Later this summer, I will be going to Japan for two weeks with my boyfriend, Justin. We booked our flight and hotel a couple months ago. Currently, our plan is to explore Tokyo in-depth for two weeks with a side trip to Hakone for one (or two) days. It’s his first time out of the country, and I’m excited to travel with him for the first time. We are in process of planning our itinerary for the trip, and we have agreed to split the work evenly. In this post, I will go over the steps I take when planning a trip to Japan. After we have finished planning our trip, I will post an example itinerary for couples who are looking for a relaxing (and affordable) vacation in Japan.
Hotel and Flight
A couple months before starting detailed trip planning, I always start by researching hotel and flight options on Expedia. Although many travelers choose to book hostels or airbnbs to save money on accommodations, I am naturally a risk-averse person and prefer to book hotels because it makes me feel more reassured about safety during the trip. I choose to use Expedia to book rooms for travel because it has been reliable (in my experience) and I like booking hotel and flights as a bundle to save money.
Depending on how flexible your travel dates are, I recommend experimenting with vacation dates. Prices for hotels and flights fluctuate often (sometimes even on a day-to-day basis). Because of this, I recommend comparing hotel and flight prices between different potential vacation days.
Using Expedia a couple months before our trip in September, Justin and I booked accommodations for a hotel in Shinjuku for two weeks. Our hotel and flight cost was less than $1,450 per person, which is reasonable since we will be staying in a convenient and comfortable hotel. We have also decided to take a side trip to Hakone for a couple days as our escape to the city.
Places of Interest
Google is my best friend when it comes to finding places of interest. Before planning trips, I like to read up on articles regarding tourist destinations and famous food places/street markets. After doing some research, I create a list of “must-go” destinations on Google Docs. Then, I watch vlogs or read travel blogs to see if there are any places that I might be interested that are not as well-known as the popular tourist destinations.
After having a list of destinations, I like to sort out the places of interest by type on Excel or Google Spreadsheets. This is because I like to make sure that my vacations are balanced, and that I am experiencing enough of the culture, shopping, food, and nature of a country. By organizing this in a spreadsheet, I become more aware of how I should spread out these places of interest throughout my visit. Ideally, I like to break up my vacation so that I won’t get “sick” of doing any particular activity. That is, I make sure to plan a trip to more rural and quaint areas after several days in the city. A small side trip serves as a good escape from the crazy bustling city and allows me to appreciate a different side of the country.
Keeping Track of Finances
Because we are both college students, Justin and I will both be paying for our trips separately to avoid giving one person too much burden. To keep track of our budget, we will be using a shared spreadsheet and word document. Google Docs and Google Spreadsheets are my favorite document collaboration platforms.
I like use Google Docs to brainstorm places of interest and to stay organized. After finishing up the trip planning process, the travel itinerary for the trip would be in the Google Docs. Before any trip, I would print several copies of the trip itinerary just in case I need transportation directions without access to my phone or the internet.
After creating a document with places of interest, I like to estimate the costs of each destination that we plan to go to. In Google Spreadsheets, I create a sheet purely for associating destinations with associated costs. After, I create a column for explicit costs (such as an admission fee for an amusement park or for a museum). This way, I know for sure that these fees are accurate and are costs that will definitely be incurred.
In a new sheet, I keep track of the mandatory costs and optional costs. Mandatory costs in this case would include hotel and plane tickets. Optional costs would be concert tickets, amusement parks, and other events. I find it very important to keep these optional costs separate than mandatory costs for budgeting purposes.
Lastly, after mapping out a rough itinerary, I research transportation costs and price ranges for food and shopping options. I include those costs in separate categories. For budgeting purposes, it is important to note that the numbers on the spreadsheet usually underestimates transportation. Getting lost or accidentally taking a detour at least once while on vacation is to be expected, so it is important to consider that while budgeting.
Planning the Itinerary
After all this research, it is time to put all the trip information together and create a personalized itinerary. First, I like to make sure that the calculations on the Google Sheets fall within my budget. It’s important to make sure that the activities do not break the bank. That is, always make sure that there is some leeway in the budget for contingencies.
After, on Google Docs, I start creating an itinerary for each day by organizing which activities I would like to do each day. It is important to make sure that there are enough planned in the schedule to keep you busy, but it is also important to make sure that the amount of activities planned is realistic and not overwhelming. Once I finish up hashing out the activities that I would like to partake in each day, I start figuring out transportation time and estimated length of each activity. After those details have been estimated, I create a full itinerary for the day.