3 Tips for Planning a Trip to Japan

Over the past two months, I have been asked numerous times about my recommendations for Japan, my itinerary and if I had any tips to share. It turns out that a lot of my friends are planning to visit Japan this year! I thought it would be a great idea to share a couple of tips and advice based on my experience planning for the trip.

1. Get a JR Pass (Japan Rail Pass) to travel around Japan.

If you plan on visiting multiple cities in Japan, I highly recommend getting a JR Pass. You might be hesitant to get one because of how pricey it is, but it’s worth it. A 7 day JR Pass cost roughly the same as a round trip ticket from Tokyo to Osaka/or Kyoto. You pretty much break even and you get to use the pass on all JR lines (subway/rail) and the JR Narita Express (from Narita Airport to Tokyo Station). Since I was in Japan for 2 weeks, I opted for the 14 day JR Pass and used it visit Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto and Nara. I definitely took full advantage of the pass and you should too if you’re planning to visiting other cities: https://www.japan-rail-pass.com/jr-pass (Note: if you’re planning to get it, make sure you order it before you get to Japan because they will mail you the documents you need to pick up the pass when you get to Japan.)

My JR Pass!

2. Rent Pocket Wifi and stay connected 24/7 so you can share your adventures on Instagram and Snapchat in real time (jk but not really). 

It was honestly one of the best investments for the trip. I was able to use Google maps, look up/research spots on the go and start this blog on my train ride to Osaka. It comes with a portable charger as well and it’ll only cost you ~$6/day, which is a bargain.

This was the pocket WiFi I rented from Japan-wireless.com. Picture above is from their site as well.

3. Save some room in your luggage for souvenirs if you’re staying in hotels.

If you’re staying in hotels, you will get get basic toiletries – toothbrushes, toothpaste, soap, shampoo, lotion, slippers and some places will even provide razors and body sponges (loofahs). I packed travel size toiletries that I didn’t even touch – aside from my contact lens solution.

Bonus tip: If you’re planning to visit the Ghibli Museum, make sure you buy tickets in advance (more than a month in advance). 

You can’t buy the tickets at the museum, you can only get them online or at a Lawson convenience store in Japan. The tickets only go on sale during a certain time each month and you learn more about it here: http://www.ghibli-museum.jp/en/ticket-information/ I wish I knew about this when I was planning my trip – I wasn’t able to get tickets a month before my trip and when I was in Japan.

If you want to read and learn more about my adventure in Japan you can find all my blog posts here:

What tips or advice do you have for someone planning a trip to Japan? Feel free to share them in the comments! 

 

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Late Night Thoughts

The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience. – Eleanor Roosevelt

6 years ago, I stumbled upon this quote and it continues to resonate with me ever since. This quote is still on my Instagram profile. Like every other typical millennial, I have an insatiable appetite for travel, food and new experiences.

5 years ago, I created my first blog on WordPress with the goal of expressing my thoughts, sharing my experiences and improving my writing skills. Of course that failed along with multiple attempts afterwards, since I was just that lazy. One of the biggest roadblocks I faced was that, I often put too much thought into what I’m trying to say as I write. I’m not a good writer, but I want all my thoughts to be perfectly put into words.

Back in November of last year, I was in Japan. I had portable wifi, some downtime and a crazy idea – why not just blog on my phone? I always wanted to share my travels and leave some sort of footprint in the world; even if it’s a tiny one. I knew it wouldn’t work unless I just start typing and let the words pour out. To my surprise, this blog lasted 5 months without being deleted and ‘Explore with Kenneth’ now has 19 posts, been through 2 trips (Japan and LA) and followers that I greatly appreciate for following me through my adventures.

Moving forward, I’m thinking about bringing ‘Explore with Kenneth’ to it’s next chapter. It will continue to be active and I’ll be sharing my experiences even when I’m not travelling. I also have a couple of other ideas as well, but you’ll have to wait for those :). Thank you all so much for reading and I will always appreciate any thoughts and/or feedback.

 

 

Day 4 – Last day in LA

It’s our last full day in LA and we’re not staying another night in our Airbnb since Emily and Kevin are flying out around 7ish. We didn’t want to get charged another night for 5 people when it was just 3 of us. Our original plan was to stay at our friend’s spot before we fly out at 8am the next day, but we decided to just stay at a hotel near LAX (for comfort reasons).

Our morning consisted of cleaning up and packing. I’m going to miss the views from this Airbnb.

I’m going to miss waking up to this view.

The view as the sun is setting.

The view after the sunset.

Even the buildings next to us are photogenic.

One of my friends wanted to get something from the dispensary, so we all took a trip to one with a license. Visiting one is definitely an experience – there was a lobby with an armed guard and a window where thy checked our ID. After we were vetted, there was an entrance with two doors we had to get through (one door had to be closed and locked before the next door could be opened). Once we got to the actual room where they sold products, it was very much like a pharmacy. I enjoyed window shopping since I had no idea that they basically sold marijuana in almost every form possible – from edibles (chips, gummies, mints, brownies cookies, etc.) to lotion. Of course, pictures weren’t allowed and there was an armed guard that would enforce that rule.

Our last breakfast/lunch was at Blu Jam Cafe, a popular brunch spot known for their French Toast.

I got the Eggwich and we got the French Toast to share.

We all enjoyed our food, it was delicious. If this was in NY, it would definitely be one of the brunch spots that I would often go to. What makes the French Toast great, is the crunchy texture from the cornflakes.

After brunch, we had to take advantage of the beautiful weather on our last day. We took a Lyft to Venice Beach. I had to show everyone my favorite spot before the actual beach which was Venice Canals. I LOVE how walking around the Canals felt like you were in some special exclusive part of the world. Oh how I wished I lived here or at least had the chance the stay in one of these homes.

I love this view of Venice Canals.

Can’t keep myself from drooling over these homes.

Ugh these houses would not be possible NYC.

Next up, Venice beach but we didn’t go actually do anything beach’in since the weather was a bit to nippy for that.

Venice beach vibes.

We took a long stroll on the boardwalk, stopping by a skating park watching skaters do tricks and a couple of view points. Our plan was to walk all the way to Santa Monica pier, but we didn’t have time for that since two of us had to catch a flight soon. We ended up getting drinks and bar food at The Brixton on the corner of where Brandy lives before chilling at his place as he drives Emily and Kevin to the airport.

We got to meet his roommate as he was hanging out in the living room with his dog. After a couple of hours, we all got pretty exhausted and we didn’t think it was the best idea to just crash at his place. We wanted to shower and feel refreshed for our early flight, which led us to staying at Holiday Inn near the airport.

I feel like every time I come back to visit LA, it starts growing on me. Originally the first time I came to LA, I hated it. Maybe it was a mixture of the company I was with and the situation (our flight got delayed a day because of a snowstorm in NY). The second time I went to LA was two years ago, and that was a road trip from San Fran to LA with great company. We also drove down the Big Sur. This trip was with some of my closest friends since High School. To my surprised, as a group we haven’t done much traveling together. The last two trips was to Disney World (~7 years ago?) and a cruise to the Caribbean (~5 years ago?). Hate to say it, I think I’m starting to like LA and I will miss it.

Day 3 – Disneyland LA

After a long night, we woke up to a gloomy day. Unfortunately, we just happened to be in LA for this rare occasion since it only rains a few times every year. We lounged around our Airbnb and watched Cutthroat Kitchen until noon, hoping that it would stop raining but it didn’t. We weren’t going to waste a day so we drove out to Anaheim, praying that it would stop raining when we get to Disney.

We made a pit stop at Downey to eat lunch at Porto’s Bakery – basically a Cuban version of Panera Bread.

Lining up to order.

The only picture of what I ordered. Pulled pork sandwich with fried plantains. I also got the spicy cheese and peppers potato ball.

I wish they had a Porto’s in NY – everything was so goooooood. It’s pretty cheap for the portions you get too.

From Downey to Disneyland it took only 20 minutes and we got lucky because the rain finally stopped!

We made it to Disney!

It was around 2pm and we definitely didn’t have time to explore the whole park. We did get to go on most of the rides we wanted to, so overall it was a successful day.

The rides we went on (in order):

  • The Haunted Mansion
  • Indiana Jones Adventure
  • Pirates of the Caribbean
  • Star Tours
  • Space Mountain
  • Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters x2
  • Rocket Jets
  • Matterhorn Bobsleds

This was in the Adventure land section I believe. Right next to the Pirates ride.

King Arthur Carrousel

Oh, we also did a lot of pin trading and looking around stores to find rare ones.

After the Pirates of the Caribbean ride, it started pouring again. It sucked but it cleared out the line for the famous Dole soft serve.

Bad picture of the Dole soft serve.

We got lucky with timing twice. The first time was an indoor Tiki Magic Show that was about to start right after we got our pineapple soft serve. We got to enjoy our soft serve dry and listened to fake birds and plants sing.

The second time was getting early dinner at the Golden Horseshoe. We couldn’t get dinner elsewhere since all the good spots needed a reservation a day in advance.. so we had to eat at a fast food styled restaurant. After we got out food, there was a performance on stage!

We were really hoping to catch the Disney Fireworks but they weren’t doing it because of renovations on Main Street. HUGE disappointment, since that is the ideal way to end a day in Disney. Probably the first time I been to Disney without actually seeing it. Instead, we watched the Fantasmic water show, which was better than nothing.

There were fireworks after the show but it wasn’t as good.

Another pic of the fireworks.

We went on two more rides after and since a couple of us were exhausted, we decided to head home. I wish we went earlier or stayed a bit later since there were so much more to explore. Overall, I didn’t get the same feeling of the magical experience I would get in Disney World. Maybe because of the rain and the fact that there were no fireworks. Probably because it was a short day and usually I would spend at least 3 days in Disney (a day for each park).

Thank the lord, that the drive back to La Brea was smooth because I was exhausted and it was a struggle to keep my eyes open. We stopped by Leo’s Taco Truck for their famous Al Pastor Tacos and it was no doubt the best tacos I ever had. Their chorizo taco was no match for Guisados though.

Al Pastor taco

After our first order, we decided to get 10 more cause it was that good.

Once we got back to the Airbnb, everyone passed out from exhaustion. I literally passed out the moment my head hit the pillow. It was a productive day despite the rain.

Day 2 – LA

We all ended up waking up super early despite sleeping so late. It’s probably because our internal clocks were so used to EST time.We started off our day with breakfast at The Hart and The Hunter on Melrose near West Hollywood. I kind of wish I took my camera with me because I loved how photogenic the restaurant was – the decor, furniture and even the silverware.

Mushroom toast with soft scrambled eggs, creme fraiche, herbs and seeded bread.

I got the mushroom toast which was equally visually appealing as it was tasty. Definitely made it one of my favorite spots in LA for breakfast. (WARNING: I’m probably going use the word ‘favorite’ a lot in this post, just because of our activities this day.)

After breakfast, we drove to Runyon Canyon for a hike. Hiking Runyon Canyon is on my list of things that you HAVE to do if you’re in LA. It’s one of my favorite hikes and I’m jealous of how accessible this hike is compared to what we have in NY. (There’s no hiking trail that can beat Runyon Canyon within 20 minutes from NYC.)

Hiking the East trail.

We were surprised to find so many people hiking on a Thursday morning. It seems like everyone was just taking advantage of a beautiful day. Most are probably local since they were either running up or walking their dogs. Pretty much my ideal lifestyle if I lived in LA.

The first scenic spot of the hike.

The view of the Hollywood sign from Runyon Canyon.

I’m glad we got to hike Runyon since it was closed the last time I was in LA. Nothing better than a good hike with amazing views and beautiful weather.

Griffith Observatory was next on the list, but we decided to grab a quick lunch around the area first. We stopped by to check out Stamp Proper Foods and Little Dom’s first but ended up at Alcove. We sat outside and soaked up the beautiful LA weather.

I got a granola bowl and fries to share.

We got lucky getting to Griffith Observatory at what it seems to be off peak hours. There wasn’t much of a crowd so we were able to through the exhibits and take in the view at the top pretty quickly.

On the terrace of the Griffith Observatory

We were all pretty beat from hiking and exploring so before heading back to our Airbnb for a rest, we stopped by California Donuts for a dozen donuts and Trader Joe’s for a case of water and snacks.

So many options at California Donuts

The donuts we chose.

I had to get an unicorn donut.

California Donuts > Dough, that’s all I have to say. (I could be biased since I had enough of Dough donuts since vendors always bring them in at work!!!)

Back at the Airbnb, we ended up taking a 2 hour break before we headed out for dinner. Can’t come to LA without getting tacos. What better spot than Guisados in Downtown LA?

Kevin got the sampler which were 6 mini tacos.

I got the chicharron, chorizo and steak.

Guisados tacos are amazing, we’re probably going to come back here again. Tip for everyone who loves spicy food, ask for their spicy sauce and you won’t regret it!! (Unless you can’t handle it…)

Time to give LA nightlife another try, this time instead of a club, we went to Clifton’s Republic. I heard of it on VICE as they had an episode about Clifton’s being one of the oldest cafeterias, but I didn’t know it was a bar/speakeasy sort of deal. They had a rock burlesque sort of show go on when we were there, so that was interesting. The overall venue was amazing with multiple floors and taxidermy in display cases. It was very old school bourgeois type of place.

A giant redwood tree in the middle.

The coolest part about this place, is that there is a speakeasy aspect, where you get a coin like this one in the front desk.

Special coin

There’s a mirror on the second floor that you can push in as it’s a secret door and t leads to a secret flight of stairs where you drop the coin and head up to a hidden floor of Clifton’s. IT WAS BY FAR THE COOLEST THING EVER when we got up. There was some tropical themed party with a DJ on a boat.

DJ on a boat

Good drinks, good vibes and good company made it into a great night even though we were all tired AF. Our Lyft ride back was an adventure itself, wrapping up our day 2 in LA.

Day 1 – NY to LA

“Hopped off a plane at LAX with a dream and my cardigan…” – pretty much the best song to listen to as you get off the plane at LAX.

First thing I did after getting off the plane was walk to In-N-Out from the airport to meet Emily and Kevin. Probably not the best idea as it was a 25 minute walk with my carry on but it was a great way to stretch my legs after a long flight.

Even though I’m not a HUGE fan of In-N-Out, it’s a tradition for me to have it at least once whenever I’m in California. Nothing better than a double cheese burger after a 6 hour flight.

Double cheese burger and animal style fries.

Afterwards we took a Lyft to our AirBnb to drop off our stuff and took a quick stroll around the neighborhood. We’re staying in convenient spot since The Grove is within walking distance and there’s a Trader Joe’s nearby.

Since we had to wait for Gavin to Christine and land, we did some grocery shopping at Trader Joe’s. We didn’t do much exploring around West 3rd since it most shops were closing but we’ll be back! (I’ll save the pictures until then.)

Brandy picked them up at the airport when they landed and we went to eat dinner at Song Nong Dan at KTown.

Galbi Jjim – braised short ribs

We got their popular dish the Galbi Jjim and it was freaking amazing. Definitely recommend this spot if you’re into authentic Korean food.

What was crazy is that we ended up seeing this group of Twitch streamers from OfflineTV eating there as we were leaving. What a crazy coincidence, since I was just talking about how crazy it would be if we ran into them in LA. I was too star struck to say hello and I didn’t want to be rude since they were eating.

It was a little past midnight after we got back from dinner and we were going sleep early to get ready for an early day of activities, but we all know that never happens.

Goodbye 2017

I feel like I should do a quick recap of all my trips this year since I started this blog so late.

Started 2017 by snowboarding in Vermont right after January 1st.

Snowboarding in Vermont at Mount Snow

Back to back snowboarding trips – a weekend in Poconos.

Deer right outside our house.

Spent President’s Day weekend in Boston.

Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

Knocked off a couple of National Parks off my bucket list on a trip to Arizona & Utah.

First stop was the Grand Canyon.

These curves were amazing – Antelope Canyon.

Horseshoe Bend – pictures can’t do it justice.

The Amphitheater at Bryce Canyon.

Kayaking between canyons at Lake Powell. We even cliff jumped!

Zion National Park is definitely one of my favorite parks.

Angel’s Landing, my favorite hike in Zion.

Breathtaking views at Monument Valley.

Literally a week after this trip, I was back on a plane to Iceland! Iceland has been on my bucket list since senior year of high school. Fun fact: we drove around Iceland in 5 days. It was a crazy but beautiful road trip.

One of my favorite pictures – Viti Crater

Svartifoss. I love waterfalls and Iceland is full of them.

I love just stopping the car in the middle of the road to take in our surroundings.

Whale watching in Husavik.

One of the most dangerous beaches in the world – Black sand beach.

Fjadrárgljúfur – one of the most beautiful spots I ever seen.

Skógafoss. Last picture on my phone from Iceland before the heavy rain destroyed my phone.

Since I had two big trips in May, the rest of my trips during the rest of the year were small getaways. (Besides Japan, of course).

Sipping on my gin and tonic in Atlantic City.

A day hike at Mohonk Labyrinth And Lemon Squeeze. One of my favorite hikes but a hefty entrance fee..

Stonecrop Gardens. Had to visit a couple of gardens this summer .

Camping at Bear Spring Mountain.

Spent Labor Day in D.C.

Exploring another garden – Old Westbury Gardens.

Hiking Mount Beacon. My new favorite day hiking spot.

And my last trip of 2017 – Japan! How this whole blogging thing started. Don’t want to share all the pictures I have since it’s all over my other posts!

Arashiyama Bamboo Forest

Japan was a great trip to end 2017. I’m excited for 2018 and all the adventures to come (and to share here).

Hope everyone has a wonderful New Year!