A Note on Trip Planning

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Voluntary or not, planning a trip starts the moment that you let your wanderlust take over for even a second. You begin to imagine the types of places you want to go, the things you’ll do, the experiences you’ll have, what you’ll eat. You begin to plot out the sites that you couldn’t live without missing, and how your very Instagrammable AirBNB would sit in the perfect spot. Suddenly you start to notice hints of your dream destination everywhere; it invades your thoughts, your dreams, and your conversations. Until one day everything changes…because after months of dreaming and hoping you’ve FINALLY gotten your ticket.

At least, that’s how it went for me. Two years ago Tokyo was barely on my radar. It was just a city that I saw in photos and on TV shows. It was the birthplace of a style we’d learned about in Intro to Fashion called Harajuku; it was the setting of many magical Miyazaki films that I’d watched with wide eyes. Until I moved to the West Coast, traveling to Asia didn’t even seem like a moderate reality. You see, living in the Southeast meant that Europe was a convenient travel destination—it felt accessible, airline tickets were more reasonable, the time difference was manageable. Even closer than that was Mexico, but Asia? That shit felt far. Too far.

A couple of months after I moved to Seattle two of my coworkers went to Japan for a month. They returned with stories that sounded made up, fantastical souvenirs, and many tasty candies. It was then that I began to feel thirsty for Asia. I started to see bits and pieces of Japanese culture everywhere. Slowly (and hungrily) I began to familiarize myself with different kinds of Japanese cuisine in Seattle; I made friends with people who had been there before and were under the “I love Japan” spell that I’d grown accustomed to hearing about. My Netflix queue gradually went from Kimmy Schmidt and Planet Earth to Anthony Bourdain and Jiro Dreams of Sushi, and my Amazon wish list? …I’m sure you can imagine. Exactly a year from my friends’ return I exited the tab where I’d just finished watching Lost in Translation, got on Kayak and booked a flight for six months later.

(Maybe it was the sparkling, panoramic shots of Tokyo at night that tantalized me, or maybe it was ScarJo. The jury’s still out).

Choosing a destination for travel is only the first step in planning your trip. The next step, in my opinion, is identifying why you want to go there. What’s driving you to go to this new place? Is it the historic sites? The culture? The serene beaches? The pancakes? Identifying the reasons you want to go somewhere new will help you shape your itinerary for a supremely custom travel experience. It will be more memorable and enjoyable for you than one that simply covers the bases of that new place (especially if, frankly, you just can’t be bothered to care about some of those bases).

As many of you know, I get more excited about food than I do about most things. The opportunity to try new foods using cooking methods that have been honed for many generations, feeling it’s cultural and historical significance, it’s so life-giving to me. It’s why I’m going to Japan. I may miss some of the statues and the temples, but I certainly won’t miss Chanko Nabe in Ryogoku or “Ramen Street” in Tokyo Station.

Pro tip: An important question to ask yourself is, “When I get back, I will regret if I miss…” what? Answer that question for yourself before you leave so you know that you’re prioritizing all the things you really care about.

Once you’ve determined the WHY of your trip the rest of the planning should come fairly easy. If you’re finding it hard to come up with ideas, do some research. I think travel blogs are a really reliable resource. Take inspiration from some of the adventures the bloggers had, things they ate…but don’t be afraid to  follow their lead and seek out some of your own travel secrets. Also, check out Youtube for video travel diaries and insider information.

One of my favorite travel blogs, Cup of Couple,  just went to Japan, check out a video from their trip below:

IMPORTANT: As much as I preach about curating my own travel experience, I have a pile of books in my room that I’ve been pouring over for the last few months. Not only do they offer insight into things to do, but some also include cultural information and maps. V HELPFUL.

Some of my favorite Japan resources:

*Don’t be afraid to reach out to people who know a lot about what you’re interested in (Authors, Restaurant Owners, Etc). They can often offer up the most unique, fearless travel advice.

Traveling to a new place doesn’t have to be a checklist of obligations and tourist traps.  Make your trip memorable by making it your own, and even making it up a little as you go. A little spontaneity never hurt anyone—only made things more exciting.

One week left until take off!


(I’ve been practicing)

Tokyo Bound // Notes on solo travel

tokyoheaderSMWith each passing year of my life I’ve started to push the margins of my independence a little further. The first big push being when I uprooted myself from everything I knew at 23 and relocated across the country to Seattle. Alone. I knew one person, but he also happened to be the person whose apartment I’d be subletting while he studied in Germany (Hey, Finis!).

To familiarize myself with my new city, I began using Saturdays as an opportunity to explore new neighborhoods. I’d start with a vague idea of what area I’d like to see next, a plan of how to get there on the bus, and maybe one or two spots that I’d read about beforehand that struck my interest. Spoiler alert: more often than not, these places revolved around extravagant looking, waffle-heavy brunch menus and places promising pour-overs made with locally roasted, single-origin coffee. Judge me.

I quickly became comfortable navigating to and around the different areas — always expecting to get semi-lost at least once, and often finding a thrill in it. Meals alone felt like a spiritual time when I could bury my face in a dish that was lifting my spirits to the moon, and could even let a tear roll down my face if it was warranted. I began to stop caring about what people thought about “the girl who talked WAY too much to the barista and is now sipping a cold brew alone” and began caring more about the experience in Seattle that I was creating for myself. I’m a year and a half in now, and while I do have friends that I frequently brunch with, I still bask in the moments when I have a two-top for one and a whole day of discoveries ahead of me.

Some people find it thrilling to shop on Black Friday, or to try things like the KFC double down. I find it thrilling to redefine my comfort zone, so the next natural step in that process to me seems obvious: it’s time for solo travel. While my dad’s hesitations to this idea are rooted (deep) in the world of Liam Neeson’s, “TAKEN”, my expectations are completely wrapped up in the thought of waking up when I please in a city that is completely foreign to anything I’ve ever known with an itinerary that can be anything I want it to be.

The destination: Japan. For two weeks I’ll be chassé-ing around Tokyo — and a few other cities in on the island — on my time. While the majority of people I know who have been there before are encouraging me to fill my schedule to the brim with this attraction and the other, I plan on shaping my days around what I want to eat next and if I feel like spending 3 hours in a park spinning under the trees that are exploding with cherry blossoms. I want to use this trip as an opportunity to gain some insight and perspective on what I want right now in my life. Then again, I also want to use this trip as an opportunity to go to Disney World.

I want to leave Japan with an experience that I have curated, and not one that was dictated to me by travel guides and touristy checklists. I want to explore Tokyo the same way I explored Seattle — spending time in both the popular parts of town, and in the quiet neighborhoods that aren’t always explored by outsiders. I want to find the intimidatingly authentic noodle shops and the picturesque, traditional homes with manicured gardens, as well as pay visits to the famous museums and renowned works of architecture. I want to feel like I saw a side of Japan that I wouldn’t have seen without my brand of curiosity.

I know the idea of solo travel is daunting for some people, and to some it’s even downright terrifying. For me? It’s the next step into becoming the person I want to be.*

*That “person” is also one-step closer to becoming Anthony Bourdain’s successor than I am at this moment.

I’ll be writing some posts on trip planning and preparation in the days leading up to my departure. My plane takes off on March 30, and from that point on — for the next two weeks — you can expect photos and ramen-centric updates to flood my feed.

Looking forward to sharing this experience!

header photo by Alyssa Mcelheny