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HOKKAIDO GUIDE: TIPS ON HOW TO PREPARE FOR WINTER AND BELOW ZERO TEMPERATURES

TALES FROM THE TRAVELING TITO (part 1)

This story first appeared on my column The Technivore on the Business Mirror

Thailand, Taiwan, China, Vietnam, Japan– five countries and four provinces in three months. It’s the most I have traveled compared to, say the first 30 years of my life.

You see, unlike today, when there are seat sales, Piso fares and discounted hotel promos, I was born at a time when only the rich could afford to travel by plane.

Traveling was a luxury and vacations outside the country was an overindulgence. My parents, just like a lot of people back then, had a different set of priorities. They saved up for a house, a car and our education, and instead of travel, we chose material stuff, believing that reading about a place and seeing pictures was the same as being there. 

I was already in high school when our family had our very first vacation in Baguio. My first out of town trip in Zambales, would happen 10 years later with some officemates. And my very first plane ride? An assignment to Boracay, and I was in my mid-30’s.

Now, it’s a different story.

Millennials and every other generation are opting out of accumulating stuff and collecting experiences instead. My nephew, for example, has already been to a couple of countries even before he enrolled in kindergarten.  Since the things you own no longer dictates your status in life, people are simply enjoying experiences over things– access over ownership. 

Young people want to seize the moment—because YOLO–and want to experience all that life has to offer. It’s not surprising to hear stories of kids choosing to travel instead of spending it on a debut or graduation party. Those markers are becoming less meaningful as they once were and social media is undoubtedly a big inspiration (and influence) that makes traveling more of a goal than a reward for your retirement years.

So yes, even though I was already a mid-age “Tito” when I discovered the incomparable joys of traveling, I know I’m not alone. I believe there are a lot of other late bloomers out there, and some still hesitant (or nervous) to take their first adventure. But as they say, “Youth may be wasted on the young, but adventure, experience and travelling is like wine—it only gets better with age.”

Yes, being a travel “virgin” can be quite unnerving, and just because you are a bit older doesn’t mean you have no right to be afraid. I still do, and sometimes, a few days before my trip, I would wake up in the middle of the night worrying about all the things that could go wrong. But instead of giving in to those fears, I use them to be more cautious and alert whenever I am traveling. What I do is read more about my destination because most often than not, these are just fears of uncertainty and the unexpected. 

My #JALFam

I’m quite fortunate that a lot of my initial travels abroad were media FAM tours, because it gave me the confidence I needed. While we do have to follow a strict itinerary, we are also given a bit of free time to explore on our own. This allows us to chat with the locals and even meet new people. If you are traveling alone for the first time, it’s always a good idea to join a tour, just so you get a feel of the place you’d be visiting. 

KAME HANEDA, HOKKAIDO!

Last month, I had the chance to be part of another FAM tour, this time by Japan Airlines to highlight their new route of Manila to Tokyo via Haneda Airport.The direct flight is the earliest to arrive from the Philippines, landing in Japan by 5AM therefore allowing tourists to maximize their itinerary as early as day one.

Japan Airlines Sakura Lounge NAIA 1

Haneda Airport is closer to Tokyo than Narita and there are transportation services to and from the airport starting early so you can reach Tokyo, Shibuya, Tsukiji, Roppongi, or Akihabara in less than 30 minutes; or Shinjuku and Ueno in less than 40 minutes. The Haneda airport likewise has more domestic connections, giving tourists easier and more convenient access to Japan’s other destinations.  

The early flight is a better and more convenient option especially for taking a connecting flight to Hokkaido or even Sapporo. Take note that it takes more than four hours from Manila to Haneda and another 1 ½ hour to reach the northern part of Japan. so if you have a late morning flight, chances are you are going to spend your entire first day in transit and arrive almost dinnertime.

I know what you are thinking. JAL is expensive and you’d rather book a budget airline. Airfare is usually the main consideration when booking a trip, especially for young people. I guess that’s one benefit of being an older traveler. Since we have a bit more savings, we have the luxury of choosing a better airline as well as a more convenient flight schedule. And once you’ve experienced better service, better tasting meals (with real utensils and Häagen-Dazs ice cream for dessert!) and on-time flights, you’d realize that paying a bit more is so worth it. 

On other airlines, I would avoid the middle row and always request for an aisle seat. I’m not tall, but when you’re flying for more than three hours, you’ll love that expanded legroom on the JAL and also because my big stomach doesn’t hit the food tray when I’m eating. No wonder it’s been awarded as the World’s Best Economy Class by Skytrax. Believe me, a good trip starts with a comfortable and pleasant flight.

ICE ICE BABY

When I was a kid, I would volunteer to clean our freezer just so that I could collect the ice and play with it like snow. I could only imagine kids nowadays since Frozen came out, and I’m pretty sure everyone would want to build a snowman. Snow definitely is on every Filipino’s bucket  list, and I think Hokkaido and Sapporo is the most accessible place to experience your first winter. My first trip to Japan was in February 2017, in time for the Sapporo Snow Festival, and just like before, we arrived in the middle of the winter season and the temperatures were as low as -15 degrees Celsius.

Before I share our itinerary for the trip, here are some tips for my fellow tito’s and tita’s on how to get ready for your first snow adventure, and don’t bother bringing your step-ins and flipflops.

Preparing for a winter trip will be very different from all your other trips. If you already need a jacket inside the mall or cinema, you’ll definitely need a few extra layers of clothing. Take note, however, that it can be difficult to move around when you are wearing multiple layers of clothing. The best way to minimize this is by being smart with the pieces you wear. This is the reason why it’s best to start with thermal underwear like Uniqlo’s Heat Tech undershirt and leggings. I’ve tried other (cheaper) thermal wear but the one from Uniqlo is a bit thinner and more comfortable to wear. 

The HeatTech fabric collects the kinetic energy from the moisture of your skin and converts it to heat, and traps heat longer because they are more tightly knit than regular cotton clothing. They come in three levels for all of your winter needs: HeatTech, HeatTech Extra Warm, and HeatTech Ultra Warm. To help you understand the difference, the regular HeatTech is for Tagaytay, or Baguio weather, Extra Warm for even colder weather around 10 degrees and lower; and Ultra Warm is for Winter and Snow. When we arrived at the Nemenbetsu airport our tour guide Kaori was surprised as I was just wearing a sweater and jacket, so I guess thank you Uniqlo? 

Another important piece of clothing you need is a Down Coat. Your ordinary jacket just won’t do especially if you plan on walking or playing around in the snow (which you definitely should!). Your outermost jacket should be waterproof/windproof because the last thing you want to do is get wet. Also remember to get a bigger size since you’d probably be wearing two or three shirts underneath it.

For pants, denim jeans would do but when I tried to slide down the ice, my behind froze. Again, if you want to enjoy most snow activities, you need pants that won’t easily get soaked. 

Besides Uniqlo, you could also get them at Decathlon—or better yet in Japan!

Gloves. Now this is a bit tricky. My hands are actually the ones that get easily cold, however, I couldn’t wear gloves all the time because I keep taking photos using my phone. Still I suggest you buy a couple, one that allows you to still operate your phone and another pair of winter gloves for those really cold night activities. 

These boots arent made for winter walking

Lastly is the Boots. Here’s a funny story. I just bought a couple of GOLA boots a few days before the trip, judging from the materials, I think are water repellent. Still, I asked around for winter boots which I found out to be quite expensive. The cheapest I found was around P6K. So instead of buying winter boots I just sprayed my GOLA with one of those waterproofing sprays I bought from the internet. IT DOES NOT WORK ON SNOW.  My foot didn’t get wet because I was wearing two pairs of socks but the waterproofing material was easily gone after an hour of walking on the snow.

Now I urge you to get yourself winter boots, because ordinary ones may protect your feet, but they can be very slippery and snow doesn’t always provide a soft landing. Some of the boots I  saw my groupmates were wearing were from Timberland, Dr. Martens, and Palladium. My GOLA did survive but not without a few close slip ups. 

But before you head over to Uniqlo, Surplus Shop or those ukay ukay stalls to hoard winter stuff, I learned that its actually much cheaper to buy them in Japan. For example, the leggings that cost P990 at UNIQLO in Manila, also have a price tag of 990 YEN in Japan and if you  convert it, its actually less than half the Manila price. My suggestion to just buy a pair before your trip and just include a stop at Uniqlo GU on your first day itinerary in Japan to get your earmuffs, gloves, neckwarmer. Oh, and for your other Winter stuff like boots, cleats and gloves?  You might want to check out Decathlon in Tiendesitas, I heard they sell a lot of good winter stuff at discounted prices.

One more thing, make sure you wear longs socks that are at least presentable as you might need to remove your shoes on several occasions like when visiting temples, or when eating at traditional restaurants. Its best to leave the “holed” ones at home. 

Since you’d be packing a lot of stuff, its best to carry your thickest jacket and make sure you don’t exceed your check-in baggage allowance. 

As for accessories, bring sunglasses to protect your eyes from the UV rays that the snow reflects. Don’t forget Sunscreen, Moisturizer and Lip Balm as the cold can leave your skin dry and your lips chapped and just because its cold doesn’t mean you don’t need to put on sunblock. If you still feel cold, do drop by convenience stores and ask for Kairo or heat pack or pocket warmer. It’s a small package that contains heat-generating powder or liquid that you can attach to your CLOTHES (avoid skin contact) it will keep you warm for around 12 hours.

*If you see those Vendo machines, know that you could actually grab a HOT drink—coffee, tea or chocolate–just look for the HOT label marked RED. 

Now that you know how to keep yourself warm here are some other things I brought with me during our trip.

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