On Solo Travel, Meeting Strangers, Canceled Flights, and Travel Insurance
I am a fan of solo travel because I get full control over what I do. Only I need to decide if I'll hole myself up in the hotel room or go out and try to socialize. When I planned my trip to Fukuoka, I wasn't really in the mood to travel yet. Also, the city didn't come across to me as exciting as other parts of Japan. But looking back, I think that it's one of the most memorable trips I've had so far. I got to know a whole lot more about Japan's history and saw the band that I adore. I also met strangers whom I now consider as friends. Ultimately, I've learned my lesson about travel insurance, albeit the hard way.
On solo travel
Before Fukuoka, I was in Hanoi for a week. I only spent a day with a private tour guide. Then another one when I joined a trip to Ha Long Bay. I was by myself most of the time, and it was heaven.
But for Fukuoka, I didn't know what I wanted to do. I only went there because it's the only city I haven't been to in Japan among the concert venues. So, I made a relaxed itinerary, even though I was also staying there for a week. I couldn't care less if I wouldn't explore much this time as long as I'd enjoy the concert without any fuss. Spoiler alert: I did. Although the band still managed to break my heart a month after. Unfortunately, my favorite left the group after the tour ended. Isn't it ironic?
Joining walking tours
I usually join walking tours when I do solo travel. I think it's the best ways to start your trip. You don't just get to meet a local who can give you tips about the city. Sometimes, you can even meet a friend to explore the area with after. Walking tours are usually free. Often, students practicing communicating in English lead these tours. Others, however, are History students who volunteer while studying at universities.
In Fukuoka, I treated myself to a paid walking tour and explored Hakata Old Town with a guide. I wrote a comprehensive blogpost about that tour here. It's something that I recommend Fukuoka visitors to do, no matter what type of traveler you are.
Doing things at your own pace
Even though I signed up for a join-in tour, I also allotted days where I'd go around and explore the city by myself. I visited museums, parks, cafes, and did everything at my own pace.
Traveling by myself frees me from having to stop at every picturesque view to take a photo. Sometimes, I like taking pictures. But sometimes, I prefer to admire its beauty instead of having proof. Alone, I have the liberty to decide where and when to eat. I didn't have to worry about someone else's disappointment even if the sunflowers in Nokonoshima Island Park were mostly dead already when I arrived. Also, I didn't have to bother anyone to take my photo since I brought a tripod.
Sometimes, it still annoys me when people feel bad about me traveling solo. What's so bad about it, anyway? It may be more expensive at times, but I think it's worth it.
From strangers to friends
Turning tour mates into friends
Although I was doing solo travel, it didn't mean that I wanted to avoid people. As I've mentioned, I joined a group tour and even made friends out of it.
It's been a month, and I still smile whenever I recall that day. I think that I effortlessly jived with Michal and Manami-san, although the age gap is huge. We even exchange emails now. I don't post that much about my walking tours. But I think that experiencing it with those ladies inspired me to write about that day.
I also met three beautiful ladies, Ate Irene, Ate Zaq, and Ate Mimi when I went to the band-that-must-not-be-named's concert. They're also Filipinos, and Ate Irene owns the Tumblr blog that got me into he-who-must-not-be-named and his crazy (now-ex) band. I mean, what were the odds that I would meet her in person?
We had dinner together after the concert, and obviously, talked a lot about the band. (Thank you, Ate Zaq, for the stickers!) It made me realize how in travels, you don't just get to meet people who are passionate about exploring the world. You also get to meet people who you share the same interests with no matter how random it is.
Isn't it beautiful, how we can connect with other people if we only try?
Karaoke in Japan
They brought me to a karaoke place after dinner the next night we met again. It's my first time to do it in Japan, and it's fun to sing Japanese songs while I was on my phone for romaji lyrics even though it looked as ridiculous as it sounds.
Fun fact: Did you know that a fellow Filipino Roberto del Rosario holds the singalong system machine's patent? I learned about it in college because my Logic Circuits professor was his relative. I did some quick Google search and saw that Daisuke Inoue invented the karaoke in 1971 while Del Rosario developed the singalong system in 1975, which probably explains why scholars usually credit Inoue.
If I'm sharing the same passion for travel with Michal and Manami-san, I'm sharing the same love for the band with Ates Mimi, Irene, and Zaq. They're also a little older than me, so I felt safer. They're quite worried about how I'd get home when we were out in the middle of the night with no bus or train for me take to get back to my hotel. So, it's nice that I could tell my family back home that I met kind people even though I was on my own. Since I do a lot of solo travels, stories like this always give my family comfort.
On my supposed last night, after shopping at Don Quijote, I even sat down for coffee with Ate Mimi and Ate Irene as Ate Zaq had already gone back to Osaka. It's pretty awesome that somehow, I managed to get in touch with them even though meeting them was extremely random — only to find out that maybe, it's some build-up for something even more interesting the next day.
Summer days in Japan
I'd been complaining non-stop about how hot it was from the moment I landed at Fukuoka International Airport. When lining up for concert goods, I almost felt like passing out due to the heat even though I had a hat, umbrella, and water. The summer heat was no joke. It was too much for me to handle, considering that I'm from a tropical country.
What's more annoying about it is that the summer season also means a lot of rainy days. And after enjoying my luck from the first day until my supposed last, I got a canceled flight because of the typhoon.
On travel insurance and canceled flights
I can't stress enough the importance of travel insurance. I used to always skip on purchasing it before because I was so obsessed with traveling on a budget. But eventually, I realized that travel insurance should be a non-negotiable. Coverages for health, life, car, or travel, are bills we pay for but don't wish to use. Maybe it's one of the reasons why some people brush off buying it.
I buy travel insurance now, but I still should have known better than being careless about it when it's inconvenient for me to get.
When I booked my ticket, the website crashed after I entered my payment details. Long story short, I pushed through the booking via phone and couldn't purchase travel insurance. I got another telephone number as I wouldn't be able to add it on the website. But I postponed the other call and ended up not getting insurance for this trip at all.
When I checked-in online for the flight back home, I saw a prompt asking me to give up my seat and reschedule my trip in exchange for compensation. I refused. So, imagine the horror I felt when I saw another email later informing me of the canceled flight because of operational requirements. I had no travel insurance!
I asked my sister to call the airlines in the Philippines since I can't properly communicate in Japanese. But the agent couldn't help her at all. She asked her to reschedule the flight to the earliest she could. But tomorrow came, and I still didn't receive the itinerary receipt. So, even though my supposed trip was at three in the afternoon, I checked out before 9 AM with my luggage in tow and headed to the airport.
Dealing with the repercussions
On the way to the airport, Ate Mimi sent me a photo of Ate Irene's neighborhood. The typhoon was about to hit Fukuoka and many flights were already canceled including mine. And when I arrived at the airport, the customer service agent could only give me a local number that I couldn't get a hold of despite spending a thousand yen. So, I had to wait until 1 PM to ensure my rescheduled flight. And because I had no insurance, I had to book my sorry self for another night in whatever hotel I could find and wait for the next flight.
Not a complete disaster after all
Remember the three ladies I met at the concert? I got a heads up from Ate Mimi about the typhoon as we're both supposed to leave on the same day. So, we were messaging each other that morning. She must have told Ate Irene (who lives and works in Fukuoka) what happened to me, and I got a message from her saying that I should let her know if I needed a place to crash. Why? So that Ate Mimi could bring me to her home since she's still at work.
Can you believe that? Yes, we met three nights in a row, and we also share the same liking for a band and favorite member. But I can't imagine allowing a stranger in my own home, let alone leaving him or her there without anyone else! Ate Mimi's flight back to the Philippines pushed through, so I was just by myself in Ate Irene's house for a few hours.
How she had the confidence to let me stay is beyond me. Just when I thought all the luck I'd been experiencing during my trip (getting a hotel room upgrade, winning a Sanrio lottery, and getting arena seat in the concert) turned into giant bad luck, they both came to the rescue. So, thank you, guys! You reminded me that even that though I am so obsessed with the Japanese hospitality, Filipinos still won't easily let me down.
Travel insurance is a must
This trip was my fourth time in Japan. I have gone on solo travels about eight times already. And I think I've had enough number of trips to realize that it's impossible to come back from any journey without even just a single takeaway. This time, I learned the importance of travel insurance the hard way, among other things.
I was lucky that I met Ate Irene and her friends. More than the fact that it saved me money for the hotel, it also calmed me that I wasn't alone in a country where I didn't have my family, not to mention that there was also a typhoon!
So, please don't be like me. Never travel without insurance. I'm sure you can imagine all the other horrible things that could have happened aside from a canceled flight. What if it's something worse? *knocks on wood* Better safe than sorry, people. Get insurance every time you travel!
Restored faith in humanity
Ates Irene, Zaq, and Mimi will probably hate me for saying this. But to me, they're perfect examples of how goodhearted strangers can be. Sure, some people take advantage of the lost ones. But some people are also willing to go out of their ways to help others in need.
Come to think of it; I could have just paid a few thousand yen for a capsule hotel. But I didn't bother taking down the offer and spent a night in her home, instead. It felt like I was imposing on Ate Irene. But if I were to go back to that time, I don't think I would have changed my mind because it helped me realize that there are still really a lot of kind people in the world.
And traveling is one way to prove that time and time again.