From Pineapples

Travel tips, stories, and adventures from around the world.

Author: Ryan Kanno

Follow us as we document our move to Tokyo, Japan!

Follow us, a Japanese couple from Hawaii, as we document our move to Tokyo! Hopefully, through this experience, we’ll learn about our family’s history and what being Japanese is really all about.

For once, I don’t have a TL;DR for this post. The title says it all! We’ve moved to Tokyo!

Wait, what! We’ve finally moved to Tokyo!

Since a lot of people have been asking questions, we created a post to help answer them.

Why are you moving to Tokyo?

We’re not going for family nor work nor <insert your favorite, logical reason here> – I guess one could say we’re moving for adventure.  It’s been a dream of ours since we first met more than 8 years ago, and it’s been in the works since we lived in NYC / SF over 3 years ago. Hopefully, through this experience, we’ll both learn a bit about our family’s history and what being Japanese is really about.

What kind of Visa did you get?

I received a boring Spousal Visa. Lucky Me!

On the other hand, Sara received a Long Term Resident Visa via ancestry by proving she’s sansei (thanks grandma!). It was a long process that took a little over 6 months, and we had help from an immigration attorney to help submit our application. Sara’s planning to blog about what she needed to provide and do because there isn’t a ton of information online aside from a post or two in the Japan / Japan Life subreddits.

How long are you staying?

Sara says FOREVER!

(Just kidding, we’ll come back to visit.)

Seriously though, we don’t currently have any plans to return home, but life does come at you fast, so who knows?

What are you going to be doing?

Well, for one, we’re working.

Sara will be working remotely for Colliers International because it’s her first true love job – she’s been with them since she was a rebellious teenager – except for that one time she cheated on them with CBRE in New York. Hehe. For the past few years, I’ve been really interested in helping preserve the past – so to continue on with that journey, I’ll be working on a small storytelling app.

We’re also going to be exploring the city/country and learning a bit of Japanese in the process. My goal is to be able to give people tours of the city for the 2020 Olympics!

Where are you going to live?

For the next few weeks, we’re staying in an AirBnb in West Tokyo. Since neither of us have to go into Central Tokyo for work, we’re planning on finding a place near Tachikawa  station to get a bit more space so people can stay with us. Tachikawa is ~30 minute ride to Shinjuku.

Can I stay with you?

No.

Props out to you if you actually read this far, but then you’ll also know that we got a larger place so that people can stay with us. Just hit us up to see if the room is available.

That’s it for now! 🙂

If there’s anything else you’re curious about, let us know in the comments!

 

1 Comment on Follow us as we document our move to Tokyo, Japan!

Our family reunion retrospective! – [ Part 3 of 3 ]

Through a retrospective of our family reunion, learn what we would have done differently so you don’t make the same mistakes. Learn what went well and how we plan to improve for the next one! Part 3 of a 3 part series.

Family Photo

Our Family!

In my experience of writing software in a team, one of the most important steps – if not the most important – is the capacity to speak objectively (as a team) about the events that led up to the release of the software.

I like to call this the “the good, the bad, and the ugly“.

While the act itself is important as a team learning experience, I believe that the retrospective is critical because it’s another step towards being able to speak objectively and critically in a team setting – an act that promotes “psychological safety” within a team.

Google the term if you want to learn more about high-performing teams, but having worked on a number of them in my career, I’ve always found that the most functional teams I’ve been on have exhibited characteristics of being “psychologically safe”.

Obviously, this takes both comfort and practice, but after 8 years, Sara and I are more than comfortable enough to be able to speak critically of one another, so I’m sharing what we discussed privately in our retrospective of our family reunion.

The Good

If expected outcomes were our measure of success, we definitely succeeded because we fulfilled them all! Not to mention, quite a few family members thanked us for our efforts – that should be one of the first signs that we did a lot of things right.

  • People mingled
  • Took a great family photo
  • Ended up with a lot of corrections to the family tree
  • As an added bonus, got email addresses for a large chunk of the family where I’ve been sending updates about this blog to! Hi fam! 😀

For having only a week’s time to prepare for the 50+ person event, the organizing went extremely smoothly. We weren’t cramming the night before and had spread out the tasks over the entire week.  I attribute this to Sara’s planning / organizing skills because they’re much, much better than mine. Here’s some protips (from Sara) on how to make an event go smoothly:

  • Create a timeline of the day’s events and print out hard-copies to distribute to everyone
  • Put all assets in labeled manila folders to be distributed on the day of the event – the more granular and contextually organized the items, the better.
  • Always carry extra items like pens, post-its, extra copies of print-outs and what not.
  • Pack the night before so you’re not scrambling the morning/day of.

The print out of the family tree definitely worked out better than we imagined. There were a lot of family members who fixed the tree, but it also acted as an event anchor that encouraged interactions between members of our family. If we were to recommend one item to be reused from our reunion, this would be it.

The Bad

There were a few hiccups on the day of the reunion – for one, the venue actually didn’t have the appropriate seating arrangement (nor was it even possible), so we had to move people around 30 minutes before everyone arrived. I won’t lie – it was a bit hectic because there were only two of us that knew all the details. In critical situations, I tend to wear a manager hat and order people around. Ultimately, I have to remember that it’s family and not a place of business – so I don’t think I handled that as well as I could have – since after all, this is supposed to be a fun gathering – who cares about these minor inconveniences. 😀

Second, while we did have a planning schedule, we misplaced it in the chaos and so we  improvised in the moment. As a result, we failed to give detailed instructions to the people at the check-in table. This led to pseudo-random distribution of favors and missed collection of email addresses. Ultimately, this was totally our fault due to the lack of communication. On a good note, we did later remedy the situation by manually walking around the venue and collecting email addresses.

Last, while I tried to stick to the schedule on the sheet that Sara printed out – and I kept reminding myself to, I ended up making up the schedule on the fly. While it worked out this time, in future events, that may not be the case. I really have to get better at sticking to pre-planned schedules. 😀

The Ugly

We have a fairly decent camera, but unfortunately, because of a setting enabled on the camera and the poor lighting in the room, a lot of the pictures came out blurry. This was partly due to the fact that the camera is pretty new, and Sara didn’t have a ton of experience using it. With that said, the group photo of our family was taken by another member so we did end up with a nice photo. We should have taken a few shots the night before and checked them out, but in our haste, we didn’t and ultimately lost a bunch of photos.

What We Would Do Differently

All in all, I think given the circumstances, we planned a great an amazing family reunion, but if we’re never critical of what we’ve done, we’ll never improve. So, here’s a list of items in no particular order of what we would have done differently:

  • Have more people show up early and be involved in the setup. We should have communicated a setup plan the night before with a small group of people instead of shouldering it ourselves.
  • Definitely take some photos the night before to see how the camera would perform.
  • Highlight features of Ancestry.com earlier in the event. We didn’t show all the amazing features of Ancestry until right before the end. There’s a lot of documents that Ancestry has collected that people were interested in such as the census scans, draft cards, yearbook photos, etc. It piqued quite a bit of people’s interest.
  • I really wanted to print out something physical that everyone in the family could take home. While we are giving out a family photo as a prize for this reunion, one of my dreams is to be able to print out family baseball cards where the back of the card would have trivia about a person’s life. One of these days, I tell you…
2 Comments on Our family reunion retrospective! – [ Part 3 of 3 ]

Planning a family reunion – [ Part 2 of 3 ]

We helped organize a successful family reunion, so can you! Learn how we focused on seating charts, interactions, and collaboration. Download the tools and design materials we used. Part 2 of a 3 part series.

Materials.jpg

Our Guess Who!


Update: If you’re planning on throwing your own family reunion, make sure to check out:

  • Part 1 – We helped organize a family reunion, so can you!
  • Part 3 – Family reunion retrospective aka what we would have done differently

If you read my last post, you’d know that Sara and I were fortunate enough to have been included in the planning stages of a family reunion.  And… if you know me, you’d know that this has something I’d been secretly wanting to do for a number of years.

I can’t really put my finger on why I’ve been so fascinated with learning about my family history, but as I’ve gotten older, I’ve cared less about lives being led on Instagram and more about my family’s history in Hawaii.

To gauge success, I viewed the most important outcome of the reunion as the following:

Family members should interact and meet one another – no matter their lineage. This was most important. If this happened at some level, even if none of the other outcomes occurred, we would have had a successful reunion.

To accomplish this, we focused on three specific facets of the event:

  1. Seating
  2. Interactions
  3. Collaboration

*Note: We’re making all the assets we used in planning this event available in this blog post. Unfortunately, to use them, you’ll need a bit of an Excel background and someone with Adobe InDesign experience.  If you’re planning your next reunion and want a custom design for some of these assets, I hear that for a small fee, Sara might be able to help you out. 😀

Seating

I know how most local family parties end up, and I really wanted to encourage people to meet different members of the family. To help solve the issue of familiarity, we arranged the seating chart so that families would not sit next to their immediate family, but keeping at least one parent and child together as well as spouses if their children were grown adults.

If we made people feel uncomfortable, then I knew we were headed in the right direction. 

If you’ve ever tried to seat a large group, it’s fairly painful without the use of technology, so I made a quick spreadsheet on Google Docs to dynamically show available seats as the seating chart is filled out. (I knew my finance background would be of use someday!) Feel free to customize it to your own liking as I’ve filled it with a bunch of random celebrities. In addition, since there were a ton of people who had never met, we also made name tags for everyone – you’ll find the InDesign templates available at the end of this blog post.

Note: The seating chart is titled “Guest List / Seating Chart“. If you notice, I have the floor plan of the event space where I’ve numbered each seat at a table. We didn’t need this level of granularity to actually seat people, but it really helps to visualize who is sitting where. After you’ve seated everyone, the “Sign-In Sheet” tab dynamically pulls from the seating chart. You’ll want to sort this sheet by “Last Name” (since families arrive together) and print out the result (or copy it to an InDesign template like we did) to use at the sign-in desk.

Interactions

Once everyone has been seated in an uncomfortable spot, we needed people to interact with one another. I’m generally not a fan of forced interactions, but we decided to include two items on the table that would help “kickstart” the conversation.

Conversation Starter

The first item would be a conversation starter, commonly known as an “ice-breaker”. Each conversation starter would be placed at everyone’s seat and have two sections. In the first section, you have to say how you’re related to either my grandmother or one of her sisters.

When thinking about familial relationships (especially when dealing with 2nd / 3rd cousins), it’s always good to have people form a visual baseline of where you are in the family tree.

The second section of the conversation starter would contain questions to ask the table to help keep the flow of the conversation going. Since I’ve been fascinated with recording my own family history, I had a database of almost a thousand questions to pull from. Examples of these questions include:

  • If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be and why?
  • Who is one person here you’d like to learn more about?
  • What was something you got away with as a child that your family still doesn’t know about?

Guess Who?

The second item would be a “Guess Who” game that would be situated as the centerpiece of every table. Once everyone stated where they were in the family, we had pictures of 8 people numbered one through eight. On the table, we had cutouts of those numbers, along with the names of the eight people in the photos and a few extra members of the family to increase difficulty. The idea was for the table to interact (and collaborate) with one another to match the photo to the person. During the reunion, I announced the answers and let the winning table know they would receive a physical copy of the group photo we’d take later in the day.

Collaboration

Since we focused on micro-interactions occurring on the table, I wanted to ensure that the room had something larger to collaborate on at the macro level. Sara and I paid for a subscription to Ancestry.com via a Black Friday deal, and we’ve both spent countless hours attempting to fill in our family’s history. I met with my Aunty Gerry on a Saturday to complete a large chunk of my grandmother’s tree, but we were still missing quite a bit of people / details. The original idea was to show the family tree on a projector, then have people come up and fix the tree on the laptop, but we didn’t think that interaction would go well because of the inherent technology barriers (re: people crowding around a single laptop, using Ancestry’s user-interface, etc).

Instead, Sara painstakingly transcribed the tree from Ancestry.com (which doesn’t have great export options) over to Adobe InDesign where we could then print out a large 8 foot banner of the tree (which costs ~50 dollars). We then had post-it notes for people to fill in corrections. Here’s the before and after of the tree.

As you can see, I think out of all the interactive ideas we had, this was definitely the best one. There were so many family members who came up to fix the tree and add more detailed information! The display became a focal point of the event – where people could get out of their seat (woohoo!), make their corrections, and ultimately talk to other people in the family.

*Note: We used colored post-its to represent gender to make it easier when we placed the corrections back into Ancestry.com

Assets

So to sum it up, here are the assets that we’ve made available to help you plan your next reunion!

Whew.

I know it looks like a lot of work, but it’s definitely worth the effort!

Stay-tuned for my next blog post where I share my thoughts about the reunion and everything that we could improve on for the next one!

Make sure to continue reading:

  • Part 3 – Find out what we would improve on if we could “do it all over again”
3 Comments on Planning a family reunion – [ Part 2 of 3 ]

We helped organize a family reunion, so can you! – [ Part 1 of 3 ]

With a week’s notice, we helped organize a family reunion. Sharing our tips so you can too! Learn how we organized seating arrangements and used games to encourage interactions between families. Download the tools and design materials we used. Part 1 of a 3 part series.

Our family tree with corrections!


Update: If you’re planning on throwing your own family reunion, check out:

  • Part 2 – Download all the tools and design materials we used in our reunion!
  • Part 3 – Family reunion retrospective aka what we would have done differently

Whether it’s obsessing over Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History or interviewing my parents to learn more about their childhood, I’ve always been fascinated with the past.

Luckily for me, one of my grandmother’s sisters, my “Aunty Jean” as we call her, was visiting Hawaii with her extended family – most of whom I had never met.  This meant that my Aunty Gerry would be responsible for organizing a casual family get-together.

If your family is large and anything like mine, this usually consists of a meal at Zippy’s where families sit next to their immediate family and talk story / catch up with those they’re familiar with.  I mean, I should know since I’m definitely guilty of this myself.

After all, we’re human.  We tend to gravitate towards familiarity.

Yet, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that this setup isn’t ideal since we don’t get to learn about other family members aside from at a “surface level”.  There isn’t much depth to the relationship, and sadly enough, we end up knowing more about our friends than our own blood.  Don’t get me wrong – some families may be better off this way, but I’d like to think that my family should know (and want to know) more about one another.

I wanted to do something different.

With about a week’s notice, Sara and I helped my Aunty Gerry organize the reunion.  Even though we have quite a bit of experience organizing large community and corporate events, there’s an inherent pressure in dealing with family. No matter the size, you always want it to reflect the best of your abilities because ultimately, it’s a reflection of your parents.

When thinking about what a successful outcome would be, I came up with the following three outcomes that would ultimately shape the day’s activities:

  1. Family members should interact and meet one another – no matter their lineage. This was our main goal. If this happened at some level, even if none of the other outcomes occurred, we would have had a successful reunion.
  2. Take a family photo that every family should receive.
  3. Enable corrections to the family tree that my Aunty Gerry and I have spent hours constructing.

All in all, the reunion turned out better than even I could have imagined!

Not only did we accomplish all three outcomes, but as a bonus, we received email contacts for family members whom I had never even met prior to the reunion! Big props to my wife, Sara, for doing a large chunk of the design work including the design of the game, the program, and the family tree above.

Over the next two blog posts, I’ll be posting the documents and visual assets we used to plan and organize the events of the day – so that you too can plan your own family reunion! I’ll also be detailing how the day unfolded and things we could improve upon for the next reunion.

Stay tuned for the next post where I discuss what goes into planning a reunion when given a week’s notice!

Make sure to continue reading:

  • Part 2 – Download all the tools and design materials we used in our reunion.
  • Part 3 – Find out what we would improve on if we could “do it all over again”
3 Comments on We helped organize a family reunion, so can you! – [ Part 1 of 3 ]

If you’re headed to New York…

If you want to be a tourist in New York, just google “Things to do in NYC” and be done with it. You can do all the things that no NYer actually ever does (re: Times Square / Katz / Magnolia). If you want something a bit more adventurous and exciting (and NY), read on.

TL;DRIf you want to be a tourist in New York, just google “Things to do in NYC” and be done with it. You can do all the things that no New Yorker actually ever does (re: Times Square / Katz / Magnolia) – like going to Waikiki for peeps who grow up in Hawaii. If you want something a bit more adventurous and exciting (and NY), read on.

We’re going to take a break from all our cruise postings and post about NYC because we get asked pretty frequently about what people should do when they visit the city. Of course, take this all with a grain of salt as how you like to travel is pretty personal – and I get that. 🙂

We were (very, very) fortunate enough to live in Manhattan (re: Midtown, West Village, LES) for a few years with a short stint in Brooklyn. (Ok, fine – Williamsburg isn’t really BK.) Many of our friends and family came to visit, and we ended up being tour guides for a large chunk of our time there.

Trust me when I say – as a tourist, you can “do all the things no NYer ever does” – because we did them and when we told NYers, they were pretty amazed.

Over the years, a lot of people have emailed and asked Sara and I what to do – so here’s a small guide of what I’d suggest – maybe Sara will add some of her favs in the comments as there’s no way to capture the magic of the city in a single post. Since I still visit quite often, I’ll periodically update this post as time goes on (or maybe add new posts).

Note: We’re pretty adventurous and try a lot of new things and put ourselves in a lot of different (sometimes awkward/uncomfortable) situations. If that isn’t your thing, you probably should just stop right here and google “Things to do in NYC”.


Sleep No More

It’s now a bit old, but 6 years ago it was the best interactive theater experience we’d been to. If you want to read a bit about it before jumping in, the Times has an extensive write up about it.

#protip: If you don’t like surprises (BOOOOO!) and want to enter with #godmode, check out the Foursquare tips.  If you’re an explorer, you might even run into the orgy room (re: NC-17). If naked bodies aren’t your thing, you should probably stay away from this, but then again, what are you doing in NYC again? 🙂


MP3 Experiment

From Improv NYC – Sara found this on the Googles.  To find out more about our experience, check out recap #9. I can tell you that this is one of the most unique experiences I’ve ever participated in in my life as you listen to an audio track while taking part in a larger production.

#protip: If you don’t want to act silly in front of strangers, then do not do this. I repeat, do not do this. If your idea of fun is having a pillow or a water gun fight with a few hundred/thousand of your new best friends, then this is definitely for you. It was very, very fun.


Drunch

If you’re like me and wondering wtf “Drunch” is – it’s basically Sunday Brunch + all you can drink + club music… at 10 am. Yes, 10 am.  It’s a thing and generally happens in the Meatpacking District with 20-somethings who want to keep their Saturday night buzz going. It was also something we only did once with friends because honestly, I’m too old  – but it was a ton of fun. You’ll eat good food, down a bunch of Mimosas (re: bottomless) and see a lot of people dancing on tables. Reminded me of Ocean’s heyday in the 2000’s – but on Sunday morning.

#protip: Second rule of Drunch – Never meet up with your folks and plan to show them around town after Drunch. Sorry mom + dad! Good times.


Pizza

Discussing NYC Pizza is like talking about politics or climate change in the office, but here goes. If you want classic NYC, sit-down pizza in Manhattan, my favorites are John’s of Bleecker and Lombardi’s in Soho. We lived right off of Bleecker in the West Village, so you know I ate a lot of pizza.

For take-out slices, my favorites are Joe’s and Bleecker Street Pizza in the West Village and Prince Street Pizza in Soho. If you want something a bit more unique – Artichoke Pizza in Greenwich Village. (I’ll probably get an earful for that rec.)

As of late, I’ve been trekking it out to Williamsburg to hit up Emmy Squared (from the Emily’s duo) for Detroit Style pizza. If you don’t mind a trek, head to Di Fara‘s out in Brooklyn. Whatever you do, if you can afford it, don’t eat pizza from those dollar slice places. #doingitwrong

#protip: All the best pizza places are Downtown or in Brooklyn. If you’re eating pizza and not in one of those spots, you’re doing it wrong. Terribly wrong.


Street meat

You haven’t really lived if you’ve never eaten out of a NYC food cart.  From the churro lady @ the Bedford stop to the Halal vendors on… well, everywhere – they’re (mostly) tasty and wonderful. Definitely try some. If it’s running, my first recommendation would be to hit up Smorgasburg in Williamsburg. It’s a food truck convention with about 100 local vendors. It looks like they’re headed to the city soon so you won’t have to catch the dreaded L train.

My second recommendation would be Halal Guys on 53rd and 6th. During our first year in NYC, they were on my walk home from the office and I ate there at least 2x a week for a year straight. I’m exaggerating – kinda, but not really. They started to recognize me and even gave me a special reusable bag because I went so often. #nojoke #friends Haha.

#protip: They’re on all the corners except one, even if you see the NE/NW corners with super long lines, the SW corner is still them.  Watch out for the fake carts – it’s a dog-eat-dog street vendor world out there. Since they’ve become a national chain (and have brick and mortars around the city) , if you want something a bit more NYC, I’d highly recommend the King of Falafel on 53rd and Mad (Mon-Fri). Best falafels I’ve eaten in my whole life and being vegetarian, you know I’ve eaten a lot of them. It’s no joke that he’s the King of Falafel. They also have a place out in Queens – then again, what are you doing in Queens?


Games, games and well, more games

Fat Cat. Modern PinballSunshine Laundromat. Barcade. Chinatown Fair. SPiN NY. Royal Palms. Like with most things in life, I’m pretty competitive – these are my favorite places to play in the city.

Fat Cat: A bunch of TechStars folk (w/ Austen & myself) used to get together for a monthly foosball outing – sometimes crossing nights with NYC Foosball. There’s *really* cheap beer along with foosball, ping-pong, and pool. During the school year, there’s an endless supply of young NYUers to beat-up on. 😀 You might even run into professional ping pong players who will beat you with a shoe, right Austen?

Pinball: I used to drag Sara to Modern Pinball in Kips Bay after work on Fridays because you can pay a flat rate to play unlimited games for X number of hours or what I like to call “heaven”.  If you love pinball as much as I do, you should also trek it to Sunshine Laundromat out in Greenpoint because they have a sweet collection of pinball machines and a bar nestled behind a laundromat.

Barcade: While not as amazing as pinball, getting your fix in of old school video games is still super fun. There’s a ton of locations around the city now, but my favorite is still the Williamsburg one. As we’re on the subject of arcades, don’t forget to check out one of the last classic NYC arcades in Chinatown. Last time I was there, Chinatown Fair also has one of the few Killer Queen 5v5 machines (but I’m not positive it’s still there since it’s not listed on the KQ homepage anymore).

Royal Palms: This is probably the most unique of the bunch as it’s a shuffleboard spot out in Brooklyn. I always imagined it to be a game I’d play when I’m 70, but hey, it’s the BK and full of hipsters, so yeah. It’s a really large space with good drinks and a good bbq (Dinosaur) / ice cream (Ample Hill) joints nearby – so great for date night. Warning: if you’re playing locals, watch out for this guy named Austen – he’s pretty good I hear.

#protip: Do yourself a favor and do something on this list. Guarans that it’ll bring out your inner-child.


Dranks

There are tons of speakeasies in NYC. And if you haven’t been to one, you should go once. Sara and I went to most of them at least once and some of them a few times – here’s a decent Foursquare list of the most popular ones.

Personally, I’d recommend PDT because it’s both gimmicky and awesome to enter a bar through a phone booth in a hot dog shop. As a bonus, they also have a Double Dragon machine – so you can waste your quarters reliving your youth while you wait. You have to make a reservation (or end up waiting for hours) because it’s a tiny bar. Just keep calling, it’s not that hard to get a reso.

If you’re just trying to grab a drink, head out to the Lower East Side (LES) or the East Village (EV) because drinks will be cheaper and the crowd will be a lot less “douchey” and a lot more real.  With that said, I’m not a huge cocktail drinker as I tend to only drink Islay “band-aid” Scotch in my old age. For that, there’s no better place than the Brandy Library out in Tribeca. It’s pricey, but it’s quiet on slow nights and they have an insane collection of alcohol.

#protip: Not everywhere in the city is it $10 a beer. There are a lot of cheap places to drink downtown. Just avoid Midtown, Wall Street, and Tribeca and you’ll be fine. 😀


Whew. There were so many things we did in those 4 years that it’s hard to sum up all the amazing things that make up NYC in a single blog post. If I think up anything else, I’ll definitely add it here. If you’ve done something amazing in NYC that isn’t Times Square or the standard tourist trap (or just have a question or two about the city), definitely leave a comment!

Good Luck and safe travels!

4 Comments on If you’re headed to New York…

Why I catch public transportation in foreign countries and you should too!

I always find that one of the best experiences in a foreign country is taking public transportation. Whether it’s by bus or subway, you get an intimate glimpse into the daily lives of someone local to the area.

tl;dr – If you easily get anxiety, skip this blog post. You’ll thank me later. If you like adventure but have been taking taxis or ground tours in foreign cities, this is most definitely for you.

I always find that one of the best experiences in a foreign country is taking public transportation.

Ryan on the bus in Nagasaki

Whether it’s by bus or subway, you get an intimate glimpse into the daily lives of someone local to the area. It feels so alive to be deeply immersed in a foreign locale.  How else will you see all the drunken salary men stumbling home in Asia (!?!) or the amazing subway performers in NYC?  I often read travel blogs that skip over the logistics of getting to a destination and think to myself that they’ve missed a good chunk of the local culture – #DoingItWrong.

I get that it’s scary to not understand nor speak the language.

I get that it’s daunting to not be able to read public transportation schedules or catch a bus *gasp*! (It’s crazy how few people catch the bus here in Hawaii!)

I get that it’s nerve-wracking to be lost in a place you’ve never been.

#protip: Try it sometime when you’re not alone. It’s also (generally) cheaper than a cab.

It’s exhilarating. It’s educational. It’s exactly what I love about travel. In our latest travels, Sara and I headed out to Haedong Yonggungsa – about an hour and a half adventure on a subway + bus to a beautiful temple out on the northeastern Busan coast. I won’t lie – it was a bit harrowing being out in the middle of nowhere where people didn’t understand much English, and we spoke minimal Korean, but it was absolutely worth it. I’ll link to Sara’s blog post when she posts about it. 😀

Even though I’ve done it hundreds of times at this point in my life, here’s some helpful tips so that you can stop taking those guided land tours and venture out a bit to explore a foreign country’s countryside.

Some helpful tips if you plan on following my advice:

  1. Always have a portable electronic device like a cell phone or an iPad handy.
  2. Always carry an extra battery pack to make sure #1 stays on.
  3. Always have an Internet connection. It could be a cell phone plan, SIM card, or pocket WiFi, but always make sure you’ll have an Internet connection. Trust me when I say that there are hundreds if not thousands of apps that can help you navigate in a foreign country. This isn’t critical, but if you don’t have a connection, you’ll probably have to do a lot of pointing and what not to the locals (trust me on this one). 😀
  4. If available, download offline maps (re: Google Maps) so that you can screenshot locations and show bus drivers / subway operators / locals where you want to go in the case you lose Internet.
  5. Always carry your hotel card (or AirBnb location starred in Google Maps) and enough money to jump in a taxi if your anxiety ever gets too great. I think having this fail-safe allows me to explore with a greater level of confidence.
  6. Look to download the country’s messaging app as many services are integrated. For example, if visiting China, make sure you have WeChat. It even has a helpful Chinese-English translation tool in the case you really get stuck. If you’re in Korea, make sure to get Kakao, Line in Japan, Google Translate, etc. You get the message. There are so many digital applications that will help you not only communicate with others in a foreign country, but also help you navigate so you can GTFO.
  7. If you can afford it, buy the all-you-can-eat daily | weekly pass, etc. In my experience, this usually costs a bit more than paying for individual tickets, but it saves you the trouble of having to purchase a ticket every time and/or having exact change. If anything, see if the destination has the equivalent of a refillable transit card that you can deposit one lump sum and just swipe at stalls like the Pasmo/Suica cards in Japan or the T-Money cards in Seoul.
  8. Be respectful and learn a few words that you’d use on public transportation like “Thank You” or “Excuse Me”. Nothing worse than being “that American” in a foreign country.

So take my advice on your next adventure and tweet me a photo of your transit pass!

2 Comments on Why I catch public transportation in foreign countries and you should too!

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