Traveling With No Plans

by shutton / Feb 09, 2010 / 1 comments

Last spring, during my travels with Semester at Sea, I had the opportunity to visit Japan. It was my eleventh country in three months and while I was loving every minute of my semester, I needed a break. Not a break from traveling - just from plans. In most of the other countries, I knew exactly what I was doing for every second of every day. In Japan, my four friends and I wanted to visit Hiroshima, Kyoto and Tokyo. We decided all we were going to do was go to those cities. We didn't want to look up anything to do there until we arrived. Making a plan to make no plans was one of the best decisions I made all semester. 

All five of us had purchased Japan Rail Passes ahead of time. (I got mine in Vietnam.) For anyone doing a lot of traveling in Japan, this was well worth it. The pass costs about $250 USD and gave us access to all of the trains and subway systems. As soon as our ship docked in Kobe, we redeemed our voucher for the rail pass at the nearest train station and we took the "bullet train" to Hiroshima. 

After arriving in Hiroshima, we took a bus to the Peace Museum. The museum is dedicated to the bombings at Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II. We were pleasantly surprised to find it was surrounded by a beautiful park. As we walked around the park, we came across the A-Bomb Dome. This building's inside was destroyed by the bombing but the outside remained relatively in tact.  


 Hiroshima. Semester at Sea

After we walked around the park, we went into the museum. Something I read on one of the plaques in the museum still sticks with me today. It is a view on war which I think more countries should adopt. 


 From Hiroshima, we took a ferry to Miyajima, a nearby island.


 The island is famous for a Shinto shrine in the water. 


We went back to Hiroshima and took a bullet train to Kyoto. When I had booked the hotel in Kyoto a day or two earlier, I tried the typical American trick of reserving a room for only two guests to avoid extra booking fees. Don't do this in Japan! They notice and they are not okay with it!

The next day we went to downtown Kyoto. We were there during the cherry blossom season and it was beautiful. We saw a geisha show in the morning and then got back on the subway without a real destination. We pulled out a map and told a woman near us we only had one day in the city and asked her what she would do if she were us. She pointed to Maruyama Park and told us which stop to use. We got off the subway and went in search of sushi, which didn't take long to find. 

After sushi, we arrived at Maruyama Park and immediately knew the woman had made a great suggestion; the park was beautiful. There weren't many Americans there and it was amazing to be surrounded by locals having picnics, relaxing, and just taking in the beauty of their surroundings just like we were.

Sakura, Japan. Semester at Sea 

Somewhere in the park we saw an advertisement for the nearby "prettiest street in Asia." We went to see it and it definitely lived up to its name.


On the third day, we stopped at Kyoto's famous Golden Temple. The temple is literally painted in gold.


After visiting the Golden Temple, we took the train to Tokyo. We originally wanted to find a capsule hotel but they only had space for four people and after getting caught with extra people in the Kyoto hotel, we decided it wasn't worth it. We looked a hostel up online that morning and got a "three person private rom and a two person private room" at JGH Hostel. The walls in our private room didn't reach floor to ceiling so I'm not really sure if they can be considered private. Also, the width between our bed and the wall was exactly the width of one person. 


Although this was frustrating at first, it turned out funny and a year later we're still joking about it. We really did save money (and the hassle of having 5 guests) by staying there. 

We went to the Ginza disrict of Tokyo to see the Sony Building. We found another sushi bar and then went to a park for an hour or two. Like in Kyoto, we watched children play and took the time to really appreciate our surroundings. Later that night we went to the Shibuya district. We had run into other people from our program at the Sony Building who told us about The Lockup - a jail-themed restaurant. They handcuff you and bring you to your table where you sit on the floor in a "cell." The drinks are brought out in strange beakers and about once an hour they turn all the lights out to scare everyone.


Anything you have ever heard about the streets of Tokyo being crazy is 100% true.


We went to the Roppongi district because we heard there were a lot of clubs there. We went to two clubs that night before returning to JGH. On our last day, we took the train to Yokohama where our ship was docked and walked around for a bit before returning to the ship. 

Even though every day was packed with activity, we hadn't planned any of it ahead of time. And yet, I feel like I appreciated Japan more than some other countries we visited. I might not know the name of every place we went to or every restaurant where we ate. But, we talked to locals. We watched children play. We experienced the extreme helpfulness of the Japanese culture. (If we asked a person how to get somewhere, they would walk halfway there with us.) We took everything in and we were able to do so in a way that you just can't do when every second of every day is planned ahead. My advice to travelers, especially those traveling to a place like Japan where people are so incredibly helpful, is to not make so many plans and to do what feels right at the time. It might just make your trip even more enjoyable.  


S Hutton is the Student Travels Editor for Wandering Educators

Comments (1)

  • Dr. Jessie Voigts

    13 years 3 months ago

    you're so right - by making time for exploration, you can learn - and LIVE! - so much more. thanks!


    Jessie Voigts, PhD


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