Planning a trip overseas is a lot of work. I'm sure I have well over one hundred bookmarks for this in a couple dozen folders. Here I will lay out my planning strategy, along with helpful links, and hopefully it'll be useful for others to use as a skeleton to plan their trips.
Part 1: Deciding When to Go
1) Japan has four distinct seasons. Which one sounds most awesome?
- Winter - Christmas, snow
- Spring - cherry blossoms (March/April), mild weather
- Summer - rainy season (June/July), beach weather (July/August)
- Fall - beautiful foliage
- Golden Week - Usually end of April to around May 5th, Japan has three holidays and this week is a very busy travel time for locals. As such, airports, trains, and hotels are very busy, and many local business are closed.
- Obon- August 13 to 16 is another holiday and busy travel time for locals.
- New Years, the April/March cusp (school break), and the July/August cusp (school break) may also be times to avoid.
- Rainy season! From the beginning of June to mid-July.
- September is typhoon season.
My results: I decided to go during the Spring because trees covered in pink are of great interest to me. The earliest Poncho could get off was the third week of April. He only gets five vacation days so we can only go for that week. Between the twelve-hour flight and seventeen hour time change we lose a day. Considering all that, we booked our flights for Sunday, April 18 and returning on Sunday, April 25.
Part 2: Buying a Plane TicketFor an international trip you should probably buy your tickets at least a month in advance. We bought ours two months in advance and our friend bought a ticket to join us a month later for the same price. Right now the same tickets are $100 more. Though I can't imagine many people would wait until the last minute to get a plane ticket to another continent...
You'll probably fly into Narita Airport, as they handle most of Japan's international flights. Haneda Airport is closer to Tokyo, but you'll probably go to Narita anyway. (Note: We're only planning to go to the Kanto region (Tokyo area) so you may go to a different airport if you were to be traveling to, say, Hokkaido.)
I hear it's good to book directly through the airline when you can. When I went to Oklahoma I got the best rate directly through Southwest Airlines. Obviously Southwest doesn't have flights to Japan, so we went with our other method: HotWire.com. We also used them to go to Hawaii and Jamaica and it's been fine. I like their search tools.
After you've decided on a flight, either before or after you actually buy it, check out SeatGuru.com to see what your plane is going to be like, and call the airline to request a seat. They might say you have to wait until you actually check in or something, but it's worth a shot.
My results: We got tickets through HotWire on Korean Airlines for a direct flight to Narita, Japan for $755 each. I looked up our plane on SeatGuru.com and was pleased to find out each seat has its own plug, so I can keep my Nintendo DS charged. I then called the airline and asked them if my husband, our friend, and I would be able to sit together since we booked out tickets separately, and she happily gave us three seats with a window.
Parts 1 & 2: Deciding When to Go and Buying a Plane Ticket
Parts 3 & 4: Trains?! and Deciding Where to Stay
Parts 5 & 6: What to Pack and To Do Between Now and Then
Part 7: Stuff I Wanna Do
Part 8: Links, Links, and Links