This was Barneyís and my first experience with a package tour, and I hope we learned some lessons from it. The difficulties of full participation in the Rotary convention itself are discussed elsewhere. The real overload began when the convention ended and we began our tour of Japan.
If we had it to do over again, the main thing we would do differently (aside from packing lighter, of course) would be to do much more advance preparation. My daughter reminded me that we had little opportunity for such preparation before our departure, but I suspect that sometime during the months between our initial booking in September 2003 and our departure in May 2004, I could have found time to do at least some of the research that I have put into completing this Web site. Perhaps it would not have helped, but I think that knowing more about the sites we were going to visit (especially what special features to take note ofóand photograph) would have made a big difference.
Our tour guides did a terrific job of giving us this information on the bus during our travel to each site, but it was just too much to take in. To begin with, it was just hard to hear and understand her. Unwisely, given my slight hearing loss, we tended to sit in the back of the bus (where there was more leg room). Despite the excellent PA system, the combination of background noise and her accent made it difficult for me to process the information she was providing. More serious was the problem that much of the information was given while we were actually touring the sites. Without a PA, Kyoko could be heard only by those closest to her, which could never include our entire group, and if I dallied momentarily to take a picture, then I missed out on some of the information. Also, although I took notes on what she said on the bus, I couldnít take notes while we were actually touring.
The end result was that we returned to the United States after nineteen days to find that most of our experience was a blur. I gather this is not unusual: a friend that Barney talked to said that in such cases what you retain is a series of vivid mental pictures not connected securely to anything in particular, much less any chronology of events. The brief notes I made in my Day-Timer are helpful, but countless times I have wished I had written in more detail.
The photographs I took provide visual cues, but I didnít take nearly enough of them. It didnít help that I was just beginning to get comfortable with my digital camera (Pentax Optio 330 in case youíre interested), and so I was juggling two cameras, and my pictures were split between film and digital. It wasnít till I returned home that I realized all the humble photo ops Iíd missed. A Google Image search will turn up dozens of photos online of any given temple or shrine; itís much harder to find a photo of just the sort of electric kettle we admired or the way our hotel room looked. And the photo CD I bought of convention photos provides no identification of any of the photos, so, although they do seem to be in roughly chronological order, it was sometimes impossible to be sure the photos were what I thought they were.
Lessons learned: Learn as much as possible in advance about the places you will be visiting and take photos of everything. How I wish I had photographed every meal before I ate it, every restaurant we ate at, every room we stayed in, and so on!