My first solo trip to Tokyo was definitely a learning experience full of uplifting, crazy, glorious moments as well as some not so great, highly frustrating moments! While sitting in a cafe on the last day of my trip I started to scrawl down what I felt I had learnt; the good and the bad. I thought I’d share these thoughts here in case anyone else out there is about to embark on their first trip alone out into the wilderness…… or to a super modern, safe, and efficient city like Tokyo!
DO get app’d up! The Tokyo Subway Navigation app was a lifesaver on my trip. Not only was I able to familiarize myself with the most confusing metro system in the world before I arrived, I could also find out the time it takes to travel between stations and the best route available to me.The app functions without WiFi which I discovered is essential in Japan. How can Korea be so free and loose with their WiFi and Japan be so damn barren?!
DO research blogs! I’m pretty sure I saved a lot of money by reading a shit ton of blogs and finding the cheap ways to do stuff/get places/eat things. Such gems include going to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building for a panoramic view of Tokyo (it’s free!) instead of its flashier, taller cousin, the Tokyo Skytree (around $20). Also, you can get from Narita airport to central Tokyo for half the price of the much-advertised Keisei Skyliner if you take the standard Narita line. Tokyo CAN be done on a budget people!!
A few favourite blogs about Tokyo:
DO explore the streets! Some of my favourite times in Tokyo were when I took the less direct route to my destination or explored the vicinity of a tourist spot instead of just the spot itself. My most memorable day in the city was spent whizzing around the streets, along the river, and over bridges on my rented electric bike, trying to chase the sunshine on the way to Asakusa. On another day, after being a bit let down by the shopping in the famous Takeshita-dori, I decided to wander around nearby Omotesando. I found an amazing little street with lots of quirky vintage shops, a make-your-own jewelry place, and a super cool curated bookstore! If you want a more interesting perspective on Tokyo then occasionally turn left instead of right!
DO ask your hotel! I stayed at the Oak Hotel in the Ueno district which is an extremely kind and welcoming hotel. I even got an upgrade to a double room upon arriving! Unfortunately for me though, it was a bit dead during my time there so I didn’t get many opportunities to meet other travellers and garner their knowledge about Tokyo. This meant I was relying on the hotel staff most of the time and gratefully, they always went above and beyond to help me out. When I checked out I told them I was headed to a hotel near Narita airport and without asking they immediately ran to their computer and found me the cheapest, easiest route to get there! In the past I have forgone asking my hotel for advice but trust me, they have ALL the answers!
DO just BE! This one ties in with ‘explore the streets’. Basically, I would advise anyone not to create a choc-a-bloc itinerary that allots a new tourist spot for every hour of the day. Give yourself some time everyday to just be in the city. Let the new environment and culture seep into your being and appreciate where you are and how lucky you are to travel! When I go abroad somewhere that I’ve dreamt of going my entire life I tend to feel a bit numb like its not even real! While wandering around Shinjuku National Gyoen one afternoon (an amazing park comprising a French, Japanese, and English garden), I found a bench in the French garden and sat there for quite a while. I watched people having picnics and chasing their toddlers, all the while thinking – WOW, I made it here; a place so far from England that I thought I’d be retired before I finally saw it!
DON’T forget your feet! I totally screwed up my feet on an overly strenuous SECOND day in Tokyo. I’d decided to wear ankle boots which had passed the comfort test on several nights out, however were no match for an entire 12-hour day of walking/exploring/getting lost! After that, I was confined to wearing trainers everyday and having to sit down every hour to rest my sore, cramping feet. My advice would be to reserve the nice shoes for non-heavy sightseeing days or take preemptive action and apply bandaids or blister patches to anywhere you think a blister could form.
DON’T stick with the familiar! Sometimes it can be really tempting to go to a H&M or a McDonalds while travelling when you just want a bit of the familiar. On this trip I managed to hold steadfast to my new travel philosophy of staying clear of the familiar or anything that can be found back home. There aint no point paying for a trip otherwise right?
DON’T waste your time! I am definitely guilty of putting things on my travel itinerary that I think I should see just so that I can say I saw it. An example of this is when I went to Akihabara; the manga/anime/game-lovers district. I’m not really interested in that side of Japanese culture so in retrospect it did nothing to enrich my trip. Be honest with yourself and your interests. Make a list and then research places to go that correspond with that list. I like parks, shrines, cycling, dessert and beauty. The time I spent walking around the Kiddyland store in Harajuku or getting confused in Akihabara could have been spent indulging in those interests. If you’re travelling solo you have no reason not to design your trip 100% for yourself!
DON’T be afraid! I was a solo female traveller in Tokyo and by the second day I was about ready to scream – “WHERE ARE ALL THE WOMEN?!” Don’t get me wrong, Tokyo is safe as safe gets. I never felt in any danger, but I was surprised at the ratio of men to women walking the streets, riding the subway, and eating in the restaurants. Maybe this is just my issue but the idea of walking into a restaurant where twenty men drop their spoon and stare at you because, A: you’re a foreigner and B: you’re a female foreigner, fills me with stage fright! However, a combination of crazy hunger and wild frustration did finally get me into a restaurant. Twenty spoons were dropped but no, I didn’t implode. After five minutes everyone forgot about me and I was able to slurp my ramen in peace.
I hope that I’ll continue to get better and better at this whole solo travelling thang but to be honest, I feel like you can never expect perfection when you travel. This is summed up pretty perfectly in one of my favourite travel quotes: