Solo Travel in Okinawa

Particularly when the weather is not so hot, I enjoy reminiscing about my sunnier travels. Today I’m going to take a look back at my 2 trips to Okinawa as a solo traveler.

New Year's Blog Resolution: Post more inevitably awkward photos of myself.

New Year’s Blog Resolution: Post more inevitably awkward photos of myself.

I was really worried about traveling alone in Okinawa. It was my first time traveling to a destination with no set plans aside from flights. I find that safety is not as much of an issue in Japan as it is in other parts of the world. However, I also find that the Japanese tend to be culturally less likely to become friendly with strangers.

It turns out that Okinawa is both very much “Japan” and very much not. Most of all, in Okinawa, they don’t let you travel alone. Solo, perhaps, but never alone. I’d even go as far as to say that going without a travel buddy actually enhanced my trip.

Climbing on boulders is oddly very fun, though not advisable if you're not wearing shoes...

Climbing on boulders is oddly very fun, though not advisable if you’re not wearing shoes…

I was free to roam around as I pleased, attempt to bike ride, talk to a café owner for 2 hours, and it really forced me to get out of my shell and talk to other travelers and locals alike. After all, you do become a bit more approachable when you’re not perpetually engrossed in conversation with someone in your own party.

When I expressed uncertainty in where to stay on the rest of my trip, the person I was talking to suggested that I simply ask the other guests at the hostel. Many people who travel in Okinawa travel around to different islands so they are your best resource. The people who work at guesthouses are also a great resource. Many of them work in exchange for a place to stay while they travel around the islands.

Okinawa is known for their yuntaku, getting together and drinking awamori after dinner, a great way to meet fellow travelers and locals who might stop by. The guesthouses also often offer group meals and/or outings for a nominal fee. I’ve found that this is the case less for the money and more because everyone- travelers and lodging owners/workers alike- just want to have a good time.

Fireworks at the beach party we had where we stayed in an abandoned building.

Fireworks at the beach party we had where we stayed in an abandoned building.

One of the hostel owners that I met even took pity on me and took me on a tour to see all the observatories on the island we were on, out to sea to snorkel, and just generally hung out- often making new drink recipes involving awamori.

I rented a car with 3 other solo traveling gals to explore Ishigaki island and am still in touch with them. As a natural introvert, it was so nice to not only be forced into coming out of my shell, but also to be surrounded by so many welcoming extroverts.

Our adorable rental car! No, I did not drive.

Our adorable rental car! No, I did not drive.

That’s not to say that you should completely let your guard down and go all out. There are some seedier sides to the island that should be noted- especially for women. Many people have the “anything goes when I’m on vacation” mentality and I have observed very disappointing expat conduct. Okinawa is also especially susceptible to typhoons during typhoon season.

That being said, if you’re generally careful and out to have a good time enjoying the sun and learning about Okinawa’s unique history and culture, you’re bound to find yourself in good company, even if you arrive solo.

TIPS:

Stay in hostels or guesthouses that offer yuntaku. Check to see if they provide the drinks. If you don’t drink, bring a beverage of your choice. Most of the time the purpose of these are to share experiences, not to get shwasted.
Go out to the smaller islands. This is where you will meet Okinawa fanatics who repeatedly travel around the islands until they inevitably decide to move there. Remember, in Okinawa, less is more. Enjoy making connections and enjoying the natural beauty of the islands.
Ask other travelers for advice re: lodging and activity operators.

and sometime you sit around all night singing your heart out

and sometime you sit around all night singing your heart out

// What is your favorite solo travel location?
// Have you ever gone on a trip solo before? Share your experience below!

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7 Responses to Solo Travel in Okinawa

  1. This totally sounds like an indie movie, with the spontaneous roadtrip with strangers and playing guitar in the middle of the night in a hostel! I love the random friends and spontaneous adventures you come across when traveling solo :)
    Julie @ A Life Exotic recently posted..Edinburgh Castle, and a WanderMy Profile

  2. Stephanie says:

    Hey Erica! I stumbled upon your blog while looking for information about Okinawa--thanks for sharing your experience! It is SO HARD to find information about Okinawa + surrounding islands in English aside from super-touristy things to do on the main island; it’s been frustrating and I am so at a loss as to how my itinerary for my Okinawa trip should be structured!

    I am going with my family (4 people total; I have parents who are adventurous, but…still, we’re a family, so hostels might not be in the cards for us) + we really want to focus on snorkelling and just enjoying the beach. We may spend like a day on the main island, but no more. I’ve read that Ishigaki and Taketomi are two good islands for that; as is Zazami. Would we have to rent a car to get around any/all of the islands except the main island? And if you have any tips/suggestions for us, I would SO appreciate it!
    Stephanie recently posted..Interview: Herban Kitchen & BarMy Profile

    • Kizzle says:

      Hi! Thanks for stopping by :)
      The best part about Okinawa is that you can usually just swing things while you’re there. It’s so laid back and people there are generally so friendly and welcoming that you’ll be able to find what you’re looking for so don’t worry too much if you can’t find the amount of information that you’re used to seeing online.

      Minshuku are more traditional guesthouses, and what I’d recommend for you and your family. Some islands, such as Taketomi primarily have these family run lodgings. The popular ones on Taketomi (such as the one I stayed at) tend to book up fairly fast so make sure you make reservations- however, if you don’t really mind, a gal I met on Ishigaki went without a reservation, but was also able to find a nice place to stay. It’s also important to note that some “hostels” are more like casual hotels. The places that I stayed in Ishigaki and Zamami were not what you’d think of when you typically think “hostel,” especially if you book a private room. I’d highly recommend both. Many places, such as Cat’s Kerama in Zamami, are run by divers and offer snorkeling packages or will at least point you in the right direction.

      As for a car, I’d say that it depends on what you’re looking to do and the size of the island. If you get a snorkeling tour, chances are that they’ll pick you up. If you’re on a small island such as Taketomi, you can walk around just fine, or rent a bicycle when you get there. A car would be overkill. However, if you want to see more of Ishigaki, and get the best Okinawan ramen of all time, I would recommend renting a car :)

      Hope that helps!

  3. Izumi says:

    I came across our blog as well while searching for tips on backpacking Okinawa. I have been there before as well and I cannot wait to go back!

    I read on your other post that you stayed at Gekkousou - I was wondering how you would rate the place? The reviews on tripadvisor weren’t too great so I was wondering how you felt about it! I’m a girl around your age so I’m really interested in what you thought :)

    Btw, I really love the pictures on your blog! Some are digital and some are film, no? What cameras do you use?

    Thanks for blogging about your experience!

    • Kizzle says:

      Thanks for reading! I’m so jealous you’re going back - it’s definitely at the top of my list of places to go back to.
      It really depends - how do you feel about a shanty that’s obviously been added onto by non-carpenters and dirt floors that happens to come with the most welcoming community you can imagine? This place is one of the reason that I continue to go back. I know that for some people, the lodgings themselves is too off-putting to enjoy, but I guarantee that if you share a couple meals with them, you will find yourself with new friends to explore the islands with. Just beware - it’s an easy place to have one too many drinks. Take lots of bug spray and shoes you can easily slip on and off.

      Thank you! I take most of my photos on my Canon Rebel Ti3. Some of the Okinawa photos were actually taken on a disposable camera (because I was in such a rush to be somewhere on time, I totally forgot my camera at gekkousou)- this actually reignited my love for film and I now have a film SLR and Minolta that friends gave me.

      I’d love to hear about your experiences in Okinawa! Do you have a blog?

      Happy Traveling!

      • Izumi says:

        I didn’t think I would get a reply! Thank you.
        I am planning a trip to Okinawa and maybe one of the smaller islands for next May. Perhaps Zamami island? With a student budget, I feel like that kind of place sounds perfect - I’ll definitely look into Gekkosou.
        I am planning also a solo trip and I can already imagine myself carrying a lot of cameras! I already feel so giddy researching all the places to go.

        I unfortunately do not have a blog (as I do not write as well as you) but I’m hoping to make maybe a tumblr with travel photos one day :)

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