Co-owner Victor is the driving force behind the formulation and development of Golden Ticket Travel. His 30 years of self-employment have seen many personal highs and lows, but his appetite to make things better has never diminished. Now in his 50's his attitude to working life in general has softened as he watches his two daughters set off into their chosen careers and the world get a little crazier by the day.
Fly Drive Japan
My tendency for being a bit of an organiser has often held me back from the more adventurous side of travelling. I’m always looking to do something different though and when I first heard it was possible to have a fly drive holiday in Japan my curiosity was well and truly fired-up.
I must admit at first the idea seemed terrifying. How would I cope with the chaotic traffic and the million mile an hour Tokyo lifestyle portrayed in TV and films? Even more worrying was the prospect of driving on the wrong side of the road in a country where I couldn’t understand any of the road signs.
Putting myself in the position of customer rather than Travel Agent I decided to put together my own holiday for next year while at the same time sharing the planning with you.
I cannot count the number of times a client will ask “when’s the best time to go” so let’s start there. Japan has seasons like our own, but with bigger extremes so, as I’m not keen on it being too hot, spring and autumn seem to fit the bill. I don’t want to do all the driving myself and after a brief consultation with friends we plump for October, sorted.
As a group of four (two couples) we will be able to share the driving, but without doubt this is also our biggest fear. It was time to call in the experts and who better than an old friend of our business Charlie from Japan Links Travel. I spent a couple of hours with him one morning exploring how this style of holiday would work and establishing what support and advice we could give our own clients if they decided to take the plunge.
I was immediately reassured that Japanese drivers are polite and patient with road rage an unknown phenomenon. In fact, the whole country is haven of peace and order with most road signs in English and wait for it…. they drive on the same side as us.
Add to this an automatic gearbox and English-speaking Sat Nav and suddenly the clouds of doubt were beginning to lift. Charlie felt that having a car in the big cities was probably unnecessary and this would also avoid the slightly more aggressive city driving and congestion. This seemed to make sense as I had already heard about the superb public transport within Japan’s urban areas.
Over the last few years I have been on several Guided Tours to countries as far flung as Costa Rica and India. Although I enjoyed these trips I really disliked the strict scheduling and time dependence upon the group. There is nothing worse than hanging around waiting for the slow coaches of the party or being moved on when you want to stop and savour a moment.
From my experience what Guided Tours do particularly well however is making sure you take in all the must-see highlights of a destination and get you plenty of ticks off that all important bucket list. My task for Charlie was simple, I want to see it all in a fortnight and still have time to taste the atmosphere and culture of such an intriguing country. Oh, and just for good measure we only want to spend £3000 each…. no pressure then.
After a couple of days our proposed itinerary arrived, and I have to say I was stunned by the attention to detail it offered. It felt like we had been provided with the ultimate dot to dot picture book. All we had to do was get on the plane at Heathrow and start joining the dots by filling each day with our own experiences.
A range of carefully chosen hotels has been booked each one ensuring we get the most out of every port of call. Daily breakfast is included and the occasional evening meal which will give us loads of freedom, but still provide a reassuring structure to our holiday.
On arrival in Japan a local representative will be waiting with our name on a board to make sure we get the correct shuttle transfer to our hotel. Then we will then spend 3 nights in Tokyo with easy access to local trains and the metro system. I’ve already ordered my Lonely Planet guide book to make sure we don’t miss anything.
On day 4 our main suitcases will be collected and transferred directly to our halfway point, Kyoto, while we begin our journey west by local train. Next stop Hakone famous for its hot springs, natural beauty and that all important view across Lake Ashinoko of Mount Fuji. The idea of travelling light sounds such a bonus.
No visit to Japan would be complete without the world-famous Bullet Train so after using local transport to take in Odawara with its glorious 15th-century castle it all aboard for a lightening fast ride to Kyoto.
I was both surprised and very impressed to learn that all the rail travel was included in our package. They even provide a handy “Japan Rail Pass” guide which explains clearly how to book tickets and reserve seats. I don’t get the impression there will be any British Rail style overcrowding or delays to worry about on this trip.
Now I know what you’re thinking what happened to the driving? Well that’s beauty of this wonderfully planned journey, no car until you need it. After a couple of days exploring the temples, palaces and shrines of Kyoto we will finally get our car keys and set off by road back to Tokyo.
With our route and hotels for week two carefully laid out in front of us we will have the chance to take in the real Japan while pootling along at our own pace. I can’t wait for the first time we stop to visit a local shop or restaurant with no idea what wonders lay in store.
Japan Links provide a wonderful pre-travel pack including detailed tourist maps, a guide to Japanese customs and information on transport links. They even provide some useful words and phrases although I’m not sure my Plymouth accent lends itself well to such hard pronunciation.
It won’t stop me trying though and I can’t wait to go.
I hope this article will whet your appetite and encourage you to try something different. If it has please pop into our office or give me a call. I’d be happy to tailor make your Japan self-drive adventure.
Errors and omissions excepted.
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