Overview: 40th birthday wanderings

It was inevitable that I would spend my 40th birthday travelling, and the trip I put together was a highly self-indulgent one, taking in many of my hobbies and interests. My experiences in Armenia last year had been a confidence boost, so I took the plunge and decided to visit a destination that had long fascinated me, but would have felt impossible for much of my life: Japan.

I wasn’t prepared to gamble on staff travel, and I didn’t have the budget – be it cash or points – to cover such distances in business class. But I did spot that I could fly premium economy out of Helsinki for comparable prices to economy out of London: ticking off another new country along the way, and potentially circumnavigating the globe. My Finnish highlights were largely architectural – or edible – and featured an unusual accommodation option: a prison!

In Japan I intended to keep it simple by staying in Tokyo each night (although I would split my time between three different properties). There are no shortage of things to see and do in such a vast city, and I have only managed to cover a few of my favourites from the capital itself. I always planned to day-trip further afield, in pursuit of some particularly niche side quests inspired by a travel game show. But when my flight from Tokyo to Helsinki was pushed back 24 hours, I opted to spend the extra night elsewhere, picking Hakone for its promise of further transport geekery. Its volcanic scenery and lakeside shrines turned out to be an excellent addition to my trip.

Although food was definitely a struggle, I otherwise found Japan far more accessible than I had feared. It was also utterly captivating, and I hope this will be the first of many visits, allowing me to explore in greater depth.


This trip was also the first one I logged via polarsteps, seeking to strike a balance between the immediate – but ephemeral – nature of Instagram stories and the months it takes me to organise my thoughts for a permanent written record here.

I’m not sure I will use it for all my short breaks, nor document the longer ones in quite so much detail going forward: I tried to cover everything from flights to hotel rooms to individual tourist attractions, which risked getting in the way of actually doing things! Finding a good balance between this blog, polarsteps and FlyerTalk without too much duplication will be key, but I do think it presents new possibilities. Certainly for this adventure it has provided a lasting record of all the small details I couldn’t hope to cover here, and allows them to be browsed chronologically or geographically. You can find the posts here.