I’m going to Japan in a couple of weeks and my, what a wild ride it’s been to get ready. From bookings to budgets and general banter, here are all the useful web and mobile tools I’ve been using to plan and prepare.
Webjet was the obvious choice for finding flights because of its multi-city trip builder tool –create a schedule of destinations and get suitable itinerary options from different airlines. Booking a whole trip this way with a single carrier worked out cheaper than adding up the lowest prices on individual flights.
Getting a passport no longer requires pens and white-out – a few minutes with the Australian Passport Office website form gave me a printable application document with all my details neatly filled in. From there, two trips to my local Auspost outlet (one for photo, one for interview) took care of the rest.
Accommodation in Japan
Wotif.com, lastminute.com.au and Rakuten Travel are great for searching and comparing hotel room prices and availability. This time around though, I was more interested in finding a Japanese ryokan – traditional owner-operated B&B style lodging where guests are treated to authentic Japanese hospitality.
Because ryokan is a cottage industry, a web search turns up a multitude of accommodation websites with varying results – from official-looking sites like the Japan Ryokan Association to independent directories like Japanese Guest Houses and Jalan, and portals like Japan-Ryokan.net – but none that leave you feeling like you’ve seen it all.
The closest I came to a comprehensive list was the TripAdvisor review website.
Travel, public transport and commuting
If you’re staying for more than a few days and plan to move around a lot, there’s a good chance you’ll need a Japan Rail Pass. This is a tourist-only ticket that allows unlimited travel on ‘JRail’ trains, buses and ferries for a fixed 7-, 14- or 21-day price. Visit the Hyperdia transport search beforehand to check prices on any expected travelling, then tally up the estimated costs to know whether it’s worth buying a JRPass.
Sightseeing, tourist traps and local events
I prefer to improvise my holidays, so while Lonely Planet is generally the best place to start, I barely read their recommendations. However, this is a no-brainer for a more organized tourist, especially with weightless mobile apps and ebooks at the ready.
Japan-guide.com is the most comprehensive site I’ve found for us outsiders, covering everything from travel to job hunting, immigration and culture. My favourite site by far is Wikitravel – crowd-sourced advice from a variety of adventurers.
On that note, you can harness the power of social media for activity ideas. Cast a wide net for information with hashtag searches on Twitter, study user-submitted tips on Foursquare, or jump onto community driven websites like 43places and Matador Network to ask real people about their real experiences.
For big ticket affairs, my mates recommend eventful, an international directory of concerts, trade shows, festivals and seminars. Search by country or city and, where available, book admission.
Surviving in a foreign country…
…is not as hard as it sounds if you’re a considerate traveler. Be aware of your surroundings, read a little on local etiquette, take note of emergency numbers, and know where to find the Australian Embassy – or at least have an idea of how you might look it up.
Whether roaming or on wifi, Google Maps will help you find your way around. Look up XE Mobile for currency conversion apps across a range of platforms. And while you’re at it, you might want to check out Japanese translation apps for text and voice. So far, I’ve not found one that does image recognition – if you see any, please leave us a tip in the comments.
I’m really looking forward to my holiday. And I hope these links will make it easy for you to look forward to yours. Ganbatte ne!