Hello Space Cadets! If you are new to this guide, please take some time to read the introduction and participate in those activities. I will be happy to answer any questions you have, please leave them in the comments below.
Today we will be talking about how to pick a date for your trip. There are three main points to consider when picking your dates : Season, Special Events, and Budget. We won’t be picking specific dates just yet, but we want to have a rough idea of when we’ll be travelling.
Seasons & Special Events
The first thing that you’re going to want to consider when picking a date is what seasons you find tolerable for travel. As many people will tell you, Japan has four distinct seasons, with temperatures that allow for both snow during the winter, and unbearably humid heat during the summer. You’ll likely want to choose a season that is similar to the ones you experience at home, so that you won’t have to invest in a vacation wardrobe that will be useless once you return.
Special events should also be taken under consideration. I personally prefer the milder seasons of spring and fall, and tend to pick travel dates between March ~ May, or September – October, but occasionally Sales or New Years Fukubukuro can convince me to travel during the winter. If you are a fan of Halloween, I would strongly recommend traveling during mid to late October, as Tokyo will have special halloween events throughout the month. If you are curious about seasonal events, I recommend reading this guide from Boutique Japan, and making a list of all the activities that interest you. You may also want to check out the event calendars for Tokyo Disney, Puroland, or other theme parks you plan to visit, and take note of previous seasonal lucky pack & sales dates. While most shops don’t announce sales or lucky packs a whole year in advance, you can make a reasonable prediction based on last years special events (provided the celebration was not based around a landmark anniversary.)
Budget & Personal Obligations
While the weather or seasonal attractions can help you narrow down your expected travel date, budget is probably the deciding factor for most people. Many people choose to compromise their ideal travel dates in order to save some cash – and with international plane tickets ranging from $900 to over $2,000 depending on the season, it isn’t a decision to make lightly. If you live in the USA, you’ll want to be budgeting at the very least $600-$800 regardless of what your ideal travel dates are, more if you don’t live near an airport with a direct flight. While it isn’t impossible to find tickets that go as low as 500$, you won’t want to count on a spring sale to work with your vacation days or school breaks – so give yourself a slight buffer to help compensate for personal & professional obligations.
The easiest way to pick a date based on budget alone is to use Google’s flight tracker graph. This used to show up when you typed in your departing and arriving destinations, but now it requires a bit of searching to find. The first thing that you’re going to want to do is type in the airport codes (not city names) into Google’s search bar and hit enter. For this example I used IAH (Houston) to NRT (Narita).
Once you’ve done that, you should see Google Flights pop up. From here you’ll want to click on “More Flight Results.” Don’t worry about filling out anything else just yet – Remember, we want to figure out what months are good for our budget, not an exact date. If you are having trouble reaching this part, you can always visit http://www.google.com/flights, but I find that sometimes the flight tracker graph doesn’t pop up from that link.
Clicking on “More Google Flight Results” brings us to a larger version of the flight planner. You should see a tab under “Choose an outbound flight” that says “These are among the lowest fares within 3 days.” Click on that tab.
Finally! We’re starting to get an idea of what prices look like over a larger span of time! Google helpfully marks high prices in red, and low prices in green, but to make this information easier to read you’ll want to click on the “Price Graph” tab.
This is where we want to be. As you can see here, each day over the next 6 months is plotted, so you can see both the highs and lows for each month. Some months, like January and May have a wide range, while others like February and October are more stable.
Once you’ve fiddled with this for a minute, realistically consider your budget and compare the seasons & events we discussed earlier. Are there any months that will accommodate both? If so, that is probably your ideal time to travel. If not, make a list of the months that do work for your budget, and compare the price range with your “ideal” months. Is it possible to trim off a day or a special event to make up the difference in price? Is it worth it? Or would you rather spend more time in Tokyo during a different season?
Hopefully at this point you’ve been able to pick a range of dates within the next 8-14 months, as this will keep your planning timeline neat and tangible. If you absolutely cannot compromise on the date, but are having a hard time budgeting for it, give yourself an extra 6 months to a year. Just remember that if you choose the 2 year + timeline, it is very easy to put a trip off indefinitely because of budget concerns, and you’ll have to be extra strict about sticking to your savings plan.
Now that we have a specific month or a date range in mind, our next step will be planning out a monthly savings budget, so that we can meet our goal and buy those plane tickets!
Thanks for reading, and feel free to ask any questions (or leave suggestions) in the comments!
– Rosie Darling