The flights are booked and I am ready and raring. It’s a good feeling spending your money on travel. It doesn’t bring with it that sense of buyers remorse and you know that even if it’s not quite what you were expecting you always get your moneys worth. I mean for all I know one of the places I plan on staying at could be a front for a drug running scheme and I need to combat roll my way to safety while muttering some very very weak Japanese; but what a hell of story for later!

When I say you always get your moneys worth I guess it’s a generality and it really does come down to what you can get for your dollar. If it’s anything like what the travel agent I went to wanted I wouldn’t be very satisfied with my upcoming trip. The story goes I was suddenly overwhelmed with a desire to get on a plane and solo trek Japan and Korea. So naturally I did my research, looked at prices online (Skyscanner, cheapflights.com, webjet) and read a bunch of reviews and blogs on how much $$$ it would take me to eat and survive for a set period of time in Japan and Korea. I asked my Aunt who is a very experienced traveller and frequenter of Japan and my friend Andrew who currently lives there all the relevant questions and the picture that began to form was an exciting one. I then had the brainwave to get this double checked by the local travel agent who I always thought had to match prices. I was wrong.

I went in, plonked the piece of paper down with all the prices I’d found and began telling this seemingly attentive lady about my plan; on a budget, hostels, cheap food, free sights mostly, transport on a dime, and basically a cultural adventure on a shoestring. We got along well and she took down all my dates and five days later I received the quote.

To start off it was sent to me by a different person, which didn’t bode well for the continuity. The basic bill read like this:

  • $1550 for flights to Japan, and back to Brisbane
  • $100 for a transfer from the airport back to the hotel they’d found
  • $545 for 3 nights accommodation
  • $550 for a 7 day rail pass on the dates I was meant to be in Korea (???)
  • $400 for travel insurance for the duration
  • All up it came to around $3,000

To say I was annoyed would be a drastic understatement. To start they totally left out the Korean leg of my journey, and thus left me unable to continue from Korea onto Sapporo in northern Japan. They had also ignored the important points about ‘shoestring’ and booked me accommodation into what seemed to be a 4 star swanky mid-Tokyo apartment. As previously mentioned I had done all my own research and knew that I could get everything at a far more affordable price. My own budgets and prices looked something like this:

  • $1300 for flights which included Seoul to Sapporo and a ferry from Fukuoka to Busan
  • $1000 for the ENTIRE trips accommodation (I only really need $900, but I like to over budget)
  •  $1500 for food (Again, probably only need $1200)
  • $550 for a 14 day rail pass on JRail
  • So all up $4,350; I am fed for the duration, housed for the duration, actually going where I want to go and essentially not broke for the duration.

The first thing I did was check accommodation prices in Tokyo for hostels and was pleasantly surprised to see that for $25/per night i can stay at extremely lovely hostels. Which after booking a 10 day stay comes out to under HALF of what their 3 nights would have been. Even the rail pass was half the time but the same cost to me according to their quote. All I can think is that they handed this one over to the new guy who wasn’t there to talk to me and hear what I wanted. Which is really a shame because it’s how you lose a customer for a lifetime.

In the days of highway robbery people had to wear a mask and run off into the night with your savings. These days they can sit in the air conditioning and smile as they send you the bill. Of the two experiences I’ve now had with travel agents, the first being a lady who fought to get us the best prices but ultimately was useless at execution, and this one being the second, I have to say I will never return to them in any form. If I wanted to be robbed I would rather someone be upfront and honest about it.

Suffice it to say please do your own research if you aren’t in the habit of doing so already! You will save yourself hundreds upon hundreds on every trip. The do-it-yourself approach is somewhat exhilarating in its own right and before long you won’t be looking back.