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Monday, 6th January 2020
Every three years of late I've accomplished a solo trip to exotic places. In 2016 I saw South Korea. In 2013 I journeyed to Japan. In 2010 it was New Zealand. So I decided to go somewhere in 2019 (or January 2020 close as it turned out.) But where?

Virginia has a sister in Auckland and I've been to New Zealand twice already, but had been planning to go in 2012 taking in a solar eclipse visible in Cairns in Australia. That got derailed by troubles at work where we all had effectively to reapply for our jobs as part of a downsizing initiative. Another motivation for going to New Zealand was to go to see Weta Workshop, cinema at its best is magic to me and I wish I could have worked in film making!

Where to break the long haul to New Zealand though? Having passed 60 I now longer have the stamina to be travelling for 36 hours without a rest as I have done. I wanted to go back to Tokyo if only to finally see the Nihon Ki-in (Go is another of my major interests). I did try to visit the Nihon Ki-in when I was in Tokyo before but couldn't find my way there from Ichigaya Station. Worries about navigating in strange places was one reason I got an iPhone so I could use Google Maps.

It would be possible for me to book flights and hotels all myself but going through a travel agent gives me a comfort factor, that less is likely to go wrong. I needed a travel agent who would do customised itineraries and contacted Audley Travel. I had come across them when googling for previous trips, and also I knew someone at work used them. I was impressed by them, a professional outfit. As a customer you get a personalised website, and also a downloadable app for your trip. They warned me about the need to get a NZeTa when New Zealand introduced them. My initial stupid idea (the distances are too far) of driving round a loop in the North Island of New Zealand from Auckland to Wellington and back was exploded. But I didn't make the best use of Audley Travel.

At the time I contacted Audley Travel I hadn't firmed up on where I wanted to go, particularly in Tokyo. A travel agent can only give each customer a certain amount of attention, and the clock starts ticking as soon as you contact them. I was cherry picking where I wanted to go (by surfing sites like Atlas Obscura) rather than relying on a planned package. I hadn't tried when I suggested places I wanted to see put them into Google Maps to see how far apart they were - for this reason I was going to see Sanrio Puroland until that got fortuitously cancelled.

I do enjoy the planning of my trips, the research behind places to see, perhaps as much as the trips themselves! For planning read re-planning as I kept shifting the itinerary around for Tokyo - the Nihon Ki-in I was going to visit on Thursday but the Wednesday was better which meant having to rebook going to see teamLab Borderless and paying twice. I like booking early but perhaps I shouldn't. I limited the itinerary in places arguing I needed more rest time - by chance I discovered that the tea house in Hamarikyu Gardens would be closed in January. I spent quite a bit of thought trying to arrange timings to see the Giant Ghibli Clock in action. It was only when I was printing out documents that I discovered the travel insurance I had didn't cover Japan and Singapore!

This trip I relied on using credit cards as much as taking foreign currency with me. That worked pretty well. My banks claimed I didn't need to tell them I was travelling. And that proved to be the case!