I first went overseas with my family when I was 12 years old to Thailand. That was also the last time I ever traveled with a tour group. I didn’t fancy having to follow fixed itineraries; having to wake up at 7am in the morning because that was someone else’s drawn up plan; having 15 minutes free-time to shop because let’s face it, nobody shops in 15 minutes.
The next time I went traveling was at 20, when I went on my first free-and-easy trip with my best friend, K, to Japan. That was when things got exciting. We planned for an 11-day trip to Tokyo and Fukuoka, and for budget reasons, decided that we shall not book a hotel for the last night and sleep at the airport instead.
When we arrived at the airport in Narita, we bought a train ticket and headed to the train platform and was confused about how the train works. A red-color train arrived and with what little Japanese we knew, I asked the nearest guy if we could get to our destination on that train, and he nodded. After boarding the train called Narita Express, we settled into random empty seats. At the next stop, a group of students boarded the train and it somehow appeared to us that we were in their seats. With some gestures, we figured that was so, and moved to other empty seats. It made us even more confused how they managed to reserve those seats. After a while, the train master came to check our tickets, and made us pay another $50 for those seats. Budget traveling took a hit.
When we arrived at our destination, we tried to contact our former Japanese language teacher. Since we had no phone, the best option was to use the public phone. Phones here accept 10 yen and 100 yen and since 10 yen was about 10 cents, which was enough for a 3-minute call in Singapore, I inserted 10 yen and got the shock of my life when the call ended in a few seconds. I ended up inserting more and calling and inserting and calling and spent some $5 on the phone call. That was a time when a bowl of noodles only cost us $2.50.
If I talk about the entire trip, this post is gonna be categorised under tl;dr, so fast forwarding to our last day, we were heading straight to the airport from Fukuoka and only managed to get to Chiba station before the last train ended. But instead of looking for a hotel, we decided to sleep outside the train station to wait for the first train out the next morning. That was when we witnessed the core of Japanese integrity.
Apart from us, there were a couple of teenage dancers practising breakdance now and then; there was a man who looked somewhat like then-PM Koizumi Junichiro pacing up and down the station to keep himself warm in the cold night in May; there was a drunk man sleeping on the ground; and there was a group of delinquents who passed by a couple of times. During the night, the drunk man tossed and turned and his mobile phone and money fell out of his pocket all over the floor. Everyone saw that happen due to the noise of coins breaking the silence of the night but no one moved. After a while, the drunk man got up and left. But no one touched his phone nor money either. A good amount of time passed before the drunk man returned to pick up his stuff. In its entirety.
I’m an attention seeker. I crave for interesting stories to tell. I want to be the funny and interesting guy. I’m Chandler. That’s partly why I left Singapore in search for a different story, and totally why when I went traveling every month last year, I chose to stay at cheaper, less comfortable guesthouses so that I can meet people. I never had itineraries planned. I only choose a few things to see and places to go and then decide what happens tomorrow the night before. And I secretly wish for all my plans to be disrupted. Because of this less orthodox way of traveling, I ended up going around Nagasaki with two Korean girls I met at a guesthouse, traveling Okinawa with a former nightclub hostess from Kyoto, having lunch in Osaka with a budding singer-songwriter from Australia, and having a Brazilian girl pull down her T-shirt and asking me to touch her back. These are things that cannot happen if I had a full itinerary planned out and isolated myself in a hotel.
Maybe you should stop planning too.