When I told my friends I was traveling to Japan this summer, most of them replied with “but you don’t speak Japanese!” and “what about the language barrier?” I wasn’t fazed by their questions. I thought the complications of the language would make my trip one to remember. After two weeks of being in Japan, I can offer some travel advice for traveling in country where you don’t know one bit of their language. Japan has one of the most complex subway systems in the world. New York’s system doesn’t even compare. Luckily though, there are plenty of signs in English. You just have to pay attention and read every sign. Don’t be afraid to ask one of the locals for directions. Chances are they know enough English to lead you in the right direction. Or if you’re as lucky as me, you can stand in the street looking lost and confused and you will be approached by bilingual Japanese doctors who ask “what’s wrong with you?” and can lead you to your destination. Another piece of traveling advice is to pack light. After carrying a giant suitcase, backpack and heavy purse all across Tokyo, I now know how grateful I would’ve been if I had left half my clothes at home. To save space on packing, always roll your clothing instead of stacking it on top of each other.
Especially if you are going on a study abroad trip where you will be walking all day, bring comfortable footwear! It’s extremely important so you don’t have any pain that prevents you from being able to do all the wonderful sightseeing. I thought I could get away with my sandals but I’ve learned that comfort definitely outweighs cute in a city where no one drives.
One of the most important pieces of advice I can offer is to try new things. If you are embedding yourself into a new culture, live like that culture does! It’s not every day that you get to live and breathe outside of your cultural norms. Not being afraid to try new things will maximize your experience. Not to mention you can gain bragging rights that you’ve done something that no one else you know has done.