Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Technology for Travelers

Navigating a new city can be pretty stressful. After spending 9 days in Tokyo & 4 days in Manchester (by way of Heathrow LHR), I can definitively say that having fast, free wifi can make a world of difference in the experience of navigating public transportation systems.

I was able to navigate with Google Maps all over Tokyo with no problems whatsoever. The PASMO train card kiosk was easily switched to English so we could get PASMO cards. Topping up the card with more Yen throughout the week was also easily done.  Tokyo had fast, free wifi in and/or on every train we were on during our stay there.

Landing at Heathrow and attempting to find the correct kiosk to print the train tickets I purchased online was a runaround of bad directions from several different train line employees. Finally I got the tickets, got directions and went down to the Underground station. What I saw on the platform didn't line up with the directions we'd been given so I tried to connect to Google Maps and compare. No such luck. No cell coverage, and the wifi charged me £5 and then it didn't even work. Eventually we made it to the National Rail train which purported to have onboard wifi. The Speedtest app said it was 1.86 down and 10 up, but it was worthless in my experience of trying to use it.

Now that I've had time to decompress after returning home, I did some digging to find out WHY there was such a huge difference in my experience. Here are some facts about the Tokyo train system: built around 1927 or so, current daily rider numbers hover around 8.6 Million people. Tokyo has had free wifi in/around their trains since 2016. London's Underground was built around 1863 or so and currently moves around 5 Million people a day. Back during the Olympics in 2012, there was some limited (an hour a day) wifi on the platforms, concourses and escalators. Now it is all pay-as-you-go (but it doesn't work even if you pay).

Initially I was worried about my language barrier in Tokyo, but that proved to be no issue at all because I had constant Internet access from my phone and didn't have to ask anyone for directions. Comparatively, getting directions in an English speaking country proved to be much harder because of conflicting information and no Internet connectivity to verify what we'd been told was correct or not.

In short - go to Tokyo. Get on the train, use the wifi and go have an adventure wherever you've chosen for your destination. It'll be a lot easier than you might think. Word to the wise: if you've got luggage of any kind - don't use the Underground. Take a taxi or better yet, fly into Manchester instead of taking the tube/train to get there from Heathrow. Trust me on this.

I took about ten million pictures in Tokyo. Here they are.