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  • Russell Levinson

An epic trip to Japan is how I got started in solo & international travel!

Updated: Apr 30


Back in 2011, I discovered The Points Guy website and blog and this article: https://thepointsguy.com/2011/06/my-initial-thoughts-on-tokyo/ followed by a very detailed multiple day breakdown that starts here: https://thepointsguy.com/2011/06/tokyo-day-one-part-one-arrival-at-haneda-meiji-shrine-and-harajuku/

At this point in my life, at age 35, I had not really been outside the USA, except for limited trips to Canada, Mexico, Caribbean, etc.

I moved to San Francisco in February, 2011 and by November, had decided to move to NYC. The Points guy posts really inspired me to take a trip to Japan. I had signed up for a British Airways Visa and those bonus miles were what I used to book a first-class ticket on Japan Airlines from San Francisco to Tokyo, and the flight was amazing.


I also paid for my entire hotel stay with Choice hotel points. There are a lot of small modern Choice options in Tokyo and I settled on the Comfort Hotel Tokyo Higashi Nihombashi. https://www.choicehotels.com/japan/tokyo/comfort-inn-hotels/jp061




8000 points per night for 12 nights and an exceptionally good value, as Tokyo is one of the most expensive cities in the world. The hotel was decent and sort of centrally located, although in a commercial area, and the room was tiny (Very common in Japan)

The trip was eye opening for me in many ways:

1. Travelling Solo – How tough would it be? Would I be lonely? Was it safe? Could I get around on my own? Travelling alone to a foreign country was very scary for me. The language barrier was a huge concern too. Tokyo is known to be extremely safe, but that was also a slight concern. It turned out just fine and gave me the confidence that would lead to many more trips.

2. Using points and miles for extreme value – Prior to this trip, my only premium seat experience was on a few Airtran flights when a friend worked as a flight attendant, and I was thrilled to occasionally get bumped up to their business class seat on the Boeing 717. I jumped from that to Japan Airlines amazing first class. After this trip, I travelled exclusively in business or first-class using miles and/or low airfares to over 20 countries.



3. I was so excited, and this trip had a ton of “firsts” for me. I even made these two lame videos with this now ancient flip camera.





As you can see in the video, of the many firsts for me were a lie-flat seat, live plane cameras, first class international food and service, long-haul flight, foreign country, traveling alone, bullet trains, etc. This trip opened a whole new world for me. Words cannot express the level of excitement for all these new experiences.



4. Culture –

This was my first time truly being in a foreign country and seeing a culture must different than mine. I found it fascinating and this curiosity and appreciation for other cultures would become a driving force for my travels and my life moving forward.



5. Technology – I did a ton of research for this trip., including purchasing two travel guides(books). I arranged for a rental cell phone (Not a smartphone). This was a big mistake, as I rarely needed to make calls, but often could have used the GPS and other features of a smartphone. But I was not really aware of all the technology options (remember, this was 2011) and how it would be traveling in a foreign country. I did okay despite not having all the tech tools that I use today. I will do a post on this later. Since this trip, I always use my own smartphone with a locally purchased sim card.

6. America is the best? – Japan is known for its vast and very efficient public transportation system, mostly its trains which include extremely high speed “bullet” trains.




It really shows how far behind the U.S. is when it comes to public transit. Japan’s trains are fast, clean, safe, always on-time, and cover almost the entire country. The only negative is overcrowding at peak times,



To recap my beginnings as a solo traveler and points/miles enthusiast….

I started reading blogs like The Points Guy.

I accumulated a good amount of points and miles.

I found the time to take a big trip.

I did the research to use my points and miles to get extreme value and keep my costs down.

I overcame my fears of travelling across the world to a foreign country.

I had planned out many things/sites that I wanted to do and see.

More posts to come on how to collect points and miles, find extreme value to travel business or first class and stay at amazing hotels, and tips on traveling solo!


Related post: https://www.solotravelr.com/post/travel-tips-and-tricks

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