• Shona McCarthy

So, You’ve Gone Overseas with A Bulky Suitcase.

(Image from Wix.)

If you're a follower of my blog, you'll know that travelling to Japan with a large suitcase is a very, very bad idea. However, there are going to be some of you out there who can't help it. Others who had no idea because they didn't read my post. Others don't value their sanity or time. That's okay. I've got you, fam.

As someone who has travelled through Japan and many other places with large suitcases, I can offer much sage advice on this subject. My first thought would be to avoid bringing a large suitcase with you when you travel at all costs, because it will always cause you far more pain, suffering and humiliation than it could ever save you, and in most cases it is avoidable. But, there are times when you can’t avoid it. In which case, here are my suggestions.

1. Avoid Travelling Alone

As soon as I got off the plane in Kansai Airport and exited the arrivals gate, I wanted to visit the bathroom. But, I had my giant suitcases with me. So, I had to leave them by the bathroom entrance as I waited in line, did my business, and then go back to the cases as quickly as possible. It was the first of many times I would have to repeat this ritual throughout my month in Japan. In Tokyo station I did this. In Akihabara station I did this. In Osaka station I did this. I had to do this because I was travelling alone. But if I had someone else with me they could have watched my cases for me. In fact, even if we had both had large cases, we could have taken turns, and we could have helped each other get up and down stairs. But since I was alone, I never had this option and had to constantly depend upon the kindness and honesty of strangers.

2. Have Other Smaller Bags Inside

One thing I didn’t know before I went to Japan is that places of accommodation won’t always have elevators. And so, at times like these, you need a way of getting your things upstairs to your room. When I stayed at the Hostel Makuya in Kyoto, the solution that I used was to gradually empty my suitcase into a large backpack I had also taken with me. I took the contents of my suitcase in portions this way till the suitcase was empty, and then I could carry it up much more easily. For getting the suitcase back down, I developed a process I documented on Instagram.

3. Bring Combination Locks and a Bike Chain

I only really had the chance to see Akihabara just as I was leaving Full Cabin Hostel in Tokyo. So, I had to drag my massive suitcase around the streets in what was a truly taxing and exhausting process. I needed to do a little sock shopping, but had to rush the process in an uncomfortable way because I had to abandon my suitcase in the street every time I went into a store. Which meant the whole time was much less fun than it should have been and I saw much less than I could have without the case.

This could have been avoided for free, however, if I had been able to lock the suitcase shut and chain it up in some out of the way place. I remember standing in Akihabara feeling hot and weak from the strain of dragging my bag and thinking, “If I had just bought some locks, I’d have my own free locker on the street right out there, instead of suffering like this.”

However, since I haven’t actually attempted this, I can’t make promises about the outcome. I can tell you that you probably shouldn’t chain a suitcase in places where chaining a bike isn’t permitted, unless you want to get your suitcase impounded.

4. Trust Your Neighbors… Kind Of

While I was staying in Arashiyama, the accommodations didn’t really allow us to lock our luggage away. They were kept in shared alcoves, not dissimilar to luggage storage on trains. One of the hardest things I had to get used to was the fact of needing to constantly search through my suitcase to find things and then have to leave the suitcase out in the open. But no one ever stole anything from me. Not even when I accidentally fell asleep with my bags wide open. So, while I wouldn’t say you should trust strangers with your positions as a rule, it isn’t worthwhile to panic when you’re staying in a place like that.

In fact, by the time I landed back in Melbourne, I had few qualms leaving my suitcases in the middle of no-where. Few people would be willing to take on the torture and inconvenience of wheeling around a giant suitcase in the first place. Never mind to try to escape with one in a crowded train station.

5. Don’t Expect Kindness

Not everyone, but some people in Japan will see the use of a massive suitcase as an act of extreme and unbelievable selfishness if you go on public transport with it, or if you are staying in their home. In Japan, there is the belief that you should make the most of the space you have, and so many entry ways, rooms and doors will be smaller than we are used to in the Western world. Busses, trains and other vehicles may be narrower.

Ultimately, you will almost certainly inconvenience someone with your giant suitcase sooner or later, multiple times. In Australia, we’re inclined to take this for granted. In Japan, some people will still be very kind to you. In Tokyo, multiple men stopped to help me move my big suitcase. But these people are being exceptionally benevolent.

Realistically, you should expect to have old couples and other people look at you and mutter about how silly you look, and to have to listen to train announcements telling you, “Passengers with large suitcases should be careful not to bother the other passengers.” In other words, don’t plan on mercy. Just accept it gratefully when it comes.

6. Never Take The Bus

Busses in Kyoto are much better than busses in Melbourne. They’re quick, reliable, and comprehensive. But this is partly because the local and tourist population relies upon them so heavily. So, if you take a massive suitcase on board, particularly during peak hour, there is a significant possibility that you’ll end up displacing people, and even wheeling your suitcase over someone’s foot as I did. It just isn’t worth it. Bring an added budget for taking cabs and going on massive train detours.

7. Reflect on Your Experience

Travelling a month in Japan with a huge suitcase taught me a lot about what I really do and don’t need when I travel. If I were to do the trip again, there would be many cost-saving measures I would take on and many strategies that would have made my massive suitcase completely needless. Just because your plane ticket comes with a baggage allowance, does not mean you are obligated to fill it!

As you travel, you’ll likely also start to notice habits and behaviours of yours which render some of the things you pack fairly unnecessary. Make note of these things! Then you won’t make the same mistakes in the future!

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