Blog Archive

March 05, 2024

Just Always Pray At Night: Before the Trip

Why Japan?

Topeng and I are celebrating a decade of marriage and almost four decades of life. The girls' are celebrating their birthdays and summer break. Travelling restrictions are lifted. It's time for a big trip and this is where it's at.   

Applying for the visa:

Topeng and I still have Philippine passports so we applied for a sightseeing visa via mail to the consulate in Los Angeles. Some of the requirements include: flight reservation, schedule of stay/hotel confirmation, bank statement. The visa fee is waived for Philippine passports. Applications may be submitted no earlier than 2 months prior to travel. I thought it was going to be risky having to book the flights first before acquiring the visa but thankfully, we did not encounter any issues. The visa was also valid for 3 months and not just the travel dates indicated on the flights but it was only for single entry.

Team Converse


We booked Zip Air round trip flights between LAX-NRT.

Pro: budget-friendly (this meant meals and other amenities has to be booked separately and you'll have to download your in-flight entertainment before the flight as internet connectivity on the flight is not good)


- not re-bookable/cancellable (which can cause some anxiety if visa is not granted or connecting flights are delayed. Fortunately, we did not have problems getting the visa and our transit flights are on time.)

- Narita Airport is more than an hour far from Tokyo compared to Haneda Airport. 

- Connecting flights between LAX and TUS are too far or too near apart. Going to Japan, we had to book an overnight hotel in LAX because the earliest flight to LAX is less than 2 hours from the departure to Narita. We had to account for the time picking up the baggage and going through TSA.

 Coming back from Japan, we stayed at LAX the whole day waiting for our Southwest flight to Tucson and to top it off, luggages cannot be checked-in more than 5 hours before the flight. 


Early to arrive deserves some gadget time. :))


I booked all of our hotels via Agoda. They were all free cancellation until 2 days before check-in. 

LA Quinta Inn and Suites LAX: Has free shuttle to and from LAX airport. Charged deposit and had to follow up after our trip to give back the deposit which they did. Room smells like smoke...maybe should have specified non-smoking room in the booking IDK. Free breakfast on-the-go with eggs, sausage, bacon, toast.

Bus ride to hotel

Shinagawa Prince Hotel (Tokyo): Narita Airport Limousine bus has drop off point there. SM condo vibes: is connected with malls and shops and rooms are small. Has 7-Eleven where pork bun, fruit shakes and rice balls were regularly enjoyed for breakfast.:)) We didn't get to try the other breakfast restaurants because they open a little bit later in the morning. Close to Shinagawa Station where you can ride the subway and Shinkansen train and have ATM machine. Has coin laundry on main building but machines are small. Has takyubin (located in their main hotel, we stayed in their annex hotel) for sending luggage to our Kyoto hotel overnight.

RIHGA Royal Hotel Kyoto: Quite a bit of walk from Kyoto station and other attractions so took the taxi most of the time. Has no coin laundry. They also had luggage service in their lobby where we sent to our Osaka hotel. Our stay also included breakfast buffet for two per night so we just used all the vouchers in the same day then ate breakfast from the 7 Eleven across the street.

Asukasou Hotel: Not wanting to miss out on experiencing sleeping on a tatami, we stayed here for one night and the kids (and kids at heart) almost did not want to leave. We were also able to book their private onsen for about 50USD for an hour but they allowed us to stay longer since they had no succeeding reservations for the night. They also have tatami dining in the room but chose to skip this since we were not sure if the kids would like the meals.

APA Hotel & Resort Osaka Umeda Eki Tower: I accidentally booked a smoking room but later requested for non-smoking through Agoda which they approved but did not seem to remember during check-in. Their convenience store (can't remember if it was also 7-Eleven) has more limited breakfast options, is located on the same floor as the onsen and has a mailbox where we were able to send our postcards.  We thought of availing in-room massages instead of the onsen (since they were no private ones) but it was already too late. I believe they also have dining options inside the hotel but did not get to explore. We also did not avail of the luggage service since we did not send them early enough and they may not arrive in Tokyo overnight.  

APA Hotel Ueno Ekimae: We stayed in Tokyo for one night in time for our return flight. I should have booked a hotel with a swimming pool so we can cool off but I did not have the foresight then. We also had to travel by subway to Tokyo Station where we retrieved the luggage we left in lockers the night before and walked to the pickup for the airport bus. 

Packing note: All Japan hotels have shampoo, conditioner, lotion, toothbrush, toothpaste, comb. They can even replace the yukata everyday so adults don't have to pack for sleepwear.    

Other bookings:

I heard of many people interested in going to Japan but did not know why until I started planning for this trip. I thought I could just look up a two-week itinerary and I'll be done for the day. Turns out there are just too many things that kids and kids-at-heart may be interested in: anime, cultural experiences, food. It's just impossible to choose which we want the most. So how did I narrow it down? I didn't.:)) I plotted all the places of interest from a tour company itinerary, friends' itineraries and family travel blogs in a google map. Needless to say, it was overwhelming but at least we know all our options and we just let our tired feet decide for us. However, there were some things that require advance booking aside from flights and hotels: 

1. Japan Rail Pass: We got a 1-week pass from Klook so we can travel between cities during the second week. There were other websites selling them but this has the lowest price at the time. The only limitations were that these were paper passes so you better make sure that you don't lose them and you can't book your seats online so you have to stop by the kiosk at the train station. We claimed our passes from the visitor center upon arrival to Narita airport. I believe if we bought them upon arrival, it would be more expensive. Kids ages 5 and below are free to ride the trains so Yumi did not a pass.

2. Ghibli's Grand Warehouse: Tickets go on sale every 10th of the month and they go by fast. We were really lucky that I got them considering it was a last minute decision.    

3. Universal Studios Osaka: This was the most confusing thing for me to buy. Admission ticket is not all-inclusive and there were several combinations of tickets depending on the attractions. We ended up buying a 1-day studio pass + Super Nintendo World Area Timed Entry from which was based from the recommendation made by my brother-in-law/Topeng's brother who has been there himself. It was the right decision to book it before going given since this timed entry attraction was very much in demand during this time.

October 17, 2020

Fall Break 2020

Stayed overnight at Marriot Starr Pass. Was supposed to be an advanced birthday celebration for Topeng but he didn't get to enjoy it because of work.

The following day, we hit the Reid Park Zoo.

After zoo disasters

Knock out sa jinet

March 22, 2020

MA Trip 2020

Our first girls-only trip. Lily's first spring break. Yumi's first plane ride.

My amazing cousin Emily (and her family) accommodated us for this trip despite growing concerns due to a pandemic. Most of the places she planned to take us to were closed but she made sure that we still make the most of it.

Friday, Mar 13th

I'm not superstitious but this was probably not a good date to travel.:p As if flying with two kids without another adult is not stressful enough, additional precautions like packing masks/gloves and disinfecting/avoiding touching surfaces had to be taken. Thank God, He kept us safe and we did not encounter any obstacles during our flights.  

Saturday, Mar 14th

Arrival in BOS. Hardly caught any sleep during the flight as we were seated at the very back of the plane (e.g. seat does not recline) and slightly separated (e.g. Lily was an aisle apart) so just slept through the morning. In the afternoon, the Perkins took us to Wingaersheek beach then dropped by Rory's parents' house.

Sunday, Mar 15th  

This might be the only day in our trip when we were able to go where planned. Fortunately, since the attractions are found outdoors and it would be easier for people to socially distance, the DeCordova Sculpture Garden stayed open. Credit to Emily for the photos.

Afterwards, we picked up the car rental to fit three car seats. Truth be told, this was my first time driving out of (Arizona) state so you could imagine how nervous I was taking it back to the apartment. God bless Emily for doing the rest of the adulting stuff (like driving and installing the car seats) after that.

Monday, Mar 16th

One hour drive to Nubble Lighthouse and Longsands Beach in Maine. Ininggit namin si Topeng sa lighthouse.:p


Dinner at the Balandan family's new crib

Tuesday, Mar 17th

Ceramica Paint Studio 

Wednesday, Mar 18th

Hiking at Virginia Wood Trail

Baking strawberry muffins

Thursday, Mar 19th

Cake decorating

Friday, Mar 20th

Cousin photoshoot. Matching tops from Tita Em.

Saturday, Mar 21st

Flights back to Tucson