Travel agents can help to relieve some trip-planning stress—but working with a travel agent isn’t always the best way to discover all the incredible things to do in Japan.
Here, we look closely at the pros and cons of using a travel agency to go to Japan, measured by price, experience, personalization, safety, availability, & authenticity.
Pros: Travel agencies are in contact with airlines, hotels, and tour groups, so they’re (theoretically) able to get you discounted rates and recommend things to do in Japan within any budget.
This comes in handy when you’re looking for the best things to do in Tokyo, for instance. An agent can help you avoid racking up a big bill doing touristy stuff.
Cons: Two things here—hidden fees and commissions. Hidden fees are additional costs that pop up with travel agents, which include travel insurance and booking fees for lodging, airfare, and transportation.
Travel agents make commissions for pointing tourists toward certain businesses, making it difficult to determine if you’re actually getting a good deal on… anything. Ideally, trip planners who aren’t paid commission are the way to go here—especially if they can also help you budget your itinerary.
The best Japan itineraries should be organized well in advance (3-4 months ahead of your travel dates) to avoid expensive airfare or lodging costs.
Pros: Travel agents are known for their experience with trip planning—in theory, they can recommend Japan must-dos that otherwise might go overlooked.
Cons: Most travel agents rarely travel to Japan, and even fewer have actually lived there themselves. Experience with planning can’t replace local knowledge of Japanese culture, language, and customs. When you have a local plan your trip, they can share their experience and personalized recs—as well as point you toward hidden gems in Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto, and beyond.
Your phone might not work the same in Japan—read more about that HERE. When you work with a local to design your trip, you get a personalized, offline map pre-loaded with activities that fit your interests and budgets.
Pros: Generally, travel agencies offer degrees of trip personalization, allowing you to choose from lists of various day trips, lodgings, or guided tours. But since agents work on commission, travelers are often given a relatively short list of companies and connections—ones their agents have arrangements with.
Cons: Because you’re effectively choosing from pre-approved travel options, you won’t find much room for personalization with travel agents. Also, if a travel agent works with a high volume of clients, you’re more likely to visit the same Japan highlights as everyone else. If you really want to customize your Japan experience, travel agencies may not be the best fit for you.
Pros: Travel agents have connections to Japanese tour guides, businesses, and airlines. For this reason, some visitors reach out to travel agents for info on Japan travel safety, particularly if those visitors are going to Japan for the first time and want input from someone who knows Japan well.
Cons: Japan is one of the safest countries in the world, so there’s really no need to spend extra money on a travel agent for safety’s sake. Even the must-dos in Tokyo are in well-known areas that are safe for foreign tourists. When you travel responsibly and exercise common sense, you’ll be just fine exploring Japan solo or with friends.
Pros: Travel agents make themselves available for questions during the planning process. They’ll want to cover your Japan FAQs before you embark to make sure the trip goes smoothly.
Cons: When you get to Japan, getting in touch with your travel agent becomes increasingly difficult, especially if they’re working from the U.S. When you work with a local to plan your trip, they're more accessible. They're in your time zone—and can give Japan travel tips on short notice.
Pros: If an agent specializes in Japan travel, they’ll know their stuff when it comes to the best things to do in Japan.
Cons: Nothing can really replace local knowledge. If the agent doesn’t live in Japan, they’ll plan your trip around the standard places to visit, without the hidden gems that make a Japan truly amazing. You’re less likely to get to Japan’s off-the-beaten-path spots or to meet new people aside from other tourists.
If you want to see Japan like a local—not a tourist—work with one to plan your trip. Locals can create a unique itinerary customized to your interests and budget.
Whether you’re traveling for 2 weeks in Japan or keeping it short and sweet with 3 days in Tokyo, a local can point you toward Japan’s unmissable highlights and incredible hidden gems. Plus, they'll be available with phone support in case you run into issues during your trip.
Welcome to traveling Japan like a local.