It's been a travel-intense New Year – six cities in less than two weeks. There's a lot to write about. Sometimes I feel like we could live in Japan forever and never run out of interesting things to share.
Today though, I wanted to talk about travel planning – all that it's worth and the times when, quite frankly, it just doesn't make a difference.
Those who have been reading our blog for some time will know that we like to maintain a lot of flexibility in our travels, and just go wherever we feel inclined to that day. Yet when it comes to visiting attractions, it certainly pays to check opening hours before you spend your valuable time and money on getting there.
When I was 19, me and a couple of Indian friends took a spontaneous road trip from New Delhi to Agra to see the Taj Mahal, only to find out after all those hours of driving that it was closed for a few days. Not wanting our trip to have been in vain, we ended up spending a couple of unanticipated nights in hotels, delaying our return. Of course, there's fun in and of itself in a road trip and these hiccups along the way, but there are ways to travel smarter, and, if on a tight budget or schedule, can be make or break for getting all that you want out of your trip. So needless to say, that lesson has been learned.
During our recent domestic trip in Japan, we were particularly attentive to this as it was New Year, the most important holiday period for the Japanese. This means widespread changes to regular schedules and for most stores and businesses at least a few days off, if not longer. We looked up the main places we wanted to go, then made a loose plan accordingly. If X is only open on that day, then we'll visit Y and Z on the other day. If that closes early, we'll go in the morning and visit the park which is open year round in the afternoon. And so on and so forth.
Yet even with the most careful planning, there are times when what you research, even from official sites, doesn't in fact match reality. We checked, for example, the opening times of the ropeway in Kobe, a major attraction that is known for its particularly beautiful night views of the city. Official information confirmed it was open on the day we planned to visit so we went out of our way by foot and subway to check it out. But upon arrival, we were informed that it was closed. Same went for other attractions both there and in other cities where all that could be found on the Internet and in city brochures said one thing, but we were greeted with another, usually this lovely sign chained across the door: 本日はお休みです (Today is a holiday i.e. we are closed).
However, the same went the other way too. Take, for example, our time in Hiroshima. We had been to Hiroshima before and one of the most memorable and moving experiences was the Peace Memorial Museum that documents the atomic bombing in 1945. We were planning to go to Peace Park (where the museum is located) again anyway, and thought that we'd stop by the museum again too. However, upon checking their website, it said that they would be closed on the day of our visit. So we resigned ourselves to the fact that we wouldn't be going there. Wandering around Peace Park, however, we noticed that people seemed to be going in and out of the museum and, upon closer look, we could see the silhouettes of people in the main exhibition area. We walked up to the entrance to see that the closing days sign had a handwritten note stuck over it – “We are only closed on December 29 & 30 this year.” Today was January 1st. We decided to head in even though they would be closing in 45 minutes – and at only ¥50 (around 50 cents) for an adult, it's well worth it.
Sometimes information is just lacking altogether and you just don't know until you go. Earlier this week we visited the onsen (hot spring) town of Kusatsu – a small Japanese town that boasts the highest output of natural hot spring water by volume – some 4000 liters per minute! One of the things we really wanted to see there was the “yumomi” performance – a traditional way of cooling down hot spring water to bathing temperature using large wooden paddles. All the information we could find on the Internet was that the performances took place at “various times” which depended on the “day of the week”. So we left at 6am from Tokyo for our day trip and headed straight there to check the times, only to find out that the last performance of the day was at 10:30am, an hour earlier. Even if we had left slightly earlier on the first train of the day we still wouldn't have made it, yet it was disappointing moments like these that we wished there was more information available for travelers to better plan their time.
An important part of traveling for Notes of Nomads, is to document these small but important details – to take photos of signs and timetables, to write down prices, draw maps, and take note of any piece of information that might be useful for travelers out there. We hope that by documenting our travels in this way, we can help fill in some of the gaps with up-to-date and practical information, especially for lesser-known or less-frequented places where publicly available information is lacking.
The reality is we can't plan for everything. We can, however, do ourselves favors by taking the time to try to ensure our time and energy isn't unnecessarily wasted. Many attractions the world over have well-maintained websites with accurate information on which you can plan your itinerary. There isn't much we can do for situations when unexpected closures interrupt our plans but just to roll with it and know that for every planned activity, we have had and will continue to have just as many memorable experiences just by being in an unexpected place at the right time.
As always, we'll continue to post on-the-ground travel tips here on Notes of Nomads. As information is always changing, if you have visited a place we have written about and have an update, we welcome and invite you to share it by leaving a comment on the relevant post for the benefit of other travelers.
Happy planning, but most of all, happy adventuring!