This series of blog posts will help you with every step of planning your own Japan trip. I’m winding this up tas I’m off to Japan next week (!) but here’s something that’s currently on my mind: packing.
Below are a few things I’ve learned from previous trips that might help you out. They’re for people like me who want to do a lot of shopping – if you’re a carry-on-only type of person, you might want to skip this. I like to get started early and already have my suitcase out so I can throw in things as I think of them.
Check your baggage allowance
First of all, check your baggage allowance, especially if you have a domestic flight as part of your trip. The last thing you want is extra charges at the airport. The information is usually linked in your booking email, or check the airline’s website. Take note of dimensions, weights and how many bags you can take on board and check in. If you need more, book it in advance as it will be cheaper than on the day. A suitcase weighing scale can be handy if you’re worried you’ll buy too much stuff.
What luggage to bring
If your hotel in Japan is on the airport bus route (or has a shuttle bus) and you don’t have to deal with public transport at home, you may as well bring as much as possible. The top tip here is to pack everything into a carry-on suitcase and then put it inside a bigger suitcase for the flight to Japan. Then on the way home, you have a whole extra suitcase. If you’re staying somewhere off the airport bus route, it can be worth booking into a hotel for the final night to make it easier to get to the airport with all your luggage.
Since I have an extra domestic flight (and a 5 hour layover at Heathrow this time), I just stick to one big suitcase with a large backpack or holdall for my carry-on. I also pack a smaller backpack to use while in Japan.
I like to wear comfy clothes on the plane and pack a proper outfit to change into when I land. An extra t-shirt, underwear and other necessities is wise, just in case your checked bag gets lost or delayed – and I would also never put anything valuable in my checked luggage. You’re usually only guaranteed a bag that fits under your seat so make sure you at least have a spare tote bag with you in case you have to check your main carry-on at the gate.
Other things I like to bring: warm slipper socks and hoodie, in case it’s cold, my own noise-cancelling earbuds; non-electronic entertainment, water and snacks (in case the plane is delayed after boarding). Have all your travel documents together in a folder too so you can check information for the immigration card.
On the way back, I pack all my most important/fragile purchases in my carry-on, just in case! I’m also well-known for buying a pillow-sized plush for the trip home. You can usually get away with this as an extra carry-on. Below are two of my favourites.
Storing and forwarding luggage in Japan
If you plan to visit a few places in Japan, then either pack very lightly or look into forwarding or storing luggage.
If you’re staying at a hotel, they will happily store your luggage for free, even if you’re not checking in until a few days later, so you can leave your big suitcase and travel with something smaller.
There are lockers at train and bus stations, though the larger ones are often full. Big stations like JR Tokyo also have a left luggage counter, which is better for longer periods.
Luggage forwarding can be useful if you’re leaving from a different city, traveling as a group, have a lot of luggage to take to the airport or just can’t manage it yourself. You need to drop it off the day before so I’ve never found it worth trying. Your hotel can arrange this or you can do it yourself.
This is everything I bought on my last trip!
General packing tips
Make a mini first aid kit for yourself with things like painkillers, plasters, bug bite cream etc. While you can buy all these things in Japan, 3am with a migraine is not when you want to try and find a pharmacy.
Buy doubles of things you use every day so you can pack them in advance, rather than trying to remember your hairbrush or toothpaste on the day you leave.
To save space, go digital with entertainment or bring things you can leave behind like cheap secondhand books and magazines – and even older clothing/bags if you plan to replace them in Japan. Similarly, don’t bother bringing widely-available things if you’re not certain you’ll need them – e.g. an umbrella or extra bag.
Japan has very much not joined the plastic bag ban and you will be horrified by how many bags you’re given (refusing them is rarely possible). I remove most before packing and leave them for the hotel to deal with – on my last trip, I filled a whole cupboard under the sink!
Hope these are helpful! I’ll maybe do some ‘what’s in my bag’ photos or drawings after this trip.