A Gaijin’s Guide to Traveling Solo

November 30th, 2012By Category: Arts & Entertainment, Culture, Travel

Fresh from an amazing weekend in Kyoto, I have just realized that it was my first time travelling solo in Japan. And I’m still alive! Here’s my gaijin guide for traveling alone:

DO stare bewilderedly at maps and your guidebook and generally stick out like a foreign sore thumb – it was how I made a couple of friends this last weekend. There was no shortage of people coming up to ask me if I needed help or perhaps just to practice their English. One girl even accompanied me from ticket-buying to getting off at my stop on the subway – I’m hoping this was because she wanted to and not, as I suspect, that I am unfit to be left alone in a new city.

DO stay in a hostel to meet other people and find out about what’s happening. Pretty obvious stuff I guess, but it really is the best way of socializing. The hostel I stayed in offered a Sunday morning tour of a nearby temple, led by a local university student, just for the cost of the temple entrance fee.

DON’T forget to check your reflection. No friends means no one to tell you if you have something on your face. Two hours post-sticky-chestnut-eating, I realized I had syrup on my cheek. And I thought the strange looks were just because I was such a tourist.

DO learn how the self timer function on your camera works. Keep an eye out for things at a decent height to place your camera on, take a peep through the viewfinder to set it up and run to beat the 10 second limit before the camera goes. Warning: may take practice. There are one too many shots of my back as I sprint to strike a pose in a certain spot.

DO learn how the self timer function on your camera works. Keep an eye out for things at a decent height to place your camera on, take a peep through the viewfinder to set it up and run to beat the 10 second limit before the camera goes. Warning: may take practice. There are one too many shots of my back as I sprint to strike a pose in a certain spot.

DO plan your route and stay alert to signs, street names, timetables and as much as you can. There’s no one but you to blame if you arrive somewhere half an hour after closing time, and self-blame ain’t pretty.

DON’T be afraid to follow the crowd. Although this is generally against my life-living principles, whilst travelling alone, following the crowd can often lead you to not just the sightseeing spot you can’t find on your map, but the best restaurants and viewing points and so on. Note: follow the people who look local or like they know where they’re going, not the ones with the compass and confused expressions.

DO enjoy your own company! It’s an opportunity to only go to the places you want to and do the things you want to. And in Japan (or Kyoto at least) there are plenty people to direct you or offer advice if you need it. So just look out for number one and appreciate the ‘me’ time!

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Author of this article

Hannah Quinn

An Irish journalism graduate teaching English in Nagoya, though I lived in Seville, Spain for a year and a half before coming here. Contender for the tallest, palest female in Japan, with a weakness for travelling, cooking, writing and reading. Working on my collection of photos of bad translations and kitsch memorabilia.

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