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Travel to Tokyo: How my first solo trip changed my life

A group of Female travel bloggers prompts me an interesting idea to write within 1 hour about a travel event that changed my perspective on life. ONE HOUR. Yes, you’re reading correctly! I normally need more than 5 hours for an article, so it’s surely interesting to challenge myself to write in a fast-speed. About the topic, I’ve had many memorable experiences during my trip, but my first solo trip to Tokyo was a total life-changing event. Let’s read my story below.

 

Background

Tokyo was actually not the first place that I visited in Japan. I first left my home country – Vietnam since I was 18 years old to study abroad. A flight from Ho Chi Minh City to Fukuoka was the first time that I ever got on an airplane, and Japan was the first country that I traveled abroad.
At that time, I didn’t start traveling alone or think about doing a solo trip. In Vietnam, I just visited some cities with my family, and in Japan, I did camping, field study trips, weekend trips, but I was always with a group of people. I was in my comfort zone and didn’t try to break it. With me, traveling alone was lonely and dangerous.

 

Why did I travel alone to Tokyo?

Tokyo – the capital of Japan with lots of interesting culture and beautiful places. Even though I live in Japan, Tokyo is totally different from my place, a small spa town in the South of Japan.

I was thinking of visiting Tokyo for a long time but didn’t have a chance to do it. Eventually, I had to go to Tokyo because I had to apply a visa to Denmark for my exchange. (I studied at Copenhagen Business School for 1 year as an exchange student)

 

Preparation

Since it was my first time traveling alone, I decided to do something differently.

  • No Mobile Data during the trip
  • Using Maps and asking people if I got lost
  • Not booking any accommodation beforehand
  • Preparing a small plan for the first day about what to do, where to go, what to eat

That’s it! I took a small backpack which I used daily to school with me, and went on a solo trip to Tokyo 🙂

 

Travel on a budget to Tokyo

1st day

I was overwhelmed when I first got to Narita airport. “Wow! There are so many people!” – I first thought.

I decided to spend my first day at Ueno Park, which is a popular park with lovely walking paths and several museums. There were so many people at the park that day, so I had to wait in a long line to get into a dinosaur museum. It was quite weird at first when being alone and seeing only couples or friend groups around, but I had a good time exploring the museum and the park on my own.

Solo trip to see Dinosaur

My first time seeing a dinosaur

Spending an evening in Shibuya area, I visited the famous Shibuya crossing. It was crazy to see how many people were crossing at that intersection at once. At some point, I did not feel lonely anymore. Instead, I felt happy that I could explore a new place on my own.

Shibuya Crossing Street

There are so many people crossing at the same time at Shibuya intersection.

On that day, I also went to a restaurant alone for the first time and enjoy some Japanese food. It was actually okay because that sushi restaurant offered single chairs for solo travelers. I could enjoy my dinner in my speed and not worry whether I ate too fast or too slow.

A sushi restaurant where you can enjoy your meal alone.

So, how did I sleep at night?

Trying to catch free wi-fi at McDonald’s, I found out the nearest Internet Cafe to sleep. I paid for a small area (2×2 square meters) for 8 hours and spent my first night there. The Internet Cafe had a corner for female travelers, so I didn’t need to worry about the safety. I then planned for the following day’s activities while eating free ice-cream from this place. Yes, Internet Cafe in Japan offers free ice-cream and drink bar!

A room at Internet Cafe

 

2nd day

On the next day, I woke up early at 6 am, caught a train and visited Meiji Shrine, Yoyogi Park, and Takeshita Street. Even though I got lost at first, I figured out where to go thanks to the help from a local man.

It’s an interesting part of traveling, right? Getting lost and let the road be your guide.

Takeshita Street in Tokyo

I accidentally came across Takeshita Street. This place was full of people!

At night, I chose to stay at the Internet café just like the previous day, but I couldn’t find the place. A Japanese girl offered to help me, and she even took me along the way to the Internet café. It was so nice of her to do so.

 

3rd day

I visited Shinjuku Gyoen in the morning and spent my time enjoy beautiful nature. Because I have a goal to try Vietnamese Pho around the world, I had my lunch at a Pho restaurant in Tokyo. I was surprised when the owner suggested me to visit a Vietnamese festival nearby. “Wow, what a coincidence! I’m in Tokyo and now there’s a Vietnamese festival”. I was so happy to attend my home country festival in this country since I missed Vietnam food a lot. Although it was a Vietnamese festival, there were food stands from all over the world, and many performances as well. I had a good time at the festival, talking with people and making new friends.

Vietnamese festival in Tokyo

Yummy food at Vietnamese Festival in Tokyo

 

My most memorable experience

I wanted to visit and buy cheesecake from a famous cheesecake store that I saw on Facebook many times. However, without the Mobile data, I got lost and couldn’t find the way. I tried to ask an old lady for the instruction, but she didn’t know the location. Luckily, a man nearby just offered to help me to find that store. We walked together in 30 minutes, crossed lots of street and buildings, and finally got to the place.

You know what, that mall has 7 floors and 5 underground floors! I was thinking about giving up but he still wanted to help me. We literally walked around the mall, went to 6 different floors, asking tons of people to find the place! We finally found this cheesecake stand on the 2nd underground floor after that.

That man asked me “How did you know about the place?”

I said “Ah… I saw the cheesecake on Facebook”

He was surprised by my answer and said that I knew more about Tokyo than him (haha!). He said goodbye to me because he had to get back to work. The cheesecake was really yummy, but 1-hour walking and finding were just too much!

Impression

I was so surprised by how nice people at Tokyo were.  They literally spent their time helping other people! That guy was a complete stranger, but he was willing to help. I heard the story from my friends that a guy went with them the whole way on the train to guide them to the correct place, and I kinda doubted it, but this experience made me believe in the kindness of people 🙂

 

How my first solo trip changed my life

Independence

Remember how I thought about a solo trip? I never expected that I would travel alone, and now I’m more than happy to do that. Now, I feel comfortable to travel everywhere on my own. Also, I know how to take care myself while on a solo trip.

 

Freedom

The freedom to decide where to go, what to eat and when to do it make my trip amazing. When traveling solo, I’m not tied to anyone’s plan or schedule and don’t need to worry about other’s feeling. Also, I can travel in my space, and enjoy the destination in my style. I’m growing my love for solo trip <3 

 

Communication & New friends

At that time, I was still super introvert and didn’t spend time outside my circle. When I traveled in a group, I just talked to my friends or family and didn’t try to communicate with anyone else or even local. I didn’t try to see the place in local eyes at all.

When I travel alone, I start to talk to different people on the road. I start making lots of new friends and learning how to interact with different people. I never thought that I could just talk to a random person and spend a good time with them.

 

Open-mindedness

Talking to different people out of my circle helps me become more open-minded. I started to accept the differences in people, and value the differences in cultures and living styles. Also, I tried different activities on my solo trip, rather than just being a “normal tourist”. I let the road be my guide 🙂

 

Now, I’m a big fan of solo travel. I’ve been traveling alone since then, and I’ve visited 25 countries on my own. Traveling alone gives me the power to do things that I cannot imagine of, and being a travel blogger is one of these. Now, I’m using my voice to encourage more female to explore the world!

More articles about Japan


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Travel to Tokyo: How my first solo trip changed my life | solo travel | Female Travel | Travel alone


What travel experiences have changed your life? You’re welcome to discuss with me in the comment.

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91 replies
  1. Karolina says:

    Great experience! It’s true, that beeing by ourseleves let us simply evolve and mature and just breath in the world differently:)) Also – such a pretty blog you’ve got here – nicely done! 🙂

    Reply
  2. Mitali says:

    Tokyo 💝💝💝 any Japan city has always been close to heart because of my career in Japanese language. So much to do and see…

    Reply
  3. Nate says:

    I can imagine how one solo trip can change your life. The only thing I did solo was studying abroad and 3 days in Singapore. Otherwise, I am always with my boyfriend everywhere, which isn’t particularly bad either 😀 However, I like your post and my respect that you wrote this in one hour!

    Reply
  4. Sherrie says:

    How interesting that you can book a space at an internet cafe to rest. I didn’t realize they could work that way. That first solo travel can definitely be a life-changing experience.

    Reply
  5. Kay says:

    I definitely agree that solo travel changes your life, and it looks like you had an amazing adventure. Open-mindedness, independence, and freedom are just some of the amazing benefits and education that solo travel offers!

    Reply
  6. Rachel says:

    Sounds like a wonderful trip! A first solo trip can be so daunting but once you do there’s no turning back… Thanks for sharing you’ve made me super excited to visit Tokyo in the future 🙂

    Reply
  7. Kristin says:

    Like you, I’m a huge fan of solo travel. It’s something I first did around the age of 19, and 15 years later I’ve probably been to 50 countries on my own!

    Reply
  8. Nicole Anderson says:

    That is a really great article relating your journey to true independence and the advantages of it. Like you, I also gained my independence by going and living in Japan on my own. I was in high school staying with a Japanese family in Osaka, where I learned the language and culture. It is a very liberating experience and gives you so much more confidence. It is so good you have managed to see so much of the world on your own terms.

    Reply
    • Ha says:

      Hi Nicole, thank you so much for sharing your own experience. It’s nice to know that you also lived in Japan and gained your independence by living on your own. Also, I’m glad that you like the article 🙂

      Reply
  9. Lisa says:

    This is so inspiring to read Ha, well done for being brave to break free from the mould and travel solo. I totally agree that with solo travel, you’re forced to talk more to people. It’s something we take for granted with all the technology we use these days. Sushi meal for 1 looks good too, and so Japanese, love it!

    Reply
  10. Jenn -- The Solivagant Soul says:

    I loved that you too decided to go to Tokyo on your own, but thinking about going out in the world without mobile data gives me the chills hahaha! I am an avid solo traveller and I think that it is one of the best experiences anyone can have. I am glad we share the same idees!

    Reply
  11. Laura says:

    It sounds like you had the most incredible experience! Congratulations on pushing yourself, I think I’d be too scared to go totally blind (or without data haha!) xxx

    Reply
  12. Sarah says:

    I really like your take on the theme and this post is very impressive for an hours work! When I travel solo I find I am way more prepared than when I travel with others – I know where I’m staying, how I will get there from the airport, what I want to do and how I will communicate with the world. You did pretty much the opposite!

    Reply
    • Ha says:

      Haha, I know. I’m a pretty chill person and I let the road be my guide, so I didn’t prepare much even though it was my first time traveling solo. However, having a good preparation is also good as well!

      Reply
  13. ispyprettyplaces says:

    What a challenge to write about such a meaningful experience in one hour! Well done! I also liked how you set off for your first solo trip with no data, just maps etc. It’s funny because when I visited Japan for the first time (years ago) I travelled in that fashion simply because technology wasn’t as advanced as now with google maps etc. We got lost and like you, had locals help us and even escort us right where we needed to go because we were that hopeless with our directions.

    Reply
  14. Raghav says:

    You really went straight into the deep end with your trip to Tokyo; not only were you travelling solo but without internet and using maps and no accommodation in advance was truly brave of you. But then Japan in general is one of the safest places on earth so that was a good thing. It was really wonderful reading about your experience not just as a solo traveller but also the sights you saw in Tokyo which is a city I really want to visit soon.

    Reply
    • Ha says:

      Thank you for stopping by, Raghav. I hope you can visit Tokyo in one day. If you need any help or suggestions, don’t hesitate to ask me 🙂

      Reply
  15. Sonja says:

    Love this post! The idea of not data and having to ask people for directions is a great one I think. We rely so much on technology that we can miss interacting with local people. I also had no idea you could stay in an internet cafe!!! And I love you listing the things you learnt. Open-mindedness is such a great thing that we can learn from travel.

    Reply
  16. Sierra says:

    You are much braver than I am, that’s for sure! Ha. Going without a mobile phone and relying on strangers, plus sleeping in an internet cafe? I am impressed! You really went outside your comfort zone and truly explored. So cool!

    Reply
  17. Lynne says:

    Great post Ha. And good for you for traveling alone that first time. Now look at you!! Solo travel is freeing, empowering and makes you see the world a little differently — all good things!

    Reply
  18. Niki says:

    I’m looking to travel to Japan soon-ish. It’s good to read that you managed to make in Tokyo alone. Traveling solo definitely gives you a feeling of freedom and independence too!

    Reply
  19. Kristine Li says:

    Wow! I was the opposite of you in that I made sure to prepare well for the trip. Kudos for your courage! Tokyo was my first solo trip too btw, I loved my experience because it changed a lot of me internally too!

    Reply
  20. Yukti says:

    I loved the idea of trying something different in your first solo trip. Open-mindedness and Independence are the great things which you got as a beautiful experience from your first solo trip. Sleeping in Internet cafe must be so funny and a lifetime memory.

    Reply
  21. Ivy says:

    Aw it sounds like you had a wonderful experience! Sleeping in that internet cafe must’ve been an unforgettable couple of nights. I wouldn’t travel anywhere without my husband so I have a lot of respect for solo-travelers!

    Reply
    • Ha says:

      Thank you for stopping by, Annemarie. About your question, I had to go for a 1-year-exchange in Denmark, so I applied a visa to an embassy in Tokyo.

      Reply
  22. Susan says:

    What a fun story! I love your special rules – no mobile data, no prebooking places to sleep. That man who helped you find the cheesecake place really went above and beyond! Thanks for sharing this experience 🙂

    Reply
  23. Chloe says:

    Congrats for taking your first solo trip to Tokyo! I love that you did very little preparation before, I think that makes it more interesting! Also I had no idea that you could sleep in an Internet Cafe?! Would you recommend that?

    Reply
  24. Ufuoma says:

    Awesome post. Glad travel changed your life positively. Japan is also on my bucket list hopefully I get to go soon. I love solo trips, they are really a life changing experience.

    Reply
  25. Sabrina says:

    Good for you!! I love the little place to sleep in the “internet cafe”. This city looks incredibly busy but glad you had a good experience as a solo traveller!

    Reply
  26. Soraya says:

    Getting lost and let the road be your guide! What great words to live by while travelling. I know it can be overwhelming travelling solo, but ohh what a great experience it is for your own personal growth. I’m glad to hear that growing up you still got to experience travels at home around Vietnam with your family. What a beautiful country to explore before your first big solo trip to Japan.

    Reply
  27. Abhinav Singh says:

    I can so relate to this blog. My first solo trip to Pondicherry changes my life too. My style was same as yours. For 7 years I traveled without any data. And I always rely on the locals for directions. Always!

    Reply
  28. Mary Beth says:

    Doesn’t solo travel kick ass? Love reading about when people do it for the first time. It’s so much fun just relying on yourself, and being able to decide where you want to go, and when, without always having to negotiate with a travel companion.

    Reply
  29. Anna says:

    I think you’re so brave to go to Tokyo on your own because to me it’s such a big and scary place! I’m glad you had a good time and got to experience the kindness of strangers.
    Also I can’t believe you wrote all that in an hour! Very impressive!

    Reply
  30. Helena says:

    I think my first solo trip was a day trip to Denmark when I was like 17…either that or it was when I moved to Denmark a couple of years after that. Then from that moment, I was on my own. I haven’t been on a solo trip for about a year now but finally going again next month, can’t wait!

    Reply
  31. Jamie says:

    Thank you for sharing this – I’m not sure I could travel without data or plans for accommodations, etc. It’s seems exciting when I read about other people who do it. I hope to go to Japan one day, but I will bring my husband and my electronics!

    Reply
  32. Erika Stauffer says:

    1 hour? I’m such a perfectionist with not only the writing but editing my photos! It takes me days to write a blog post. lol Congratulations on doing it! Also congratulations on your first solo trip. That’s a big deal! I loved hearing how wonderfully people treated you. Your list of the benefits of solo travel are so so true! Great post.

    Reply
    • Ha says:

      I know that feeling too! It usually takes me lots of time to write, but this time I participated in the One Hour Prompt Challenge, so I tried my best 🙂
      Also, I’m happy that you like this post 🙂

      Reply
  33. Linn says:

    That was a brave move not to even book a place to stay in advance on your first solo travel. I travel solo most of the time myself, and it depends very much if I book in advance or not. I like the freedom of not booking anything, but sometimes you just have to book in advance. I also feel that we are missing out on the communication by using google maps instead of asking for the way, and your story is a great example of the unique experiences many miss out on.

    Reply
    • Ha says:

      Thank you, Linn. I loved the flexibility of not booking accommodation, so I didn’t do it that time. I also agree that sometimes we need to book in advance, especially to some countries such as Russia.

      Reply
  34. kate says:

    Such a great experience it is to discover the beauty of solo traveling! World discovery and self discovery are heightened, thanks to the opportunity to travel. Somehow, it also makes us aware of the kindness of the people that surrounds us, wherever we are.
    What an amazing experience you had in Tokyo! I haven’t been there but reading about your visit made me feel like tracing your steps (especially the search-for-the-cheesecake part). 🙂

    Reply
    • Ha says:

      Thank you, Kate. Your sharing about the beauty of solo traveling is so lovely! I hope that you can visit Tokyo one day. It’s an amazing city 🙂

      Reply

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