The ‘Go To Travel’ Campaign in Japan during the Pandemic, Travelling Safely while Supporting the Travel Industry

There is a pandemic raging right? Economies are hurting and much thought is being given, to just how to manage the spread of the virus and prevent the economy from tanking. These are tough times.

The ‘Go To Travel’ Campaign is an initiative that was started here in Japan to prop up the travel industry. It gives really good discounts on trains, hotels and travellers can get discount coupons to apply to purchases at restaurants and other eligible shops. It is oh so tempting because the deals are really good across the country. All this is happening during the pandemic though.

In my last post I mentioned how crowded downtown Karuizawa was when we were there. I was so shocked at this because I just did not think people where using the campaign, given what is happening with the pandemic. Imagine my surprise when we tried to eat out at a few places for dinner and were told we had to wait an hour. I was already wary of eating out anyway, so we agreed to take the food to go.

The campaign seems to be working but I and many others worry if it will lead to more people getting the virus. We really hope this won’t happen. People here, for the most part, are pretty vigilant about wearing their masks, though it is not always easy to social distance in these packed areas. It makes me wonder about what it really means to travel safely and responsibly at this time?

The campaign will run until the end of January I believe, so it will take us through the colder months and over the long holiday period at the end of the year. We are already seeing the numbers creeping up, so again I am left wondering about the impact of this since it seems to be a catch 22 situation. It is really tempting though for those who have places they want to go and see. Travelling is very expensive here in Japan, so getting a 30% discount on the Shinkansen and hotels push many people to go for it. My knee jerk reaction at the start of the campaign was that I needed to make use of it. After pondering it for a moment, I decided not to because I have travelled extensively here and I do not feel I can enjoy social distancing in many tourist destinations.

It’s a great time to travel in Japan now though, especially for those who can go out about on weekdays. The country is closed to tourists and many people may not have the time to travel on weekdays.

The ‘Go To Travel’ campaign is pretty attractive for us travellers and it keeps money flowing into the tourist industry here. Hotels and other establishments have certain protocols in place such as checking one’s temperature, providing sanitiser in different spots and have statements asking everyone to wear a mask. This is what travelling safely and responsibly during the pandemic looks like. It is also good that the industry can support itself to a certain degree with domestic tourists and this government run initiative. Is anything like this happening anywhere else in the world?

Social Distancing While Enjoying Autumn in Karuizawa, Japan

Alas, I jumped on the Shinkansen (bullet train) and went to see some friends in Karuizawa. The need to get some fresh air in the countryside and catch up with them, made me travel a bit during the pandemic after all. Of course, I had my mask on, we all wore them and spent time away from downtown Karuizawa which was teeming with people. Ahhh! The fresh, clean and crisp air in the countryside was oh so welcomed and Autumn was on supreme display.

There is such simple pleasure in walking around an area with almost no one, looking at the changing leaves and enjoying the nice fall weather. It does a body so good.

While walking I came upon this beautiful wedding chapel. They go all out here in Japan when designing these buildings. The caretaker who was cleaning welcomed me warmly and even opened it up for me to walk around and see inside. Kindness is beautiful.

Karuizawa is only about an hour and 20 minutes from Tokyo station on the Shinkansen. I visited in winter once and it gets lots of snow and is pretty cold because of its location. There is much to see downtown Karuizawa which we avoided because there were just too many people. We instead went for a nature walk with my friend who is living there to just enjoy hiking away from people. It was the perfect thing to do given that we were social distancing. We had the trail all to ourselves and it was wonderful.

The leaves had already fallen in many places but we still enjoyed just walking and chatting. This is actually a pretty safe thing to do at this time, it calmed some the anxiety I felt when I first decided to visit. We made our way slowly but surely up to a beautiful waterfall where we spent some time just sitting and soaking up nature.

This short trip opened my mind a bit more to what travelling responsibly during this pandemic can look like for me. It also helps that this is a country where most people are used to wearing masks. I have concerns about the distancing on the Shinkansen, so I am not going to be doing this again soon. There were no efforts to seat us in the reserved cars, in ways that facilitated social distancing and the train was at capacity. Perhaps I am hypercritical but I expected to see something out of the norm with this. Nonetheless, I am happy I took this short trip before it got colder and things possibly change, where moving around is concerned.

All in all, hiking and enjoying time in the great outdoors is perfect for social distancing and travelling safely during this pandemic. If I had a car I would do more of this.

We ended the trip by going apple picking. That was also perfect since we had the place to ourselves. When we paid to go in we got knives, a sanitised tray and hand sanitiser to use as we pick and eat delicious apples. Yum!

Being Far Away from Family During this Pandemic is Rather Challenging

Oh, how I wish I were near

to my family near and dear

This time being abroad can be hard

since we don’t know when next we will see yard…

This pandemic has brought home just how nice it would be to be nearer family. The very thought of having them nearby would offer some comfort. Again, I am so appreciative of all these technological innovations, which allow me to lie in bed and catch up with my uncle on WhatsApp for over an hour, for example. This really helps to give some balance to a time when all seems out of kilter. It is really the small things that water our souls and keep us well.

Living abroad and being away from family is never a ‘bed of roses’. What helps is being able to fly back and visit to catch up, make new memories and just be with them. This is one of the things I am missing this year and my mind is still dealing with this. The daily texts, long video chats and conversations do help a whole lot. I am grateful.

We can be there for each other even though we are many miles apart. Connections with people are very important, to help us all make it through this pandemic with our minds intact and healthy. It is quite disconcerting to read of how many people are projected to suffer mentally and emotionally during all of this. I was also sad to see a thread on Twitter where people are still spouting off about true friends not needing to be in contact often. Many share that this works for them but how about those who need more? People can be on their phones for hours but take forever to respond to a text or even just message a friend they care about. I know people have social anxieties and there are other factors at work, of course. However, just one quick message may lift someone’s spirit at this time. Remember friends, family and acquaintances who live alone and may be far from family.

I so appreciate the friends I have here who will text me or just call me up just because. I am picking up and dropping everything else as much as I can. Life is precious, short and we just don’t know, so I am seizing the days (Carpe diem!). Is it just me that likes to see a call coming through on WhatsApp, Line and other apps? Props to my friends who take the time for us to plan and schedule ‘meetings’ on Zoom and Google Meet. These little things mean a whole lot. It may just be that many of us are single and live abroad, far away from family.

Small groups at church are also such a blessing – in normal times of course but now too. I have always been in an online small group, with my some people from church because of different factors. It is such a blessing to catch up with each other every week and study the scriptures as we encourage each other. Our online chat group is also great for keeping up with each other throughout the week. People need people and I hope we can all find some people, to be our people, as we go through and live life.

So yes, living abroad and being far away from family is especially challenging in 2020. However, we are able to communicate often and at leisure to encourage each other and be present. It takes time and coordination but people are worth it and we give and receive so much in our interactions.

Take some time to be there for family and friends

I know sometimes we may be at our wits’ end

But take some time to send

a message or few to those who are in your crew.

Travelling Anywhere is on the Back burner for a while

It’s enough for me to leave my house from Monday to Friday, ride the train for a few minutes and go to work. I just can’t imagine travelling anywhere right now. For me, travelling anywhere, is on the back burner for a while.

Travelling is a privilege, in the best of times in my view. By this, I mean leisure travels of course. I am very aware that there are numerous people who depend on the travel industry for their living. I am from Jamaica where the travel industry is pivotal to the country’s GDP. I also know of people who work in this industry, who are suffering from the fall out as a result of this pandemic. It is heart wrenching to no end, so I understand why some travelling during this time is important. It is really like being caught between a rock and a hard place.

Why I have no plans to travel for this year

The big plan for December 2020 was to visit Ghana for the first time. Everything was set and I had all but booked my flight. Getting from Japan to Ghana would mean at least a 12 hour flight somewhere, with a stopover, then another flight of over 5 hours to get there. I am not the most enthusiastic flier at the best of times, so I do not see how I can comfortably wear a mask for those hours. In addition, how would this affect my already jet lag prone self? It is a lot to wrap my mind around mentally, so that plan is on pause until some point later.

I would so love to go to Jamaica and see family in December. However, I am wary of infections rising in these colder months and what it will mean for travelling with stopovers in different countries. I also do not have enough time to quarantine and be there to catch up with others. Hence, this too is on the back burner and I am sure hoping I can go next year. I am so thankful for all this communication technology because if this had happened 14 years ago, when I just came here, it would have been really hard.

Am I paranoid? I see people I know taking jaunts here and there on this archipelago. Again, travelling anywhere is out for me. Some say it’s the best time to enjoy Japan because the country is closed to tourists from outside the country. I just can’t get up the interest to go off exploring and it may just be that I have explored quite extensively over the last decade here. I am not even eating in restaurants since I am not taking any chances. I am also someone who have always liked making my meals at home. Again, I know there is a valid point that we need to do what we can to prop up these industries…catch 22. I do have take out from time to time to contribute in this way.

Can we travel responsibly in this pandemic?

It is no longer just a case of buying travel insurance and going off to explore on a whim. Well, at least not for me. One has to be hyperaware of their safety to protect themselves and others. This is challenging in familiar spaces much less the strange places we encounter on our travels.

I do think some people can and are travelling responsibly at this time. I am also pleased to see how industry players and businesses are pivoting to ensure the safety of travellers. I however, see pictures of the airport in Cancun, with a bunch of tourists trying to flee the island before the hurricane and I cringe. Thankfully, people are in masks but there is little to no social distancing. I am not ready for the uncertainty that comes with travelling outside my bubble. This is something that each person has to decide on of course. I would love to read some tips on travelling during the pandemic. I have watched some videos but they mostly focus on the flight and getting through airports.

Travelling is firmly on the back burner

This is something I know for sure. Much of this may be because my travel appetite had been quenching a bit over the last few years. I really do not enjoy flying, especially since all the places I want to explore are far away on the African continent. A flight to Jamaica is also pretty far and involves going through all the hiccups.

With all this, travelling for leisure is definitely something that is firmly on the back burner for a while. I am still taking time to follow what is happening in the industry and preparing for when I will fly to Jamaica to see family and friends. This I will not delay indefinitely.

I pray peace and protection for all who are working in the travel industry. I see the airline workers being furloughed and losing jobs. I hope we can all get back to travelling and propping up each other’s livelihoods soon.

Reading is such a great window to the world

Who else enjoys curling up with a good book while delving into other times and cultures? I do a whole lot of this now more than ever because weekends are for resting and resetting to navigate these pandemic times. This is one form of self-care for me.

I am an avid reader of all kinds of genres and have been since I was a young child. This is all thanks to modelling my mother.

I also get to explore a range of books with my students at my leisure and also contribute to those in the library at my school. Books are really great resources to learn more about different cultures, people, places and a range of topics. I also have a pile of books from the library at school to lose myself in and my Kindle is always near, for the times when I want something outside of my stack to enjoy.

Here are a few of the books that I have read this year that have allowed me to learn more about different topics and expand my knowledge:

  • Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi caused tears to spring to my eyes again and again at the happenings in early Ghana where the transatlantic slave trade is concerned.
  • Annie John by Jamaica Kincaid is one that has been on my list forever; it is filled with rich visual and emotional imagery in its setting of Antigua.
  • Hostage by Guy Delisle is a very captivating comic that shares quite a serious story that is so inspiring and reminds us to never give up hope.
  • Chasing Moonlight by Raven St. Pierre is such a captivating read and oh so realistic.
  • Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie is really very well written and filled with subplots in its rich historical contexts spanning past India and Pakistan.
  • So you want to talk about race by Ijeoma Oluo is a book for these times I tell ya.
  • The Mama B series by Michelle Stimpson is just a feel good series and I like that is is about a couple in love who are over 60.
  • From Harvey River by Lorna Goodison is a wonderful memoir about family and legacy in postcolonial Jamaica.
  • Redemption Ground by Lorna Goodison is a nice collection that showcases Goodison’s craft as a poet and storyteller.
  • Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyam is a rich literary piece that reminds us of God’s grace.
  • Running in the Family by Michael Ondaatje reminded me of some of the sights and sounds of Sri Lanka when I visited.
  • The Hawaiian Archipelago by Isabella Bird is a great vintage travel log about a solo female traveller way back when. I admire her nerves of steel and sense of adventure.

Reading is such a calming activity for me, so it is nice to be able to do this on weekends when I stay home. I am excited to get to the next three books in my stack this weekend: Refugee Boy by Benjamin Zephaniah, Letter to my Daughter by Maya Angelou and Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison.

Call, text or reach out to someone who pops into your mind

You know how people randomly pop up in our minds from time to time? It’s a good reminder to contact them and catch up. It may not be a big thing for us but it may mean the world to those we reach out to. There are too many times when I have gone with this feeling and be the listening ear someone needs in that moment.

In these times it is so easy to get wrapped up in our own emotions as we social/physical distance. I know people with lots of responsibilities may feel overwhelmed and not have time for others outside their household. Regardless, it is nice to text or call someone for a few minutes to let them know someone is thinking of them. This ongoing pandemic and all it brings weigh on us in different ways. Some people who live alone are experiencing waves of loneliness and may not want to reach out and bother others. I was chatting with a friend recently and this came up. it’s hard for some singles who live alone.

In addition, we should know what works best for people in our circle where communicating is concerned. There are so many of us who prefer texting and don’t realise this doesn’t work for others. I came to this realisation after hitting a communication snafu with someone. I was all for texting and voice calling. This person preferred video calls because like many people, this person connects better by seeing who is being spoken, even if it’s on a screen. Sometimes it’s the little things.

Call, text or reach out to someone who pops into your mind. Don’t put it off. We are each other’s keeper.

Blogging is a Labour of Love though it Takes Grit to Keep Going

Blogging is a hobby for me and I have been blogging on and off for over ten years. I find myself coming back to blog because it is something I enjoy doing. I mean, just sharing thoughts and ideas about the things I like talking about on the internet space: travelling (especially solo travelling), self-care, budgeting, living debt free and overall being smart with money.

I like the freedom of blogging as a hobby, so I can go at my own pace with no demands from sponsors or chasing numbers. It is very therapeutic. I have invested some money into my own domain, so there are no ads clogging up my blog but more and more I am thinking I should just go for the free domain and save those coins. After all, every bit adds up.

It does take grit to keep sharing and churning out posts though blogging is a hobby. I like taking some time to choose my cover photos and think of how to share topics, craft posts and such. There are times when I have all these ideas flying around in my head and want to create blog posts but have no time for blogging. Then, there are other times when I have time but just want to lie on the couch all day, with a book and not be typing stuff. For me, blogging is a labour of love, not so much labour because I don’t force myself to blog but go with the flow.

It is nice to look back at a post and see how it appears on the blog – the aesthetics of it. I also like to get alerts about comments and hear what people thing about my ramblings. These are always appreciated.

There are also days when I just don’t feel like blogging anymore and I think of just stopping. I have done this a time or three before. I, however, remind myself to leave this blog up as something I can look back at over the years and reminisce about what I share. It is great for sharing the places I have travelled to and for encouraging others in different ways, I hope.

There are many blog posts about blogging as a business, so I am writing this to share that blogging can still be a hobby. In a world where there is much talk about multiple streams of income, blogging sometimes is a stream of income for some people. This is perfectly fine. A blogger is a blogger whether he or she does it as a hobby and/or for business.

It is ok to be lonely and tackle it intentionally

Listen, as a single person living alone, it is easy for loneliness to creep up out of nowhere and take over. Being alone is not synonymous with loneliness and even those who live with a bunch of other folks can be lonely.

Even the most introverted person may suffer bouts of loneliness, since the options to go out and get our people fix are far different than they were in the past. It is ok to feel lonely, we are human beings and need human interaction to varying degrees, for our personality type. My major love language is quality time. I don’t wait for those near and dear to mete it out, I actively facilitate this. It is simple, if you reach out and engage others they will often reciprocate, especially those who are for you.

Accept that you are lonely

For some reason, it has become this belief that something is wrong with you if you say you are lonely. Being lonely is just a feeling which means you need to relate with other humans in some form. This makes us better people in my opinion. It is s a sure fire way to keep us in tune with others and not shut ourselves completely off from everyone forever. As we know not everyone in our lives can fill our lonely moments. These are usually sated by being with those we have close bonds with; people who we can just chill and be at peace with.

There ought to be people in our lives who we can reach out to and just say, “Can we chat for a bit, I am feeling lonely right now and I want some company.” If there is no one like that in our lives, we need to address this because we need these kinds of connections.

Getting our people fix in the midst of the 2020 pandemic

Picnics have become trendy again and are great for hanging out with dear ones and social distancing. These are great since they are outside and everyone can bring their own food and sanitary items. People also play different games or just sit, listen to music and chat in the great outdoors. We can appreciate our relationships more, now that we have to put more effort into being more responsible while hanging out with others.

I have always been into epic chats and/or calls on Skype, WhatsApp, Line and so on way before this pandemic. I live far away from family and many bonafide friends, so this is a must. Make plans and carve out time to spend catching up with people and really getting in touch. It does the heart, mind and soul well at all times.

Another great thing to do is just to hang out with friends one on one in open places just to chat and chill. It could be at a common train station or bus stop that’s convenient for both of you. The important thing is to see others and spend some time with each other. Things have changed but we can still touch base with others and be there literally and figuratively.

Know what triggers your loneliness and stay away from them

I mean sometimes you may not be able to guard against this but do what you can. Many of us single people, who desire to be in a relationship may find ourselves being lonely after seeing couples cosied up on different social media platforms. Before you know it, loneliness has crept up and you experience melancholy.

Also know that the feeling usually passes, even though, when in the thick of it, it feels all consuming. When this happens, it is good to do things that take your mind off the loneliness: exercising, cooking, blogging, painting,doing your budget and whatever works for you. Look for the way out and don’t just give into loneliness and despair.

Don’t feed the feeling of loneliness

When bouts of loneliness come, it is not time to play all those sad and sappy songs that just intensify the emotions.

Encourage yourself with words from the Bible, tap into your joy and speak it over yourself. Put on some lively music and dance like David danced. If nothing else you would have gotten a good workout.

Also don’t go jumping back into negative relationships – whether romantic or platonic- because of loneliness. Go to those who have your back and who you will be happy you got closer to in these times of loneliness. Since, when the heights of loneliness take over we can lose the rationale part of ourselves, let’s know who we will lean on before it strikes. Cultivate relationships with people that allow you to not hesitate to reach out and have them be there for you.

Again, it is ok to feel lonely and to share this with your loved ones, so they can help. We do life most effectively when we partner with others to give and receive, emotionally, mentally and otherwise.

2020 is reminding me to take pleasure in the simple things

It’s summer break for me now and it was a long time in coming. The usual month of summer break was whittled down to two weeks. This was so we could make up time at school, for all the online classes we had at the start of the school year because other schools who were less organised, didn’t have classes for two months. Suffice it to say I was ready.

As the responsible homebody that I am, who is a big fan of self isolating, my plan is to spend many hours stretched out on my couch reading. My little heart is oh so excited. I have no less than 8 books lined up from our library at school and my kindle at the ready, if I needed, to up that number. I just love escaping into the world of a book and learning all kinds of things. The time flies with a page turner I tell you, though the emotional roller coaster some of these books take you on is no joke.

Today a read the book Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi. It’s a rich text that sheds light on a perspective of slavery that is often not addressed. This is the fact that Africans were sold into slavery after being taken as captives by warring tribes. Her style is flawless and she grips your attention and makes you feel the characters, the setting and takes you from time period to time period through generations. It was really lovely, to delve into this masterful piece for a few hours and pass day one of summer break, self isolating all by myself, in my own space. It was truly therapeutic.

I am also loving being able to make all my meals at home. I enjoy cooking, sometimes twice a day, to get in some nice whole foods. Today I made a lovely veggie stew with boiled potatoes on the side. Adding balsamic vinegar to stews just takes them up a notch. Try it if you haven’t done so yet. It’s quite easy to eat and eat all day at home so, I bought healthy snacks to keep myself in check: watermelon, apples, kiwi and bananas. YUM!

It’s also nice to have time on a weekday to catch up with friends and family in different times zones. I mean everything from texting to having epic calls for hours. I love it. There is no time to feel lonely, though I live alone.

I see my apartment as my safe space that helps me to keep mentally well in these uncertain times. Like I do for weekends, I went shopping to get a range of things I wanted to have, so I wouldn’t be tempted to run to the supermarket nearby at the drop of a hat. This is actually a habit I have mastered over several years now. I like doing one big grocery shop on a Thursday of Friday for the week. I plan out my menu for the week so I know what to buy.

I also enjoy doing some dancing here and there throughout the day to get some exercise. I squat, do lounges, standing abs and random stuff to move throughout the day when I go to the bathroom. I don’t want to just be a couch potato.

So yeah, for a normal summer break I would be off somewhere exploring our beautiful world but this year I have to be still. I am not miserable and I am being intentional about enjoy this time. I am relaxing, resting and keeping my mind fresh and active. This is self-care and I am here for this. Thanks 2020 for forcing me to remember to enjoy the some of the simple things in life.

Are you keeping your hopes and dreams alive?

Hold fast to your dreams

For if dreams die

Life is a broken-winged bird

That cannot fly.

Hold fast to your dreams

For when dreams go

Life is a barren field

Frozen with snow. (Dreams by Langston Hughes)

Are you still dreaming, making plans and keeping hope alive as this pandemic carries on?

It all feels surreal but I am still dreaming about things I want to accomplish internally and externally. In Jamaica is often said that where there is life there is hope.

As for me, I am still budgeting and making plans for different savings goals and such. I am thinking about the travelling I want to do in the future and I am also thinking about a number of other short term and long term goals. Most importantly, I keep reminding myself to keep hope alive and continue to dream new dreams.

That’s it, I was just inspired to remind someone to keep dreaming and keep hope alive in the midst of this pandemic. Stay on budget and save for your goals…