For the past eight months, most of my purchases had been towards things that would help me in my first trip to Japan and first time traveling alone.
There were four key ideas I adopted in preparation for this trip:
Bite-sized vlogs with my iPhone. GoPros are great and all, but I couldn't justify $350+ on an action camera I'd rarely use ever again. And the last thing I want to do when I come back from vacation is spend hours compiling a highlight video for YouTube. With a 256 GB iPhone, I'd have plenty of space to record 4K video, plus I'd be able to edit & upload bite-sized videos on-the-fly.
Carry-on backpack only. Having everything in a single backpack means not dragging around secondary luggage as I explore the city between the 10am hotel check-outs and 4pm check-ins.
"Capsule wardrobe". Bringing only neutral-colored clothes & layers would give me plenty of possible outfits for the trip, making it easy to adapt to the weather as needed.
Unique experiences instead of typical hotels. Standard hotels are expensive and for the most part, the exact same. With Airbnb, I can stay at better locations, pay way less, and experience what it's like to live like a local.
With that said, here's a list of everything I brought, what worked, what didn't, and what I'll bring next time.
- 256 GB iPhone X. The extra space was crucial for recording all my 4K videos throughout the trip.
- Unlimited 4G SIM card by JAL ABC at Narita Airport1. This was definitely better than the other option: renting a pocket wifi that I would have to recharge and turn on/off throughout the day.
- 33L travel backpack by Aer SF. This bad boy literally carried everything for me.
- Outbreaker Daypack by Tortuga. A super light-weight backpack I used to explore the city while I left the rest of my stuff at my Airbnb/hotel.
- Ultra Light Down Jacket by Uniqlo. The ratio of utility-to-weight is ridiculously good with this jacket. It's super comfortable, loose-fitting, and kept me plenty warm in 45 degree weather.
- merino wool t-shirts by Unbound Merino. It was my first time relying on (only two) merino wool shirts for an entire week, and it totally lived up to the hype that backpackers have sworn by for years2.
- merino wool socks by Unbound Merino.
- Long Sleeve HeatTech t-shirts by Uniqlo. A key clothing layer that helped me manage my temperature throughout the trip.
- extendable selfie stick with tripod attachment by Smatree. This was invaluable to me as a solo traveler because I wanted pictures of myself without asking other (non-English speaking) people for help.
- quick-release tripod mount for smartphones by Glif. A handy attachment that allows me to connect my iPhone X — and any future smartphone — to whatever standard tripod or selfie stick I want.
- 2-in-1 battery pack & wall charger by Anker. Helped me cut down on the extra wall chargers needed for all my devices.
- Cut Story app for splitting my vlog recordings into 15-second clips for Instagram Stories.
- Apple Watch 3 for keeping track of two timezones and useful as a camera remote for my iPhone.
- First Cabin capsule hotel room. This has been on my bucket list for years, but I won't be doing this again because I really disliked having to be completely silent the whole time, especially when I need to zip/unzip for stuff in my bag.
- 12.9" iPad Pro with Smart Keyboard. I love my iPad, but my iPhone was simply enough for everything I did on my trip.
- running waist pack by Flip Belt. I wore this to hold my passport so I could keep my pockets empty, but the tight size caused my passport to fold/curve up awkwardly.
- water-resistant sneaker boots by Nike. Would've been useful had it rained, but it was a bit heavier than I'd like for travel.
- another merino wool t-shirt. I felt a little weird rotating between just two shirts for a whole week, especially with people were watching me in my vlogs every day. A third shirt merino wool would be perfect for my next one-week trip.
- lighter sneakers in case of rain.
- a smartphone gimbal, so I can record smoother video with my iPhone as I walk around. I still can't justify a $350 GoPro, but I think I can justify a $150 gimbal.
Overall, my first solo adventure was a huge personal success. I learned how to get by with much, much less. Solo traveling — especially with one backpack — is so freeing, I could do whatever I want, whenever I wanted. I didn't have to wait up for anyone. I didn't have to rush for anyone. Everything I did, I did on my terms, and no one else's.
I can't imagine traveling any other way anymore.
Before using your smartphone abroad, always make sure your phone is unlocked. For me, my iPhone X was already unlocked as I purchased it through Apple's iPhone Upgrade Program. ↩
Merino wool shirts are well-known among backpackers as the best base layer for travel. The fabric is finer than typical wool, handles moisture very well, has a natural ability to regulate temperature, and is odor resistant. As long as you air it out every night, rotating a few merino wool shirts can last you for days without wash. ↩