I Went To Japan And It Was OK

Going overseas isn’t always the life-changing experience that your friends’ social media might show it is and that’s okay, writes Angelique Carr. 

Australia is a rich country full of university students, and so we are prolific in hostels and camper vans all around the world.

It’s easy to feel like you’re missing out when your social feed is filled with co-workers in Russia, cousins meditating in India and friends lounging on a cruise ship miles away from their cares and worries. They come back bit by the ‘travel bug’, an incurable illness that makes them share articles about the ‘20 countries everyone should visit in their 20s’ and tell everyone about the minutia of the culture they now consider themselves a part of.

This January I had the opportunity to visit Japan for two weeks. I went with only a vague plan; to spend most of my time in Tokyo before making my way to the snow monkeys in Jigokudani. I bought the return airfare, a Tokyo guidebook, and booked the accommodation, and that was it. If those articles on Facebook had taught me anything, it was that once I got there it would all click into place and I would ascend to a higher reality.

Why bother planning a trip for the old me when I was going to find the ‘true me’? Who cares if it’s 10 pm on my first night and it turns out there is more than one Tokyo Station and I was in the wrong one and my plan to ‘just ask for help if I need to’ fell through because the metro system is automated and there is no help around? Don’t worry, I told myself, it’s these experiences that will bring out the ‘real’ me. This is the adventure I had been searching for.

Finally making my way to the hostel, I made friends with the Aussie bunked next to me and the Dutch guy two rows down who spoke perfect English. We made plans to hang out the next day and over a McDonald’s breakfast we befriended two Americans. My inner socialite had been released, an obvious symptom of travelling. If I was by myself I could approach any white person on the train and ask ‘America?’ and be guaranteed a friendly chat until either of us had to get off. It’s so easy to meet people, I thought to myself.

Never mind I had spent every night watching Netflix because I was homesick. Or that I was intimidated by any restaurant that didn’t have any westerners eating there. What if they didn’t speak English?

The truth was that I wasn’t engaging with Japanese culture. I was engaging with the tourist culture in Japan. It is a culture made up of equally lonely travellers eager to make new friends. Unless you’re spending months living with a local family, then this is impossible to avoid.

Not all parts of travelling are what they’re cracked up to be. I found I was often lonely. The ordeal of getting lost in the train station was nothing more than a bad time, no matter how many times I told myself it was ‘an experience’.

We tend to forget that travel is a privilege that not everyone can afford. And, besides from that, it’s difficult putting yourself out there. Making friends in Newcastle is tricky even without a language barrier. If you can’t make it outside of the country because you don’t have the money, or you have responsibilities to take care of, or you just don’t want to, then don’t worry.

Your friends (probably) aren’t going to replace you with Cindy from the cruise. Your cousin (probably) isn’t going to reach nirvana on her month-long Buddhist retreat in India. Travelling isn’t that mystical.

The truth about travel is that it is fun, it is exciting (did I mention the monkeys yet?) and it is an experience that you’ll remember for a long time. But it’s not going to change who you are more than your everyday life already does.

I gained more confidence and learned more about people earning the money for my trip, than I did on my trip.