Preparing for International Trips (Japan)

Last week, we went through some planning tips for an international trip like Japan.  Here, we continue with some considerations while traveling internationally.  Our plan for Japan was a great template for future trips as we seemed to pull it off with only a few minor issues.  This was our experience.

Considerations While Traveling Abroad

Currency – We researched where to use U.S. debit cards (which were few and far between in such a cash-dominated society), and 7-Eleven is the hot spot to get Japanese yen (post offices are the next best place).  We felt like the heavens had opened up when the bills were presented by the ATMs.  An experience every time.  It was awesome!

© LotsaSmiles Photography 2015

Safety – Japan has one of the lowest crime rates in the industrialized world. You should research the safety of any country you visit.  Even in the middle of the night, walking down quiet alleys in the middle of Tokyo, we never felt unsafe.

© LotsaSmiles Photography 2015

Language – In Tokyo, English is everywhere on signs, menus, and other places you wouldn’t expect.  Unfortunately, this does not mean they speak it or are willing to look like fools trying something with which they aren’t all experienced.  We got really good at pointing at menu items (especially ones with lots of pictures).  We also had one waitress translate everything for us (she desperately wanted to help, but it was somewhat embarrassing).  We also made a point to learn a bit of Japanese before we went so we could squeeze by in the tougher situations, and it proved quite useful.  Research before you go, and don’t be afraid to simply try English; you’d be surprised how many can actually speak with you.

© LotsaSmiles Photography 2015

Cultural Differences – It is good to read up on cultural differences before you go to a foreign country.  In Japan, many things differ from those in the U.S. and if you’re not careful, you can easily offend someone.  However, they also understand not all Americans know this, so they are forgiving.  Here are a few notable differences:

  1. Americans are direct and to the point while Japanese are subtle and expect you to read between the lines.
  2. There is no tipping in Japan.  This is considered highly rude as they earn an adequate wage and could take it as a message that you feel they don’t.
  3. In Japan everyone is very punctual, and they’ll expect you to be as well.  Late trains are all but unheard of.
  4. Japanese are highly respectful and they have incredible integrity.  They will not wear shoes in a person’s home or litter (for such large cities, you never see a scrap of trash on the ground).  If you lose your wallet, they will go out of their way to return it to you.
© LotsaSmiles Photography 2015

Food – Try new things (especially street vendors)!  Don’t be afraid of something because it is different, but if you have any kind of food restrictions you may have to throw them out the window.  Japanese don’t know terms like “gluten-free” and “vegan,” though you can ask questions.  Look around the areas you will be visiting or touring to find good restaurants.  Don’t fear a place that doesn’t have an obvious English menu; you’ll only limit your options and go hungry like we did during our first few days.  Brush up on your pointing skills, or visit a vending-machine restaurant; they’re everywhere, and they’re open well throughout the night.  Most restaurants even have physical plastic food to aid in your selection (there’s an entire industry here!).

Electronics – Japan’s outlets are similar to those found in the States, but they’re weaker; expect your phone to take longer to charge.  They also lack the third grounding port; you will only be able to use two-pronged plugs.  You shouldn’t need an adapter unless you are coming from somewhere other than North America, and then a simple google search should point you in the right direction.  We had T-Mobile, which includes international coverage, so we were able to seamlessly use our phones overseas (albeit with slower connections). Research your own carrier’s service to determine if you’ll need to rent a phone while there.

© LotsaSmiles Photography 2015

This list is not all-inclusive and there are many other things to consider, but it should be a good start to get the wheels turning.  We wish you the best in your own journey to a foreign country.

© LotsaSmiles Photography 2015

Did we miss anything?  What’s on your list?  We’d love to hear about your planning adventures!

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