This year I managed to take the trip of a lifetime to Japan. I then did something out of character, at least for me, which was planning on such short notice. Let’s just pause to say that my boyfriend thought 3 months was more than enough time to plan a 14 day trip. Obviously we’re on different sides of the OCD spectrum.
Given that there were so many firsts – first time to Asia, first couples trip, first time planning on short notice – I wanted to put together an easy “how to” plan Japan in 3 months.
I tried to be conscious of spacing out the costs too. Not only am I planner friendly but I’m also budget friendly! Keep reading to learn to plan your trip to Japan.
3 months out
Obviously the first thing you need to do need to do is purchase the flight. I personally fell upon a flight sales in July for $600 to $700 through Scott’s Cheap Travel, then checked from the cheapest price on Kayak, Ebates and Chase Travel. I ended up finding the best deal on Chase Travel and using my points the flight total came out to $818 for 2 tickets. That is 414 per ticket.
Although you can stop here and bask in the excitement of an upcoming trip, it’s time to get to the real planning. I realized my boyfriend and I will have 10 days to see as much as possible so our next step was to research our brains out. I immediately started looking into cities we’d both want to see, monuments, tours and everything else to figure out how I wanted to structure the trip. My typical starting points are Atlas Obscura, Trip Advisor, Viator, Instragm hashtags and travel blogs.
The way I ended up structuring the trip, we’ll be able to stay in 3 major cities (Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka) with a few day trips (Mount Fuji, Hiroshima, and Kobe to name a few). Since we planned to get out of the city I found out we’d need a JR Pass. This is for non Japanese residents only. If you want to learn more about this pass then click here, otherwise keep on reading.
As for activities, keep a running list. At this point it will be too early to book some of them. Note, most places don’t allow for reservations earlier than a month out of the day. Plus, some activities may be off peak. Best tip here is make a list, take note of any reservation policy and revisit once you’ve booked the hotels. Why? Because then you’ll know concretely when you’re coming and going.
2 months out
At this point, you should have a rough outline of where you want to go and what you want to see. Now that you’re pretty comfortable… start booking.
After I booked the flight, I moved on to hotels. I like to make sure I know how I’m getting somewhere and where I’m staying before I book a museum visit.
I start by google-ing something like “best neighborhoods to stay in in Tokyo”. You’ll get a bunch of results for travel blogs. Read through and see what resonates with you. Since I’m from NYC, and work in Time Square, I typically try to avoid tourist traps and look for a more local vibe.
Once you know roughly, start to compare prices. I start with booking.com, Kayak, Expedia and Priceline. Then I checked Ebates and Chase. Basically the same thing I did with the flight. Disclaimer, this tactic isn’t for the faint of heart. You have to be a true bargain hunter with patience. Else you will just jump the trigger and book the first thing you see. Honestly, whatever works for you. The way of the frugal are strong in this one (yes that’s a Yoda reference). Also, because Japan is so expensive I tried to find hotels that had free WiFi and breakfast.
For this trip, I booked hotels in 3 major cities and 1 nice at a capsule hotel in Tokyo and 1 night at a highly reviewed traditional Ryokan in Kyoto for a total of around $550 a person. At this point, with the flight and hotel we’ve roughly spent a little under $1000. Remember, next up is the JR pass, activities, and some spending money. Be smart!
Don’t forget, start collating your packing list. I have a couple of templates I use. Highly recommend especially because I created and use them. Check them out here.
Here’s a peak into my list for this trip. I’ll do a more detailed post.
However, do whatever is natural to you. I did this early on because I didn’t want to over pack but also didn’t want to forget anything we might really need. If you want to check out my packing list for Japan, click here, otherwise keep reading.
1 month out
At this point you’ve done the heavy lifting. This month is more about reserving, booking tours, last minutes changes and purchases things to bring. Some of the tours wouldn’t let me reserve until 10 days in advance.
Month of trip
At this point I was still booking reservations. Even on my first day in Japan I was waiting for tours in Kyoto to be released. I did rent a wifi a couple days before we left as well. Focus more on making sure you pack everything you need to have the best time.