Recently, I wrote about how Perry and I spend a typical day because, while I love it, I'm determined to 'unglamorize' the long term travel lifestyle and show exactly what it's like, warts and all.
But travel days are different. They are special. Not of the glamorous variety, but definitely memorable, a mixed-up recipe of comedy, drama and mystery with a pinch of the strange. And they happen almost every week.
Usually, we move to new location every 7-10 days, which is considered 'fast travel' within nomad circles. Most travelers who do this for more than a year spend a minimum of one month (or longer) in each location to reduce housing and travel costs. Eventually, we would like to stay longer in certain places, but with our projects (Perry's afoolzerrand.com, and my soon-to-be announced new website), we need to keep moving.
Sometimes, seven days feels slow, and other times it feels rushed. For example, a week in Brasov, Romania is much different from a week in Seoul, South Korea, but generally speaking, it works.
A week allows us to take advantage of Airbnb discounts, buy bulk groceries, and travel mid-week-- all which help save money and avoid crowds. It also takes the pressure off trying to rush and cram in any sightseeing we want to do, providing a good balance of touring/project work and leisurely/busy time.
But I digress.
While I'm starting to become a tad desensitized to the new and novel (an unfortunate side effect of fast travel), I still feel the rush of adrenaline when I wake up on a travel day. I love the anticipation that comes with each new city and country. There's a bit of the unknown in terms of how the day will unfold, since we are navigating new train stations, airports, bus terminals, etc. and questions pop up no matter how well we have prepared in advance, such as:
- How long will it take to get to our bullet train platform at Tokyo main station from Takadanobaba at 9 am on a Wednesday? Answer: One hour (we allotted two)
- How much does the bus cost in Kyoto and do you need exact change? Answer: 230 yen and Yes
- Does Mongolian Air ban iPhones during flight like Chinese airlines do? Answer: Yes, because they fly over Chinese airspace
But the most difficult question on travel day has to be 'What to wear?' I struggle between wearing my heaviest layers to remove bulk from my pack, or wearing less but carrying a heavier load. Either way, I despise the sweatiness that inevitably ensues because we take public transportation and/or walk instead of taxis.
I meant it when I said travel day wasn't glamorous, but for sure it's entertaining. To illustrate, the following is a recap of our travel day on May 31, 2017 in Japan going from Sapporo to Tokyo.
The alarm goes off.
I rarely have to wake up to an alarm these days, but the morning of travel makes it necessary. It wasn't that long ago when I could roll out of bed an hour before I had to leave, but these days, I need to ease into the morning with a cup of coffee while I putter about. Today, I finish packing in between sips of 7-Eleven instant. I usually do most of my packing the night before, but I washed clothes yesterday (which were hung to dry overnight) and they need to be rolled up and shoved into packing cubes. There is also some last minute dish washing and tidying up around our Airbnb apartment to do.
We put the keys back in the mailbox and begin the 20 minute walk to the metro station. Despite relatively mild 75F conditions, I begin to sweat almost immediately and regret my clothing choice. Because we are riding the famed bullet train (Shinkansen) today, one of the more classy travel experiences around, I decided to wear my 'nice' outfit of black shorts, white tunic and colorful necklace. But since I accessorize with sturdy walking shoes and a 44 liter backpack, I really don't know why I bother.
By the time we reach Sapporo station, my back is soaking wet.
Due to the excellent signage in Sapporo station, we find our platform with zero issues and the train departs precisely on time, but we aren't on Shinkansen yet. First, we have to take a regional train from Sapporo to Hakodate, and it's very nice and comfortable for the four hour journey.
I'm a bit flustered after a fruitless search in the station for the perfect Bento box. Bento is Japan's traditional lunch and I had grandiose visions of eating a perfectly elegant meal during a perfectly civilized ride on Shinkansen, but alarmed that I did not recognize (beyond rice) half of what was in them, panic and grab a random onigiri (a triangle shaped rice ball with filling) and a plastic container of chicken in soy sauce from Family Mart.
As I organize my things under the seat, it occurs to me that my less-than-classy lunch is in keeping with my sweaty outfit.
I'm sitting on the bench at Hakodate station with my camera set to 'video' so I can record the bullet train's arrival. Realizing my chicken is four hours sans refrigeration, I turn off my phone to quickly wolf it down before it grows feathers again.
My chopstick skills have definitely improved after five months in Asia, but I drop the last tiny piece of chicken on the pristine station floor (seriously, I almost ate it, that's how clean) and while I'm wiping it up, the train arrives and I miss my video opp.
Our bullet train has stopped at Tokyo station, but I'm taking my time collecting my things because I never want to leave the immaculate, orderly and safe bosom of Shinkansen. It exceeded my expectations, especially the spotless, fresh-smelling bathroom with the heated toilet seat and built-in bidet.
If you think my gushing is over-the-top, may I remind you that I was squatting in an outhouse in Mongolia just a few short weeks ago.
Between the stunning Japanese countryside and a Homeland marathon (forgive me for being super late to the party, but I lived in another country from 2011-2014 and those years are a US television void for me), four hours pass way too quickly.
Welcome to Tokyo, the biggest metropolitan area in the world!
Off the train and now in the station, which is an absolute madhouse. We've visited big, busy cities before (Shanghai, Beijing, Bangkok, Seoul), but I'm taken aback at the sheer number of people striding in every possible direction. It's almost as though they need traffic lights in the concourses. Pressing through the crowd, we finally get to the exit for the first of what will be dozens of displays of our Japan Rail (JR) Pass. Unlike the majority of people swiping through the turnstiles, we need to stop at a window, show our pass and receive a bow from the attendant.
It's not an urban myth, the Japanese bow for everything and everyone. The checkout clerk at the supermarket. The street food guy. The people you let on the metro ahead of you.
All give you a bow.
An eight year old girl at a cat cafe bowed to me three times because she was ahead of me at checkout trying to buy a pen and it was taking a few extra minutes. One day, the street outside our apartment was down to one lane due to road works. I watched the flagman hold up his sign to oncoming traffic and when the car slowed to a stop, the worker turned to it and bowed.
Consider me impressed.
After our first week in Japan, I'm officially on the bowing bandwagon. FINALLY, I can do something to demonstrate appreciation, respect, thanks and gratitude in a country where I cannot speak the language instead of sheepishly shrugging like a jackass.
I'm going to start a worldwide bowing movement. You with me?
We finally make it onto the JR Yamanote line which will take us to Takadanobaba and our Airbnb apartment, only to find it's jam packed with commuters. We are public transport diehards (or cheapskates, I can't decide) but I really detest taking the train during rush hour when we have our heavy packs because I'm forced to simultaneously straddle a bag between my legs while trying to keep the straps from tripping an unsuspecting Japanese business man.
Adding to the fun, we no sooner post up in a corner next to the opposite doors, then the side of the platform switches to exactly where we are standing. Perry and I step out of the train to let people out but then lose our coveted face to face position, and I spend the next ten minutes with my face in some guy's armpit where I must remind myself that this ride is free courtesy of our JR pass.
The combination on the mailbox lock at our Airbnb apartment doesn't seem to be working.
I've been trying to pull up the directions provided by the host to reconfirm the code, but my phone is slow for some reason. Finally, it loads and we realize we are in the wrong spot. I'm surprised the people inside didn't call the police with our standing on their doorstep bickering in English and tugging away at their mailbox!
Finally inside our home for the week, I sigh with relief. The reviews for this place were awesome, but it is even better than I thought AND an unbelievable value for this part of Tokyo.
We drop our luggage and head back to the main drag to pick up groceries. Perry rejoices over a new chocolate milk while I try to decide on which sushi to select from the prepared foods section.
Walking back, we comment on how nice, quiet and clean the neighborhood is, even with the close proximity to Shinjuku, a notoriously busy area.
After eating and unpacking, I'm studying a map, trying to piece together an itinerary for tomorrow. Normally, we would hang out in our apartment the day after travel, but we are both anxious to see Tokyo.
Despite the long and busy day, we are both in extremely good spirits and express how much we love Japan. We are glad we saved this portion of our Asia travels for last.
Lights out. Our bed is comfortable and the bedding yummy, but pretty small for two tall peeps like ourselves.
It's not perfect, but I couldn't be happier.