In the previous article in the series we covered the price differences between various conventions and going to Tokyo. In part two, we begin the process of building your trip to Japan.
Below in blue are the items of the “Order of Operations on Getting There” are covered in this entry (Mission briefing).
Order of Operations on Getting There
- Figure out when you want to go.
- Start Your Budget.
- Make sure your passport is up to date/getting your first passport.
- Find a place to stay during that time.
- Price airfares and make sure you can afford when you want to go. Here is a hint: It is expensive to travel during and around Golden Week or before Obon.
- Take the “Leap of Faith.”
- Get ready to go.
Figuring out When You Want to Go
I do not think this needs much explanation, but this is your starting point for your trip. You need to decide when to travel, which Tokyo airport to fly into, when you depart and return, and how many segments your trip will have.
With this let us take a look at something very important that does get forgotten about, the International Date Line. This is that magical, invisible line that is drawn somewhere over the Pacific Ocean that decides when a day ends and begins. Going to Tokyo or Japan in general causes you to cross the International Date Line. This is assuming you go from the United States and fly westward. If you fly eastward, a whole new set of day problems exist. To keep this simple, we will stick with going west.
When you plan your trip to Japan, you usually start with how much vacation time you have to spend on the trip. Let’s say you have 5 vacation days to spend. So, you book your flight to fly out Saturday and return the following Sunday, for a total 9 calendar days. WAIT!!! That is wrong. If you leave Saturday morning (from the east coast of the United States) you will actually arrive in Tokyo on Sunday afternoon. So, the reality is you lose a day of your grand adventure just in travel. Never fret! When you are coming back you typically arrive an hour or two after you left Tokyo (if you are flying to the east coast of the United States). So, that day you lost going you get back when return. That loss of a day is VERY IMPORTANT! Think of it this way, if you can only go to Japan for 5 days, you are only there for four days, three nights.
A truly terrifying prospect is flying eastward (from the United States). Many flights going east cause you to lose two days in travel. It may be a good idea to, as the Petshop Boys once sang:
(Go West) Life is peaceful there
(Go West) In the open air
(Go West) Where the skies are blue
(Go West) This is what we’re gonna do
-Petshop Boys: Go West
Start Your Budget
At this point in the process you will have to start creating your budget for the trip. How I have done it in the past is I look at how much money I can spend at the moment I am going to book the travel. This sounds awkward, but if you have the credit or cash available start your budget there. Always aim high. If you can afford $1500 for travel, then record it. If you can only afford $700 record it and start looking. At this point, as long as your passport is up to date, this is most likely the ONLY expense you will have until you actually leave on your trip. At this point you can create an estimate on hotel as well. If you look at staying at back packer hotels or hostels you can budget $35 a day. Remember, at this point in time you NEED to over budget. You also only need to have your flight and hotel roughly worked out. A trick that I used was to look at all the conventions I would go to over the course of the year, be it small local or destination, and add those costs together to get a budget. So, I used to go to three to five conventions in a year.
The other option is to use the values I created in part one of this series and build from there. The one item you should adjust is money for stuff. This should be a realistic number you can spend on stuff.
Making Sure Your Passport Is Up To Date
This one may seem like a “No Brainer,” but it happens. It happened to me on my most recent trip. Passports are good for 10 years as an adult. That is not EXACTLY true. The reality when traveling into Japan, your passport cannot expire SIX months or less from the date you enter the country. So realistically your passport is good for 9 years 6 months. I learned of this rule when helping one of my traveling companions get his passport. The rule is not weird when you look at how long you are allowed to be in the country on a tourist visa: six months. (You can stay for up to 180 days without needing to apply for a visa before traveling.)
What to Do If Your Passport Expires In Six Months or Less and You Travel Sooner
This can be a painless process depending on how soon you travel. I had to do this with one week until I traveled and did not have too much difficulty.
The following link goes through the process of renewing: http://travel.state.gov/content/passports/english/passports/renew.html
The estimated time for getting a non-rush renewal based on the US Government web site is 4-6 weeks. You should plan on 8 weeks, as a buffer. If you need your passport sooner, you need to go through the “Expedited” process. The difference is at worst one week difference between the traditional renewals.
The following link explains the process of expedited renewals: http://travel.state.gov/content/passports/english/passports/services/expedited.html
Now, there is the worst case like I experienced: the less-than-a-week situation.
How do you take care of this?
Easy! OK, not exactly easy. You will actually need to travel to a Passport Agency Office that does same day passports.
Here is the quick list of what to do:
- Have your new passport photo ready.
- Make sure you have you old passport with you, if you have one.
- Take your birth certificate, especially if this is your first time.
- Make sure that photo, without any sort of doubt matches the requirements of a passport photo. The last thing you need is to get there and have a photo they reject.
- Locate the closest passport center. Link to the list of passport centers: http://travel.state.gov/content/passports/english/passports/information/where-to-apply/agencies.html
- Call to schedule an appointment. The number is available on the Expedited Renewals page. Make sure to get an appointment EARLY IN THE DAY, especially if you need to return home the same day!
- Arrange how to get to the closest passport center.
- Make sure you have a way to pay for the passport. This may seem stupid, but I can see it happening. More so, make sure you have enough money to cover the passport. Expedited service cost more than the standard renewal, $60 more as of 14-April-2014. Link to Government fees web page: http://travel.state.gov/content/passports/english/passports/information/costs.html
- MAKE SURE YOU HAVE A PRINTED COPY OF YOUR BOOKED TRAVEL. BASICALLY BRING THE ITINERARY YOU GET FROM YOUR AIRLINE WHEN YOU PAY FOR YOUR TRIP!
- MAKE SURE YOU HAVE YOUR ITINERARY PRINTED AS PRESENTED TO YOU FROM YOUR AIRLINE! (Do not modify it in any way; if need be, print it landscape.)(So important I put it in here twice; I had to reprint one last minute because I forgot mine at home.)
- Do not be late for your appointment. Even though you will wait forever past your scheduled appointment time, don’t be late. Make sure you can tell the security guard when your appointment is. Also, leave your friends outside as depending on the guard they may or may not let them enter the agency.
- Do not be excessively early for your appointment. If you are there sooner than 15 minutes before your appointment they can deny you entry into the office.
- Make sure you do not have guns, knives, nail clippers, and anything that could be construed as a metal weapon. You will have to go through a metal detector and either dispose of what you have or not go into the agency. So, if it is metal, leave it in your car, hotel room, or home.
- Turn your cell phone off and do NOT take pictures. I watched the security people expel a person for talking on their phone and taking pictures.
- When you turn in your paperwork EMPHASIZE, without being rude or aggressive in tone, that you must have your passport as soon as humanly possible. You MUST be incredibly polite, as close to being a kiss ass as possible without coming across as one. Some Otaku have issues talking to people in such a way that doesn’t sound confrontational, rude, or awkward. Practice your “fear and trembling” approach. Think of talking to a teacher or boss and do it with the person that takes your paperwork. Something to remember, these are government employees who see many people in a day, and their jobs are secure. While customer service is important, they do not HAVE to be nice to you or help you in any way as the threat of losing their jobs because of bad service is not really there. They just have to take paperwork, give you a time to return, and send you on your way.
- They will give you a Will Call ticket. Under no uncertain circumstances should you let that out of your possession, as without it you will not get your passport, and potentially can allow someone else to become you.
- If you get a same day pickup be EARLY and have your PHOTO ID READY! It is important to know they will lock the doors at EXACTLY closing time. There are no exceptions.
The other option is to use a commercial service to do the same day renewal for you. This is expensive, but can be done if necessary. There are numerous businesses to choose from; use www.bing.com or www.google.com and search for “Passport Expedite” and the advertising companies will be the first results.
What to Do If You Do Not Have a Passport
First, if you have gotten to the point of committing to doing this trip, and have planned out a budget, and realized you do not have a passport, and then you have to go through the process of getting one.
The following link is to the US Government’s “Apply for a New Passport” web page that will interactively walk you through the whole process. It looks simple enough to use.
If you need a rush last minute passport, then use the same process as above in the “How do you take care of this?”
Find a Place to Stay
The worst thing to do is have airfare and no place affordable to stay. Some backpacker hotels will post rooms they have available based on your travel dates. The trick is to compare a number of places and then decide how to alter your trip to get you into a place to stay. You do not have to make reservations at this time. This should be a starting point. Around the time you are going to book, or even during the flight booking process would be an optimal time to book your hotel room. You can book at this stage and cancel or modify as needed, typically with no charge. If they charge a change fee, wait till you have your flights.
Price Airfares and Make Sure You Can Afford When You Want To Go
This is the first step in building your trip budget. Airfare is the single most expensive on your trip. Depending on where you are flying from, when you are flying, and which airport you are flying into your price could be in excess of $2000 dollars. The trick here is to know how to get affordable airfare. An important thing to remember is when the major Japanese holidays are. Trying to book during them or right before them will cost you more as demand for seats will rise.
Also, an important thing to note that traveling before Obon (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bon_Festival) or around Golden Week (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Golden_Week_(Japan) ) will be more expensive because of the high demand for seats.
Let’s start by going over some options
- Booking through a travel agency such as IACE travel.
- Self booking through travel websites.
Booking through a Travel Agency
This is actually a simple process. You look on the agency’s web site or call them and find either a travel package or just airfare. Their offerings can be better priced, depending on when you are going to travel. The trick here is to join their mailing lists to get deals.
Two of the biggest agencies are JTB (https://www.jtbusa.com/) and IACE (http://www.iace-usa.com/) .
IACE has special deals that they will not publish the prices for. This means you have to pick up the phone and call them. As an Otaku, this is something very difficult to do, but you have to suck it up if you want to use their discount rates. Another thing you need to be aware of, they will typically answer the phone in Japanese. Everyone there speaks English, so just say “hello” and they will typically switch to English.
JTB has a habit of posting their fares one way. So, you may get what appears like a good deal, but in reality can run you more money.
A huge thing to ask about when any of these sites give you a price, make sure to ask if Airport fees and fuel surcharge are included in the price. When booking through an internet site like Bing.com, Expedia.com, etc. they include those fees in their published price. Those fees can range in the $200-300 range depending. Also, the travel agencies will typically automatically look at a day or two before and after when you want to fly to find you a better rate. When you find a rate you want with the travel agency, you may have to purchase the airfare at that moment to get their price. If it is an incredible price
This is the most challenging and rewarding of the trip booking options. Think of it as a video game problem. Your quest is to build an itinerary that fits your requirements are within a specific price range. This method allows you to compare flight plans and durations to best suit your comfort level in traveling. Bing (http://www.bing.com/travel) allows you to search their prices and run the same search criteria on competitor sites. This will help you get the best deal (for self booking). There are airlines that have the same price on all online booking services. United Airlines was one such airline.
A huge trick to getting good prices is to book early, travel mid-week, and be flexible.
Get your best prices together, go back and look at your budget and see if you can still afford to do this.
Something important to remember, airfares are like the stock market they are always in flux. So, price your trip and plan on booking soon after confirming that you can afford it with your budget. Another thing is to use multiple computers to search for airfare. A number of my friends found that the airfare was cheaper using a different computer, the same site, and on the same day.
Leap of Faith
The truly hard part about planning a trip to Japan (Tokyo) is taking a “Leap of Faith.” What is the “Leap of Faith?” Simply put, it is your trust in your ability as an intelligent, mature person to believe you planned out your expenses and have taken the necessary steps to prepare for the trip. This is an incredibly difficult thing to do. There will always be the nagging doubt that you forgot to do something, won’t be able to afford the trip, are afraid better things will come up that you would want to do, or some other random thing.
Your “Leap of Faith” begins the instant you book your airfare. Up until that moment you can plan trip after trip, but they are just that: plans or dreams. A large number of American Otaku have social anxiety issues, phobias, or general insecurities in their own abilities, and actually booking the trip is a truly terrifying thing. Now, before you click “Book Trip,” you should have made reservations at your hotel/hostel/backpackers hotel. The thing is, booking a place to stay is something that anyone can back out of painlessly. Airfare, on the other hand is an incredibly expensive and potentially impossible act to cancel. I remember while booking my first trip to Tokyo that I almost threw up in fear of the set of events I set in motion. After clicking the final “Buy” button I was stuck with the following going through my mind:
And you may ask yourself
Am I right?…Am I wrong?
And you may tell yourself
MY GOD!…WHAT HAVE I DONE?
– Talking Heads: Once In a Lifetime
At this point you have committed and the shock of spending $1000+ on travel has just set in. From here, if you are not an incredibly seasoned traveler, you are asking yourself: MY GOD! WHAT HAVE I DONE? Remember this could be looked at as the most stressful part of the entire process. While everything else will be incredibly stressful, taking the “Leap of Faith” is the single most stressful event of this process. Why is the most stressful? As stated above, this single act locks you into the trip permanently. While there will be very stressful moments between then and returning home they will all be a little more bearable when you look back at when you took the “Leap of Faith.”
Something to think about: if you are a seasoned convention attendee, picture entering the dealers’ room not expecting to buy anything. Then, you find something that catches your eye that is a lot of money, and you buy it. The thrill and terror of buying the item is there and you wonder why you bought it and realize you cannot return the item. Then, after the shock settles, you are now more than willing to wander around the dealers’ room to spend without second thoughts. The purchase of airfare is very similar to that feeling. After taking this leap, everything else, expense wise, will be easier. Trust me. Spending the money becomes much less traumatic from here out.
In the next article in the series will cover the remaining steps of the “Order of Operations on Getting There.”