After 3 days in Tokyo, it was time to move on and explore the rest of Japan. I left bright and early in the morning, ready for my next adventure: OSAKA!
After 8 months of planning, I finally completed my first solo international trip! I spent 10 days in Japan, exploring Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto, and Nara. It’s been exactly a week since I returned home, and I’ve had enough time to digest what exactly I put myself through. Below are some tips and lessons I learned firsthand as a first time female solo traveler.
1) Upon arrival, purchase a SIM card/on-the-go pocket WiFi
This tip is particularly important if you do not speak the language in your intended destination. You don’t want to be completely lost and helpless in a foreign country unable to contact anyone for help. I definitely learned this lesson the hard way. Prior to my trip, I contemplated getting a pocket wifi, because I had this half noble, half delusional idea of traveling the old-fashioned way (using printed maps and asking locals). I wanted to feel like a traveler, not a tourist. My first AirBnb host, much to my surprise, lent me a pocket WiFi for free, which helped tremendously during my first three days in Tokyo. I was able to navigate through the city pretty smoothly since Google Maps was handy. It even helped me get a good grip on Tokyo’s spaghetti-like subways as well, which I learned is only intimidating at first. Once you get the system, you realize how efficient it is! It wasn’t until I had to return my pocket WiFi that I learned how much of a mistake it was not to get one for my own. Precious hours were lost with me either getting lost, not knowing how to read the signs, going in the opposite direction, or being unable to find the nearest subway/bus station. On the bright side, it forced me to hone my social skills and interact with the locals.
2) Notable travel apps worth downloading: Google Translate, Pocket Lingo (Japanese), Ulmon: CityMaps2Go, Currency converter
Google Translate helped a lot when asking for directions and purchasing subway and bus fares. Unfortunately, I was only able to use it during the first three days of my trip because it needed WiFi/data to function, hence Tip #1.
Pocket Lingo (Japanese) – The app proved to be reliable, because it not only translates phrases, it also has a built-in voice system. For example, if you click the phrase, “Good morning,” it displays the words in Japanese characters, the pronunciation, and the audio of a native-speaker saying it. There were times were I felt as if someone cut my tongue off while I was in Japan. It was so difficult for me to communicate and express myself. I relied heavily on hand gestures and head nods. The language barrier was a struggle, and it was frustrating at times to be honest. Having a pocket translator app eased the strain.
Ulmon: CityMaps2Go – I discovered Ulmon after it was suggested by one of my avid traveler friends. It’s free, and users can download maps of cities all over the world, which can be viewed even without WiFi! The app also includes a “Discover” section where users can view tips where to eat, where to go, what to do, depending on the cities they’ve downloaded.
Currency converter – This app isn’t necessary, but it helps especially for those trying to keep track of a budget. It’s very easy to overspend abroad. I can’t recall how many almost-purchases I had, simply because I was unaware of just expensive they were. ¥4800 for basic a camera strap, anyone?
3) It’s perfectly okay to stay at hostels!
I knew Japan was going to be an expensive country in general, so I tried my best to cut costs. The easiest way I did so was staying at hostels. I have multiple avid travelers in my circle of friends, and staying at hostels was a recommendation across the board. It was my first time traveling solo in a foreign country, so I had my hesitations, but I bit the bullet anyway.After doing my research on HostelWorld and TripAdvisor, I booked a total of 5 nights at J-Hoppers Hostels (2 in Osaka, 3 in Kyoto). My experience in both hostels were exceptional. Not once did I feel like I was “roughin’ it.” I stayed in a female dormitory room in Osaka (bunk beds). Two nights cost me around $46. In Kyoto, I opted for a single room, which surprisingly was traditional Japanese style with tatami mats, and the total was $97 for three nights. Both locations were clean, comfortable, conveniently located to a local subway station, and had the most welcoming and helpful English-speaking staff. They were also able to give tips on how to get around the city, where to eat the best food, etc. Staying at hostels is also a great opportunity to meet fellow travelers/potentially life-long friends!
4) Bring cash, both your destination’s local currency and US dollars (or your country’s currency)
I carried ¥58,000 and $200 in cash when I arrived in Japan as well as a credit card with no foreign transaction fees. I decided to bring American dollars, just in case of an emergency (which I had — a shopping emergency). I didn’t have enough Japanese yens, and the vendor didn’t accept credit cards. Thankfully, there was a foreign exchange currency nearby, and I was able to exchange my American dollars with no hassle since I didn’t need to track down an ATM machine, which I’m positive would demand an additional fee as well to use.
5) Learn basic phrases
I hope this is self-explanatory. Remember: you are the foreigner. Please do not be arrogant enough to expect the locals to accommodate to you and cater to your needs and comfort level. You’re in their homeland.The top phrases I used during my trip was “Sumimasen” (excuse me), “Arigato gozaimasu” (thank you), and “ikura desu ka?” (how much?).
6) Make copies of important documents
Make copies of your passport, flight itineraries, lodging reservations, and Driver’s License/ID card, just in case a secondary form of identification is needed.
7) Pack light. Pack light. Pack light!
For my 24th birthday, I went to New York City with my best girlfriends. I brought a 50lbs rolling luggage AND a 15lbs carry-on. It not only drained me physically (our hotel didn’t have an elevator, and our room was on the fourth floor) but emotionally as well. I vowed never to repeat the same mistake again. For my trip to Japan, I challenged myself to pack light, so I invested in a pack, REI Crestrail 65, and it definitely paid off. As soon as I landed in Narita International Airport, I was greeted by stairs and stairs and more stairs. My pack was bulky, yes, but I didn’t haul ass just to carry it. Another perk was I didn’t have to waste time worrying about what to wear. I brought 3 pairs of pants, 1 heavy jacket, 2 pairs of shoes, 5 pairs of sweaters, 2 scarves, all of which I was able to mix and match. It was liberating not wasting hours contemplating something so trivial such as outfits.
Thank you for reading! Feel free to leave comments and ask questions! Stay tuned for more!
Anicka “cue post vacation withdrawals” Nadine
Our third day in Manhattan was wet. Rain poured, but we didn’t let it stop us from exploring. We ended up switching up a few days in our itineraries because of the rain. We explored Brooklyn/DUMBO and Lower East Side.
The subway system in New York City is incredibly complex but still easy to understand. Our commute from Midtown to Brooklyn took only about half an hour.
Because of the rain, we lucked out because the Brooklyn Bridge was practically empty, allowing us to take as many pictures as we can without people in the background.
My native New Yorker friends have unanimously affirmed that the best pizza in New York is in Brooklyn, so we decided to have lunch at Juliana’s, which is literally next door to the world-famous Grimaldi’s. Juliana’s is a pizzeria owned by Patsy Grimaldi, and it did not disappoint. We devoured a traditional New York-style thin crust pizza. None of that deep dish sh*t.
Post-lunch was spent exploring DUMBO (Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass). Any Gossip Girl fans recognize this area? We were in Dan Humphrey’s hood!
The rain hindered us from doing a lot of the activities we initially planned, but we didn’t want to waste the day away so we spent the second half of our day to explore Manhattan’s Lower East Side, particularly Chinatown and Little Italy.
Di Palo’s in Little Italy was definitely a MUST-STOP for me. I knew that there was no way I would return to Los Angeles without grabbing a few goodies from this New York establishment. Di Palo’s is my version of a candy store. My eyes immediately lit up when I walked in. The cheeses, the dried meat, the olives, the pastas…. YUMMMMM-O! I may be Asian, but my gut tells me that I was Italian in my past life.
The rain poured the entire day and night, so we decided to get take-out dim sum and other yummy Chinese food and have a pajama party back at our apartment!
I wish we spent more time in the Lower East Side, but I know this trip won’t be the last time I’ll see the Big Apple. To those who are visiting, make sure to visit Katz’ Delicatessen!
Stay tuned for day 4!
19 Old Fulton St.
Brooklyn, NY 11201
200 Grand St.
New York, New York 10013
Day 2: Sunday, January 11, 2015
When creating the itinerary for this New York City trip, I tried my hardest to plan our days conquering one section/neighborhood of the city at a time. For our second day, our target was Lower Manhattan.
The New York City subway system is by far the most intricate subway system I’ve ever encountered. Their map looks like spaghetti! So many trains and subways going in all directions. In fact, they have so many that they had to use alphabets AND numbers to name them. Los Angeles’ subway system is nothing but mere fart to New York’s.
With the island of Manhattan only being 13.4 miles long, the subway is one of the most convenient, fastest, and cheapest mode of transportation to get around the city. The fare for one subway ride alone is $2.50. My friends and I knew that this will quickly add up considering our vacation was 10 days long, so one of the most important things we researched prior to our trip was to find a way to minimize our expenses as much as possible.
Perhaps one of the best things we spent our money on while in New York was a 7-day Unlimited Metrocard. The Unlimited Pass was a total of $31.00 ($30.00 for the pass and $1.00 for the Metrocard). It’s valid for 7 days and can literally be used in any subway or train, unlimitedly. This not only saved us so much money, but time as well! We didn’t have to constantly buy one-way tickets every time we entered a subway station. Instead, all we had to do was swipe the card at the turnstiles.
Another purchase that I highly recommend is the New York CityPass! The cost is $109 for adults, and it includes admission to 6 tourist attractions and landmarks all throughout the city.
For our second day at the city, our first stop of the day was Lady Liberty herself. Because of our hotel’s prime location, we only had to take one subway (Subway 1, Red) all the way to Battery Park, which is located at the southern most tip of Manhattan.
We purchased our CityPasses in advanced, and we traded our email vouchers for the actual booklets at the ticket window in Battery Park. For our first attraction, we had a choice between Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island OR Circle Line Sightseeing Cruises. This was a no-brainer.
The ferry itself was only a 20-minute ride away. Our CityPass gave us admission to the ferry and to Liberty Island. It did not include entry to Lady Liberty’s crown, but we didn’t really think it was necessary.
We returned to the mainland after lunch. Financial District was only walking distance, so we took pictures with the famous Charging Bull!
Other notable attractions in the Financial District are the famous Wall Street and the New York Stock Exchange.
My friends and I wanted to truly experience New York City’s food scene and not just dine at the famous eateries, so we decided to grab lunch at Korchma Taras Bulba in SoHo, which was a short cab ride away.
I discovered Korchma Taras Bulba after it was recommended by one of my favorite New York-based blogger, LoveTaza. The place offered Ukrainian cuisine, and it was unlike any restaurant I’ve ever been to in L.A.
Perhaps one of the most memorable experiences we had at Korchma Taras Bulba happened during on our way out of place. Prior to our departure, one of the friendly servers stopped us and asked if we were willing to partake in a very Ukrainian tradition — which is taking a shot of vodka, with a chunk of pickle as chaser (all complementary by the way).
My friends and I were all in the same open-minded mentality to try new things and new experiences while in the city, so we were definitely willing! Vodka shot, pickle chaser? Count us in! We cheered and toasted and it was by far one of the coolest ways I’ve ever left a restaurant. It immediately created a stronger bond between my friends and I, reaffirming a sense of camaraderie that we are all in this gritty and loud and exciting city of New York together.
For dessert, we transported ourselves from Ukraine to Paris in two minutes as the legendary Maison du Macaron, Ladurée, was only one block away!
As a person, my sweet-tooth is unparalleled. I love love love love sweets! Ice creams, chocolate, cakes, pies, give ’em to me! However, macarons for me have slowly been one of those desserts which I really stopped craving. For one, they’re expensive, ranging from $1.00 per cookie to almost $3.00. Secondly, known as the “world’s most impossible cookie,” French macarons are very very difficult to perfect. It’s very common for me to find a macaron that’s too sweet or too chewy or something else. I always find something quite not right. Which is why I initially entered Ladurée with very very low expectations. Of course, I’ve heard of Ladurée before, but I was still hesitant to believe that their fame as actually earned and legitimate. For all I know, they’re simply overhyped and their macarons overrated.
My god, was I wrong. Very very very wrong. Ladurée macarons are by far THE BEST macarons I’ve ever tasted. Ever. Ever. Ever had. I’ve never been so happy to be proven wrong. They run at $2.80 a pop, which I admit is a bit on the pricey side, but mother of all things holy, they are absolutely divine. Gahhh, my mouth is salivating just by the mere thought. I recall having one of those moments where upon having my first bite of the salt caramel, my eyes instantly widened as my confused tongue processed the gloriousness occurring in my mouth. They’re not overtly sweet, so it’s beyond easy to consume 10, 20, even 30 in one sitting! They’re truly an indulgence that I believe everyone should have and deserve to have every once in a while. When I die, I want a handful of Ladurée macarons in my mouth, please.
The night was young when we left Ladurée. We didn’t want to waste time being in the city and head home so early, so we decided to see Grand Central Terminal. We originally planned to see the place on a different day, but we figured we might as well cross it off the list now since we have the extra time allowance.
There’s something so romantic I find about Grand Central Terminal, or train stations in general. Perhaps it’s something to do with the fact that train travel is a much older form of travel than airplanes, so it echoes more history of goodbyes and reunions, tears and kisses, from individuals from all over the world.
Thank you for reading! Stay tuned for day 3!
Anicka “unpaid Ladurée endorser” Nadine
Korchma Taras Bulba
357 West Broadway
New York, New York 10013
398 West Broadway
New York, New York 10012
After 14 years of living in Southern California, I can finally say I’ve visited Catalina Island! There are a number of reasons why it took so long for me to explore this charming island merely a one hour ferry-ride away from mainland California, but at this point it doesn’t matter anymore.
We spent two days and one night on the island, which was more than enough for our purposes. We arrived early Saturday morning at the Long Beach port and rode the Catalina Express.
I must say, even with a strong stomach like mine, I found the ferry ride quite uncomfortable. The open water was so rough and wavy that I constantly felt my stomach dropping! Wave after wave after wave slammed against our vessel, making it difficult to even stand up.
Nevertheless, the ride was worth it because it felt like arriving to paradise once we docked in Avalon. We definitely got lucky escaping the gloomy and foggy weather back in the mainland!
Upon arrival, we immediately checked in at our hotel, The Catalina Island Inn, which is conveniently located in the heart of their main town center. I highly recommend staying here! Our room was clean and updated, and the staff were extremely helpful. Plus, the location is unbeatable, only a 5-minute walk from the ferry port.
We spent the next few hours relaxing [and dodging seagulls] at the beautiful Descanso Beach Club. The weather was a bit on the chilly side and the sun came out of the clouds sporadically, so getting in the water was out of the question.
Next item on the itinerary was biking! There were a few rental areas, and we scored ours for only $8 per hour! We stayed primarily in the main town since the rest of the island had steep inclines! Nevertheless, it was a fun and relaxing way to explore more of Catalina Island. Through biking, we discovered that they pretty much only have one of everything: one school (from K-12), one church, one hospital, one fire station, one gasoline station ($6.20 per gallon gas yo!) and such. We were definitely NOT in Los Angeles anymore.
We cruised all over the island, waving and saying “Hi!” and “Hello” to every one we encounter: pedestrians, other tourists, locals playing golf… and surprisingly, everyone waved back! They were so friendly. We even waved at the captain of the submarine (pictured above). He not only waved back at us, but even honked the submarine!
I definitely recommend Catalina Island for a weekend getaway for those who want to disconnect and unwind from the hustle and bustle of city life in the mainland. I am most definitely coming back!
Click play below to watch our video diary. Make sure to watch in HD!