We've been planning this trip with our couple friends since last August. Really, I've been planning it since I heard my sister was moving to Okinawa the previous year. So how did we plan a trip like this?
1. Decide on your priorities. What's something you've always wanted to see/do in this area? There's a reason you wanted to go here.
Mike wanted to go skiing, so that called out the ski areas. After much research and understanding of the group dynamic (we're not ALL skiers ... ) we decided on Niseko, a touristy area with great skiing that spoke a lot of English. Maybe not entirely authentic, but should have plenty to do.
2. Is there anywhere else in the area you want to see? or is this a one-stop shop?
I will rarely travel across the world to only see 1 corner. We decided to also see Tokyo since that's our gateway into Japan anyway.
3. Organizing the trip - when to see what?
We picked February because of ski season - the best time to go was apparently Jan/Feb, so we arbitrarily picked Feb. I liked the week we chose (Feb 16-Feb 26) because Feb 20 is a holiday in Ontario so 1 less day I have to take vacation at work. But after I started looking for events/festivals in the areas, I wish we would have picked the week before because we're missing the Sapporo Snow Festival. So in the future, I would probably search events before committing to a date. After that, we just arbitrarily decided to go to Sapporo first. There wasn't anything happening in Tokyo that week either.
4. First things first. Airfare.
Airfare is going to be your largest expense. I know there are a lot of ways to get around paying for airfare, cheap tickets, whatever. I have found that very few of them work and if you cheap out, you're the first to get bumped if the flight is oversold. This is a no-go for me - my dates are often concrete since I have to choose my vacation days at work. So I buy from the airlines direct. HOWEVER, I do sign up frequent flyer programs, have a Delta American Express Card (which racks up miles) and watch prices like a hawk for a few weeks. I follow most guidelines and try to buy as far ahead of time as I can. We purchased our tickets for Feb trip to Japan in October.
So, because of our love for travel, loyalty to one or two airlines when possible, and the Delta credit card, we were able to FLY FREE FIRST CLASS to Japan. We saved our miles for over a year, but we did it. I'm just saying, it's possible.
5. Research the places!
you thought I was gonna say hotels first huh? how do you know where you want to stay if you don't know where all the stuff you want to see is?
Other research also showed us the different kinds of hotels Japan has - ryokan, capsule, traditional western hotels - to name a few. so we had some decision making there as well. We wanted to stay in a traditional Japanese hotel with private Onsens in Tokyo and a ski chalet in Sapporo. The things we wanted to do in Tokyo were spread all over downtown and I read tha the public transportation is good, so I'm thinking as long as it's close to transportation, anywhere will be fine in Tokyo.
6. Book the hotels
Hotels can go fast, especially if you're booking around a festival or event. We ended up booking later that I would have liked (just last week) because I actually had a hard time finding hotels on regular websites. I had to branch out of my comfort zone pretty far. Agoda.com was an awesome site, I highly recommend it when looking for hotels. We ended up choosing a ski chalet near Niseko from mnkniseko.com and a Ryokan hotel in Tokyo - Dormy Inn Akihabara Hot Spring.
7. Book any events in advance
I looked at several items we were interested in going to - most were areas for experiencing Tokyo and Japanese culture. but I did look up whether reservations were needed at some of the restaurants (like the Robot Restaurant) and the Kibuki and other travelers advised that reservations were not needed. We're a good bunch out there, travelers. thanks for all the tips :)
This for me is the time when the trip becomes real. And exciting! but we'll get into packing later.
Let's get lost in travel planning!