Japan 2017 – Pre-travel Stuff

The second in a series of our travels to Japan … these suggestions are for a trip of 7 to 10 days.  If you will be gone longer, expect more detailed planning and more time to carry it out.  Sorry so long here but these are where we spent most of our time …

First Things First – Pre-Planning

Number 1:  Get your crib (aka house, apartment, room) ready.  Its been a while since I’ve had to completely shut down the house, so it was a never ending “oh yeah!  I need to do that!”  Here’s a quick run down of “stuff”:
  • If you are gone for more than a week and/or have issues with mailbox theft or mailbox size, put your mail on hold.  You can do this on-line via the post office 30 days before leaving and for a maximum of 30 days while you are gone (more than 30 days, you can put in for mail forwarding).  However, mail hold is not necessarily available in all areas.  Here’s the link:  https://holdmail.usps.com/holdmail/
  • Lock up your jewelry and guns.  If you do not have a safe, rent a safe deposit box for your valuables.  Guns on the other hand have various “rulez and regz”.  Here’s a good site for various weapon storage information:  https://www.storagefront.com/therentersbent/storing-your-firearms-safe-options-for-gun-storage/
  • Refrigerator and freezer, and food items.  Move as many items from the refrigerator to the freezer as possible.  Trash the rest in the refrigerator that will go bad while you are gone … or better yet, throw a party and use as much as you can!  Turn off the ice maker (and for double security, shut off the water valve … and the water valve to the toilets and any unused water filters or appliances inside).  Look at pantry items that may attract ants and other pests, and either trash unused or give them to others.  There is nothing worse than coming home to a ant-farm or mouse-house that has set up residence in your food.
  • Turn off and unplug as many electrical appliances as possible … televisions, DVD and various game players, lamps, counter appliances.  This not only saves $$ but is also a fire prevention method.  Also, turn the temperature down on your water heater, and turn off any air conditioners (central or window or floor), and dehumidifiers or humidifiers (as the case may be with the season unless you need them to maintain a particular environment such as for animals and plants).  Do not turn off furnaces or home heating if you need them to keep pipes from freezing; otherwise, set thermostats to the “off” position for both A/C and heat.  If you are in an area and are traveling during a time when pipes freeze, winter prep everything including weatherstripping, draining pipes, putting up storm windows and shutters, etc.
  • Do NOT stop gardening or pool cleaning services.  The more your house looks like it is still being lived in, the better.  Reset any garden watering timers as necessary and double check the lines.  On the other hand, DO stop maid or housekeeping services since you will not be there to supervise or notice any issues right away.  However, DO clean to stop pests from taking over.  Empty all trash cans; dust; vacuum; do all of the laundry, and put it away so you won’t have a double issue with it AND your dirty travel clothing.

Number 2:  Your animals (aka pets, non-pets, critters you care about).  First figure out who and where your pets will reside with while you are gone.  We have a dog, cat and rabbit.  The dog is 9 years old and has separation anxiety.  The cat is 11 years old and is okay either indoors or outdoors, but she still needs “her people”.  The rabbit lives in a large enclosure outside but needs added attention during excessive heat or cold situations.  We opted to board the dog with a sitter we’ve used in the past for 1 to 3 days.  This entailed making sure her shots and medications were up to date, and giving the sitter the dog’s favorite toys, a rundown of her daily routine, emergency #’s, our Facebook info (to send us pictures of our little furball), and notifying the vet that she had power of attorney in the event of any emergency situations.  A neighbor took care of “Dave” (our houseplant), the cat and rabbit including watering, feedings and cleaning liter boxes.  In all cases, we had to purchase enough food and goodies for all animals for a two week period of time.  We also refilled the hummingbird and other bird feeders, checked the critter traps (gophers, squirrels, mice), and laid out ant-stakes as necessary.

Number 3:  Security.  Having a home security company monitor your house is the best bet.  Let them know when you will be gone.  If you do not have that option, set up timers to turn lights on and off at different times of the day; and have a neighbor, family member or friend check on the house at least once in 24-hours.  Also, a private camera system may deter many from even considering breaking in – make sure all cameras are working and set the record loop to record as many days as possible.  Lock ALL doors and windows, and don’t forget the garage access points.  Turn off auto garage door openers (unplugging them is best).  Depending on your area and how long you are gone, you may consider letting the police and fire departments know the house will be vacant.  Check with your local agencies.

Number 4:  DO NOT POST YOU ARE GOING ON A TRIP ON SOCIAL MEDIA!  As much as you want to tell people about your dream trip of a lifetime, there are two issues with you having “loose lips”:  1) OPSEC – it’s not a good idea to blab to the general public that your sailor will be in port during a specific time period and you will finally get to see him/her; and 2) there are “bad people” where you live who look at social media as an opportunity to rob you while you are away.  Post pictures and adventures to the public after you get home … otherwise, post to only those you trust during your trip who will not share where you are.

Number 5:  Work related headaches.  As much as we tried to prep for this, there was always that ONE THING that came up during the trip that we didn’t expect.  We gave everyone we work with and for notice of the trip, and our emergency numbers.  We also bought additional data time (see below) and checked our emails daily just in case someone “didn’t get the memo” that we were gone for a while.

Second Things First – Travel

Number 1:  Figure out how to get to and from the airport.  Shuttle?  Drive yourself and park?  Friend/relative who will suffer for 2 to 4 hours in traffic for you and keep track of their kindness for the rest of your life?  We had a HORRIBLE experience with the shuttle service from our area to Los Angeles International (LAX).  This was the first time we had used them, and I guarantee it will be the last.  Typically we park in long-term, or rent a car one way. More on our “fun” there at:  https://buzyw2.wordpress.com/2017/05/25/safe-and-efficient-shuttle-my-a/

Number 2:  Food and medication plan.  Face it … airline food can really suck, although I do give them points for it getting better over the course of the last 30 years.  Figure out your travel times and the meals offered by the airlines, then figure out what you are going to eat and when.  We got 2 meals plus numerous visits from the drink cart during our flight (booze was free!).  That also meant we had to visit the little girls/boys room 3 or more times.  We also brought a couple of protein/granola bars in our carry on.  Also, if you suffer from high blood pressure or other conditions that require medication, work that into your daily routine and the time changes.  Every 3 hours is every three hours no matter what.  From LAX to Japan is a 12 hour flight … so that would be 4 doses of meds.  Tell your doctor you are traveling and make sure you have enough pills for the trip, and ask about any issues taking them in a pressurized airplane.  Make sure you have them in the carry on and not your checked in luggage.  Some suggestions to avoid issues:
  • Avoid the high sodium airline meals and eat your own snacks if allowed to bring them on board.  Let your airline know of any dietary issues in advance and work with them.
  • You can’t bring water on the plane (per TSA rules) but you can get it from the drink cart.  Only drink bottled water … airline holding tanks are sort of gross.  Avoid alcohol and coffee and carbonated drinks.
  • Avoid foods that cause bloating and heartburn and bad body odors.  Do unto others as you would have them belch and fart unto you.
  • Walk around at least every 2 to 3 hours to avoid blood clots (drinking lots of water will help here since you will need to use the bathroom).

Number 3:  Luggage and packing lists.  PACK LIGHT!!  Most airlines allow 1 piece of luggage checked in (cargo hold) at no charge, but there is a weight limit.  Wear your jacket on the plane to serve as a secondary blanket (if you have one of those neck pillows, wear it around your neck or attach it to the outside of your carry on and then detach it before putting things in the overhead compartment).  Put a change of clothing in your carry-on along with small amounts of hygiene products (1 to 2 days most – 3 oz. or less) just in case your checked-in baggage doesn’t make it to the airport when you do.  I also carried on an eye mask, quality earphones, ear plugs, and a personal travel blanket (the airline ones are small and itch in my opinion).  I was going to pack a fold-down umbrella, but forgot, so I bought a cheap one at a local tourist site for about US$2 or ¥200 (you will definitely need one in Japan).  There are places along the way (restaurants, train and bus stations, etc.) you can “donate” unused umbrellas, which is pretty cool.

Japan1

You are also allowed an additional “under the seat” bag.  We used our computer bag which had our laptop, Kindle, iPad, and various charging cables as the under seat bag, but we never used those items since we were so busy, so I recommend leaving them at home and using your phone or tablet/iPad instead, and put those items in the carry on. That will give you a tiny bit more leg-stretch room.
EDIT:  As of today, June 3, many countries and airlines will not allow laptops or phones on board or in carry on luggage.  You may need to remove the battery from electronic items, and store them in your checked-in baggage.  Verify this with the airline and the countries you are traveling to and from.

Number 4:  Insurance (travel, additional medical, dental, life) and emergency numbers. We bought travel insurance through the airline in the case of last minute cancellations or problems … and we’re glad we did because it covered flight delays.  We sat on the plane for almost 3 1/2 hours during take-off check due to a faulty air conditioner.  Seven days later we received a refund of over $300 because of the delay.  Our medical and dental insurance is only good in our local area, so we purchased travel health insurance from our insurance carrier at a cost of about $50 each for 10 days … thank goodness we didn’t need to use it, but at least there was peace of mind that it was available just in case.  We also checked our life insurance policy to make sure we were covered (some policies do not cover air travel); and, not to sound fatalistic but, we made sure our Will and any Power of Attorneys were up-to-date.  We made a list of emergency contacts and phone numbers (you will need to give at least one to the airline) including where we were staying in Japan and our own numbers and email addresses; and we then gave the list to the various people who were watching our house and pets.  In that way, they could all be in contact with each other or us as need be.

Number 5:  Credit cards and other banking issues.  Call your bank and credit card companies to let them know you will be using your credit cards in Japan.  This avoids, somewhat, a freeze on your account for assumed theft or loss of your cards.  I say “somewhat” because about half way through our trip, our bank froze our accounts and said we had to call within 2 hours to avoid a permanent shut down.  When we called and told them we were approved to use them in Japan, they acknowledged that, but said, “We still monitor and shut down at our discretion.”  Oh good lord!

Number 6:  Phone and WiFi/Internet.  Laptops are heavy, and in retrospect we could have left it at home since we didn’t need it nor use it.  If, however, you cannot be without one, then take something smaller like a tablet/iPad.  We did almost all of our computing on our phone.  Remember to pack a multi-head charger (or go green and get a solar charger), and your power cord and earphones.  WiFi service is spotty in some places, but GPS works well.  You may need to check with your phone and internet service providers to see if you need additional data time (roaming and connection charges are about $2 to $10 PER MINUTE without pre-bought additional data).  We paid $85 for an additional 250 messages … and we used all of it by the end of the trip.  We also downloaded shows from Netflix to our phone and tablet (Amazon does this too).  More on this and some tips at: http://www.pocket-lint.com/news/139186-how-to-download-netflix-movies-and-tv-shows-on-your-phone-or-tablet.  By the way, appliances will work on the Japanese electrical system (which puts out 100 volts compared to our 110/120).  Some specialty equipment may need a transformer, but that’s not typical.  More about that can be found at: http://www.japanupdate.com/2015/02/japanese-versus-north-american-voltage-and-frequency/ 

Checklist and Packing List

I will post these later.  Not because I want you to keep reading but because I’m tired and falling asleep and being lazy.

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