I love to fly; especially takeoff. That feeling where the plane picks up insane amounts of speed, your body is shoved back against the seat, and suddenly you’re airborne. Your body gets sucked downward into the seat as the plane fights gravity; you feel like you weigh a million pounds. Then suddenly you’re light as a feather and winging your way to your destination. It gives me a rush every time.
However, traveling long distances can be tough. Waiting in airports. Airline food. Customs. Taxis. Finding a hotel room. These are all annoyances that come with long distance travel. Recently I had the opportunity to travel a very long distance, 5838.57 miles (9396.02 km) to be exact. Because I’m a girl on a budget I bought the cheapest flight from Beijing, China to Seattle, Washington and that flight included a 22 hour layover in Narita, Japan.
22 hours is a long time. I meant that my total travel time ended up being 35 hours and 10 minutes. Yeesh. But it turns out that my 22 hours was not wasted. In fact, I rather enjoyed my layover.
I left my friends’ L and S’s apartment at around 11:30 am for my 2:45 flight. L graciously helped me haul my heavy luggage through metro security and into Beijing Airport. By the way, it’s totally worth it to take the metro rather than a cab. Sure you have to run all of your luggage through the scanners and sometimes haul it across miles of underground passageways, but in the long run it’s cheaper. 25 RMB ($4) each way on the airport shuttle plus 2 RMB ($0.30) to get to that stop, versus a 300 RMB ($49) cab ride.
Getting my luggage onto the plane ended up costing me a lot of time and energy, but I was prepared for it. I had to pay the cost of an extra bag, plus both bags were seriously overweight. No worries, I had planned for all of that. Total cost: $180. Way cheaper than I had expected, but still a hassle to pay for.
Tip for travelers: Chew gum as the plane ascends and descends; this helps keep your ears from popping.
The flight was uneventful, and I was grateful to have picked an aisle seat. I used to always pick the window, but I’ve learned that the discomfort of having to bother people when you have to pee is not worth 5 minutes of a cool view. Plus legroom in the aisles is always appreciated, even for those of us that are 5’2”.
Upon arrival there was some confusion. Did I have to go to the international terminal? Did I have to leave the airport? Where do I go? I’d done a little research, and learned that there were showers available and possibly even rooms to rent for some sleep, I just had to find them.
After going through every procedure to get to the international terminal I found out I was in the wrong place and had to backtrack. Oh well. It’s always fun to explain to security that you’re just going back the way you just came because you messed up. They don’t think you’re suspicious at all…
I made it out through customs and looked for a place to crash. Turns out my romp through Narita was a waste of time, and it put me past the room rental. Sigh, now I had to find a hotel.
Luckily, Japan is a nation of incredibly kind, helpful people and the ladies at the information desk were incredibly helpful. They gave me a list of hotels to try near the airport and showed me where to catch the shuttles. I made it to a hotel by 9 pm local time, grabbed a sandwich from the vending machine, and even had wireless internet that allowed me to check in with friends and family.
The next morning dawned bright and sunny, and EARLY. I don’t sleep well the first night in a new place, and traveling makes it harder. So I was up by 6, and ready to go out and face Narita by 8. I checked out downstairs, and went over to the obligatory fliers that are set up in every hotel. I picked one at random, and found a map of a temple and tourist district that looked like it could distract me for a few hours. Excellent!
I checked my luggage into storage at the airport and hopped a train to Narita proper.
The town was so cute, a little touristy, but who cares? I was free to wander and look at whatever I pleased. And since I was travelling alone, I didn’t have to check with anyone else, or work around someone else’s foibles.
The temple area was gorgeous, and it helped that it was a beautiful day too. Although, the map did not indicate that everything was on hills. I was expecting some nice strolling, instead I did a lot of climbing and hiking. Oh well, it tired me out for the long sit on the plane ride.
There were turtles resting on a turtle-shaped island. Beautiful temples with people praying or meditating. Peaceful ponds full of some of the largest koi fish I have ever seen. Not to mention the very cool calligraphy museum.
After an idyllic afternoon exploring the temple park and the calligraphy museum I walked back up the touristy street pausing to look at all the knick knacks available for purchase. My stomach let me know that it was past lunchtime and I stopped in a little sushi restaurant. One of the coolest meals I’ve ever eaten.
The menu was helpfully in English and Japanese and included many pictures, but I was heartened to see a few locals enjoying their meals. I sat at the counter and ordered a soda and pointed out what I wanted to the sushi chef behind the counter. Oddly, he didn’t hand me a plate of sushi when he was done preparing it all. Instead he wiped down the glass counter between us and placed all of my sushi on it, right at eye level. It was stunning! I thought I’d had sushi before, boy was I wrong. All of the fish was three times the length of the tiny patch of rice it came on. Each piece was beautifully seasoned with wasabi (real wasabi too, none of that horseradish dyed green).
After my fabulous sushi lunch I trudged back to the train station and managed to buy a ticket back to the airport, almost. I attempted to use an automated machine but underpaid for my fare. The woman at the ticket counter however was just as helpful as all of the Japanese I’d encountered and showed me where to get on the train, and explained that I could pay the difference I owed at the airport station. Lovely.
All in all I’d say that having a 22 hour layover was great. I got a chance to sleep in a bed, shower, change my clothes, see a little culture, and eat an authentic meal. If you’re not in too much of a rush to get to your next destination I recommend a 22 hour layover, particularly in Narita, Japan.