There is a vibrant flow of tourists into Japan, with around 31 million people visiting in 2018. One of the popular aspects about visiting Japan is that there are many similarities in temperament and even culture with many Western countries. On top of that there are numerous direct flights to Japan, so it is very easy to visit.
When traveling to Japan you can choose a group tour or look to travel more independently. LIVE JAPAN has weighed up the advantages and disadvantages of these two major ways of traveling to Japan by speaking to international visitors and seeing what they have to say.
Traveling Solo - Advantage #1: You can discover hidden spots!
"If you travel alone then it is easy to discover information about popular places in Japan. You can find a street that is vibrant like Harajuku, and you can check how to get to places in advance so that you can easily get to where you want to go. I think that if you go in a group, then you can only visit famous sightseeing spots. For more in-depth travel you can only choose traveling solo.” (24 year old Taiwanese woman)
First of all, the advantage of free travel is that you can freely choose the sightseeing spots you want to visit. However, with a group, the tour schedule is usually fixed and doesn’t have any flexibility. In addition, the itinerary may also include attractions that you are not interested in. With traveling solo you can go exactly to where you want to go.
When traveling abroad alone or with friends or family then you have to do all the planning. You have to manage your own time as well, but a big advantage of traveling solo is that you can make the most of your time
Traveling Japan Solo - Advantage #2: You choose the accommodation!
"As a solo traveler you can choose a budget hostel, or a luxurious hotel, the world is literally your oyster. Particularly when choosing a more expensive hotel it is also most guaranteed that the quality of the hotel is better than what you will be given through a group tour, and you have the freedom to enjoy it to the fullest as well." (30 year old Taiwanese woman)
Choosing a place to stay is one of the pleasures of travel. Whether it is a famous hot spring hotel, a well-located hotel, or one with luxurious facilities, each hotel has its own main features which you can choose according to what you want. Traveling solo means you can focus on the points you value and search for the ideal place to stay. The hotel that comes with a group tour will also have its own benefits, but only through traveling solo can you pick a hotel to die for.
Traveling Japan Solo - Advantage #3: Eat the most authentic food!
"With a group tour, you are usually taken to a restaurant that the tour company has an agreement with, and which may or may not feature local cuisine. But as a traveler in Japan, of course you want to eat delicious seafood dishes or local izakaya plates, plus treats you never knew existed and other local specialties. Discovering food is really fun." (30 year old Taiwanese woman)
We don’t just travel to eat, but eating while traveling is definitely important, and when traveling abroad, of course you want to eat food that you can’t taste in your own country. With a group tour, the meals will be likely be at a run of the mill restaurant that's been chosen for its appeal to a majority of travelers.
Although it takes a little time to search for a place to eat sometimes, when you discover fantastic food then it makes it very worthwhile, and it makes your trip that much more fun.
Traveling Japan Solo - Disadvantage #1: Hotel reservation difficulties
"I always want to book a hostel to save on travel expenses and to stick to a budget, but during the peak season they are mostly full. When traveling solo you need to think about the time of year you are going.” (28 year old Taiwanese female)
This is a situation that often occurs when traveling during peak seasons. In recent years, the number of foreign tourists has gone up and up, and some netizens have noticed that it is difficult to book a hotel during popular tourist seasons. The times of the year that are most difficult for making reservations are mainly summer and the beginning of the year. For someone traveling independently it is best to keep that in mind.
Traveling Japan Solo - Disadvantage #2: Carrying heavy bags to distant hotels
"When I went to Japan, I often couldn't find a coin-operated locker. It was really hard to lug my suitcase around, so I really recommend either finding a hotel close to the train station or making arrangements for your luggage.” (28 year old Taiwanese woman)
Japan is well-connected, but when traveling to remote rural areas the transfer process can be complicated. In addition, the number of coin-operated lockers in rural areas is rather small, so storing luggage can be a problem.
Although the advantage of traveling solo is that you can choose your own travel destination, conversely, when you go to the countryside, you have to think about how you will move your luggage. Passengers with big bags can send their luggage to the hotel via a transportation company.
Traveling Japan Solo - Disadvantage #3: Some attractions have information in Japanese only
"When I went to a local restaurant I found that they had only a Japanese menu, it made ordering very difficult. Although they had plastic foods in the showcase and I could snap photos of what I wanted and showed the staff, it was a little awkward." (30 year old Taiwanese woman)
Although the advantage of information online today is that it can help people easily get to their favorite spots, there are often no signs in English. So although with route planning through apps like Google Maps you can easily find places, when you enter a restaurant with a Japanese only menu you hit a food barrier. In particular, if you go out into the Japanese countryside for sightseeing then it is best to install a translation app in advance to reduce the problem of the language barrier.
Having looked at traveling solo, what are the advantages and disadvantages of group travel? Travel agencies offer a variety of itineraries for travelers these days. Let’s hear what some people who have gone on group tours have to say.
Japan Group Tours - Advantage #1: You can get to even distant locations with peace of mind
"When you are going somewhere far away from the airport, then life is much easier when you are on a group tour. You can just hop on the bus and the tour guide will explain everything in detail." (28 year old Taiwanese woman)
One advantage of being in a tour group is that you can easily travel to sightseeing spots that are far away. For example, in the northeast of Japan, there is excellent sake and fresh seafood. If you go independently then you need to change transportation several times to get there, so it is quite inconvenient.
However, if for instance you join a Tohoku Tour Group, you just need to get on a bus after arriving at the airport, saving you the time and hassle of sorting out a hired car. In addition, the tour guide also gives a detailed introduction about the area during the trip. You can travel to major spots and enjoy yourself without having to do homework on it in advance.
Japan Group Tours - Advantage #2: Accommodation costs are cheaper than if bought separately
"With a group tour, you can get a good hotel at an affordable rate, and it is normally a bit cheaper than if you booked directly yourself”. (24 year old Taiwanese woman)
An advantage of going on a group tour is that travel agencies can get relatively cheaper prices. Especially for people who plan to spend money in expensive restaurants, your money goes a lot further when you don’t have to budget as much for accommodation.
Even in the same hotel, the price difference between a sea view room and a night view room can be different. On a tour group, you can stay in a really nice room without paying extra. In this way, the quality of travel is greatly improved, and it is really a rare thing.
Japan Group Tours - Advantage #3: A good partner when traveling with family
"I sometimes choose a group so that my parents can enjoy Japan without getting too tired. The biggest advantage of a group tour is that you can put your luggage in the bus and walk freely without having to carry stuff around. If we had travelled independently then we have to sort out transportation while carrying heavy luggage, and then by the time we get to an attraction we are already exhausted.” (24 year old Taiwanese woman)
Family travel can include both old and young family members. With so many people and pieces of luggage, if you choose to participate in a tour group then you can put your big suitcases on the tour bus and relax.
Putting heavy luggage on a bus saves a lot of energy from carrying it about, and avoids the trip from becoming a physical burden for the elderly. Older children will find it easier and less stressful too.
Japan Group Tours - Disadvantage #1: Food quality
"When I joined a tour group I was very disappointed with the quality of the rice at restaurants we went to. I had finally come to Japan and was looking forward to eating famous local dishes, but the actual food I ate kind of could have been found anywhere." (28 year old Taiwanese woman)
Sometimes the meals on a tour group are not particularly luxurious, and it is definitely a shortcoming about joining a tour group. Meals are reserved in advance by travel agencies at restaurants they have chosen which are willing to accommodate large parties. They can also unwittingly choose restaurants which they think are to the tastes of the group, i.e. food they are used to at home, rather than letting them discover new tastes.
Japan Group Tours - Disadvantage #2: Fixed schedule means little time for exploring
"Sightseeing time is quite crucial and I really want to just spend as much time as I would like in an area. And when visiting an ancient Japanese city, everyone wants to explore it in depth, but often they can't because of time constraints." (30 year old Taiwanese woman)
When you go somewhere with a group, the visit time for each attraction is always fixed, and you can’t wander around to your heart’s content. On top of this it might be your only visit ever to Japan. However, on a group tour there is a strict time schedule and you have to return to the bus by a certain time.
Japan Group Tours - Disadvantage #3: Who is on your tour can affect travel satisfaction
"When traveling with a group you get occasions when some people don’t get back to the bus by the departure time, and you can feel a bit angry that they are delaying the whole group. I personally think that one of the shortcomings of traveling with a tour group is that who is on your tour can affect the atmosphere of the whole journey." (24 year old Taiwanese woman)
The tour group will put you together with strangers, and if someone stays at an attraction for too long and does not return to the bus, then the overall itinerary falls behind and it spoils the atmosphere of the tour. The group has to be concerned about other tour group members, so it is bit of a mental burden.
Wrapping up: Traveling Japan Solo vs. Group Tour
After reading this article, you can understand that traveling solo and group tours have their own advantages and disadvantages. Travel can bring whole new experiences, so when you travel to Japan remember to choose the right way to travel for you, one which will let you see the places you want to see!
*Prices and options mentioned are subject to change.
*Unless stated otherwise, all prices include tax.
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