Things learned from 20 days in a camper van trip in Japan

I follow a lot of people on Instagram who are living and traveling in camper vans and all these people look so happy and like they are having so much fun and freedom that I wanted to try living like that even for a short while to see what the buzz was all about.
However, I had never driven a big car in my life and it was a scary thought, plus I was worried about a million other things. What if one camper van was too small and uncomfortable for 3 adults? (I wanted to travel with my parents). And I wanted to take my dog as well but would it be hard on her traveling day after day, waiting in the car as we saw museums and places dogs aren’t allowed in? And what about places to sleep? Would we find a place to park the car and sleep in peace every day? And more than anything, I planned 20 days for our first camping van trip, was that too long for us mere beginners? 
I had so many worries that I seriously considered cancelling the trip and if not cancelling maybe making it shorter, much shorter. But when I told my parents about this trip they seemed excited and happy so I didn’t want to disappoint them by cancelling everything for fear that the trip would not work.
I trusted my parents to find the best and cheapest camper van to rent and I started my research on places to visit around Japan, how to get there, budget and even places where to sleep at night. 
Planning the trip made most of my worries almost disappear and be replaced by excitement. The more I dug the more amazing places I found! I wanted to go so many places that it was hard to choose which ones to visit and which ones to sacrifice…I did all this planning while I was still living in New Zealand and I got so excited that I couldn’t wait to come back to Japan.

And then finally April came and so our road trip began. Right away I got used to driving the camper van and our excitement was through the roof! Of course, I plan to write detail blogs about each of the places we visited but, on this blog, right now I will only write about the overall experience of a camper van trip. What I learned and what I felt.  

Things I learned from a 20-day camper van trip

1.    20 days are NOT enough.

In paper 20 days was enough to see the places we wanted to go to and maybe more, but in reality, there is traffic, getting lost, break time, and longer than expected sightseeing times that changed all my plans.
“Time flies when you are having fun” this could not be any truer. Every day is exciting, with new places to see, delicious food to eat, new places to enjoy the sunsets and sleep, and the excitement of going to the hot water spas every day after a long day. Every second is exhilarating and there is a surprise in every place. 20 days went by in the blink of an eye.
Because it’s a trip we wanted to go slowly and enjoy each place but at the same time see as much as possible in a short time, plus everywhere we went we discovered some place unexpected that seemed too good to pass and so at the end of the trip we ended up not seeing a lot of the places we planned to see. But that’s not a sad thing, it just means we can look forward to going again!

2.    Camper van life is not as inconvenient as I thought.

For me the most inconvenient thing of the whole trip was not to be able to charge my phone at night and sometimes the places to sleep and shower were far apart so that was slightly inconvenient but those are only small things that I can live with.
Other than that, the good outweighed the bad.
Also, because this is Japan there were convenience stores, gas stations, and road stations every where so we never ever had any problems finding food or a place to sleep. 
The camper van became our home, which goes to show that no matter where you are if you are with your loved ones any place can soon become home.

3.    I realize that Japan was an amazing country after all!

I’ve been living in Japan for over 10 years and all this time my view of Japan was rather negative. I saw Japan as an overcrowded, nature less place with tall buildings everywhere. I pictured Tokyo.  
But I was wrong!
On this trip I saw that Japan had some beautiful blue water seas that I was surprised when I saw them on Yamaguchi and Shimane prefectures.
I had always thought that Mt. Fuji was just another mountain but I was marvelled when I finally saw it up close! 
I used to be bored at the countless of shrines that all looked the same to me but my mom taught me a little about the Japanese mythology and songs and it was so much more interesting to see a place knowing all that.
Every town we went through had something to offer and I only wished we had more time to see everything.

4.    There are so many people traveling by camping car in Japan.

I saw a lot of people traveling and living in camping cars outside of Japan, in fact, I was inspired by them but I had never seen anyone do it in Japan. I thought it was rare or non-existent but as we travelled through Japan we found so many people doing the same. Even saw some people who travelled in their regular cars. 
It made me think that it doesn’t matter if you have a camping car or not, as long as you have the will to travel you can adjust any car and go for it. 

5.    I think I would also be able to live in a camping car.

Instead of paying rent and utilities I could pay the car payments and gas. Maybe at the end of the day it wouldn’t be cheaper than living in a house but for sure it would be more exciting and freeing. 
Also, I think that Japan is the most convenient place to live in a camper van because there are supermarkets, convenience stores, gas stations, free road stations to park, hot springs to bathe and coin laundromats almost everywhere. 

6.    But also, I felt grateful to have a home to come back to.

Living in a car means driving everywhere and finding a place to stay at every day some days that can get a bit tiring. Also, in a camper van there were not many moments of privacy. On those occasions I felt grateful to have a home to go back to after the trip was over. 
Another thing that made me miss home was home-cooked meals. Without a proper kitchen and too tired from traveling around we didn’t cook much, so I missed simple homemade cooking.

7.    I had fun BECAUSE I went with my parents.

Traveling in a camper van would have been so lonely and boring by myself. And on those occasions where I got in trouble I was so happy and relieved that I was with the 2 people in the world who always have a solution for every problem.
For example, when I hit the van while parking it and made a huge hole on the side my dad miraculously fixed it until it was impossible to tell that I had crashed it.
And my mom who prepared pots and pans and cooked us much needed simple and yet delicious meals in the car, and she also was the best co-pilot and always found the best places to stay at night.

8.    Traveling with a dog is no problem.

This is maybe because Whiskey is so well behaved but we had no problem at all road tripping with her. In Gokayama there were very flexible and kind people who let Whiskey go inside the museum even though dogs weren’t supposed to be allowed. Shh.
In places where dogs were strictly not allowed Whiskey waited inside the van as if she was home and, in a few days, she got used to it and didn’t cry or bark.
And in those places were dogs were welcomed she ran and ran. Like I have never seen Whiskey run and jump like she did when we took her to Tottori sand dunes, she loved the sand between her paws! And seeing that made me so happy that we decided to take her on this trip. Whiskey is part of this family and she deserves to have all the fun we do. If you have a dog, take him/her on your trips, it will be the most fun and your dog will thank you.

9.    Japan has a lot of nature, but sadly a lot of bald mountains too.

The more south we went the more nature, mountains and forests we saw. But at the same time, there was also a lot of deforestation, people cutting huge chunks of the forests and mountains to build solar panel areas, new roads, new buildings…
Every time my mom saw those bald mountains she would get sad.
I guess there are economical benefits in growing and developing a town, needing more space for progress, but that same progress is destroying nature. This is the reason why we have so many problems with global warming and the balance of the earth is breaking before our eyes.
Sadly, it seems that little by little we are choosing concrete instead of nature.

10.    I can’t decide if Japan is big or small.

By just driving a few hours it’s possible to cross 2 or even 3 Prefectures in a short time, and that made me feel like Japan is so small, but then each Prefecture had so much to see that I felt it was impossible to ever see it all and I would think Japan is too big.
By using the highway, we can quickly get from one place to another in a matter of hours, but if we used the normal roads we saw so many places to stop and relax.
In Japan there are so many franchise stores that can be seen all over Japan making it feel like a small place and yet there are also products and things that you can only buy in that one specific place which makes Japan look big and far apart.
When we stopped in the road stations we would often come across the same people we saw on previous nights making it feel like Japan is small after all.

I will try to make my lazy-ass write more in detail about the places we visited just in case someone else wants to go on a trip like this and wants some information.


Multilingual acupuncturist travelling the world