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Winter is coming: A bane to all travellers and all travel itineraries?


For all Game of Thrones fans, “Winter Is Coming” is the recognisable motto of House Stark. A warning of constant vigilance against the coming of winter. While a work of fiction, those three words are as important for travellers the next few months with winter bringing with it some unexpected consequences.

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I’m not talking about the cold. That, I think, is taken for granted for travellers. Travellers, not accustomed to the cold will tend to bring warmer clothing. For those more used to colder temperatures, they can make do with lesser. No real issue.

What this post is about is the effect winter has on travel itineraries and in particular my winter itinerary for Japan.

Winter is often tourism’s low season. People don’t travel as much. You lose out on the beautiful sights that abound during summer or autumn; no flowers on the famous Spanish Steps in Rome. Simple things like fountains also don’t operate. Although a downer, this can be managed with lower expectations.

What is of greater significance is the effect of winter on the length of your day. For people more accustomed to living in the tropics, a day is around 12 hours throughout the year. When travelling during summer, a day can stretch up to 16 hours or more. Perfect for sightseeing as you can cover all those spots listed on your itinerary.

I was busy and didn’t have much time to think things through when planning my upcoming Japan trip. For most of my earlier trips overseas (both Asia and Europe), they were taken in summer when the days were longer. I went through the motion of planing my autumn/winter itinerary for Hokkaido allocating things to see and do for each day just like I would for my other trips. But little thought was put to this peculiar aspect of winter. I didn’t realise that sun will be down by 4.30pm each day even in early November. Barely 12 and a half hours of sunlight each day! I had to rethink my itinerary.

Here are my tips on how to plan for a winter holiday and still have an awesome itinerary.

Reduce expectation. Just like Dorothy, I’ve a feeling that we are no longer having those long summer days anymore. So tailor your itinerary by cutting back on the attractions. Keep the musts and leave out the okays and/or hard to reach places. You just can’t cover as much as you would in summer.

Be flexible. While overruns happen all the time, be more flexible when carrying out your winter itinerary. If you really enjoy a particular attraction, consider cutting or reducing time allocated for another. Conversely, if you don’t really enjoy a particular attraction, why not cut your losses and move on to the next? This will help free up time that could be better spent elsewhere.

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Maximise both natural and artificial light. Start your days early! You can’t complain from not sleeping enough especially when night comes so early. Sleep earlier and start your day earlier to get the most from what sunlight hours you have. Correspondingly, arrange and maximise your itinerary by do things that require natural light first thing in the day before planning things that can be done either indoors or under artificial lighting.

For my upcoming Japan trip, I will be arriving in Hakodate late in the afternoon at 3pm. My revised plan is to hit Goryokaku first before going to see the autumn leaves at Kosetsuen Park. I am fortunate enough to visit during the autumn leaves festival where the autumn leaves at the park remain lit up until 9 p.m (I arrive on the very last day of the festival, lucky me!). This allows me to squeeze in one more item on my first day in Hakodate despite me arriving so late in the day.

Some people advise travelling during dark hours so as to not waste precious daylight in a car or bus. This requires some risk assessment balancing the pros and cons. While you get to save time, you also risk accidents due to the lack of visibility and also inexperience driving on slippery roads.

Location, location, location. Choose your hotel location wisely, a centrally located hotel that is close to the attractions and/or the main hub of transport will help cut back on your travel time. Less travelling time means more productive time spent on actually doing some proper sightseeing! While I booked my hotel before I was overly concerned with daylight hours, proper booking ensured that I will still benefit from the central location of my hotel.  

Plan your itinerary to include the minor details. Since timing is already tight you can’t afford to spend your precious daylight hours planning or figuring out where to go and how to go. Make sure to include in your itinerary information the relevant bus numbers/ tram or train direction and also the opening hours. This will help you on the trip.

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What are your tips on how to maximise a winter holiday itinerary? Let me know in the comments.

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