Even as a seasoned traveller it’s never too late to learn valuable travel lessons as a recent trip to Japan demonstrated
Each travel experience is different.
There is the utterly awesome, ‘I never want to leave this place’ experience. The flip side is the ‘get me out of here’ experience. Most travel experiences can be found on the spectrum between these two extremes.
However, a recent trip to Japan was unlike any other travel experience that I have had.
Against the background of rising cases of a novel coronavirus (Covid-19), and after a risk assessment, I went ahead with a planned return trip to Japan. Within a few days of arrival, the global infection rate had escalated at a rate that beggared belief. One by one, countries shut their borders and airlines took a red marker pen to their schedules.
The full impact of Covid-19 on travel is yet to be seen.
Ironically, bar some museum closures and cancellation of events, Japan was open for business. However, a prevailing sense of anxiety over the availability of routes home cast a grey cloud over the travel experience.
Ultimately, in the face of the cancellation of my return Finnair flight and the advice of the UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) urging British citizens to come home, I cut short my trip.
This trip to Japan was what you might call a character-building experience and, even as a seasoned traveller, taught me valuable lessons.
Travel lessons learned
#1 Always have a Plan B
It became clear that there was a good chance that my return flight could be cancelled at short notice and that alternative options would be severely limited. In all likelihood, I would need to make a quick decision and be in a position to make a speedy getaway.
My original itinerary was based in Kyushu in south-west Japan. However, it made more sense to make my way back to Tokyo sooner rather than later so that I would be in a position to jump on a flight at short notice.
Crunch-time came the night before I was due to stay in Nagasaki, the second city on the Kyushu itinerary, and eight hours by train from Tokyo. To mitigate the risk of not being able to make a quick getaway, Nagasaki and the rest of the Kyushu itinerary were jettisoned. Instead, I made a return trip to Kyoto, followed by Kanazawa, both within easy reach of Tokyo by Shinkansen.
#2 Be flexible
Flexibility is key and goes hand in hand with having a backup plan. Against a backdrop of momentous global events like this, you cannot afford the luxury of being wedded to the original plan.
Having a Japan Rail Pass increased flexibility in this trip in no small measure.
#3 Wherever possible, ensure that your travel arrangements are cancellable without a penalty
I have been stung once before, on a trip to Lille during one of the largest national strikes in French history. Although Eurostar was allowing passengers to rebook without a penalty, my hotel room rate was not cancellable.
I wasn’t going to get stung twice.
To build maximum flexibility into your schedule, either book accommodation on the road or select booking options that are fully cancellable without a fee.
All of my hotel bookings were made through Booking.com or Expedia were cancellable without penalty. The flight from Fukuoka to Tokyo was paid for with Avios and therefore cancellable without a fee.
#4 Take out adequate travel experience
Flexing my travel arrangements did not incur significant additional expense. However, under different circumstances, this may not have been the case.
Having travel insurance in place is so important, but make sure that your policy includes cover for travel disruption. Many cheaper policies exclude this and could, therefore, be a false economy.
#5 Keep in the know
I confess that I became a bit of a news junkie.
As Finnair was updating its information on almost a daily basis, I also checked this a few times each day. And it was a good job that I did as I picked up that my return flight had been cancelled before receiving an email from the airline, buying me precious time to source an alternative flight.
#6 Phone a friend
About five days into the trip, I didn’t know what was the correct course of action and picked up the phone to call a friend back home. This was the best thing that I could have done.
Not only was it good to have a long chat with a friend, but it was also super helpful to articulate those thoughts that were, until then, spinning around my head.
#7 Keep in touch with those back home
But this goes deeper than just phoning a friend for advice.
For me as a solo traveller, it is important to keep in touch with loved ones back home. And when world events are as extraordinary as they have been in recent weeks, this is doubly important.
#8 Keep a sense of perspective
Having to cut short your travel plans sucks. But the alternative is that you could put yourself at risk of not being able to return home for some time. That would suck more.
But this pales into insignificance when you consider the impact that COVID-19 is having on individuals, society and the global economy.
Stay safe all.