Observation: Traveling outside metropolitan areas

The past few days were consecutive holidays in Japan due to the scheduled Tokyo 2020 Olympics (which were ultimately postponed to 2021). As a getaway from the pandemic heavily hampered Greater Tokyo area, I travelled to parts of the Tohoku region of Miyagi, Yamagata, and Fukushima prefectures with main focus on Miyagi prefecture’s Sendai city.

I made some observation notes as a traveler who hailed from the metropolitan area (and maybe will be helpful for you who intend to travel in areas that are less populated), shown below.

  1. The number of trains available per hour greatly varies depending on location and its status (whether it is a tourist hotspot, etc.). Planning ahead is greatly recommended especially if one doesn’t want to waste time and/or at a tight schedule. The usual frequencies range from one per hour to one every 2-3 hours. It is always a good idea to factor in the departing hours if you are in a tight schedule like I was.
  2. Not all JR stations accept the use of IC cards (e.g. Suica). It is always a good idea to check the noticeboard / plaque cards, etc. placed at the departing station for the IC cards usable/covered area. If the destination station is not covered within the IC cards usable area, purchase a paper ticket (Hence, it is not the case where IC cards should always be charged beforehand in terms of using the trains!). Having living in Greater Tokyo area for the past few years, I have been completely got used to using Suica in daily transport until I find it indispensable.
  3. Certain train lines in cities do not accept the major IC cards (e.g. Suica, Pasmo) but only the local IC cards, e.g. Fukushima’s NORUCA. In this case, falling back to paper ticket is one’s safest bet without purchasing the local IC card (except if you are a frequent user).
  4. Travelling via Shinkansen bullet train still allows the use of IC cards to exit a station where Shinkansen bullet train is served, but not local trains (depending on region/area). I observed this at JR Yonezawa station where shinkansen travelers can exit the station by “tapping” to exit. Local trains, however, still rely on paper tickets for manual inspection by the train station staff.
  5. Cash, cash, cash. Cashless transactions may had become mainstream in urban areas, but in rural areas, such as town and small cities, cash is king. Get stuffed with a reasonable amount of cash whenever possible beforehand.
  6. Unplanned stops result in unexpected discoveries. Cliché, but true. I finally visited the area where NHK’s Asadora “Yell” is based at, which is at Fukushima.

I might write an elaborated post for some of the points shown in the future. Travel is always fun, but not in the case of a global pandemic ongoing.

Travel note: Activate debit card overseas

I was in a predicament while travelling in Taipei where I needed to pay a huge sum of money for accommodation due to issues in my Airbnb accommodation. In my trip, I brought cards issued from Japan and Malaysia.

Can your card be used overseas?

This might sound odd, but credit cards surely can be used overseas. No, I’m talking about debit cards. Usually, these cards cannot be easily used overseas unless their overseas use has been authorized beforehand.

Although this highly depends on bank, this feature can be easily turned on/off via the online banking service. Activating it was a breeze – simply logging in to the online banking service, turn on the overseas debit card feature, and confirming the action via a secured way (e.g. entering an authorization code).

Well, I forgot to activate the feature in my Malaysian card. No wonder my debit cards were virtually useless at that point. I was greeted by various apologetic looks from the hotel receptionists as they informed me that the transaction was denied.

Increasing your credit card’s upper limit

My credit card issued in Japan is the only way to settle huge sums of money when needed. A swipe of it proved to be failed as well, as I had used it earlier when I needed to urgently find a stay.

Check the spending upper limit, my instinct told me. Indeed, a quick check using the phone’s app showed that the swipe would made me instantly hit the spending upper limit previously set.

Luckily, the credit card’s online service allowed me to temporarily raise the spending upper limit, so I quickly took advantage of that. Since this was my first credit card, I’m not quite sure of other companies’ feature. I wondered if this feature was standardized worldwide, as the upper limit will be automatically reset to the preconfigured spending upper limit after a certain amount of time lapsed.

Will it require a confirmation code to be sent? Will it require a phone call to verbally verify your request? What happened if the act was done overseas? These questions do need to be researched further.


I noted the followings as reminders for me should I travel overseas again next time. I hope you will benefit from them too!

  • Activate the appropriate debit card’s overseas use feature before you depart from home country. This allows you to use the debit card for payment and withdrawing cash when needed.
  • Allow at least 24 hours to ensure the feature is properly activated and acknowledged by the bank. Check your bank’s information to know more.
  • Secure an amount of emergency funds. You may never know if you need to access them.
  • Know your credit card’s upper limit, and if possible, the amount of money usable by the credit card.
  • Know the ways to instantly (temporarily) increase your credit card’s spending upper limit when needed.
  • If the credit card’s spending upper limit cannot be increased instantly, be sure to increase it and confirm the increased spending upper limit prior to departing from home country.
  • If credit card cannot be used, use a debit card to perform the payments instead. Bullet point #1 applies here.
  • Under dire circumstances, use cash payments to mitigate the issue. Then, find ways to withdraw cash via ATM or other ways (e.g. Western Union)

Travel note: Checking the written address

Where are you?

I was in a predicament where I couldn’t locate my Airbnb place via the standard maps app in my phone. According to the place written in the Airbnb app, it pointed to an alley but no exact building name and number was written on it.

Equipped with the full address noted beforehand, I asked the taxi driver the place and he drove me there. Nowhere was a building that matched the description in the address (because there wasn’t one in the first place). However, a building with multiple floors seemed to match where I was supposed to stay.

Attempts to enter the building failed as the supposed lockbox was not available, and the entrance was locked.

Contacting the host

There were multiple ways to contact the host. Prior to my trip, I had requested a change in accommodation stay length via the app but it wasn’t entertained.

Sending multiple private messages via Airbnb’s feature proved to be unfruitful as the host didn’t respond to any of my messages. At that point, I felt frustrated.

I called the host’s registered Taiwanese number, yet I was greeted with a message that the phone was switched off. The friendly taxi driver voluntarily called the number using his phone, yet, no one had answered the call.

Seeing this situation happening, my heart immediately sank.

The accommodation rate in the capital was very high, especially during the holiday/peak season.

As it was late in the night when I searched the accommodation, I resorted to stay in a nearby hotel. Indeed, the rate was multiple times higher than the planned Airbnb accommodation, yet, this wasn’t unexpected.

For the rest of my stay in Taipei, I stayed at another hotel relatively near to my girlfriend’s university at a reasonable rate.

Requesting for a refund

According to Airbnb, one can request a refund, but depending on the timing when the refund is requested, you could get either a full, partial, or no refund. Cases where the stay period has begun are entitled to no refund usually.

In my case, I was entitled a full refund after I sent a support request via their Resolution Center. In my request, I did send screenshots of the conversations between the host and I, and a detailed explanation of what happened.


Here are some takeaways I had noted for myself. However, I hope some of these can be of a help to you too!

  • Ensure the address provided is available in English and the local language (e.g. Traditional Chinese or Japanese).
  • Make sure the provided address can be pinpointed in a maps app (e.g. Google Maps, Apple Maps).
  • Take note of all contact information of the host beforehand.
  • Take note of the refund information/ways via the platform you used to book the accommodation in case similar cases had happened.
  • Take photos (screenshot) of all interactions with the host. If physical paper is used, be sure to scan/take a photo of it.
  • Do not use platforms other than the one that hosted your accommodation to perform any operation concerning your stay (e.g. sending extra money unofficially to the host, such as a direct bank transfer to the host’s account, sending a private message using other apps, such as Whatsapp to request for room related services).
  • While in doubt, contact the host immediately, and escalate to the platform provider should the host is not responsive.
  • Always prepare an emergency fund in case the accommodation is not available for you, and you need a place to settle down fast.