Japan first fell on my radar in 2016, when a few members of my ski club organized a trip to Niseko. Before that, I had no idea Japan even had ski-able mountains. The second I heard about the trip, I wanted in.
At the time, I could barely afford to pay rent, let alone an expensive group trip to Japan with my ski club. So, I put it on the back burner and told myself “one day.”
Well, that day is officially February 8th, 2020!
This post kicks off a blog series I’m creating all about planning and executing an incredible solo travel experience. Maybe you’ve taken many solo trips or you’re flirting with the idea. To help you out, I’m going to get into the nitty-gritty here and share all the steps to take to create an awesome, memorable experience for yourself.
There are many ways to approach deciding where to go and what to do. Sometimes the focus of your trip informs the location, sometimes it’s the other way around. For me, I automatically had both: snowboarding + Japan.
Other quick examples of this are:
- Cooking classes + Italy
- Scubadiving and snorkeling + Australia
- Relaxing the beach + Mexico
- Touring the city + London
- Safari + Tanzania
If you’re struggling to figure out where to go and what to do, focus on what your interests are when you travel (museums? food? nature? fashion? etc) and seek out locations that have the best of or are known for those interests.
My first step: figuring out the snowboarding piece
When I took a solo snowboarding trip to France last year, I was lucky that so many of the details fell into place when I got there. It was a good entry to snowboarding alone in another country because it wasn’t hard to communicate (most people speak a little English at least) or read signs/get around.
But I know Japan will be different.
From what I’ve researched, hardly anyone speaks English and I know that I won’t be able to coordinate an epic snowboarding trip on my own (nor would I want to in case something bad happens, like an injury – which it won’t!).
In May, I researched guided group snowboarding and ski trips in Japan and stumbled across this one via Powderhounds.
It’s exactly what I wanted. Eight days in the mountains, a handful of different ski experiences and they take care of all lodging, lift tickets, some of the food and transportation.
I’m a little worried about my ability to keep up with the group on a snowboard in deep powder, but I have about 20 seasons of riding under my belt and can pretty much tackle anything.
This guided experience is not cheap. I ended up paying extra for a single room during the trip too since there’s no guarantee that you can stay in a room with someone who is the same gender. It’s worth paying extra for what you know will make you more comfortable and feel safe on a solo trip.
The total for this guided trip is $3,177.49, which is what I expected to spend. I know it’s a lot, but it will be worth it.
For you, this first step will look different based on what activities and interests you want to focus on for your solo trip.
Maybe you’re like me and love planning, maybe you’d rather figure it out when you get there. Either way, your trip will be a lot better if you have some idea of what you want to focus on or check out before you get there so you can hammer out the details, then relax and enjoy in the moment.
The next step: flights and logistics
Powderhounds provides detailed information about getting to and from the mountains, where I need to be and when, and what I should take care of before my trip.
This information helped me think about how much time I want to spend in Japan before and after snowboarding because I wasn’t just going to go to Japan for eight days! I’ll need a day or two to adjust to the time difference and ship my snowboard from the airport to the mountains (which was suggested on the Powderhounds site! super helpful).
To accommodate the snowboard shipping, I had to tack on three days in Tokyo before and after the snow tour (six days total).
The other factor here, of course, is figuring out how many nights you can afford to spend somewhere which affects everything. Six nights in Tokyo was doable for my budget.
Once I nailed down how long I’d be staying in Tokyo and my dates for the trip, I looked for flights. I knew I wanted to use airline points for my roundtrip flights since the snowboarding tour is so expensive.
I found the perfect flights for just 75,000 points via United Airlines (that’s around $1,750 if I had paid for it out of pocket). I’m not at the point where I can splurge for business class seats just yet, but I’m used to long economy flights anyway.
If I didn’t have the points available to me, I’m not sure this trip would be possible financially. If something like that is holding YOU back, and you feel like you’re ready to try racking up points, travel cards are a great move. I have the United Explorer Card and the Chase Sapphire Reserve, both are amazing.
The last main step: lodging
The main activity, figuring out dates and getting flights are all major pieces of the solo travel puzzle. The last piece is lodging. For me, this is the hardest one to nail down.
At this point, I knew I only had three days in Tokyo on either end of my trip, which isn’t enough time to travel around to other regions of Japan. In my experience, it’s better to see a lot of one place rather than exhaust yourself seeing as many places as possible.
The problem? Tokyo is MASSIVE. There are so many little cities within Tokyo, kind of like boroughs in NYC, but way more of them.
I knew food would be my focus in Tokyo, I was able to narrow down options for what parts of Tokyo I wanted to stay.
I researched different restaurants, bars, cooking classes, foodie neighborhoods, attractions, landmarks and parks I wanted to visit and saved them on Google Maps (I had no idea you could save locations like that!).
Where I did my research: TripAdvisor, YouTube channels and blogs dedicated to Japan and through listening to podcasts! If you’re going somewhere totally unfamiliar, I can guarantee someone has a blog, podcast or YouTube channel dedicated to it.
My favorite Japan resources so far:
- Solo Travel Talk with Astrid (she’s currently doing a podcast series on Japan)
- Abroad in Japan (it’s a podcast and YT channel)
- Eat Your Sushi (YT channel)
After listening to these podcasts and reading up on Tokyo, I narrowed down my search to two locations: Shibuya and Shinjuku. Knowing what I know now about Japan, these two locations are obvious. They’re very touristy, central and have lots of food and lodging options. I wanted to stay somewhere that’s walking distance to most of what I want to see while in Tokyo.
I scoured Air Bnb and sites like Booking.com to figure out what to expect in terms of lodging experience and what I’ll be spending.
Japan is unique in that there are many different kinds of lodging options outside of the normal hotels. Capsule hotels, Ryokans (traditional inns) and business hotels are all lodging types I had never heard of, and there was a lot to explore.
I spent about a month digging through every option until I finally booked two hotels in Shinjuku with points. I spent 60,700 points for six nights (that’s $610 if I had paid out of pocket).
Spending these points on lodging was worth it to me because I’d much rather save my cash to explore my other focus of this trip: food, cooking and eating!
Once the main pieces (your interests and focus, flights and lodging) are in place, filling in the rest is so much easier.
More on that in the next post. I hope this inspires you to think about creating an amazing experience for yourself on a solo trip!