Confessions of a Travel Cheat: Grey’s Anatomy, Japanese Car Hire and Other Assortments

As the title of this blog may suggest, I have a bit of a confession to make.

I am a travel cheater.

Well, not knowingly a cheater, until today at least. But still, a cheater nonetheless.

Recently, my sister and I decided to plan a trip to Japan together. I went twice as a teenager, my sister has never been. And as I seem to be reliving the glory of high school a lot lately, it seemed to be the perfect place for a holiday. Two snowy weeks in January, what could be better.

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What I plan to be doing a lot of in Japan… onesies included. 

So we started outlining our trip. What cities we wanted to see, the dates, the flights, trying to get good deals on hotels… battling with an idealist (i.e, me) who thinks she’s going to get a cheap hotel room with an unobstructed, panoramic view of Mount Fuji. I saw it in a movie and had to try (we didn’t pay much, so we’ll probably have a nice view of the carpark).

Then talk turned to other details. How were we going to get around in each of these cities, was the train going to be more efficient and cheaper (the answer was no, and definitely no)… Then I decided to put my 24 year old soul on the line, and try my luck at car hire.

Everybody knows that 24 year olds are somewhat demonised in the car hire world. And I believe even more so than any other twenty-something traveller, possibly because they’re so tantalising close to 25 and a cheaper car hire rate, that it’s almost cruel. Usually, the limit is 25 and over for decently priced car hire anywhere in the world. Any younger and you end up paying an exorbitant amount of money to hire some wheels. But not in Japan… those sly dogs knew how to get me. Younger driver? No worries. Sign up here.

But what I found was a deluge of hidden costs. Companies trying to get me with their sneaky one-way fees (we wanted to pick up the car in Osaka, and drop it off in Tokyo; and everybody has a $400 cow over it)… companies trying to sell me extra insurances, that my travel insurance already covers. Trying to pull the wool over my 24 year old eyes, and unsuccessfully at that. After cancelling one car reservation, I went back to the drawing board. Without much luck. At the same time, I also started to think about travel insurance, I was determined not to miss anything, and spent some time trying to navigate the Product Disclosure Statements of various insurance companies. I wanted snow sports and rental car excess cover. While it sounded simple, it really wasn’t.

Why was this so hard, indeed?

It was then that I realised, I have never planned a trip before on my own. Yea sure… I’ve planned our little domestic trips. Sydney, Adelaide, Byron Bay. Four days max, easy done. No passport required. They barely even count, all you have to do is get on a plane and turn up at the hotel. But this, this is the brain surgery of trip planning. Two weeks in Japan, and all the details are up to me. I’ve always let someone else do the hard work for me. Topdeck, my mother, orchestra administrators. No wonder I have no idea about hiring a car, or even what side of the road certain countries drive on (without Googling it to remember, of course). Like they tell you in school, cheating really gets you nowhere. So, the time for hand holding is over. I’m 24 and I want my freedom. The freedom to plan a trip exactly to my liking. Right down to the very last detail.  No more cheating.

Nevertheless, I’m not worried. Sure, I’m a little nervous about driving in a foreign country without my parents, and of course there is the possibility that something else could go awry. Something I’ve forgotten, insurance matters, hotels losing our bookings. But I also have the experience to deal with difficult travel situations with a smile on my face. I’ve done it before, so why not again, if necessary? And lucky for me, I actually speak Japanese. So I have no reason to be nervous.

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Currently, it’s the September school holidays, which means extra wine-time for teachers (i.e me… I’m totally kidding, teachers don’t drink) and extra long binge sessions of Grey’s Anatomy (I used to cover my school books with pictures of the characters, how’s that for teenage years). So to conclude, I’d like to use an analogy from my all-time favourite tv show to describe my viewpoint on this situation. And also because, Grey’s Anatomy is all I can think about lately it seems.

I am an intern at trip planning. I have the basic skills, fresh out of med school. But my skills need practice, and I am learning, but slowly. My mother is an attending, very experienced and knows all the tricks. I can do the simple tasks, book a flight, hail a taxi, change my money to another currency. Simple things. But my mother… she does the open heart surgery equivalent. Car hire, wrangling travel insurance companies, time share in hotels… The complicated stuff that makes our adventures run smoothly. The things that keep our metaphorical holiday heart beating. I hope one day to be a gifted trip surgeon like her.

If you haven’t seen Grey’s Anatomy, now is the time. Because nobody knows where they might end up… Nobody knows.

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Now back to the couch.

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