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

Category: Travel Tips

Finally figured out my solution to jetlag

Being born and raised in Hawaii has its perks – but traveling is not one of them. Going anywhere outside of the state requires a 5-hour flight, minimum. Living in NYC for 4 years also meant a LOT of 10.5 hour flights across four time zones to go home for holidays and weddings – sometimes for just a weekend.

TL;DRFast for at least 12 hours and eat your first meal during meal time in your destination’s timezone. Avoid light before and during your flight. Soak in all the light during the day and dim your lights in early evening for the first few days.

East is a beast

Being born and raised in Hawaii has its perks – but traveling is not one of them. Going anywhere outside of the state requires a 5-hour flight, minimum. Living in NYC for 4 years also meant a LOT of 10.5 hour flights across four time zones to go home for holidays and weddings – sometimes for just a weekend.

I’ve tried a ton of ways to get over jet lag. Read every “how to cure jet lag” post on the Internets, and honestly still struggled with it every time I flew.

My problem? The advice given is useful, but not very practical. I mean, seriously? Who has time to start moving back their sleep schedule the week before a trip? Don’t you people work? Hahaha. This week, I flew over to NYC for an epic #girlstrip, and the week before I left was: 4 hours of sleep every night, scrambling on work projects and the insane task of getting to Japan. So no. I definitely was not in bed by 8pm and waking up at 4am.

Fasting and Light Exposure

That being said – there was one consistent piece of advice on several blogs that I have never tried before: Fast and control your exposure to light. Maybe it’s because I hate saying no to free food (yes, even airplane food) and in my youth, I was self-conscious about looking weird on a flight.

As I’ve gotten older (hello 30’s) I’ve not only cared less about things, I’ve also experienced next level jetlag, likely because I just don’t recover like I used to (hello 3-day hangovers). Since all four of us only have this one weekend together, I decided I’d do everything I could to minimize the jetlag and extend our QT.

Fasting

In terms of eating, I ate lunch around 1pm and made sure to eat something pretty substantial. I drank a ton of water and passed up the free dinner offered on the flight. Tried my best to sleep for most of the flight, but the crying kid 2 rows back + guy behind me tapping like a crazy person on his video screen wasn’t exactly helpful.

Light Exposure

I also opted to look like a crazy person wearing sunglasses (these were actually blue light blocking glasses) from the moment I got to the airport until we were at cruising altitude which is when I switched it up with an eye mask.

Our flight was delayed almost 2 hours, so that was a LONG journey. 12 hours sitting on that plane. I ate the fruit and had some herbal tea at 6am NYC time, but left the sunglasses on until I got on the train at 9am.

Results

Day 1

All things considered, I didn’t nod off on the train to Philly or even feel too tired. I met up with the girls and we were out and about until midnight. Fell asleep almost immediately and woke up at 8am the next day without an alarm.

Day 2

Usually day 2 is the worst for me – but this time I felt 100%! I didn’t have coffee. Repeat, NO COFFEE. Still survived our ~ 10-mile explorations around the City. Have to admit – I’m amazed and totally believe in this now.

If you haven’t tried fasting – give it a shot. Realistically, I probably don’t need to eat anything on flights anyway – my body’s not exactly in need of energy while I sit there not moving for 12 hours.

Any other tips that have worked for you guys?

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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!

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What to pack on a 14 day cruise

If you’re planning on taking a cruise, trust me when I say that cruisecritic.com will be your new best friend. We spent hours on that site (the forums are addicting) looking up…

If you’re planning on taking a cruise, trust me when I say that cruisecritic.com will be your new best friend. We spent hours on that site (the forums are addicting) looking up everything. Here’s what we learned from our first cruise:

How big is your stateroom?

This should be the first thing you figure out, and a quick google will pull up not only the exact square footage, but photos of the interiors of specific stateroom numbers (you should get this when you book your cruise). Our room included:

  • Total of 170 SF
  • Bed: 2 twins pushed together (this is the norm for “queen” beds)
  • Small couch and table
  • Closet with 24 hangers
  • 2nd closet with 6 shallow drawers and some space above
  • Safe that would fit my ipad air, but not Ry’s (15″) laptop
  • Under TV cabinet with mini fridge and drawer
  • Bathroom:
    • Two small shelves on the counter
    • 1 cabinet with 2 shelves (the other cabinet was for trash)

Protips

If you only read one section, read this one:

  • Pack a suitcase in a suitcase, or bring a foldable duffel – For the omiyage/shopping space
  • Dramamine / Ginger pills / those pressure point wrist things – we had 2 days of some pretty rough sea (17 foot waves!) and lots of people were sick. You can bet they were selling and not giving away the dramamine.
  • Take a photo of your luggage – This came in handy when we disembarked since one of our bags went missing. I showed them the pic and they pointed us toward where it was (the tag fell off and it was off in some random area).
  • Bring a pen – Every country has some sort of form to fill out and it’s always when there’s only one pen for 100 people to share.
  • Something to hold your room key in that isn’t your phone – Your room key doubles as your charge card on the ship, so you need it all the time. Mine demagnetized a bunch and was a huge pain (they blamed my cell phone).
  • Bring on Wine and Soda/Water – You can bring on up to 2 bottles of wine when you embark (per room). If you’re into soda/bottled water, this is a much cheaper route.
  • Downey wrinkle release – You can’t bring an iron, and getting your things pressed will cost you a pretty penny.

Note: these are tips specific to the Celebrity Millenium and may not apply if you’re on another cruise line or ship.


Our packing list

Won’t be detailing all the clothes, because when it comes to fashion, I’m probably the LAST person you should be taking notes from.

General

  • Extra hangers – on longer cruises, this is a lifesaver. I brought along 10 of those cheap ones from walmart and left them onboard when we disembarked.
  • Over the door storage – Because you’d be surprised what you can lose in 170 SF. This help beanies, umbrellas, lotions and all the random things we brought along. It was also only $5 at Ross, but I saw some hanger versions on Amazon that were like $2.
  • Hydroflask – for water because you’ll feel bad calling room service for water, but you also won’t want to walk up 8 decks to get it.
  • Hand sanitizer – For when you’re not on the boat. There are literally hand sanitizer machines at every turn when you’re on board.
  • Curling iron – for the fancy nights, also doubled as a make shift iron to get out some stubborn creases.
  • Silicone Makeup Applicator – I wasn’t a huge fan of these until I took them on this trip. It takes a bit of getting used to, but I LOVE them. Saves on so much product and super easy to clean. (This is the brand I purchased)
  • First Aid Kit
    • Immodium / Claritin / Benadryl (Since we were in China, but we ended up not needing at all)
    • Cold pills (Lifesaver, since I got sick then promptly spread my sick to Ry)
    • Cough drops
    • Thermometer (because I overpack)
    • Band aids (mostly used to cover up blisters from epic walking)
  • Febreeze – for when you don’t wash your clothes. KIDDDING. I brought because I hate smoke in my clothes and I thought we might go to an arcade in Asia.
  • Travel sized detergent – I hate paying for laundry and I hate overpacking so I washed some things in the sink. There was a line to hang things in the shower.
  • Razor / Shaving Gel / Shampoo / Conditioner / Bath Soap – Because I couldn’t just not shave for 14 days (haha). My hair is destroyed from coloring and my skin gets crazy dry in winter, so didn’t want to bother with the generic stuff. I just threw some half-empty bottles in my checked bags and tossed them at the end of the trip (more room for shopping!)
  • Covered coffee mug – Good in theory, but we only used it a couple times. If you’re an all day coffee drinker, I still suggest it. Or you’ll be carrying around hot water in those 6 oz mugs while you curse the rough water with burnt fingers.

Tech

  • Extra batteryThis is the beast of a power brick that we brought. It’s heavy, but it charged everyone’s things all day (3 phones, 2 pocket WiFi) without a problem.
  • International adapters – You don’t need this for the ship, as it includes 2 North American 110V outlets and 2 circular European 220V outlets, but we brought it for our nights in Hong Kong/China/Korea.
  • USB / Power strip – Most ships won’t allow you to bring a surge protector on board, but you can bring smaller extension cords. We brought this USB extension cord without incident.

Other Notes

When we were looking things up, there were a few things that I couldn’t find, so including those here.

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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!

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Getting Around Japan – Pocket WiFi

When you’re running around an unfamiliar country, navigating streets and transportation, the last thing you want is to be without Internet – especially when getting it is pretty easy and affordable.

TL;DR

This is totally worth it. Affordable, fast and convenient. If you’re convinced, skip to Step 3. Need more convincing? Keep reading.

Pocket WiFi – What is it?

When you’re running around an unfamiliar country, navigating streets and transportation, the last thing you want is to be without Internet – especially when getting it is pretty easy and affordable.

In Japan, Pocket WiFi is just another name for a mobile hotspot. Speeds vary based on where you’re staying (country vs. city) and what package you get.

Step One: Contact Your Mobile Provider

T-Mobile coverage in Tokyo and surrounding area

T-Mobile coverage in Tokyo and surrounding area

Before anything else, it’s best to know what your current phone service provides. We both have T-Mobile, which for us meant free international data, text, and $0.20 per minute for calls. Knowing this, we decided not to get a Pocket WiFi from the airport because it would be provided at our AirBnB. No problem right? Wrong.

We got turned around at the train station and that slow as molasses Internet had us frustrated and waiting while holding our bags after a 9+ hour commute at 11pm. I also made the mistake of saving everything on dropbox and it wouldn’t download the PDF no matter how many times I tried. I ended up using my broken, grade-school level Japanese to ask for directions.

During our second week, in between AirBnBs, we didn’t have WiFi and while we managed to navigate, it was tough to do any research on things to do in the area. Rather than pay the $25/day fee for hotel WiFi, we ended up sitting in the lobby of our hotel and ordering one from Global Advanced for around $10/day (because it was the first one on Google and easy enough to figure out).

Note: We couldn’t find a single store in Nagoya that rented Pocket WiFi on a short term basis, and only monthly contracts were available. All signs pointed to either finding an online service that would deliver or going back to the airport. 

Step Two: Check your options

Pocket WiFi in our AirBnB

Pocket WiFi in our AirBnB

If you’re staying at an AirBnB, we noticed a lot of them provide a Pocket WiFi that you can take around with you. Another reason to book AirBnB!

Hotels, on the other hand, will typically charge a ridiculous fee (the one we stayed at was $25/day) and it’s only available in your hotel room. If that’s the case, it’s not only more affordable, but also way more convenient to pick up a Pocket WiFi at the airport.

Step Three: Order!

A quick google search will show you dozens of options, and since I already went through this, I’ll summarize the top 5 results. This is totally just based on Google’s magical gnome search algorithms, so feel free to research away!

**1/22/18 Update: HIS in Hawaii now offers Pocket WiFi rentals for ~$45/week with insurance!

Company Speed Daily Cost* Additional Days Additional Charges Delivery Fee
Global Advanced Communication 75Mbps 990 JPY 300 JPY None None
Pupuru 75Mbps 800 JPY 800 JPY 1,500 JPY Registration 800 – 1,000 JPY
Japan Wireless 75Mbps 990 – 730 JPY None 500 JPY
Japan Rail Pass  75Mbps $8 – $10 USD None None
CD Japan 220Mbps 730 JPY Discounted None 540 JPY

*Days 1-5

Things to note:

  • Japan Wireless and Japan Rail Pass costs vary based on the number of days.
  • None of the companies charge a return postage fee, and they all come with a postage paid envelope to send the device back in.
  • Many offer insurance, but we were reckless and didn’t get any 🙂
  • While all pricing was based on “unlimited” data usage, all of the companies have fine print stating that speeds will be reduced drastically after a certain GB of usage (usually around the 10GB mark over the last 3 days).
  • There was only one time we hit that mark (Whoops. Dropbox was syncing photos!) and we were both connected to it.

Protip: Pack a battery charger

Dead WiFi = No WiFi. When used consistently, most Pocket WiFi devices last around 8 hours. Which could work for us on a lazy day, but not so much on the kind of adventures Ryan likes to have. 😉

We brought this Epic Charger to End all Chargers by RavPower and it saved us from dead WiFi and charged up everyone’s phones as well. I won’t lie – it’s a beast of a charger and weighs a pound, but without it we would have missed the amazing opportunity to take photos in alllllll the hats!

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Getting Around Tokyo, Japan – JR Pass vs. Suica/Pasmo

As a tourist traveling to Japan, you’ll need to learn the difference between the JR Pass and Suica/Pasmo cards if you plan to take public transportation. Find out if it’s actually worth getting the JR Pass. Learn how to get your very own Suica/Pasmo card.

TL;DRIf you’re not planning any trips outside of Tokyo, don’t get a JR Pass and instead get a Suica or a Pasmo card. Use this neat calculator to figure out if it’s worth it.

Definitely filing this one under the “things we’ve learned” tag. Maybe we should add “the hard way”, because when we were planning our trip, we overlooked this detail. We focused on big picture things: how many days we wanted to stay in each place and where we would stay. While we took into account travel times, we didn’t think about the JR Pass until everything was booked. However – before I go off on a huge tangent, let me explain the JR Pass.


What is the JR Pass

Basically – it’s a rail pass that gives you free rides on any of the JR lines, including the Shinkansen (bullet train), but it’s ONLY for tourists and you have to purchase a redemption voucher outside of Japan. (Note: During March 8, 2017 – March 31, 2018, there will be a trial run of JR Pass sales at certain train stations in Japan.)

They’re available all over the place online, but since we jumped on this one late, we went to the HIS in Downtown. They asked to see our passports (to make sure we were traveling there on a tourist visa) and they filled out a voucher with our info on it.

Should you get the JR Pass?

Honestly? Unless you’re doing a lot of traveling around, it’s not worth it. I mentioned it in the summary of tips on Japan – depending on the current conversion rate, how long you’re planning to stay, and where you’re planning to go, it can save you a little. Really, though, you’re paying for the convenience of just showing folks your pass.

For example our trip:

Cost of JR Pass ~ $260 (29,110 Yen at current conversion rate)
Japan-Guide.com has a nifty calculator (you can also use google maps or sites like Hyperdia if you want exact rates and times.)

screen-shot-2017-02-06-at-10-41-11-pm

We actually purchased the 14 day pass, which for us, wasn’t worth it. It wasn’t a huge loss since we did use it to get around the Tokyo Metro area during our trip, but if we ever go back, we’ll definitely keep our big travel days within a 7 day period to really make use of it (or not purchase one). #LessonLearned.


Suica and Pasmo

I’m combining these two because they’re essentially the same. Basically the same as the Clipper Card in SF or the MetroCard in NYC, you can purchase them at the train station machines (instructions are in English) and add funds as required.

Once you have them, you won’t have to read maps to figure out how much each ticket will cost (we did this a couple times before we just picked up a card). You just add money to it and tap it on the sensor on the way in and the way out.

If you’re like me and get anxiety at the idea of trying to figure this out, The Japan Guy did step by step posts for how to get a Suica and how to get a Pasmo card. It’s from back in 2011, but it looked the same when we were there last January.

Returning your Suica or Pasmo Cards

To get the 500 Yen deposit back, you just have to go to any ticket office at either any JR East station (Suica) or any non-JR subway line / Narita Airport / Haneda Airport (Pasmo). You give your card to the clerk at the desk and they’ll return any money you have on the card.

We actually decided to keep our cards because the line at the JR ticket office was insane and we were running late to the airport. Both Suica and Pasmo cards expire if they are not used for 10 years.


A few more tips

  • If you’re worried about your luggage on the bullet train, ask them for seats near the end of the car. There’s a space behind the last row of chairs where large luggage will fit.
  • If you have a ton of time to kill before your train, you can put your luggage in a nifty locker – for up to 3 days at some places. Just remember to take pics of where you put it and your receipt, in case you forget/lose it. The passcode on your receipt is how you get your things back!
  • Buy your shinkansen tickets ahead of time, even if you don’t have to for the non-reserved tickets with a JR Pass. It makes life easier knowing you’ll have a seat, and you’ll avoid that pesky travel anxiety.
  • You can use your passmo/suica card at vending machines and at some convenience stores – just look for the card logo on the machine/register. Easy way to use the last of your card balance.

That’s it! Since we only have a day in Fukuoka on our upcoming trip, doubt we’ll have much more to add about Japan, but super excited for the week in Korea!

 

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