Help a beanplating solo traveller figure out a decent vacation spot!
December 4, 2017 11:33 AM   Subscribe

I feel like I'm past due for another vacation that doesn't involve sitting at home. The obvious place for me to go, and the one I keep thinking about, is Japan. But surely there are other places I could go instead, given that I just went there three years ago!

Why do I like Japan so much? It has a great combination of things that really appeal to me:

- extremely modern and urbane;
- incredibly safe by nearly all accounts;
- sufficiently (but not overly) foreign to my Canadian sensibilities;
- happens to appeal to certain nerdy predilections I have (I'm into Japanese music and video games);
- already have a decent list of things I'd want to see that I missed the first time I went (I often worry about not being able to find interesting things and sitting in my hotel room all day);
- did I mention the part where it's incredibly safe, as I am very paranoid about this sort of thing.

Okay, so why NOT go back to Japan? Because Japan is the only overseas vacation I've ever taken as an adult, and it kind of feels like I should maybe try something else before I go back? (Of course, if everyone here thinks I'm just being silly and should just do the obvious thing here, tell me that too.)

Europe seems like an obvious place to go, but I'm concerned about personal safety, especially in some of the southern and eastern countries--not so much that I'll be assaulted or whatever (and luckily I have to worry a lot less about sexual advances/assault on account of being male), more that I'll be pickpocketed or scammed. Scandinavia is much less worrisome on that front, but then I begin to worry about boredom because I don't really know that there's much to do that isn't inherently outdoors-y. Scandinavia is also expensive, which is not a huge problem but if I can limit that, that would help a lot.

Australia and New Zealand are kind of on my list, though they are expensive to get to and probably also very outdoors-y. Most places in southeast Asia (Thailand, Bangkok, Vietnam, Laos) aren't really under consideration despite many plaudits from my friends, because those seem like much more backpacker-style vacations and I'm not sure that's something I really want to do. Also, that might be a little too exotic and a little too scary for solo travel. Oh, and many of those places are incredibly hot and humid, which generally makes me hate life.

It's probably unfair to paint an entire continent with this brush, but South America is the place where some friends of mine got held up at GUNPOINT, so no no no no no. Though maybe that just means avoid Rio and Mexico City and I'll be okay? But "what places will I not get kidnapped or held up at gunpoint" is already well above the safety threshold I normally choose for myself.

So basically I've talked myself out of nearly every other vacation destination besides the United States, which normally would be totally fine except I'm loathe to go to because of, well, you know. Maybe the hive mind can talk me back into a destination, or tell me about some place I haven't even thought of yet?
posted by chrominance to Travel & Transportation (19 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Oh, I should mention that my major concern about solo travel (which I haven't done before outside of the States) is not one of safety or loneliness, but STUPIDITY. On my last trip to Japan, I managed to forget my luggage at the airport train station, and leave my passport in my luggage that was being couriered to our next hotel in Kyoto, which I guess would have been fine except I needed that passport to activate my Japan Rail Pass and otherwise would've been out $150 or so on the spot. I am afraid of ending up destitute on some random street corner in [insert destination here] because I mistakenly left my wallet and luggage in a taxi or something equally stupid.
posted by chrominance at 11:36 AM on December 4, 2017

How long do you have? I see no problem with your going back to Japan, but if you want to try something a little different, why not add in Taipei to your trip? Very safe, very interesting stuff to see and do (go shrimp fishing!!). Do 1 week in Japan and 1 week in Taipei! I'm sure you could even find a flight to Taipei thru Japan and just make Japan an extended "layover" for a reasonably priced flight.
posted by Grither at 11:40 AM on December 4, 2017

Do you live in a city in Canada? Chances are it's just a dangerous as most of Europe. I mean, even your statement about someone getting held up at gunpoint in South America - I mean, that's a whole continent. And Mexico City isn't in the continent.

That said: You could go to Seoul or Taipei. Or just go back to Japan. There's 10,000 years of culture to explore and new stuff every moment. I'm a big fan of going back to the places you love - you get a deeper and richer understanding of the places you love..
posted by vunder at 11:42 AM on December 4, 2017 [1 favorite]

I guess part of the question is whether you feel like this vacation would be a good time to try to debunk some of your anxieties or whether you just aren't up to it. Because, I have to tell you, being frightened for your personal safety in most parts of Europe is just not rational. Petty theft happens everywhere. There are a handful of places in Western Europe that do draw pickpockets. I've still managed to make like ~10 visits to Western Europe without being the victim of a crime. It's a pity to cut yourself off from an experience that might otherwise fit the bill for you because of such anxiety. However, I understand that the brain is the brain and you may or may not want to spend energy hunting the weasels.

If not the continent, perhaps London? General perception is that London has less tourist-targeted crime than Paris or Madrid. But, in the end, if you "just" end up going to a large country with a rich preserved history like Japan twice in your life, it certainly won't have been a waste of your time.
posted by praemunire at 11:46 AM on December 4, 2017 [2 favorites]

When I have traveled internationally, they advised me to have a color copy of my passport/other ID’s in my luggage, in case my passport got lost.

Do you speak French? If so, France. If not, somewhere in Britain/Ireland. London is nice.
posted by Huffy Puffy at 11:50 AM on December 4, 2017

I think there's an amazing depth to Japan, sufficient for a lifetime of return trips for the right person. I've only been there once, but also as a solo traveler, and 3 weeks felt like not nearly enough time. I'd love to go back and see specific stuff I missed, like the traditional carpentry museum in Kobe, as well as make it to places I didn't have time for at all, like all of Hokkaido and Kyushu.

It doesn't sound to me like personal safety fears are the only reason why you want to go to Japan; rather, it sounds like you really enjoy Japan and have specific stuff you'd like to do there, AND you have trouble picking another place to go because of personal safety fears.

But if you do want to stretch yourself by going to a totally new place, Grither's idea of visiting Japan and Taipei sounds great.

Also: I tend to run myself ragged as a solo traveler and do dumb stuff. For instance: I have left important luggage on Japanese public transit and had it returned to me by their amazing lost-and-found infrastructure. So I can totally appreciate the value of all that.

As far as passport security in case you lose it -- I'm passport-paranoid, so I keep a paper copy in my luggage, and email a picture of my passport to a trusted family member or friend whose phone number I have memorized. That way, I have the actual passport, a paper backup, a backup saved on my email server, and a human backup I can call and have fax a copy to me in an emergency. All bases covered.
posted by cnidaria at 12:05 PM on December 4, 2017

You're from Canada? That's the place where some friends of mine ran into a grizzly bear.

There is no shame in going to Japan again if that's the only place you are interested in going. You don't say you are interested in anything other than Japanese culture, so it's hard to give much in the way of recommendations. If you do return to Japan, I recommend you try to do different things from your first trip -- go to different towns, stay in different parts of the city, but if you want to broaden your horizons, I recommend western Europe, which is as safe as Japan or Canada. (And safer from bear attack than Canada, so I suppose it's safer overall.) It's also a shorter and cheaper flight than Japan. Modern, safe, foreign-but-not-overly-so, low-harassment cities with tons of interesting things could include Amsterdam, Brussels, Edinburgh, Paris, Dublin and of course London.

And develop some sort of system about keeping your wallet / passport safely on your person at all times. You don't say you lose your wallet at home, so if that's the case, do the same thing while traveling. One example is to keep your passport (with bank card, extra credit cards and extra money) on a neck pouch or similar (I have one that threads through my belt loops) and keep your wallet (with other government ID, primary credit card and walking around cash) in the usual place. If you keep things in the same place all the time, it's easier to notice when they aren't there.

Also give yourself enough credit that you did forget your luggage and have an inaccessible passport and nothing terrible happened, or at least nothing of enough note for you to say.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 12:13 PM on December 4, 2017 [1 favorite]

For A LOT of years, I basically traveled to Mexico to snorkel and California and New York to visit friends. I knew a lot of people who planned multiple trips a year to totally new and different cities and it just wasn't what I was interested in. I wanted to snorkel, and I wanted to see my friends. I don't think there's anything wrong with going back to Japan. Think of it this way: if you play a great new video game for an hour or listen to a new album and LOVE it, do you think welp, better go find a different video game/new musician because I already spent an hour with this one and it's obviously done forever now? Or do you plunge in for another gaming session or listen to the album again?
posted by kate blank at 12:26 PM on December 4, 2017

FWIW, I've certainly felt safer traveling in most places outside the US than in it, and the only place I've been mugged at gunpoint is Washington, DC, despite having traveled to places that were categorically not safe or that could be considered intimidating. So, there's that.

I can't tell if you want outdoor activities, or if you really don't. If you do, Iceland is gorgeous, very safe, modern, very very easy, and not terribly expensive to get to (certainly easier and cheaper than AU/NZ, anyway). Depending on your preferences, I'd say Iceland is better in the summer so you can explore all the incredible scenery, but in winter you can see the Northern Lights and that's supposed to be pretty cool too.

What about Singapore? I personally found it pretty sterile, but it was quite safe and easy to travel to for an English-only white American woman, and it's very modern. Great food there if you're into that!

But look, it's your vacation. What will YOU enjoy? What's fun for YOU? If that's Japan again, hey, do it.
posted by john_snow at 12:29 PM on December 4, 2017

Somes ideas of places that are interesting to visit, are not humid, and are extremely safe:
- Iceland! (I recommend renting a car, maybe a camper van, or just car + booking hotels/airbnbs, or renting car + camping/tent kit, which gives you more flexibility). Grab this photographer’s map of the country, and go forth discover infinite beauty!
- Faroe Islands?
- +1 on returning to Japan — there’s much to discover in! and outside of Tokyo. A friend that goes there often recommended that I visit the non-main islands as they’re extremely interesting. And, as you know, amazing food, extremely safe, etc.

Happy travels!

P.s. re: safety — after having a similar feeling to yours, I figured that what was scaring me were not pickpockets in general, but specifically losing my phone, passport, ID cards, etc. Hence, I went out of the house without my phone, a photocopy of my passport and some cash. That made me feel much better and “stronger”. I feel like the initial fear dissipated as well. Try it? (Also, not carrying your passport with you is generally a good idea anyway — you could simply lose it..!)
posted by vert canard at 1:34 PM on December 4, 2017

I'd say that I felt very safe and at home in Hong Kong as a very petite woman. The food is great and there is a lot of video game and music culture. Bangkok also felt super safe and cosmopolitan, but I was in it for the mango shakes and shopping.

However, I can say from personal experience that Japan is a big place and does not get old, so there are plenty of reasons to go back if that's what you really want. Hokkaido is especially amazing during the summer and the nerd scene in Nagoya has gotten pretty big and fun if you want to spend time outside of Tokyo. We're going back this coming August and it will be my 10th (?) trip over there.
posted by Alison at 1:47 PM on December 4, 2017 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Yeah, I suppose a better way to phrase the question would've been "if I liked Japan for these reasons, where else would I enjoy going?" The thing about my friends being held up at gunpoint is definitely not to imply that South America is a bad place (insofar that you can dismiss ANY continent as being a "bad place") and maybe it would've been better to leave that part out in hindsight. I'm basically just nervous about doing dumb stuff on trips, whether that be because of property crime or my own stupidity, but it's true that can happen pretty much anywhere. Your tips about keeping stuff safe on my own person are greatly appreciated!

To give more colour about things I might like: I get a weird kick out of car stuff for some reason, and probably also aerospace stuff too. For example, when I went to Los Angeles last year I had similar worries about not finding things to do, but I ended up going to the Petersen Automotive Museum and the California Science Centre to see the space shuttle, and both ended up being very good ideas. I've considered that Germany might be a good place to go because of its rich automotive history and it probably checks off a lot of my other requirements too. Another thing I love doing is going to record stores, though with every passing year I become less in the know about most music and so those trips end up being less fruitful.

I like to think of myself as someone who would appreciate good graphic design and design-y things, so for a while I thought of the Netherlands and Scandinavia as potentially good places for museums and such, but those interests have faded somewhat for me and so I'm not sure I'd get much more out of them than I would any other art museum. (Though that said, is there a Braun design museum? Because that sounds neato.) Beyond that, I kind of don't know what I would want to see! There's a reason I'm always afraid I'll stay in my hotel room all day.
posted by chrominance at 2:05 PM on December 4, 2017

Response by poster: Oh, and Iceland was high up on my list of things--I know, it can be quite outdoors-y and I usually think that's not my thing, but I liked the idea of driving the ring road and being in perpetual daylight/darkness! The problem is apparently that everything is super expensive.
posted by chrominance at 2:07 PM on December 4, 2017

You should really look into Germany, particularly Munich and Berlin. Lots of car stuff, plenty of museums, very safe. In addition to statistical safety, it also feels very safe and ‘orderly’, in case that’s a thing that appeals to you. Germans generally like to follow rules and are not super chaotic, and spend a lot on infrastructure. I mean, even the garbage trucks look shiny there...
posted by The Toad at 3:32 PM on December 4, 2017 [2 favorites]

South Korea would probably be fun for you, but too hot in the summer.

In Europe the Netherlands is amazing and underrated. Amsterdam has loads of interesting history and culture and I felt very safe there. Germany is also beautiful and very safe. Switzerland or Austria for gorgeous mountains and very pretty cities? I wouldn't think twice about travelling alone in any of those places. I loved Norway but it was outdoorsy.

I avoid being stupid by having systems. When I travel there are places my things live and they go back there immediately. So important cards and passport live in a money belt under clothes (in a plastic bag because yuck sweaty), wallet is minimal and lives in a particular pocket. Second stash of money lives elsewhere on my person. Important documents live in a folder in my daypack and scanned copies live in my email account.

Everything else is ultimately just stuff and easily replaced.
posted by kadia_a at 3:35 PM on December 4, 2017 [1 favorite]

Yeah I'm coming in to nth Korea. It ticks all your safety boxes and the culture is similar enough to Japan to jive with what you're already into but different enough to feel completely different. And for sure check out some museums related to Korea's history as a Japanese colony. Regardless of your take on it, as a person who knew way more about Japan than Korea before I came here, learning the countries shared histories has been fascinating. That said, there's plenty of design museums and I think there's even a place here around Seoul where you can test drive a bunch of fancy cars.
And an option if you're worried about not finding enough to do in anyone place is maybe doing a combo vacation. Not enough to see in Korea or Taipei? They're close enough to do both!
posted by FakePalindrome at 3:59 PM on December 4, 2017 [1 favorite]

I'm partial to Singapore because of the food. Japan + Singapore
posted by Napoleonic Terrier at 5:19 PM on December 4, 2017

If you want to go to Japan, go to Japan! It's a huge country. You don't say where you've been before but I guess it was likely Central Honshu (Tokyo, Kyoto, maybe Nikko and Hiroshima). So why not try one of the other islands? Kyushu has the buzzing city of Fukuoka, historic Nagasaki, lots of great hot spring resorts, and cool trains/buses for getting around. Hokkaido has some beautiful countryside, more wonderful hot spring resorts (yes, I love onsen) and Sapporo is an easy city to explore with some great craft beer.

Also, seconding Taipei/Taiwan.
posted by ontheradio at 7:33 PM on December 4, 2017

Nth-ing Korea. I love Korea. It’s safe to wander around at night, and it is easier to navigate than Japan (I visited Osaka and Kyoto about a decade ago, so I don’t know if this is still the case, but lots of subway station maps were Japanese-only. Seoul subway maps and announcements are in Korean, English, and Chinese).

Korea does not necessarily have the same tourist appeal as Japan, but there all kinds of interesting museums and historic sites (one of the most interesting was Seodaemun prison), great food, and good shopping. We stayed in Jongno on our last trip, and it was an excellent base. More of a local/neighborhood feel than Mapo-gu (stayed there previously) or more tourist-friendly places like Hongdae or Gangnam, but centrally located and within walking distance to all kinds of things.

Out of all of the places I’ve travelled, Korea is my favorite. Other possibilities: Finland - Helsinki was fantastic, but I preferred Tampere (industrial city with lots of mid-1800s factories turned dining/shopping venues), and the Amuri Workers museum. Finland also gives you Marimekko and Finlayson.

I visited Finland during the snowy winter months and would love to go back.

How about the U.K.? Perhaps some lesser-travelled destinations in the middle of the country like Birmingham and the West Midlands? The Black Country Living Museum is fascinating.
posted by ortoLANparty at 9:32 PM on December 4, 2017

« Older Entertainment for the easily carsick   |   What is the ideal email marketing workflow model... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.