Planning foreign travel in today’s world

I am planning a trip to Japan in May, and right now I’m working on finding places to stay for a few nights in Tokyo. It’s Japan, so naturally I want to stay in a ryokan to get the full experience. I browse the various ryokan websites and check review sites to get other travelers’ impressions. And then — lo and behold — in walks Youtube. You can search for a ryokan’s name and get videos people have posted from their stays, e.g., this video walkthrough of a room at Hotel Edoya (a ryokan, despite the name). It’s fascinating and yet somehow eerie to be able to preview the rooms in this informal way (perhaps made more eerie by the guy behind the camera getting a shot of his shirtless self in the bathroom mirror).

The other ultra-cool thing about trip planning, at least with respect to Japan, is Google Maps. I requested directions from Tokyo to Kyoto just to get a sense of how far apart they were. Instead of driving directions, gave me train directions. What does that say about cultural assumptions? I was blown away by how cool this integration is. It shows you four alternate trips, starting with the next departure time, and lists each train you need to take, how much time between connections, and how far you’ll need to walk (if at all). You can also give it future departure times to plan ahead. Why can’t we have this for the U.S.? I’d love it if the LA Metro schedule were integrated into Google Maps. You get all of the beautiful google zooming and panning, topography and satellite images, and you can (for example) follow your planned path and see just how close the train gets to Mt. Fuji. Totally awesome.

3 of 3 people learned something from this entry.

  1. Kevin said,

    March 12, 2008 at 8:16 am

    (Learned something new!)

    Google Maps does include public transit integration for some locations in the US. Portland was one of the first, but the list has since expanded somewhat. See

  2. wkiri said,

    March 12, 2008 at 8:45 am

    (Learned something new!)

    Wow, thanks, Kevin! This is great.

    I find it amusing that Grand Junction, CO (a small city not far from where I grew up), is among the locations supported — yet LA still is not.

  3. Echo said,

    March 13, 2008 at 10:42 am

    (Learned something new!)

    That’s incredibly cool. I wonder if I can do that in Europe! It will be plenty relevant soon!

  4. geoff said,

    March 14, 2008 at 2:33 pm

    Wait, so how do I get driving directions in Japan?

  5. wkiri said,

    March 14, 2008 at 11:03 pm

    Because I am an American, I wondered the same thing.

    But I didn’t find an answer. Oh well! I’m not planning to drive in Japan (yikes!).

  6. geoff said,

    March 15, 2008 at 10:51 am

    Well, Japan still has plenty of cars, even if their trains are better. Seems odd that driving directions wouldn’t be available in an advanced country, but maybe the data isn’t available to Google.

    For some fun, try putting “from: london to: paris to:madrid to:rome to:berlin to:stockholm” into Google Maps. Works beautifully, at least in theory. Following driving directions in real life always seems to present its own unique challenges. :)

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