Planning the Trip

Airplane tickets

I bought our plane tickets six months ahead of time. This was good because I feel we got a great price, and this was terrible because I finally knew when I was going to Japan, but I would have to wait six months!

In the weeks leading up to purchasing my tickets I spent a TON of time on SkyScanner looking for tickets. That website is awesome! You have several extra search features that I haven’t seen on other travel sites; like searching for the cheapest month for the best date, as well as searching across an entire country for the cheapest airport. It’s pretty fantastic, and allowed me to do quite a lot of research.

A screenshot of the SkyScanner.com search on the homepage
Choose your departure city (or even country!) and your arrival location, specific dates or cheapest dates.

In the end, I bought non-stop tickets from Los Angeles (LAX) to Haneda International (HND) in Tokyo. The tickets were with United Airlines, but in partnership with Japan Airlines (JAL) which meant we were on a JAL plane for the trip. The tickets were only $550 – I feel that’s a great deal!

Now, there is only one problem with these tickets – we live in Utah! We still had to get ourselves to LAX. For that, I enrolled in the Southwest Visa Card, which had an introductory offer of 50,000 points if we spent $3000 in the first 3 months. Done! Made that happen, and suddenly we had enough points for our Southwest flights to LAX. Non-stop, cost us $12/person in taxes and fees.

Total airfare, including Trip Insurance, was ~$1200. I’m pretty proud of that number!

How to get around

With 6 months to really plan the trip, I was creating quite a detailed and travel-filled itinerary. We weren’t just going to stay in one place. I served an LDS Mission to Japan from 1998-2000 and wanted to visit some of the places I lived, as well as see new places that I hadn’t been before. This would mean we’d need to ride the Shinkansen to get around the country.

Collage of JR Rail Pass cover, inside, and back cover
This pass allows you to ride any JR Train, Bus, or Ferry and is a must-have for people wanting to explore all over the country.

Enter the Japan Rail Pass. It’s pretty awesome. In a nutshell, 1 pass is valid for 3, 7, or 14 days and gives you unlimited travel on ANY Japan Rail (JR) properties – trains, busses, fairies, etc. The only restrictions is the fastest (Hikari) Shinkansen is not included. To use it, you simply show your pass to the JR gate agent and they’ll waive you on thru! It’s AWESOME. We activated the pass on our first day to help us get around the country before we ended up in Tokyo for our final destination.

Cost for 7 Day pass (x2) was $510. Considering a one-way Shinkansen from Tokyo to Nagoya is over $100/person, this is a really great deal!

Where to stay

It’s 2017. Hotels are not for travelers – AirBNB is. Around January/February in my planning, I finally had my itinerary pretty nailed down—at least which cities we’d be in and when we’d be there—it was time to book our beds. For this, AirBNB really was great. We ended up in 3 apartments over the course of our trip, with our first night being in a hotel due to a last minute schedule change on our part. The apartments were WAY better than the hotel was. I talk more about the hotel in the Day 1 blog post, but here I’ll quickly cover the AirBNB we stayed in. (Update – apparently there was a crackdown on AirBNB properties in Japan, and many were pulled from the site. Unfortunately that includes 2 of the 3 that I stayed in!)

Nagoya: $182.00 for 3 Nights

Kanazawa: $142 for 2 Nights

Tokyo: $349 for 4 Nights

Average price for AirBNB was $75.50/night. A fantastic deal and way more space than any Hotel would have offered us for that price. AirBNB is definitely the way to go.

Ready to go

Airplane tickets: check. JR Pass: check. AirBNB: check. We were all set and ready to go. Total cost for travel and lodging ended up around ~$2,500. The JR pass didn’t cover subways, and once we ended up in Tokyo our pass expired. We also had a hotel our first night that I haven’t included in the cost. I’m pretty happy with how my well my planning went! Now we just had to go! And we did. And it was fun.