This new series of blog posts will help you with every step of planning your own Japan trip. This time: what’s it’s like travelling solo rather than with a friend/family member or group.
For most of my Japan trips I’ve travelled with my sister Nicolette. It’s really lucky that we share a lot of the same interests – and get on well! – so that we have a readymade travel partner. For my 2016 trip, I went for 3 weeks by myself and had quite a different experience. I plan to write a lot more about this eventually, but here’s some tips for travelling solo.
Why go solo?
Not everyone is suited to a solo trip but if you’re independent, confident and either happy with your own company or able to make new friends easily, it’s better than going with someone who has different interests, or waiting longer for a friend to save up. Japan is very safe, and easy to navigate, so why not go for it?
Tips for travelling solo in Japan
- If you have a Japan Rail Pass you can save yourself a lot of time by using the unreserved carriages on every Shinkansen. Don’t bother queueing at ticket offices for reservations – just check Hyperdia and turn up at the station in time for the next train. Unreserved carriages are always marked on the platform and there’s usually 3. I never had any trouble getting a seat but you can always turn up early and get yourself at the front of the queue for the best chance.
- Similarly, you have a better chance of a walk-in at popular cafes/restaurants and there’s often a single rider queue at theme parks.
- Dining alone is very normal in Japan and no-one will judge you. Ticketed ramen shops etc. will often have individual booths, and if you visit a character cafe alone, you may be given a big plushie dining companion!
- It used to be easy to find a stranger to take your photo in return for taking theirs but everyone is doing selfies now. If you want photos of you in Japan, either bring a selfie stick or look out for other tourists or solo travellers.
- Take advantage of having only yourself to please and do all your favourite things, whether that’s spending a whole day at a museum/garden/shop, only eating at character cafes or even just having a lie in/early night.
- Bring entertainment. However exciting your trip is, you will have a lot of alone time while travelling, eating meals, at the hotel etc. I brought a Kindle full of new books to read, playlists for journeys and some TV shows on my laptop.
- Get your best friend/family etc. set up on Skype or similar so you can keep in touch if you get lonely, or if you have an emergency and need some advice/help. Give someone a copy of your itinerary and passport too, just in case.
- Try to organise some real interaction with other people, whether you go on a day trip or walking tour, attend a class or workshop, or meet up with online friends. Otherwise you can spend a long time without meaningful conversation. See my earlier post about tours and day trips.
- The biggest expense of travelling solo is accommodation – if you’re on a budget, consider hostels, apart-hotels or a family homestay. See my earlier post about accommodation.
What else would you like to know about travelling solo in Japan?