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The Travel Secret: How to plan your big trip and see the world – OUT NOW!

travel secret cover

I’m really excited to announce my travel book is out now and is available to buy on Kindle or paperback here!

It was during my second round-the-world trip that I came up with the idea for this book. I was thinking about how, when I announced to my friends and colleagues that I was about to quit my job and take seven months off to travel in Australia, South east Asia and Central America, so many people said to me, “you’re so lucky,” or “I wish I could do that.”

But I’m not really that lucky and I want to show you how, with a little planning, you can do it too.

I’m a London-based, career-focussed professional keen to strike that ever-elusive work/life balance whilst continuing to climb the career ladder. I want to show you how you can balance taking time out to travel the world, whilst still building your career, developing yourself and having lots of fun whilst you’re at it!

My travels have taken me to some far-flung corners of the world: I’ve scaled Mount Kinabalu in Borneo and snorkelled with sharks and stingrays in Belize; I’ve wandered around the ancient temples of Angkor in Cambodia and the Mayan ruins in Mexico; I’ve crossed the international date line on the way to the Cook Islands and trekked up a mountain with elephants in Thailand. I’ve bungee jumped my way around the world, explored jungles and cloud forests, scuba-dived some of the world’s best dive sites and hung out with indigenous locals from around the globe. By changing my attitude towards how I travel, I’ve seen so much more of the world than I could ever hope to achieve with a few weeks of annual leave each year.

Whatever your personal situation, I hope you can use this book as a guide to facilitate your trip – or trips – of a lifetime when the time is right. It’s all about the planning after all, not upping sticks and leaving tomorrow. I hope this book will plant a seed that one day will germinate and become plans for an extended trip and change the way you see travel forever. I’ll share with you my inspiration, practicalities, top tips and resources to turn your dream trip into reality – and lots of useful advice for when you’re on the road.

travel secret back cover

Travel after COVID-19: what does the future hold?

New Year 2020 was off to a cracking start – I spent a glorious and action packed two weeks in Japan, speeding across the country on the bullet train, taking in neon-lit cities, temples and mountains. A month after getting back from that trip, I was off for a long weekend in Prague, making the most of a cheap flight deal. A quick work trip to Dublin followed shortly thereafter. Life was good, busy and exciting.

Coming up, I had trips planned to Porto, Athens and Goa, plus a week in the summer earmarked for a yet undecided location, most probably somewhere sunny in Europe.

By mid-February, however, talk about the coronavirus was ramping up, and by mid-March, offices across the country had closed, pubs, restaurants, gyms – and any non-essential establishments – had closed their doors.

From our current state of lockdown in the UK we are allowed out only for visits to the shop for groceries, to the pharmacy, or for daily exercise. With forecasts of the worsening situation, we don’t yet know if lock down measures will be ramped up (as they have been in other countries), closing parks and public spaces; forcing us to stay indoors and fining us if we are caught out without good reason.

Meanwhile the news reports the plight of the airlines, hotels and travel industry workers, arguably the worst-affected industry. Will they survive this period of unprecedented uncertainty? Never before have we experienced anything similar, with flights grounded, hotel rooms empty, and all but the most essential repatriating travel cancelled.

We’ve been on hold to airlines for hours trying for a refund (no, I don’t want a voucher, thank you very much); and told we can only speak to airlines if our flight departs within the next seventy-two hours, despite our legal right to a refund. We don’t want to see our beloved aviation industry collapse, but if we can’t go anywhere, then we do want out money back!

We’re worried about losing our jobs, global recession, the wellbeing of our loved ones – and trying to keep it all together, spending a hell of a lot more time at home than we’re used to. From those living in small one-bed city flats with no garden, to parents adjusting to having kids around 24/7 whilst trying to home educate them and hold down a full-time job from home.

It’s nigh on impossible to get a supermarket online delivery slot and it feels like risking the zombie apocalypse to actually go to a shop…

So, what might the face of travel look like when we emerge from this crisis? I can only speculate – and these are just my personal opinions – but here are my thoughts:

 

  1. The state of the travel industry

We will certainly see some casualties in the form of airlines, hotels and hospitality companies, and in these uncertain times, this is very likely to include some of the big brands too. Is the golden age of cheap flights and holidays over? Maybe not, but it is likely to look very different to the pre-coronavirus travel industry.

Let’s face it, even once we’re allowed out of isolation, we’re likely to be cautious and keep in place many of the social distancing measures where possible – crowds are never a desirable place to be, but even less so as we tiptoe out of a pandemic.  There’s also the possibility (probability?) that the virus will come back next winter season – much like the seasonal flu which goes around every year. I’d say that people will be tentative about booking too far into the future and when they do, they will want to ensure flexibility and penalty-free cancellation of any plans.

Initially consumer confidence may be low and people fearful about flying, so airlines and travel companies that do survive may offer us cheap deals to get us booking. There are already some great deals and reward availability for Q1 2020 – but it’s impossible to predict what the state of the world – let alone the travel industry – will be by then. People are worried about what will happen if they book now and then the airline goes under – especially with the way certain airlines have handled refunds recently.

mex city2
Flying into Mexico City – photo by Sarah Kerrigan
  1. The great outdoors

Who knows how long this pandemic will continue, but already in three short weeks, social distancing measures have already changed how we act and think. Suddenly, I feel strangely nostalgic when I see people in the pub on TV, or even uneasy when there’s a film scene featuring huge crowds. Until the virus goes away completely (if such a thing is possible), or we can all be vaccinated against it, the anxiety of being around other people will remain, even when we’re allowed out of the house again and back into gyms, coffee shops and public events. I predict that we will opt for places that give us space to spread out – the great outdoors – and we’ll seek to avoid crowded tourist hot spots too.

We may prefer to avoid public transport and the close confines associated with it, in favour of driving. Ditto self-catering over restaurants and eat out. Perhaps we will prefer to stay local, or holiday in our home countries instead of flying to get there?

hiking
Photo by Toomas Tartes on Unsplash
  1. Experiences and memories are worth more

One thing that I think we can all agree on is how much we took travel for granted prior to this situation. Beyond saving up and booking the time off work, we never questioned our ability to be able to travel anywhere in the world whenever we wanted. Whether you’re an intrepid traveller, who only ever goes off the beaten track, or you love your package deal to the same resort every summer, I don’t think we ever thought about how much we value our holidays and how that will change after this pandemic passes.

Perhaps travel will become more expensive due to reduced competition amongst airlines. But on the flipside, how low must passenger numbers and airline revenue drop before a route or airline is not economically viable? And what is the public prepared to pay?

Our enforced isolation has certainly given us all a chance to reflect on how much we value our freedom – and once of the top things that I cannot wait to do once this is over is go on holiday again!

Being isolated from family, friends and loved ones may also bring about a greater appreciation for time spent with loved ones, meaning quality time, experiences and making memories are more valued highly post the coronavirus outbreak. The value and importance of holidays that enable travellers to make meaningful connections, build and reinforce relationships, experience things together and make strong, happy memories is now all the more.

fun
Photo by Roberto Nickson on Unsplash
  1. Air miles and loyalty

For air miles enthusiasts like me, the very real threat of our favourite airlines going under has made us look at our miles and points balances objectively: Which ones do we hold out on in the hope they’ll pull through? Which should we cash in? Should we be switching to earning flexible points that can be redeemed for a variety of redemption partners rather than just the one frequent flyer scheme, or even switch to plain old cash back rewards? Cash is king after all and the adage of ‘earn and burn’ has never been more apt.

In addition to this, hitting spend targets, tier levels and minimum stay requirements has suddenly become a lot harder as we stay at home, with fewer things to spend our money on (except maybe groceries!) and the need to save up lest we should lose our jobs as a result of the crisis. Which companies will do the noble thing and extend our statuses whilst we can’t travel?

plane
Photo by Isaac Struna on Unsplash
  1. Climate change benefits

The one winner in this tragedy is mother nature herself. You only need to hear about the huge drop in pollution in Wuhan, views of the Himalayas from Delhi or the heart-warming story about and clear waters and dolphins returning to Venice’s canals to appreciate this fact.

The 80% or more reduction alone in air traffic across the world has hugely beneficial effects on the reduction in carbon emissions – not to mention the reduced pollution from trade and factory output, albeit it at a cost to the global supply chain and economy. It is odd to look up into London’s skies and see barely a vapour trail. The skies have not looked like this since 9/11 – with which the unprecedented nature of COVID-19 has drawn parallels.

In addition, road traffic is massively reduced, roads are quiet as people are staying at home and public transport schedules have been slashed to accommodate people making only the most necessary journeys, and even those are mainly on foot within our immediate area.

As much as I feel trapped in my solitude at the moment, it is a true joy to see spring bloom here in London. The coincidence of blue skies and warmer weather at the same time as our lockdown is a wonderful thing and I value my daily walk/run outdoors even more for the burgeoning of Spring.

 

Scratching the travel itch

In the meantime, I’ve been by reliving my previous trips from the comfort of my sofa; enjoying regional food, drinks and music, looking back over photos from prior trips and watching films set in visited destinations. YouTube even has some great virtual walks or runs through popular places – from the Grand Canyon to the streets of Paris.

If you’re anything like me, you’ll be keen to get away and have a holiday as soon as this crisis passes, so why not use this downtime to plan your next travels?

Ask yourself, where have you always wanted to go? Perhaps you’ll take advantage of some of the great airfares out there at the moment for travel next year, or maybe you’ll stay closer to home and do road trips to some of the great places in your own country – and wait to see what becomes of the travel industry. Travel may look very different when we emerge from this crisis, but the world will still exist, and the surviving travel operators will be chomping at the bit to take your bookings!

 

Special offer

Get your copy of ‘The Travel Secret: How to plan your big trip and see the world’ for inspiration in planning your next trip, including hacks to get the most out of your air miles and tips to maximise travel per pound. I’ve slashed the price to 99p* – or read for free on Kindle Unlimited here.

If you need any travel advice please get in touch and I’d be delighted to help you plan your next trip.

In the meantime: stay safe, stay healthy and stay home!

The Travel Secret - cover

*until 26th April 2020

Japan miniseries: Culture and etiquette in Japan

Welcome to The Travel Secret: Japan travel tips miniseries!

To the uninitiated, Japan can seem a difficult and expensive place to visit on a budget, but that’s not necessarily the case.

I’ve just got back from an action packed two weeks in Japan. It was awesome, but I’ve got to say that the planning before I went was epic! There are not only hundreds of cool and quirky things to do, there’s the unique historical and cultural customs and etiquette to learn about, the language barrier to circumnavigate, not to mention the transport system!

So, I’ve put together a miniseries of blog posts to help you plan the perfect trip. This post looks at culture and etiquette.

Happy planning!

 

There are lots of unique and fascinating facets to Japanese culture and falling afoul of them can cause offence, but with a little humility and a bit of watching what others do you’ll soon pick it up. If in doubt, ask – there may be a language barrier, but the Japanese are a friendly and helpful nation and they’ll be more than happy to oblige if they can.

Here are a few tips to get you started:

  • Japanese people tend to greet each other with a bow but may greet international visitors with a handshake. You’ll soon get into the habit of bowing to people to say hello and to give thanks!

 

  • It is considered impolite to blow your nose in public – sniffing, on the other hand, is not considered rude at all!

 

  • Use your whole hand instead of pointing with your finger, which can be considered aggressive.

 

  • At shrines, you will notice an urn of water with a ladle outside the entrance. Do the following purification ritual before entering: Take the ladle and rinse each of your hands in turn, then pour some water into your cupped hand, rinse out your mouth and spit out the water next to the fountain. The incense burned in front of temples is also thought to have purifying qualities and you will see people taking a breath of incense smoke to purify themselves before entering the temple.

 

  • Slurp your noodles loudly to show the chef your appreciation!

 

Dress codes

Comfort is your main priority when in Japan as you will spend a lot of time walking around and sitting on the floor. You’ll want to be comfortable, however, there are some considerations to make in terms of dressing respectfully and conveniently.

  • Take off your shoes at the door of temples and ryokans. If you are going in and out a lot, slip-on shoes may be more convenient. If it is sandal weather, carry around socks with you to wear indoors and check that your socks or tights don’t have holes in them!

 

  • If you have left your shoes at the door, you’ll often be given slippers to wear inside. If you want to visit the bathroom, be sure to switch to toilet slippers before entering – then don’t forget to take them off when leaving the bathroom!

 

  • When visiting religious sites, keep your shoulders and cleavage covered and if you are wearing shorts, make sure they are not really short ones. Keep your voice down when inside.

 

Onsen etiquette

Visiting an onsen (hot spring) is a must when in Japan but the etiquette can be a little confusing for the first-time visitor. Here’s a step by step guide for those who are unsure of what to do:

  • Buy a ticket on arrival – either from a person at the counter or from a vending machine. Take a hand towel with you if you have one, otherwise rent one form the counter when you buy your entrance ticket. Put your shoes in a locker and then head into the correct changing room:
    • man: 男
    • woman: 女

 

  • In the changing room, put your clothes into a basket and pop your basket in a locker. Be sure to take off all your clothes – you enter the baths completely naked and no swimwear is allowed – don’t worry though, everyone is in the same boat and I assure you that no one is looking! The locker key is on an elastic band – put it around your wrist or ankle for safe keeping. Take your hand towel and toiletries into the onsen (go in naked and use your hand towel to cover your modesty if you like – in reality, many people don’t bother).

 

  • On entering there are low stools in open cubicles with shower heads in front of mirrors. Find a free stool, sit down facing the mirror and wash yourself, paying special attention to armpits, feet and nether regions. If the washing area is more basic, just pour a few buckets of water over yourself and give yourself a good rinse. Once clean, you are free to enter the baths. When you’ve finished bathing, towel off before going into the changing rooms.

 

 I hope you’ve found some of these tips to be useful! Have you got any more to add? Please let me know in the comments – I’d love to hear from you!

For further travel tips and inspiration, check out my book, ‘The Travel Secret: How to plan your big trip and see the world’. For more details, excerpts, and to purchase, visit  www.admin.land/travel-secret

Japan miniseries: What to pack for a trip to Japan

Welcome to The Travel Secret: Japan travel tips miniseries!

To the uninitiated, Japan can seem a difficult and expensive place to visit on a budget, but that’s not necessarily the case.

I’ve just got back from an action packed two weeks in Japan. It was awesome, but I’ve got to say that the planning before I went was epic! There are not only hundreds of cool and quirky things to do, there’s the unique historical and cultural customs and etiquette to learn about, the language barrier to circumnavigate, not to mention the transport system!

So, I’ve put together a miniseries of blog posts to help you plan the perfect trip. This edition I look at what to pack.

Happy planning!

 

My number one rule for packing for a trip to Japan is to travel light. Unless you’re planning on staying in one place and not moving around much, your best option is to take a manageable (say, forty litres capacity) rucksack instead of a wheelie suitcase. There are lifts and escalators in train stations, but it’s crowded, and you’ll do a lot of walking.

Check out my other tips to maximise your luggage space.

  • Save some space in your bag for souvenirs! Or if that’s not going to be possible, consider packing a lightweight holdall and check in an extra bag with your souvenirs on the way home.

 

  • You can buy most things in Japan, but it might be more expensive than back home, so it’s wise to check in advance and take any essentials with you.

 

  • There are good laundry facilities in hostels and hotels in addition to coin-operated launderettes so pack fewer clothes and do washing whilst you’re there. Your back and your bag will thank you!

 

  • Hotels provide a great selection of toiletries and amenities including shampoo, conditioner, body wash, razors, hairbrushes, toothbrushes, toothpaste, cotton wool pads, cotton wool buds, hair bands etc, so you can leave most of your toiletries behind. However…

 

  • Take plenty of rich moisturiser and lip balm – the air is very dry in Japan and you’ll need it! Some hotels provide humidifiers in rooms, which you’ll be grateful for if you’re suffering from the dry air.

 

  • If you need to pack medication, whether prescription or over the counter, check that any of the ingredients aren’t banned in Japan. A quick Google search should bring up a full list, but some cold and flu medicines, medicines containing stimulants (such as Actifed, Sudafed and Vicks inhalers) and Codeine are all banned. If you do need to take prescription drugs with you, you’ll need a letter from your GP stating the name of the drug and the condition being treated. You are permitted to take a two-month supply with you. Hay fever tablets, paracetamol, ibuprofen and most vitamins are permitted, but it’s worth double checking the ingredients, just in case.

 

  • There are plenty of public toilets around, but few have soap or hot water, so take a small bottle of hand sanitiser with you when you’re out and about.

 

  • Rubbish or recycling bins are a rare sight in Japan – which is strange considering how clean and tidy the streets are! Carry a plastic bag around with you to put your litter in, which you can dispose of later when you’re back in your hotel.

 

  • Pick up a data sim card, or hire a pocket Wi-Fi device (you can order one in advance to be delivered to your hotel, or collect it from the airport on arrival in Japan) to give you unlimited internet connectivity whilst you’re out and about. This is handy for checking maps, addresses, or using Google Translate app’s clever live translation. To return the pocket Wi-Fi device, just put it in the pre-paid envelope and pop it in a post box at the airport before you go through security.  I got mine from Get Your Guide https://bit.ly/37Ah6wc

 

  • Pack a portable battery charger for your mobile phone – if you’re out and about all day using apps, maps and taking snaps you might need to top up your phone battery halfway through the day.

 

  • If you plan on visiting in winter and doing some skiing, you can hire most of your kit, including clothing and equipment, but it’s worth taking your own goggles, gloves and hat if you have them.

 

I hope you’ve found some of these tips to be useful! Have you got any more to add? Please let me know in the comments – I’d love to hear from you!

For further travel tips and inspiration, check out my book, ‘The Travel Secret: How to plan your big trip and see the world’. For more details, excerpts, and to purchase, visit  www.admin.land/travel-secret

 

Japan miniseries: Eating and drinking your way around Japan

Welcome to The Travel Secret: Japan travel tips miniseries!

To the uninitiated, Japan can seem a difficult and expensive place to visit on a budget, but that’s not necessarily the case.

I’ve just got back from an action packed two weeks in Japan. It was awesome, but I’ve got to say that the planning before I went was epic! There are not only hundreds of cool and quirky things to do, there’s the unique historical and cultural customs and etiquette to learn about, the language barrier to circumnavigate, not to mention the transport system!

So, I’ve put together a miniseries of blog posts to help you plan the perfect trip. This week I look at food and drink.

Happy planning!

 

If you’re on a budget, food and drink can seem expensive when you first arrive in Japan – but it doesn’t have to cost a fortune! Follow these tips and must-try foods to help keep you costs down.

  • Convenience store food and coffee is a good budget option. Hot coffee and fast food are available in most stores in addition to pre-packaged sushi, sandwiches, bento boxes, noodles and salads.

 

  • Breakfast is not a big deal in Japan and you won’t find many restaurants serving it so, look out for bakeries doing a coffee and pasty set deal, or opt for the ubiquitous convenience store for an egg salad sandwich and a coffee – it’s cheap, filling and tasty!

 

  • Some local or traditional style restaurants can be a bit confusing, but great fun to experience. Look out for a name list inside the door – if the restaurant is very busy, or full, write your name on the list inside the door, then hang around outside and they’ll call you when a table becomes free.

 

  • Japanese people will sometimes be prioritised in local bars and restaurants and occasionally tourists are not welcome. Sometimes you’ll be told “no English menu” or I did hear one case of a tourist being told, bluntly, “no foreigners!” It may seem rude at first, but some bars and restaurants are very small, and local people, who frequent them regularly are their bread and butter – so they would rather keep the space for their regulars, than tourists who they’ll never see again. This is the same reason cover charges can apply in bars – they would rather their regulars drink there every week and are loyal to the same bar for the whole evening, than tourists who bar hop. The cover charge is there to deter this behaviour. If you plan on bar hopping, be sure to check first whether the bars charge cover, which can quickly add up.

 

  • Smoking is still allowed in many bars and restaurants, which can be a bit of a shock to the system if you’re from a country where this was banned many years ago! These days, some bigger restaurants will have a non-smoking area, so if passive smoking is likely to bother you, I’d advise learning the Japanese for ‘non-smoking’ before you go!

 

  • If you want to get away from the cigarette smoke, it’s permitted to drink alcohol in public places and a good way to combat expensive bar prices in fine weather – just find a nice park, pack yourself a picnic… You need to know, however, that you shouldn’t eat, drink or smoke whilst walking, or on public transport.

 

  • If you decide to share a carafe of sake with a friend or partner in a bar, you should always pour for each other and never fill your own glass.

 

  • If you’re looking for cheap eats, check out food courts, which offer a wide variety of great value meals. Restaurants often offer cheaper lunchtime deals at a fraction of the price of dinner.

 

  • If you’re enjoying your noodles, it is considered polite to slurp them – the noisier the better! It may not come naturally to you if you’ve been brought up to eat and drink quietly, but if in doubt, watch (and listen to) the locals!

 

  • Tap water is potable so take a refillable water bottle out with you. Before you go, download the MyMizu app https://www.mymizu.co/home-en, which shows the location of your nearest refill station. Restaurants will also give you water as soon as you sit down and there’s no pressure to order further drinks with your meal.

 

  • Don’t forget to try some of these must-try, great value meals: Okonyomiyaki (savoury pancakes, a speciality in Osaka), pork cutlets, ramen (huge and only around ¥1000 per bowl), BBQ skewers, octopus balls, bento boxes and last but not least, look out for the strawberries, cream and custard sandwiches in 7Eleven!

 

  • Vending machine restaurants can be a source of great confusion – even once you’ve figured out what you’d like to eat by deciphering the pictures, kanji or numbers; you’ve then got to work out how to order it – so follow these steps: First insert the money (machines usually accept small notes or coins only). Press the relevant button to select your meal and take the ticket issued. Hand in the ticket at the counter, then find a seat/table and staff will call you or bring the food to you when it is ready. Bon appetit!

 

  • If you have any dietary requirements, get it translated and written down in kanji before you go, so you can show it in restaurants when you order.

 

I hope you’ve found some of these tips to be useful! Have you got any more to add? Please let me know in the comments – I’d love to hear from you!

For further travel tips and inspiration, check out my book, ‘The Travel Secret: How to plan your big trip and see the world’. For more details, excerpts, and to purchase, visit  www.admin.land/travel-secret

Japan miniseries: Money and spending in Japan

Welcome to The Travel Secret: Japan travel tips miniseries!

To the uninitiated, Japan can seem a difficult and expensive place to visit on a budget, but that’s not necessarily the case.

I’ve just got back from an action packed two weeks in Japan. It was awesome, but I’ve got to say that the planning before I went was epic! There are not only hundreds of cool and quirky things to do, there’s the unique historical and cultural customs and etiquette to learn about, the language barrier to circumnavigate, not to mention the transport system!

So, I’ve put together a miniseries of blog posts to help you plan the perfect trip. This post is all about money.

Happy planning!

 

Your budget in Japan largely depends on the activities you have planned and whether you plan on treating yourself whilst you’re there. At the one extreme, you could live off convenience store sandwiches and coffee for breakfast, sushi for lunch and big bowl of ramen for dinner and you’ll eat well and cheaply. Many temples and shrines are free to visit and there are numerous hikes and strolls that are free of charge. However, if you prefer fine dining and bar hopping, want to visit lots of museums, galleries and attractions to fill your day, the costs will soon add up.

It is possible to visit Japan on a budget – or to spend a fortune – it’s completely up to you.  Here are some money tips to help you plan your trip:

  • Look up entrance prices before you go and factor in a mix of free and paid activities for balance. Get to grips with the exchange rate so you can quickly compute in quickly compute in your head the cost of items and keep track of your daily spend and tweak accordingly.

 

  • It’s best to take some cash with you as some smaller shops, restaurants and bars do not accept cards. You may also find that your foreign credit or debit cards do not always work, so always carry some cash as a back-up. Japan is a safe country to travel in, so you’ll be fine carrying around a bit more cash that you might carry at home.

 

  • Many ATMs do not accept foreign cards, but ones that will work can be found at Citibank, 7Eleven stores and other convenience stores. Whatever neighbourhood you’re staying in, you probably won’t be far from a convenience store!

 

  • Keep an eye out for ¥2000 notes. They are still legal tender, but rare in Japan as they are no longer printed. I ordered some Yen before I left the UK, which contained several ¥2000 notes. They’re not worth much more than their denominated value right now but are a great way to say thank you for good service in a country that doesn’t tip!

 

  • Speaking of tipping, it is not expected at all in Japan, so when paying a bill in a restaurant or bar, always wait for your change of the server will call you back!

 

  • When paying for items at a shop, put your money on the little tray on the counter by the till. Some cashiers will not take money from or put your change directly into your hands.

 

  • Take a change purse with you to keep your ¥100 coins in – you’ll need them for laundry, vending machines and lockers, so it’s good to keep them handy.

 

I hope you’ve found some of these tips to be useful! Have you got any more to add? Please let me know in the comments – I’d love to hear from you!

For further travel tips and inspiration, check out my book, ‘The Travel Secret: How to plan your big trip and see the world’. For more details, excerpts, and to purchase, visit  www.admin.land/travel-secret

Japan miniseries: Getting around – how to maximise your travel in Japan

Welcome to The Travel Secret: Japan travel tips miniseries!

To the uninitiated, Japan can seem a difficult and expensive place to visit on a budget, but that’s not necessarily the case.

I’ve just got back from an action packed two weeks in Japan. It was awesome, but I’ve got to say that the planning before I went was epic! There are not only hundreds of cool and quirky things to do, there’s the unique historical and cultural customs and etiquette to learn about, the language barrier to circumnavigate, not to mention the transport system!

So, I’ve put together a miniseries of blog posts to help you plan the perfect trip. This one looks at travel.

Happy planning!

 

It may look overwhelming, crowded or complicated, but transport in Japan is super-efficient, runs on time and it pretty easy to navigate. If you get lost or confused, you’ll find the station staff and general public to be happy to help. Here’s some advice to make your journey that little bit easier:

  • On arrival, foreign passport holders are issued a ninety-day visitor visa and are photographed and fingerprinted. Be sure to carry your passport with you always – it is an offence if you are asked for it by the police and you don’t have it. You also need it to validate you JR Pass – though I was never asked for it when travelling around Japan.

 

Japan rail pass

  • If you’re planning on visiting more than one city in Japan, you should seriously consider getting a Japan Rail Pass. Passes can be bought for seven, fourteen or twenty-one days and can be used on any HIKARI, SAKURA, KODAMA, or TSUBAME Shinkansen trains. It is not valid on NOZOMI and MIZUHO trains on the Tokaido, Sanyo and Kyushu Shinkansen lines.

 

  • If in doubt about what trains you can and cannot take, use the Hyperdia by Voice app to find out the best route, see what trains are covered by your JR Pass, and search and see fares for journeys not covered by your pass. On downloading the app, you’ll have a free 30-day trial, so plan accordingly so maximise the use of it. See http://www.hyperdia.com/ for more details. The app also includes details of subway and other non-Skinkansen lines.

 

  • If you know what bullet trains you want to take; you can reserve seats in advance at a JR ticket office. Don’t worry if you don’t know in advance what trains you want though, there are always some unreserved carriages on every train.

 

  • Sit on the right-hand side when travelling from Tokyo to Kyoto for great views of Mount Fuji!

 

  • You can purchase a voucher for your JR Pass up to three months before you travel to Japan and then exchange it for your pass on arrival at Haneda or Narita Airport, or at the JR East Travel Service Centre. Make sure you buy one before you go though as they’re not available to purchase after you’ve arrived in Japan.

 

  • JR lines operate all over the country and passes can be used for city travel within major cities and on the JR Ferry to Miyajima. In Tokyo, the JR Yamanote line runs in a circle around the city, passing through Shibuya, Harajuku, Shinjuku, Ueno, Tokyo Station; and in Kyoto you can use the JR line to travel out to Arashiyama and Nara, so it’s great value even beyond the Shinkansen.

 

Passmo and Suica card

  • For journeys not covered by the JR Pass, purchase a pre-paid Passmo or Suica The cards require a ¥500 deposit, which is refundable at any station at the end of your trip. Use Passmo or Suica on subway lines, buses, convenience stores, vending machines and coin lockers (found in most train stations).

 

  • The Japan Official Travel App https://www.jnto.go.jp/smartapp/eng/about.html is useful for navigating your way around Japan (trains, metro, etc). It’s easy to use and gives you simple directions to follow when you type in your route, including which exit to take when you arrive in subway stations. Stations can be huge with many exits, so this is a really useful feature!

 

  • Stand on left on subway escalators, except in Osaka, when you stand on the right!

 

  • If you don’t want to carry luggage around with you, leave it in a coin locker, found in most train stations and at the entrances to some tourist attractions. Lockers come in small, medium and large sizes and you pay a daily rate to store your bags. To use a coin locker, first insert the coins, pull the door shut, turn the key and take it with you. Most lockers accept ¥100 coins only so always carry some with you.

 

  • If you’ve got a lot of luggage, consider using a luggage forwarding service for travel between major cities. For a fee, luggage will be collected from your hotel and delivered to your next hotel in an agreed timeframe, allowing you to travel light between destinations.

 

I hope you’ve found some of these tips to be useful! Have you got any more to add? Please let me know in the comments – I’d love to hear from you!

For further travel tips and inspiration, check out my book, ‘The Travel Secret: How to plan your big trip and see the world’. For more details, excerpts, and to purchase, visit  www.admin.land/travel-secret

Japan miniseries: How to plan your time in Japan

Welcome to The Travel Secret: Japan travel tips miniseries!

To the uninitiated, Japan can seem a difficult and expensive place to visit on a budget, but that’s not necessarily the case.

I’ve just got back from an action packed two weeks in Japan. It was awesome, but I’ve got to say that the planning before I went was epic! There are not only hundreds of cool and quirky things to do, there’s the unique historical and cultural customs and etiquette to learn about, the language barrier to circumnavigate, not to mention the transport system!

So, I’ve put together a miniseries of blog posts to help you plan the perfect trip. Let’s start by looking at how to plan your time

Happy planning!

 

So, you’re planning a trip to Japan but are not sure where to start? There’s so much that you could see and do – but what to choose and how to figure out what’s best for you?

I’m not going to touch on the many places to visit and things to do. My main advice to you here is to do your research in advance! The Japan Travel Planning Facebook group https://www.facebook.com/groups/JapanTravelPlanning/ is a great place to start if you need suggestions or more detailed advice when you start to hone down your itinerary.

However, here are a few generic tips and ‘can’t miss’ activities:

  • Stay in a ryokan at least once. A ryokan is a traditional Japanese guest house where you’ll sleep on futons on tatami mats on the floor. Many provide meals and have their own onsen (hot spring bath) and it’s a great, quintessentially Japanese experience!

 

  • There’s a café for everything in Japan: pet cafes (cats, dogs, hedgehogs, micropigs, owls…), in addition to monster cafes, robot cafes, maid cafes – and they’re a quintessential part of Japanese culture, so take your pick!

 

  • If there’s something you really want to see or do, check well in advance if you need book ahead. Two of my favourite activities I did in Japan, Studio Ghibli http://www.ghibli-museum.jp/en/ and Teamlab Borderless https://borderless.teamlab.art/ always sell out well in advance and Ghibli even involved being awake at 1am GMT, to snag the tickets as soon as they were released – so make sure you check the attractions you want to visit! On a similar note, if you want to see sumo wrestling whilst you’re in Japan, check the calendar of tournaments to check the wrestling season calendar.

 

  • When visiting galleries and museums, bear in mind that some attractions close on a Monday. If you’re there over new year or on other public holidays, you can expect further closures.

 

  • The crowds can be huge at some of the most popular attractions. The best way to beat them is to go early. Arrive at seven or eight am and you’ll have the place to yourself, yet at eleven am or one pm it’ll be at its busiest.

 

  • Allow time to wander around the different districts and let yourself get lost! You don’t need to fill every minute of every day and you never know what you might stumble across if you’re not on a strict agenda.

 

  • Check out the Tokyo Cheapo calendar for ideas of things to do and see what’s going on, all on a budget: https://tokyocheapo.com/

 

  • Free guides operate in many of the main cities in Japan and it’s an opportunity to have a local person show you around. Sessions usually last around three hours and you can specify the area you’d like to find out more about, or let your guide choose for you. Start with a Google search for ‘free guide’ plus the name of the city to see what’s available. Whilst guides provide their services for free, it’s polite to offer to cover travel costs and a lunch or coffee when you’re out and about. Tipping is not common in Japan, but a small thoughtful gift from home can make a great thank you present.

 

I hope you’ve found some of these tips to be useful! Have you got any more to add? Please let me know in the comments – I’d love to hear from you!

For further travel tips and inspiration, check out my book, ‘The Travel Secret: How to plan your big trip and see the world’. For more details, excerpts, and to purchase, visit  www.admin.land/travel-secret

My top travel gadgets

headphones-405886_1920Over multiple trips and holidays I have honed down my travel kit and now I never leave home on a big trip without the following tried and tested items in my rucksack.

PacSafe

I can highly recommend Pacsafe’s range of Anti-Theft Backpack And Bag Protectors – they come in a range of sizes and are great when your accommodation doesn’t provide a safe; if you need to leave your bag in luggage storage, or unattended on public transport. It’s a light-weight, flexible and slash proof cage that locks around your rucksack, securing your valuables inside. When you’re not using it, it packs down into a compact case making it easy to carry.

To stop would-be thieves running off with your bag, you can use the device to attach your bag to a piece of furniture in your hotel room; to a luggage rack on public transport, or to a travel companion’s bag – it’s much harder for a thief to make off with two large rucksacks than one! Find out more here: Pacsafe 85 Anti-Theft Backpack And Bag Protector (https://amzn.to/2yncXyy) is suitable for a large, 65+ litre rucksack.

Osprey Farpoint and Fairview carry-on rucksacks

Travelling hand-luggage only? Maximise your carry-on allowance with these great forty-litre rucksacks. Packed with handy pockets galore, a laptop compartment and internal straps to hold the contents in place, you’ll be amazed how much you can cram into these bags.

They are also really comfortable to wear; complete with waist and chest straps to hold the pack in place and to take the weight off your shoulders, making it a convenient for hiking as well as carry-on luggage.

The Osprey Fairview 40 (https://amzn.to/2IIiJdH) is a women’s fit and the Osprey Farpoint 40 (https://amzn.to/2z1Jquf) is the men’s version – both come in two sizes to cater for larger and smaller body types. They are ideal for shorter and longer trips, when you don’t want the hassle of checking in bags – or you want to keep your eyes on your luggage whilst you’re on the move.

Silk sleeping bag liner

Designed to keep your sleeping bag fresh, the silk sleeping bag liner has another great use as a stand-alone sleeping bag in hot countries. It’s lighter than sleeping under cotton sheets and keeps the mosquitoes off. It is also great if you find yourself cold on a long coach journey when the air conditioning is cranked right up or if your hotel accommodation is of a questionable standard!

It packs down, via a compression sack, to the size of a fist for easy storage and transportation, can be hand washed in the sink and dries quickly (https://amzn.to/2MvYZ0b).

Kindle

kindle-1867751_1920(1)

Do away with heavy, bulky guide books and novels and load everything you want to read on to a Kindle. It’ll save you considerable weight and bag space, plus it’s easy to download books on the go.

You can pick up a range of Kindles fairly cheaply and all your content is backed up online in your Amazon account. My favourite model is the Paperwhite (https://amzn.to/2lbEY2p), which comes with a backlight, making it perfect during insomnia in a hostel dorm, or at dusk when you want to continue reading whilst over a sundowner.

The Kindle Fire (https://amzn.to/2JGfr01) is also great as a budget tablet and e-reader in one. It contains all the functionality you need at the fraction of the price of some other tablets. You may find it a suitable alternative to taking a laptop away with you (depending on how much typing you need to do).

Noise-cancelling headphones

My Bose Quiet Comfort noise cancelling headphones (https://amzn.to/2t1kj5w) have been my saviour when travelling, cutting out the background noise on flights, buses and in noisy hotel rooms. They may be one of the most expensive items in my travel kit, but I won’t go anywhere without them now.

I used them every night of a ten day stay in Tulum, where my stay coincided with an extremely loud Mayan music festival that went on until 4am every morning – and I would literally have had no sleep without them. They are also useful to phase out screaming babies and snoring passengers on overnight flights and buses – plus they give you a better quality of listening on your headphones, so your music sounds good wherever your surroundings.

To beat insomnia, listen to Sleep Sound (http://bit.do/sleepsound) on your noise cancelling headphones. A soundtrack designed to help you sleep in noisy environments, Sleep Sound features calming rainfall, waves and waterfalls interwoven into a wall of soporific white noise; engineered to block out background noise whilst simultaneously coaxing you to sleep.

Laptop

My laptop is an integral part of my travel kit and I use it for keeping in touch with loved ones back home, blogging, trip research and booking the next leg of my trip. Consider getting a light-weight, slim line netbook – your bag and your back will thank you in the long run!

It goes without saying but always back up regularly – especially any work you’ve done and photos you’ve taken along the way in case something happens to your computer. Laptops and cameras can be replaced, photos can’t – and whilst you’ll always have the memories, you’ll cherish looking back over your pictures, so take good care of your files.

There are many Cloud storage websites out there to choose from. Google Drive (www.Google.com/drive), OneDrive (https://onedrive.live.com), Dropbox (www.dropbox.com) – and others – all offer free Cloud storage and are a great way of backing up important documents, files and photos whilst you’re on the move, and which can be accessed from any computer via the Internet. All the above sites also have handy mobile apps, so you can access, back up and manage files from your smartphone.

If you need more storage that the free plan offers, you can purchase a monthly or annual plan but before you buy, think about spreading your files over a few free Cloud-based accounts. Top tip: always do your backing up over a fast Wi-Fi connection, or it will take ages to upload large files like photos.

It’s also worth backing up everything on to a portable hard drive like this one: https://amzn.to/2lf8EvK – it’s less valuable to a thief than a laptop, so there’s less chance of it being stolen; plus, it’s a way of accessing your files when you don’t have Wi-Fi and can’t get on to the Cloud.

Multi-country adaptor plug with USB sockets

Charge your laptop, phone and e-reader all at once with these handy multi-country adaptor plugs with USB sockets. The USB ports make light work of charging all your devices at once, and you don’t have to carry around a bulky charger for every device. From your phone to your Kindle, MP3 player to portable power bank it’s charging made easy.

Amazon has a huge selection or adaptor plugs, including this one: https://amzn.to/2tfaWyn.

Portable power bank

A portable battery or power bank with enough charge to top up your phone is a life-saver for long journeys; if your phone dies when you’re out and about or as an emergency power source during power cuts. I used the Anker PowerCore 5000 Portable Charger (https://amzn.to/2t9Ncvq), which is enough to fully charge your phone or MP3 player.

I also found it useful to take a portable battery charger in my travel kit to keep my torch and headphones batteries charged up – but your need will depend on how many devices you take with you.

Travel SIM card

Having access to calls, maps and email will be a life-saver at times – when you’re wandering around trying to find your accommodation unable to locate it with the directions given, you can simply call them.

Before you set off, make sure your phone is unlocked and check with your mobile phone service provider to see if roaming in the countries you intend to visit is included in your tariff. If it isn’t, remember to turn off the data roaming on your phone when you arrive – or you could end up with an exorbitant phone bill that you haven’t budgeted for! Then pick up a local SIM card when you land – remember you’ll need your passport in order to get a SIM, so don’t forget to take it with you to the phone shop.

Excerpt taken from The Travel Secret (How to plan your big trip and see the world) by Sarah Kerrigan. For more details and to purchase, visit www.admin.land/travel-secret.

My top travel apps

iphone-410311_1280Once you’ve packed your travel bags, download the following useful apps on to your phone to keep you on track whilst you’re on the move.

Guru Maps

Picture the scene: you’ve just arrived off a long flight and successfully navigated the public transport/taxi to the area where you’ll be staying. But now the taxi driver isn’t exactly sure where your place is – and you forgot to print off a paper map.

This is where Guru Maps steps in, offering free offline maps – no roaming required. Just download the country map over Wi-Fi before you travel, and you’ll have access to them without needing to use any data on your phone.

The free version is great, but for a nominal fee, upgrade to the Pro version which gives you access to an offline search function, the ability to drop pins and add bookmarks. I have used this app on every trip and couldn’t go away without it now.

Visit https://gurumaps.app for more details.

Caxton FX

Caxton FX (www.caxtonfx.com) is a pre-paid credit card which permits you to load the ten most popular currencies (including GBP, US dollars and euros) on to a MasterCard for use as a debit card whilst you are abroad. There are no foreign transaction fees and no fees for using ATMs abroad.

You can withdraw cash in any currency (even if you have a different currency loaded on to your card, Caxton will convert it for you), so if your intended destination’s currency is not available to load, just load British pounds. You can also load your card when the exchange rate is favourable and lock in that rate.

The Caxton FX app is really easy to use and it takes seconds to load currency on to your card. Protect your travel funds by loading on a small amount at a time (£100 minimum load) so you don’t have to worry about taking your bank debit or credit cards out with you.

 

Curve

To make a foreign currency transaction on your credit card without the associated foreign transaction fees, Curve converts the transaction at near-perfect market rates and transfers it on to your credit card with only a 1% fee (most foreign transactions on a credit card come with a 3% fee).

Simply link your Curve card to your chosen Visa or Mastercard credit or debit card and keep track of all your transactions via the simple-to-use app. The app generates a receipt for every transaction –and you can also block your card via the app if it gets lost or stolen (or unblock it if you find it again!)

The benefits of Curve mean you can continue to spend on existing credit cards, without needing to apply for a new travel credit card. Linking to existing credit cards means you can continue to earn reward points from your credit card as every transaction that goes through Curve is simply transferred as a purchase to your credit card account. You can even withdraw £200 per month as cash and have it charged as a purchase to your linked credit or debit card.

Find out more at www.imaginecurve.com and use the promotional code KWZEV when you apply for £5 credit on your first transaction.

Booking.com

With great search and filter functionality, www.booking.com is my one-stop-shop for accommodation when I’m travelling. Whether you’re making reservations months in advance or very last minute, Booking.com offers competitive rates and a wide range of accommodation options from hostels and guesthouses to hotel chains and high-end, luxury resorts.

You can filter search results by facilities, area, price, customer review score and more, so it’s easy to find the best accommodation for your needs.

Cross reference search results against Trip Advisor (www.tripadvisor.com) for candid traveller reviews and for recommendations for nearby restaurants and activities – which are great when you’ve just arrived somewhere, and you don’t know the area yet.

It’s easy to cancel and amend bookings, or to ask your host questions via the app.

Before you book, however, it is worth shopping around – compare prices for the same hotels via different travel booking sites. Expedia (www.expedia.co.uk), Hotels.com (https://uk.hotels.com), Hostelworld (www.hostelworld.com), Trivago (www.trivago.co.uk), Kayak (www.kayak.co.uk) – and others – often have the same rooms for sale at different prices. Some will have availability where others do not, so research the best deal before booking.

Tripit

Consolidate and save all your travel plans to view offline in this easy-to-use app. Simply set up your free account then email your booking confirmations to plans@tripit.com and Tripit will save down all the details to a consolidated itinerary. You can save details of flights, hotels, ground transportation, ferries, tours, activities and more, with Tripit converting the booking details in the email into their user interface with minimum effort on your part. Then add your fellow travellers to your itinerary so they can access the same details and add plans too.

For a monthly charge, you can upgrade to the Pro version and Tripit will send you updates with gate information at the airport, track frequent flyer balances and more – but I would recommend trying the free version first before shelling out. Find out more at www.tripit.com

WiFiMap

Never be stuck without Wi-Fi again! WiFiMap (www.wifimap.io) is a user-updated database containing over one hundred million accessible Wi-Fi hotspot locations and passwords. Wherever you are in the world, simply open the app to access the passwords of nearby networks. When you’ve connected to a new network, you can also update the database for other users. The only catch is that you need to be online to connect and download the database. Upgrade to the pro version for a one-off charge and download an entire city’s Wi Fi passwords before you get there so you can access them offline when you arrive.

XE.com

Keep on top of exchange rates as you hop from country to country. Simply download the XE.com (https://xe.com) app, add in the currencies you want to track and turn your phone into a portable exchange rate calculator. Whether you’ve just arrived in a country and not sure what the local currency is worth, or you need to do a quick spot check to make sure you’re not about to be scammed, XE.com will keep you up to date and can even be used offline once you have added your currencies to the list.

Speedtest.net

Speedtest.net (www.speedtest.net) is an invaluable resource on the road: a website which enables you to run an internet speed test – testing upload and download speeds in a short thirty-second test.

On my recent travels, if I had work to do or calls to make and needed a fast connection, I would ask the host to run the test remotely before booking online or do it in person on arrival – before handing over the money for the accommodation.

The SimpleSpeed app for iPhone offers the same functionality in an app for convenience on the go.

Award Wallet

Do you find it hard to remember all your loyalty and frequent flyer account login details; lose track of balances and the expiry date of points? Then let Award Wallet (www.awardwallet.com) do it for you. Create an account, enter all your reward account details and Award Wallet will monitor your balances, notify you about movements in your accounts and send you an alert when the points are due to expire.

Keeping track of your balances also helps safeguard against Loyalty Fraud, where hackers gain unauthorised access to your loyalty accounts and steal your points. By staying aware of current balances, you can quickly take action with the loyalty account provider if you notice any suspicious activity in your account.

Excerpt taken from The Travel Secret (How to plan your big trip and see the world) by Sarah Kerrigan. For more details and to purchase, visit www.admin.land/travel-secret.

Saving face: how to fit in without falling out

handshake-3205492_1920Around the world, cultural norms and behaviours – what is considered polite and rude – and how to act varies. From hierarchical societies where age or status implies wisdom, to flat, informal cultures where old and young, rich and poor are treated the same.

Remembering to use a formal register – or not – when talking to your superiors in more autocratic cultures whilst recalling the vocabulary and grammar to string a sentence together can seem like a lot to recall at times, but it’s important to get it right – or at least try to respect the rules. Just as you wouldn’t walk around topless at a holy site or in a deeply religious society, how you speak, your tone and the language you use also makes an important impact.

For example, the Vietnamese are proud people and they care a lot about how they are perceived by others. The concept of saving or losing face is an important cultural tradition and should be considered in all interactions with a Vietnamese person. Face can be interpreted as social reputation, dignity or integrity, so if you are thought to be embarrassing yourself in front of others, you are losing face. Behaving dishonourably, lying, shouting or arguing in public is considered offensive because it causes you to lose face.

Looking back on my first visit to Vietnam, I committed a faux-pas which – unbeknownst to me – caused my host to lose face: Having stayed three nights in a guest house in Ho Chi Minh City, my host asked me to write a review about my stay on the booking website. Having given a commendable score of eight out of ten, I marked the property down only on account there being no safe in the room and one or two other minor details. My host however did not take the review favourably and fired back an angry response:

“What did you have stolen?” From where she stood, there really didn’t need to be a safety deposit box because there was no risk of my things going missing – whereas I was simply implying it might be an improvement that might make future guests feel more secure.

She ended her email, “I hope I never see you again!”

I learnt the hard way. It demonstrates how seemingly small cultural differences can cause individuals to be so greatly misunderstood – and how learning some basic social etiquette and customs can prevent clashes, embarrassments or misunderstandings on your travels.

The concept of saving face goes beyond just Vietnam and applies broadly across South-East Asia. In a restaurant in Koh Chang, Thailand I asked a waiter how long my food would be after waiting over forty-five minutes. Not wanting to lose face, he told me mine was the next order, and that it would only be a few minutes – but on checking again in another fifteen minutes, it transpired the chef had still not started preparing it! I quietly told him we were in a hurry and had to go. We quietly paid for our drinks and went on our way and no face was lost since the chef hadn’t started cooking yet and I didn’t make a scene.

Conversely, whilst dining with a French family in Brittany, France, I thought I was being polite by waiting for everyone to be served before starting to eat – until they asked me if I wasn’t hungry or didn’t like the food on my plate! They were amused to learn that in the UK, we wait for everyone to start eating together (and the person who is served first’s food gets cold!) It was quite common across South-East Asia for my travel partner or I to have been served and finished our meal before the other’s had even come out of the kitchen – so this logic certainly makes sense from that perspective!

Most guide books will contain some information around cultural traditions and norms, but if you want to delve a little deeper the Culture Smart! The Essential Guide to Customs & Culture (www.culturesmartbooks.co.uk) series of books come highly recommended when it comes to learning about and understanding different countries’ cultures; offering insights into behaviours, beliefs and attitudes, and practical tips on how to get the most out of your trip.

Excerpt taken from The Travel Secret (How to plan your big trip and see the world) by Sarah Kerrigan. For more details and to purchase, visit www.admin.land/travel-secret.