought a thermos and packed Allegra, a hand towel, and a cool string photo hanger inside it.  Another example, I brought a bag of Starbursts just in case I was hired in a school to give to other teachers as a gift (part of the custom) inside my mini rice cooker.  Don’t forget that shoes are hollow as well!  Roll up your socks and stick them in there!  This will maximize how much you can carry, but don’t forget that you have a weight limit too!

Weight

When packing, you need to take into consideration the weight of each object.  If you plan on carrying something heavy, you may want to place it towards the bottom otherwise if you have it on top and your suitcase is upright, it’ll squish everything below it and possibly move around; this will also prevent your suitcase when in the upright position from toppling over and being unstable.  Same thing goes for lighter items, you may want to stick them on top.  When I stuck my mini rice cooker into my suitcase, I stuck the bag of Starbursts inside it and placed soft items like scarves around it (360 degrees) and left it in the middle-bottom area of my suitcase so that it wouldn’t get damaged upon transport; because we know not all those guys handling luggage really care about what may be inside our luggages!

Liquids

If you’re carrying liquids you want to ensure no leakage.  In order to do that, you can take a piece of plastic and cover the top and screw the cap back on-top of it.  When you pack liquids into your carry on luggage, it needs to all be less than 100ml each and in a quart-sized clear plastic bag.  That means that the bottle has to be 100ml or less, not the actual contents; I know, I had an issue with that when I first heard.  It’s also good to include all liquids in your check in luggage in a clear plastic bag too, can never be too careful!

Contents

What should you pack other than your clothes, toiletries, and electronics?

  • Reusable water bottle or canteen – if you’re going to a location that has safe tap water, or if you can find larger water bottles from a supermarket
  • Laundry bag – don’t you want to keep your stinky clothes separate from your clean clothes?
  • First Aid supplies – better safe than sorry, it’s hard to get something if you don’t know the language too
  • Hand Sanitizer – always a good idea no matter where you go
  • Travel document copies – always carry copies of your passport and other important documents rather than the original; most times it works and even if it is lost or stolen, you still have your original!
  • Flip Flops – if you’re staying in a hostel, this is a must!  If not, still a good idea whether or not you’ll be hitting the pool, beach, or for a stroll in beautiful hot weather.

Overpacking

Do not overpack, it’s not worth; nor is it required.  You should’ve already done your research and planning for your trip, whether it’s short or long.  With that said, you already have a basic understanding of your activities and itinerary so pack accordingly!  I do not mean that you know exactly what you’ll be doing, but an idea of what there is to do and what you may be interested in.  It’s always nice to speak to the locals, get a feel and follow their lead!  Also, I implied that you should already know the weather and climate but if you forgot to check, CHECK it!  If your trip is short then simply looking at the forecast should suffice, but that includes the morning, afternoon and nights.  If your trip is rather long then do include the seasonal averages of rainfall, snow, possible natural disasters and such.  Just plan your trip properly.

Now, go start planning your next trip and hopefully these tips will help you like it did me!

~~Update~~

Compiling

I honestly cannot tell which is more effective, the rolling or this compiling technique; however they work!  What I’m labeling as compiling, I’m simply referring to taking clothes and laying them out flatly on one another.  For example, taking your 5 t-shirts and laying them down on-top of one another, and then fold.  I do not know the reason or logic behind this sorcery but it works!  Recently, I stuffed dirty laundry into a small and netted compartment in my suitcase.  It got too full and needed to force more inside, so I used this trick and WALA, it fit!  I was able to continue adding more dirty laundry as the days passed too!  Some muggle sorcery I tell you, muggle sorcery; not that that makes any sense at all…

Anyways, do you have any packing secrets that you would like to share?  Sharing is caring!

Episode 1 – Journey to the Land of the Rising Sun

There are 4 things that I specifically wanted to share with everyone.

  1. EVA Air
  2. Japanese Customs
  3. Rookie Mistake
  4. Train Ticket

1.Eva Air TicketsEva Air
I flew with EVA before on my way to Cambodia for the first time during my senior year in High School.  The first time I flew with EVA, I was blown away by the services and conveniences provided by the staff since it was my first international flight; however the second time was not as interesting, in fact it was a bit of a disappointment.  This is not because EVA has bad service, food, or whatnot; it was just because taking everything into consideration, it was not as great as the Korean Air experience.  The flight was good; the food, entertainment, and service was more than satisfactory.  The only comments worth noting was that the entertainment was very selective to their target audience in that I was only interested in 2 movies, and the chicken served had bones and skin in it; I don’t know about you but I don’t want to bother with bones with my meal with such limited space to eat.  It wasn’t a big deal but it bothered me more just because (2) I was in the beginning of a section where the TV and tray comes out from the side or bottom; the tray is at least half the size of the normal tray and it is very close to the body which is just too uncomfortable altogether.  If you’re wondering why I got such a terrible seat, it is because I booked the flight with STA Travel and the low-cost tickets they receive don’t allow the passenger to select their seat until you check-in for the flight.  Regardless, I watched a couple of movies and shows, ate, drank, and rested as much as I could for a successful flight to Taipei and Osaka.

2. (Random Pictures from the Taipei Airport)2013-09-27 05.45.18 2013-09-27 05.45.44 2013-09-27 05.46.422013-09-27 06.40.57
After finally landing in Osaka, I arrived at Terminal 2 and had to take a shuttle train to Terminal 1 where customs, luggage, and everything is located.  The customs process here is basically the same as it is to get into America; where they separate locals and foreigners, require a filled-out small rectangle white card, and confirm all your credentials.  I never had to be issued an ID at the airport in America but I did in Singapore when I studied abroad there for a few months and it’s very similar in that you pick it up at customs at the airport upon arrival.  I also provided the agent/representative my application allowing me to work part-time if I decide to do so; FYI I was informed and thus did nothing in this regard while abroad in Singapore.  The whole process took probably 20 minutes, yeah it was quite a while so if you are coming to Japan do not stand behind someone who may be coming in as a new student and hop behind someone who is obviously a tourist!

3. (“credit saison”)DSC02616
After customs I picked up my luggage and ran to the nearest Japan Post ATM to withdraw money.  Japan is mostly cash based so it was definitely required considering I only had a little over 20 USD on me.  Little did I know that this was going to be such a painful task causing me to miss my train to Kyoto!  Unfortunately I pulled a rookie mistake, one that I did not make prior to this, I did not call all of my banks informing them of my travel plans so my debit card was being rejected!  Using what little, broken Japanese I knew, I found my way to a pay phone to call the number on the back of the debit card.  After making it through to the hotline and getting myself a representative to assist me with my withdrawal issue, I was informed that, that was not my only issue because I was trying to withdraw above the daily limit.  I asked her if there was anything that could be done because I needed to withdraw about double the limit to pay for my apartment and living expenses until my new account is set up and funded; thankfully she was able to increase it!  That took about 20 minutes alone too!  I knew that Japanese schedules are known to be always on time so I didn’t bother rushing and took my time to the station and in getting my ticket.

4.DSC02615
Getting the ticket stressed me out a bit too; considering that I almost was stuck with no cash and means to get to Kyoto and pay for my reserved apartment.  I figured since I had time that I would stand in line to get a ticket from a person rather than a machine just to be safe rather than sorry, and to see if I could put my ISIC student card to use by getting a discount; half way through the line I see a sign in English stating that if I was trying to purchase a ticket to Kyoto to please use the machines outside.  So I went outside to look at the different machines in attempting to purchase a ticket.  I skipped around from one to another trying to figure it out.  There was only a couple of machines with the English option and eventually figured out how to get my ticket.  Now if you did not know, Japan has many different train lines, routes, options, and protocols that isn’t exactly common knowledge to an average NYC commuter so I was mentally prepared and aware that I needed to make sure what I was doing, which trains I was taking was definitely the right one.  The ticket from the Kansai International Airport in Osaka to Kyoto on the Haruka Express train as unreserved costed me about $28 and took about 75 minutes; yeah not exactly cheap for the cheapest available seat on the train, but it was the best value among all other options in getting to Kyoto so I was satisfied.

Apologies for the long post, hope you enjoyed it though!  Stay tuned for more 🙂
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TT – What to bring to Japan

Packing for a trip is generally very easy for me, just pack the necessary clothes plus my laptop/tablet, phone and camera.  All of my trips thus far have been relatively short, or the weather was pretty constant and therefore packing was very simple.  This time around I am heading to Kyoto, Japan where they have all 4 beautiful seasons; I hear it is similar to North Carolina’s weather so it shouldn’t be too bad, but packing is a different story.  In addition to the difference in climate, there’s the culture too; Japan being quite unique.  Thus, I researched what I needed to bring; I already spent the past couple weeks researching other cultural differences, save that for another time.

As with anything unknown to me, I started to research on the Internet.  I started with YouTube J-vloggers; I spent days watching videos on random topics related and unrelated to packing for Japan.  After realizing that I spent too much time on YouTube and that I had an incomplete packing list, I resorted to a simple Google search.  I do not know why I didn’t start with Google like I always do.

Anyways, below are the most important and common items that I came across and a brief explanation as to why people included/mentioned them on their lists/videos:

  • Deodorant – it is not common to wear, and the only available products are spray
  • Shampoo – medicated kinds like for dandruff are unavailable
  • Cologne – not part of the culture nor sold in stores
  • Rice cooker – even used ones being sold are more expensive than those in America
  • Can opener – apparently can’t be found easily
  • Spices – bring favorites as not all are available in stores, even import stores
  • Presents – for teacher colleagues at schools as it is a custom, typically edibles like candy
  • Hand Towel / Hand Sanitizer / Tissues – for public restroom use
  • Bug spray – expensive
  • Apparel and Footwear – larger sizes are unavailable, if you’re larger than an average asian then prepare; keep in mind the culture too, like switching into other shoes/slippers entering buildings

You may be thinking, “EWWW they don’t use deodorant?!” Yeah, it’s true.  I heard that the Japanese only started selling spray deodorants not too long ago.  I haven’t heard any complaints about distinct body odors though; the way I think of it is it can’t get worse than the summer evening rush hour in NYC on the 4 / 5 trains from Grand Central to 14th St Union Square!

Anyways, in the end I packed everything above except the can opener.  I kind of forgot about it and did not bother because I’m sure I can find one!  Hopefully…

Might do a part two to this post in the future if there’s a need!

Feel free to comment if you have questions or concerns or just email me at humblewanderlustblog@gmail.com!  Don’t forget to subscribe for further info; won’t just pertain to Japan!  My next post may be about some magical world… 🙂