Travel Planning Tips & Japan!

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

As I mentioned in my previous post, I am travelling to Japan February! This whole process of booking my own tickets, getting insurance, exchanging currency etc... has been so new to me. I'm fortunate enough to go through it with my bestie. As of now, we have finished the last of our planning and it's time to play the waiting game.

I thought it would be a great time to come on here and document what we have done so far. I'm going to add some tips and tricks along the way for my benefit (for the next time I travel) and for anyone else who's going through the same process :)

Research, research, research!

Before you do anything, please research where you are going. My parents have stopped me from travelling to certain places before as they believe it isn't a safe area after doing their own research. It's not just research about whether or not it is safe! Just do some general research about where you are going - it will give you a good idea of where you want to go to within in the country and how long to stay at each place.

We were lucky because we waited a bit before we got our tickets purely because it was too expensive. However, it turned out to be a blessing in disguise. We had researched carefully where we wanted to go and what we wanted to do. In turn, that made it easier when we bought our tickets. We knew exactly how long we were going for and how long we were stay in each city.

Your itinerary doesn't have to be too detailed, it should just give you an idea of what you will be doing.

Time to Book your Flights!

This may take a while depending on your budget. The tickets we had looked at for Japan were relatively expensive at the start. We kept waiting and waiting. One night I randomly went in again to check the prices and it went down! 

People usually recommend to purchase your tickets 6 months in advance because that is when there is likely to be sales. In my situation, we had missed a good deal a couple months back because we weren't originally planning to go to Japan. Luckily, there was still a decent sale even though it was 3 months away.

When it comes to purchasing your tickets, I would HIGHLY recommend considering the extra add-ons that could be important such as extra luggage or having an on-flight meal. Talk to other people who have travelled before you/know you well and ask whether or they'll think you'll need extra luggage on the way back - most people tend to purchase a lot overseas! As for the on-flight meal, it would depend on whether or not it is a day flight or a night flight - take note of the time! Most people would say its just common sense. Yes it is but it is something that you can easily forget. It's better to purchase all of these add-ons when you initially purchase your tickets because after that the prices get higher and higher.

We made the mistake of not adding on extra luggage when we booked our flights. Now it is at least another $37 just to add another 5kg to your check-in luggage. Don't make this mistake!

Travel Insurance

Some people may choose to purchase travel insurance from the airline that they are flying with. While it is convenient, you're better off doing some research about their policy and people's reviews. Since everything was so new to me, I had to ask my family to explain to me how travel insurance works in terms of how to read the policy. So here are my tips:

  1. Read the Product Disclosure Statement
    It is the fine print that will get you!!! Please do not skip out on this and at least have a skim read. There was one policy that I read who in essence said this about their health cover: 'We cover everything besides anything that involves your head and back". My immediate reaction was like 'Those are some of the most important parts of the body!'. This is why you really need to read the Product Disclosure Statement
  2. Understand what 'excess' means
    When I did my initial research on travel insurance, I did not get the idea of this "excess". Why is it more expensive when the "excess" is $0. In essence it is how much you pay out of pocket before they start covering you. For example, if you had a medical bill of $300 and your policy had an "excess" of $100. This would mean that you would pay for the first $100 and then the remaining $200 will be covered by the insurance company.
  3. Consider the country you are going to
    As I am going to Japan, it is relatively safe and I do not have to worry too much about being stolen from or anything like that - I just need to be aware of what is around me. However, if say you're going to be skiing on your holiday, you would also need to look into getting snow sports insurance or something similar. Make sure you do your research and find out what policy suits best for you.

Money Exchange - Travel Card/Cash

You can't travel without having money to spend over there! Again, you will have to research what currency exchange is like in the country you are travelling to. For Japan, people recommended to exchange before coming because the rates are better overseas. In addition, there are a large number of places that tend to accept cash (except for department stores). This helped us decide how much cash we were going to bring over and how much we would put on our travel card.

Also note that there are different travel cards. There will be ones with a "locked-in" exchange rate or ones that work like a debit card. What's the difference? The "locked-in" exchange rate is almost like an online version of a cash exchange. You purchase say Yen today and then when you spend money (say in a month's time), it will take the exchange rate you purchased Yen for today. On the other hand, a debit card version takes the current market exchange rate on the date that you make a purchase. Depending on your needs, you may prefer one over the other. I definitely would recommended researching a couple places and finding out what fees are involved (e.g. withdrawal fee, card fee etc...)

Other General Tips

  1. Research to see if there are any useful items you'll need over there
    In our case, we found that hiring a pocket wifi was more useful than getting a SIM
  2. Vaccinations
    Check with your GP if you need any vaccinations before you go
  3. Make sure your passport is valid!Some countries will require you to have a valid passport beyond your travel dates
  4. Have a good understanding of how you are going to get around to places
    Are there cheaper tickets if you're a student? Are there exclusive passes for foreigners?
  5. Make a checklist! 
    You're bound to forget something along the way right? Joint it down somewhere to make sure you don't forget. My bestie and I started using Google Docs but then we realised that we can't easily access it on our phones so we decided to use Evernote. If not, a journal/diary will do the job!

I hope this helps! Until next time...!


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