Traveling With A Baby

Getting back into traveling when you’ve just had a baby can seem like a daunting task. There are just so many things to think about! My hubs and I used to be a “carry-on and backpack” only type of travel crew, but the addition of our baby, Harper, turned us into the “checked-bags / arrive two hours early” family. Such a different travel experience! Good news for you is that, it really isn’t bad at all (even if you find out mid flight that your diaper bag does not, in fact, have any diapers in it…yikes!) You just need to be prepared. To help my fellow travel-mommas, the following post will go over booking, hotels, plane flights, and more based on our first few trips!

The first important thing to discuss is mindset. It can get very stressful planning a trip with a baby. Our first vacay was supposed to be stress free, but 2 weeks out from our Florida trip, 2 additional trips popped up. We had a work/ family road trip to Houston, a solo mom work trip to Minneapolis, and our first flight trip to Florida all within 1 week, while pumping! Talk about the need to plan ahead. We made it through all of that because, at the end of the day, what was the worst thing that could happen? Yes, Harper could have cried in the car or on the plane. We did, in fact, forget diapers on the plane which we realized when she had a poop, but we made it and no one on the plane complained. We could have forgotten something but there are always Targets, Walmarts, or other stores close to pickup anything we forgot. If we ran out of bottled milk, I was on tap. At the end of the day, just know that “the worst thing that could happen” is not THAT bad and you will still enjoy yourself. As moms, we have so much to juggle, so take a breath and don’t be hard on yourself!

The second part is your expectations. If you haven’t read about my other trips, in summary, I pack A LOT of activities into a little time. I almost killed Ryan in Rome with trying to see the city in one day! Traveling with a baby is a completely different pace than what we are used too – but that is OK! The vacation will be slower, but honestly, you probably need it to be that way to get rest, take naps (Naps on vacation? What?! But yes, naps are good!), and not stress yourself out. For Florida, I told myself I wanted a restful vacation. We had no places we HAD to be, no time frames, and just a very rough outline of things we could do if we were up for it. Honestly, that was perfect. It gave us so much flexibility to do things based on Harper’s pace and our energy levels. This is your time to get some R&R, so give your self some grace. Your trip will be what you make of it and mindset is a huge part of that!

Harper ready for takeoff!

Considerations For Planning Your Trip With Baby:

  • Where To Go: You have so much stuff to bring with a baby. A trip that has multiple hotels, locations, and un-packs / pack-ups is going to be tough. We opted to go to Florida and stay on the beach in the same hotel for 5 nights which made it so much less stressful. Also, consider places with lots of outdoor places for you to enjoy with your little one. Just make sure to check the weather for the time of year you are going.
  • Distance to the Airport: Babies should not be in carseats for hours on end. Pick a spot within an hour or so of the airport because you will be exhausted after the flight. Also, if you choose an early flight like we did at 7:10 AM to Florida, expect a VERY early wake up (aka 4 AM) since you will want lots of time at the airport. The further your drive to the airport, the earlier the wake up. Also, if you have a rental car, you will need to add more time for getting gas, dropping the car off, and getting to the gate.
  • Activities: We usually book so many excursions on our trip, but with a baby, most of the usual suspects (long tours, adventure activities, etc.) are off the table. However, that does not mean you can’t have fun! Beaches, pools, areas to hike, zoos, gardens, water-taxi / larger boat rides, and National Parks, areas with town squares or walkable shopping districts are great places to go with kids as they usually don’t require a certain time to go, are paved for strollers, are cheap to get in, and give you areas for down time if needed. Indoor places like museums, aquariums, art galleries, malls, restaurants with a great view so you can camp out, etc. are great for rainy or hot day options as well.
  • Renting a Car/ Ubering: Ubers ARE doable with a carseat (even without the base). We did Uber to the airport and then we rented a car in Florida to get around. It was just easier to keep our stuff in and have our own, flexible schedule. Also, I could pump in the rental car while Ryan drove if we were out longer than expected. That would be AWK in an Uber.

Baby Friendly Hotels:

  • Location: Hotels close or walkable to the main areas you want to explore are super helpful. We booked our Florida hotel right on the beach, so it was a 2 second walk to the huge pool or beach. Also, the hotel was right next to the beach walk with tons of restaurants so we went for a stroll every morning and walked to almost all of our lunch and dinner spots.
  • Amenities in Order of Importance:
    • Baby Crib: Many hotels offer cribs, you just need to ask or check their website! This will provide a safe sleep space for your little one so you don’t have to lug one with you. So helpful! Just make sure to call a few days in advance and confirm you have one set aside for your room.
    • Kitchenette Area: To me, washing bottles and pump parts in the bathroom just does not feel sanitary. We had a little kitchen area in FL with a sink and it was a game changer. Also, having a freezer instead of just a mini-fridge for any extra pumping milk for those breastfeeding mommas out there is a nice-to-have as well.
    • Double Queen Beds: We got a King in FL and had double Queen beds in Houston. It was so nice to have an extra bed to use for Harper and her stuff in Houston. She played on it, we changed her on it, and if she spit up or had a blow out, we were NOT sleeping on it. The extra play space was so nice.
    • Elevators: If you are staying in a motel, get a 1st floor room. You do not want to lug all of your stuff up and down those stairs.
    • Balcony with a View: Getting up so early with a baby, we spent a lot of time drinking coffee, eating breakfast, and enjoying nap time on our hotel’s balcony in Florida. Having a way to enjoy your new environment from the hotel room is an big added benefit.
    • Kid’s Clubs / Activities: We traveled with Harper at 5 months old. Most Kids Clubs / hotel babysitting services have age minimums (starting at 6 months) in order to use them. Check that when booking if you want to take advantage for a date night or two.
  • AirBNB / VRBOs: These are always an option and having a bathroom / kitchen would be so helpful. The biggest thing to call out with rentals is a safe sleep space for the baby. Check in advance if they offer cribs or if you have to bring your own.
  • Darkness: Hotels are full of natural light during the day. While I love light and windows, it is not conducive to nap time! Our Houston hotel was way too bright and we had to put Harpers crib in the closet and use our cloth wrap on top to try and block the light. We bought this crib cover for our Florida trip and it made nap time so much easier!

Flying With Baby:

  • Booking Your Flight: If you have a baby under 1, they can fly free as a lap child! Doing so for a 3 hour flight to Florida was easy. Just consider how comfy you would be having a baby on your lap for longer international flights of 5+ hours. That might be the time to book a second seat, even if you have to pay. When you do book, just make sure to indicate you are flying with a lap child in the booking. Try and get seats to the front of the plan for a quick exit and an isle seat for easy trips to the bathroom if needed.
  • Airport Arrival Time / Check-In: Give yourself at least 1.5 hours (2 if this is your first time traveling with baby) to check in. Our first flight needed all of that time since we hit a few snags. Even if you check in online, most airlines require check in at the desk for the lap infant. You will also likely have to check a bag with all of your stuff. MAKE SURE THEY PRINT A BABY BOARDING PASS. You will need this to get on the plane. Even though I booked the tickets with a lap infant and all of Harper’s details, they did not print a boarding pass for her upon checkin and we had to recheck in at the gate as we could not board the plane without one. We lost our original seats in that process too. Talk about stress. You will also need to check your stroller and carseat at the gate and get a tag so you can bring it down the jet bridge.
  • Getting Through Security: Wear your baby! We went through TSA Pre (which is so nice since you don’t have to take your shoes off and the lines are so much shorter) and Ryan’s ticket did not say TSA Pre so he had to go recheck in. I went through security while carrying Harper in my arms and getting the stroller / car seat broken down and the milk out was so hard. A nice man had to help me out. On the way back from that trip, I carried Harper in the Ergobaby carrier and it was so much easier! If you are brining milk, just have it in a cooler that you can easily take in and out of your bag. We used this Skip Hop cooler that fits 3 Dr. Brown’s bottles. I also bought these long lasting, sandwich-size icepacks to keep things extra cold.
  • Flying & Pumping: Being on a pumping schedule is hard. You will likely have to do so at some point during your flight experience. It is not that bad! Airports have lactation rooms or pods in each terminal. I used those on my work trip to Minnesota and trip to Florida. Just check the terminal maps for their locations. I used my Momcozy pumps which are perfect for travel to do so and brought a cooler for the milk / Ziplock freezer bags for the pump parts. I also pumped mid-flight twice as well. I brought a scarf to wrap around while I was in my seat using the Momcozys and it was super easy. If you are traveling solo with baby, make sure to pump in the airport as doing so on the plane without someone with you will be very challenging.
  • Stroller / Car Seat: Most airlines (even Spirit!) let you check your stroller and car seat for free at the gate. You will need to get a tag at the gate agent and carry these things down the jet bridge. I highly recommend getting a case or protective bag for your carseat. If you buy it from the carseat brand, they usually will replace your carseat if it gets damaged in transit if in the case. Checking at the gate will reduce the risk of damage in transit and you will get them back as soon as you get off the flight on the bridge.
  • Baggage: You can also bring an extra bag for your kiddo onto the plane for no extra charge. Pack your bags for flights strategically and have Bags 1 & 2 for under the seat/ easy access and Bag 3 in the overhead bin.
    • Bag 1: Baby stuff. Toys on the bottom, food, pacifiers, and changing stuff on top of the bag for easiest access. Wipes / hand sanitizer.
    • Bag 2: Your entertainment, pumping stuff if needed, snacks, purse, water, and wallet.
    • Bag 3: Additional stuff you need mid-flight or cannot fit in your checked bag. Since it is overhead, it will be harder to access. Try to put anything you need during the flight in bags 1 & 2.

Baby Packing List Must Haves:

  • Baby: Diapers / wipes, changing pad, bottles, ice packs for milk if needed, cooler for bottles, cleaning supplies for bottles, light blanket or towel (we used one for the beach), toys / books, pacifiers, moisturizer / shampoo / baby wash / diaper cream / baby sunscreen, hats, baby bug spay, stroller fan, stroller rain or bug covers, stroller cup holder for walks, bathing suits that cover arms with UV protection / swim diapers / swim hats, swim inflatable for the pool, baby ear protection (you never know when it will be loud like on a water Taxi), small packable umbrella for the beach or other random times there is sun, bows (because they are cute, duh), baby carrier, crib cover, PJs and outfits plus lots of backup outfits, and bags for bringing dirty clothes home. We used packing bags and put swimwear, pjs, day clothes, and accessories all in different bags for easy access and neater packing.
  • Momma: Pumping parts / chargers / cleaning supplies, pumping bras or shirts, swimsuits that can’t be pulled off easily, water bottle to keep hydrated, a fully charged phone with lots of space for new photos / videos, and excitement for the trip!

Overall, making your baby into your travel buddy is so easy and absolutely worth it! They will be so engaged with their new environments and you will get some needed rest and quality time with your baby. Talk about making core memories! Just take it slow, listen to your babies cues / don’t push too hard, and enjoy every second of it!

Miyajima Island, Japan

We met around 8:15 AM for our morning breakfast hunt. Since the tea at the café the night before was so good, we went back for some ham and egg sandwiches and coffee. It was so yummy!

My parents wanted to go back to the hotel and brush their teeth so Ryan and I split to go find some Advil and decongestant since my mom and Ryan were feeling under the weather. Ryan downloaded this insanely great app called Payke to help ID products at the drug store. He just scanned the bar code of each box and the app gave him a detailed description in English of the uses of the product and reviews from people who tired it. SO HELPFUL! We were able to find just what we needed outside of cough drops. I typed “do you have cough candies for sore throats” into my Google translate app and showed the Japanese text to the shop clerk. She quickly nodded and brought me to the cough drop area! It was so easy to communicate! With our meds in hand, we walked back to the hotel, met up with my family, and headed off to the ferry for Miyajama island.


We got a bit of a late start to the island and it took about an hour to get there via train and then ferry. Thankfully, all of that transport was covered by our JR Pass. While the 14 day pass cost us roughly $450 each, it was totally worth it. We were able to travel so easily and so far!

Miyajama Island is known for its giant Torii gate in the middle of the ocean. At high tide, it floats above the water. At low tide, you can walk out to it on the sand and get a full view of how massive it is. The locals believe that God resides in the island itself.

There is also a floating temple to walk through on the island. While slightly crowded with tourists, it was all very beautiful and serene. There were even a bunch of deer walking around and unabashedly taking food from all of the tourists – even digging through their bags when unsupervised!

It was pretty cold and about time for lunch so we found a little spot up on a side street and devoured some very tasty food. There are a ton of oyster farms all around the island so mom and Ryan both tired fried oysters in various forms that were scrumptious! I had beef udon with eel rice – again, so good and warming.

After lunch, it was time to hike up to the top peek. There was a 2 hour each way hike to the top of the mountain, but we opted to take the cable car up and then do the 30 minute hike from there. The views from the cable car were great…But just a preview of the views from the top!

The hike was pretty strenuous, especially since were were moving at a fast pace to ensure we made the last cable car back down the mountain.

About half way up, there are a few shines. One that had a flame, called the “Eternal Flame”, that has been going for over 1,200 years! It also used to light the Flame of Peace in the Peace Memorial Park in Hiroshima City. There were also some very cute little figures around the temple.

We continued upwards and got to this amazing rocky area. The views of Hiroshima from the peak were just unbelievable. The city is so huge!

The decent back down was much easier than up and we were back in 15 minutes. It took some time to get through the lines for the cable car since the number of people that can ride at a time is somewhat limited.

We finally got back down the mountain, walked to the ferry, got across the channel and to the train station, rode back to Hiroshima and then had to wait 20 minutes for the bus back to our hotel area. We finally arrived around 6:30 PM! What a long, but totally worth it, journey!

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Since it was relatively cold and only going to get colder throughout the rest of this trip, Ryan wanted to grab a matching puffer jacket to the one I got from Uniqlo in Tokyo. My mom had been wanting to shop for the past 1.5 days in Hiroshima and wasn’t too impressed that Ryan got to shop first! Ha!

After grabbing a jacket, we met my parents and sister at a sushi place for dinner. My parents had discovered it the night before and couldn’t stop raving about how delicious it was. We waited about 30 minutes (just enough time to run to Starbucks for a potty break) before being seated.

We tried somewhat successfully to order a bunch of sushi and tempura and boy, were my parents right about how good it was! The Unagi just melted in our mouths and the raw crab and tuna was the freshest I have ever had. It was the best sushi of my life and we just kept ordering more and more! What a dinner for the books.

Our waiter was in his early 20s and studying English. He was so helpful and nice! I tried to thank him by writing “thank you so much” on my napkin in Japanese letters based on Google’s translation. He said I did a pretty good job!

After dinner, Ryan and Julia wanted another crepe but, since it was a Sunday night and past 9PM, everything was closed. Instead, we opted to go to Don Quijote, the most overwhelming store I’ve ever been in, and get a bunch of snacks. There were some really odd snacks in there too, (like dried bugs and sea creatures), but we kept it safe with chocolates and gummy candy.

We went back to the hotel and enjoyed our haul while getting ready for bed.

Mt. Koya

Today marked our travel day from Osaka to Mt. Koya to stay in a Buddhist temple. We decided to visit Mt. Koya at the recommendation of one of my dearest, Japanese culture-loving friends, Lauren. Boy was she spot on with this recommendation!

We met my parents in the hotel lobby for breakfast and walked about a mile to find a place suitable for my mom for breakfast. After poo-pooing on 3 options, she finally settled on Tullys – again. I mean, don’t get me wrong, Tully’s is good, but we need to add some diversity to our breakfast routine. We told my mom it was the last “Tully’s breakfast” of the trip and she said “we will see”. Of course, that means “no”. Haha! If mom’s not happy, no one is happy, right?

We grabbed some snacks for the 2 hour train ride to Mt. Koya and hit the train station. We ended up missing the express train but the extra 30-minutes on the regular train was not bad. We had great views, some snacks, and all got time to decompress.

Once we arrived at the station, we hopped onto the cable car which took us up this insanely steep slope to the top of the mountain. It was packed with people and I cannot even begin to fathom how they installed the cable car on just a steep incline.

It took about 10 minutes to get to the top and then we hopped on a short bus ride which dropped us off right in front of the Koyasan Onsen Fuchin. The lodging was part temple, part onsen (Japanese baths), with Japanese style rooms. We were not able to check in yet so layered up in jackets and scarves before heading out to explore. It was pretty darn cold in comparison to the 60 degree weather in Osaka!

We decided to find a spot for lunch and ended up at this little place at a traditional style table where you sit on a high platform, on a pillow, around a short table. Ryan almost wouldn’t fit!

My sister and I split some sushi and I had a delicious tempura udon. The food was so filling and warm on such a cold day!

After paying, we took off to find the temples and renowned cemetery. There is a grouping of temples on one side of town which were all different styles and pretty amazing to look at and explore.

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Photos are not allowed inside the temples but there are a ton of gold ornaments and sculptures very similar to those in Thailand. They were quite stunning.

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We then took off to the other side of the town for the Okunoin Cemetery. You can do cemetery tours at night but we opted to walk it during the day so we could see it more clearly, not freeze completely, and be back to the onsen in time for our 5:30 dinner.

The cemetery was awe inspiring. The faded light coming through the trees, slight fog in the air, moss that covered the monoliths and huge trees that went up 100’s of feet in the air gave the whole place such and ancient, eerie and sacred feeling.

I could have stayed in there taking it all in for hours but my mom was on a mission. She was speed walking ahead of us so fast that we lost her for a good 20 minutes! When we finally caught up, we had arrived at the Okunoin temple. It has over ten thousand lanterns inside and is absolutely magical. We were able to go inside and take it all in and then we went to a side building that had even more yellow lit, golden lanterns. It was well worth taking our shoes on and off to go inside.

The whole walk was well worth the hour or so trek. We spotted a sweets shop on the way back and grabbed a few to sample. A lot of the sweets in Japan have red bean inside and have a gluggy consistency with pastry on the outside. Super good and filling though.

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We got back to the Fuchin and checked in. We had to leave our shoes at the door and wear special red shoes within the buildings. We were brought up to our small room that kind of smelt like straw. There was a small table in the middle and we settled in with some tea. We also had to wear robes around the building and to our meals!

Once 5:30 hit, we went to room 23 for our multi-course Royal dinner. The dinner we had was monks’ cuisine (shojin ryori) and completely vegetarian!

There were so many things to try and they kept bringing in more dishes. Quite a bit of the food had a gelatin consistency which we weren’t too keen on but, overall, the food was delicious. Ryan tried this one piece of spongy white tofu (or something related to it) and , when he bit into it, all of this liquid came out. He flipped and couldn’t stop laughing at how strangely foreign it was! The rest of us tried it but didn’t get very far into it… It barely touched my lips before going straight back into the bowl. Amazing how new food textures can create such a different dining experience.

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After dinner, my sister and I decided to try out the onsen. Japanese baths are separated by men and women because you get completely naked and are not allowed to wear swim suits. We walked down in our robes and took our shoes off to be pleasantly surprised that the floors were heated! Thank goodness because it was only 30 degrees or so in the temple’s halls!

Once disrobed, we had to wash ourselves off in a shower station in the central bath room. There was a big shallow bath pool inside, which was too hot for us, and then a outdoor rock pool. We were the only ones there and chatted for a good 30 minutes before anyone else joined. It seemed like everyone finished their dinner around 7 and had the same idea as us because a huge group came and it was far too crowded to stay in the onsen so we headed back to the room. Totally refreshed, we hopped in our Japanese style beds and passed out.

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Osaka, Japan

Osaka, Day 1

Today was our trek from Tokyo to Osaka. We checked out of our hotel in Tokyo hotel and walked to the train station to hop a few lines over to Tokyo Station and grab a bite to eat at a market. I had this delicious sandwich with cheese and a coffee. Once we filled up, we headed to the train. We had spent a little too much time at the station and were in quite a rush to get to the correct platform. Thankfully, we reserved seats on the JR Line to Osaka in advance to ensure we were able to sit together, so that reduced some of the stress, but navigating the thousands of people in the station  with our luggage during rush hour to catch a train was crazy!

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Finally, we made it to the platform with a few minutes to spare. Ryan decided to grab “train beers” for the 9:03 AM train ride to to relax and my sister and I had one as well. It definitely did the relax-trick! We were able to see Mt. Fuji from the other side of the train’s windows for about 15 minutes as we sped by at 200+ MPH! I spent the rest of the 2 hour ride journaling. I have to say, the train rides in Japan seem to go by quickly!

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Once we hit Osaka, we hopped off the train and navigated the streets to the Candeo Hotel. It was centrally located in the Namba District which was filled with restaurants and bars. We could not check upon arrival, so we dropped of our luggage and took of to head towards to Castle Park. There were some restaurants at the park entrance and we stopped for lunch at R Baker Osaka-jo. It had a bunch of baked goods and Ryan and I shared 4 pastries: a potato pizza, Japanese curry fried pocket, sweet rolls, and a hot dog looking thing. They were delicious and it was so nice to sit in some green space while enjoying lunch after being in the busy cities for so long.

After lunch, we continued our walk through the park. It was a beautiful day and the first one warm enough to leave our jackets at home. Once we got through the giant stone walls to the center of the park, the main castle was visible and totally stunning. It was totally massive and we sat for a while taking in the view on some jade looking rocks. There was a Spanish performer playing loud music starting his act right in front of the palace and we were so curious how his life could have led him to performing street art in Osaka.

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We continued our walk through the gardens, passing some shrines and statues of Shogun and then it was back to the hotel to check in. The room was small and view was lousy, but the hotel was so central to the main areas it worked perfectly. The Dotonbori district with tons of shopping and restaurants was only a few blocks from us and we took of to explore and find something to eat.

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Being so close to Kobe, Yakiniku is very popular in Osaka so we found a restaurant with good reviews to try it out. We sat at a table with a grill pot in the middle of us and, for $29 per person, we had 1 hour and 30 minutes to cook and eat as much as we wanted.

The meat quality was excellent and we used a table next to the table to order plate upon plate of different meats, seafood, and veggies. It was delicious, though picking who was going to cook what was a little stressful as people like different cooks of meat. We opted to each cook our own food to our desired doneness which helped with the stress. The clock countdown also made out meal tricky. If you had too much food left over, you would get charged extra for wasting. Ryan was super hungry and took down at least a pound of steak and pork belly within the last 7 minutes to finish everything off.

My parents never really understood why Ryan thought sushi was not enough food until tonight when they saw how much he can eat! What can I say, he is a growing boy (man haha).

After dinner, we walked through the crowded streets of Namba, checking out all of the food vendors and shops along the way. The number of lights and signs were overwhelming but so cool; nothing like we have seen before. There were all of these fake food displays outside of the restaurants too that looks so realistic! It was pretty incredible but we were so stuffed we couldn’t even think about more food!  After about an hour walking off all of the meat we had eaten, we headed back to the hotel for much needed sleep.

Overall, Japan has been a bit stressful so far. I think it is a combination of the sheer number of people in the city, unlimited number of options for things to do, and how many opinions there are with the 5 of us. It makes it tough to make everyone happy for everything unfortunately. I think getting out of the hustle and bustle of the cities for a few days will do us some good. I am just very glad we have the technology we do because trying to navigate Japan without GPS and our phones would be next to impossible.

Continue on this adventure….

 

Tokyo, Japan

Tokyo, Day 1

Getting to Tokyo:

In 2015, we treated my dad to a trip to Peru for his 65th birthday. That trip was so amazing that my mom wanted to fast-forward her b-day trip to her 60th (typical mom!) and she wanted to go to Japan. After 7 months of researching and planning, our late March / early April cherry-blossom-season Japan trip was in full swing. My mom, dad, and sister flew in to Tokyo Friday night and Ryan and I arrived Saturday afternoon to start our two week journey.

After navigating the busy Tokyo Airport, grabbing our (very worth it) Rail Pass, hopping a few trains and walking through markets with our luggage, we arrived at the Shinjuku Granbell Hotel. Since there were 5 of us, my sister Julia was bouncing between staying with my parents and bunking with Ryan and I. The Shinjuku had this really cool loft suite so we started the trip off with a sleepover!

We unpacked and took a quick shower before hitting the streets to find some food. We ended up at a sushi train place with melt-in-your-mouth sushi! All 5 of us got our fill of so many types of seafood for only $50 total. It was a very impressive start to our culinary part of the trip.

After we filled up, we walked back through the crowded streets to our hotel for some much needed sleep.

Day 1:

Thank goodness for Melatonin. If you don’t know what that is, it is a natural sleep aid that tells your body when it is time for bed. When you are traveling and in a place with a totally different time zone, like Tokyo which is 14 hours ahead of Dallas, it helps you reset your body clock. My sister, Ryan, and I all had a gummy version of it before bed, slept like logs, and woke up ready for an 8 hour tour day!

We met my parents in the lobby of the Shinjuku Granbell hotel at 8:15 AM to grab breakfast before our tour guide arrived. It was only 40 degrees outside and it took one step out the door for me to start patrolling for a heavier jacket when we passes markets and shops. We walked about 5 minutes down to road to a more Americanized breakfast place for coffee called Tully’s. Ryan had half a ham and egg sandwich and pancakes to load up for the day and I had a coffee. This is going to sound really strange, but my sister and I both opted instead to go to 7-Eleven for breakfast. 7-Elevens in Japan look similar to those in the US but are much different. They have a wider variety of fresh food and are much cleaner / nicer. I had heard the rumors about them and read tons of info online so my sister and I decided to Japanese foods from there instead of the American place. I grabbed a pork version of the triangular shaped rice balls stuffed with meats, veggies, or fish, a steamed pork bun, and Korean rice ball. All three were really different but tasty! I don’t know how I feel yet about seaweed for breakfast though, according to our guide, traditional Japanese breakfasts consist of rice, veggies, fish, and always, always miso soup.

After our 7-Eleven stop, we went back to the hotel to chow down and wait for Misa, our 8 hour, private tour guide. She showed up right at 9:30 in a sun hat, fur-lined hooded jacket, and boots. Her face was bright and personality brighter, and we all hit it off with her immediately. She gave us an overview of the customized tour for the day and we headed off to tour gardens.

Our hotel was located in the middle of the Shinjuku district. While it is a modern, 4-star variety hotel, it is surrounded but all of these other themed hotels which were really interesting looking and strange. A lot of them had pictures of the various rooms in front of the hotels and private entrances. Misa told us that they were all “love” hotels that can be rented by the hour. Apparently, most of the houses in Tokyo are very small and people live in very close proximity with paper thin walls. To get privacy, most people in the city, from young lovers to parents, go to these “love hotels” and it is a widely accepted but secretive process. That conversation definitely brought a new perspective to our ideas of our neighborhood!

It was about a 20-minute walk to the garden and the sun was finally starting to poke out. For the sake of time, we decided to walk the Japanese portion of the garden only, about 1/3 of the full experience. There were some large and beautiful white flowering trees and the cheery blossoms were starting to bud as well!

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My mom was ecstatic when she saw her first blossom. After all, the blooming of the trees was the reason we booked our trip at the end of March! The cherry blossoms bloom from mid-March-May all over Tokyo and are so beautiful.

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After about 45 minutes of taking in the garden, we took off to our first temple. Along the way, Misa had us try these fried red bean and sweet potato fish snacks. They were so hot they burnt by tongue, but were delicious and so cute!

Misa reloaded our Suica cards and we hopped on the train. I have to say, public transit in Tokyo is so well signed and easy once you get the hang of it!

We walked to the Meiji Shrine entrance and bowed in respect. We saw a lot of girls dressed up in kimonos while we walked. Misa told us that the end of March was graduation season and that was the traditional dress for the graduation ceremony. It was super cool to see so many in their traditional garb and hear about the cultural traditions. We opted to grab some Sakura (cherry blossom) tea so we could rest for a few minutes and people-watch before heading into the temple.

The temple was huge and there were two wedding ceremonies going on while we were there. The bride’s white wedding kimonos were gorgeous and they wore these large round hats. Apparently, most kimonos are passed down from generation to generation and cost upwards of tens of thousands of dollars. There were also some 100-day old babies celebrating their first 100 days of living with their parents and grand parents. Again, the mothers and grandmothers were wearing family kimonos with their family crests embroidered on them. It was a treat to see the traditional wear and ceremonies of the people.

We walked up to the shrine and threw a lucky 5 yen into the entrance to make a wish for our futures. The word 5 in Japanese, “Go”, is also the word for destiny, so throwing 5 yen helps ensure your wish for your destiny.

Our stomaches were starting to rumble and we hopped back on the subway to go to a lake teppanyaki lunch. We arrived at this random building and I would never have found the restaurant, up this tiny elevator to the the 7th floor.

We sat around massive grill and Misa taught us how to make these seafood and pork grilled pancakes. We got a big bowl consisting of tons of veggies, egg, and meat with butter on top. We put the butter on the grill and then added the meat and seafood to cook first. Then, we stirred the egg and veggies together into a doughy mix and put that on the grill. Once the meat was semi-cooked, we put it on top of the cake and then flipped it around halfway through the cook. Once done, we added bbq sauce, Japanese mayo, and fish flakes. THE END RESULT WAS SO GOOD! Misa also made us veggies and noodles.

If you go to Japan, you must try teppanyaki out after a long day of walking.

It was such a treat to have Misa show us how to make lunch. She was such a great guide for our day. After we filed up, we took off through the market streets back to the subway to make our way to our next stop, the Ueno Park. The park was quite crowded and the blossoms were also starting to appear.

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This garden is massive and surrounded by museums. Misa told us that all of the museums and buildings over 5 stories in Tokyo are on rollers so that they can withstand earthquakes! Really inventive.

Then we headed to our last stop, the Asakusa Shrine. At the forefront of the Shrine was a gate with a massive lantern. There was a very long street with vendors lining it on both sides from the 1st massive lantern all the way to the 2nd that was right in front of the main building.

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We were getting a bit overwhelmed with all of the people so we took a side street the rest of the way down to the temple. We walked down the market and Misa bought us some various treats to try like sweet rice balls and savory rice cakes with sake.

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By this point, we had been walking for 7+ hours and we were all starting to get weary. By the main gate, there were these shaker cups with numbered sticks. We shook the cup and got a random numbers that indicated which box to open to select our fortune. The fortunes were these long pieces of paper and all of them were positive, except Ryan’s, so he had to tie his to this rack so his bad fortune would “blow away in the wind’. Poor Ryan!

We were already feeling pretty low energy, so we found a vending machine and grabbed some espresso. It came out piping hot from the machine and Misa explained that drinks with red prices are hot and blue prices are cold in the same machine! Such cool technology and such a good idea to have some caffeine which helped us get home.

Misa took us back to our hotel and we said our goodbyes. She was such an excellent guide for our day. We decided to take a 1.5 hour nap / recharge break and met back up at 7 PM to decide on plans for the next day. My parents wanted to go back to the “Robot Sushi” aka sushi conveyer belt place again, so Ryan and I broke off to try a Ramen place. What a good idea that was! It was delicious. We split a thick wavy noodle, pork belly Ramen with gyoza and fried chicken for like $12 total including drinks. It was so good and warmed us up on the cold evening.

After dinner, we decided to check out our hotels Sky Bar. We texted my family to meet us and sat at a table under the space heaters. The staff even gave us warm, fuzzy blankets so we could enjoy the view comfortably. We had a glass of wine and discussed our itinerary for the rest of our time in Tokyo before calling it an night.

Continue on our journey through Japan…