When you're the CEO of a travel company that brings in more than $400 million a year, it goes without saying that seeing the world is all part of the job.

James Thornton, CEO of Intrepid Travel, admits he's been "so fortunate" in the places he's been in his 14-year career with the company.

Talking to me and co-host Tim Roxborogh for the latest episode of our podcast Trip Notes, Thornton cites Antarctica, Rwanda and New York among some of his favourites. But it was Japan that he chose as our Destination of the Week.

You can listen to Trip Notes for free — the new episode is available now on iHeart Radio, Apple, Spotify, Stitcher ... wherever you usually get your podcasts.

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Intrepid Travel CEO James Thornton, centre, with Trip Notes co-hosts Tim Roxborogh, from Newstalk ZB, and Stephanie Holmes, from Herald Travel.
Intrepid Travel CEO James Thornton, centre, with Trip Notes co-hosts Tim Roxborogh, from Newstalk ZB, and Stephanie Holmes, from Herald Travel.

And in the meantime, here are some top tips for a visit to Japan.

1. Prepare for a culture shock

In recent years Japan has become a lot easier for Gaikokujin (non-Japanese), with more English signs and the benefit of Wi-fi and smart phones to help us get around. But it's still going to be very different from your every day life in little ol' NZ.

"It's so busy, it's so orderly, and the language is definitely a barrier," Thornton says. "But it is such a wonderful destination in terms of the food, the culture, the history ... but it is at the forefront of technology too."

2. Use public transport

"Jumping on a bullet train in Japan is one of the most fantastic things," Thornton says. "You feel like you're almost going to the moon."

Travellers should buy a Japan Rail Pass for easy, affordable travel throughout the country. You can buy 7-, 14- or 21-day passes, but you must purchase them outside of Japan, then get them endorsed at any of the major train stations before your first journey.

Intrepid Travel CEO James Thornton in Japan, with wife Natalie Placko-Thornton and son Art. Photo / Supplied
Intrepid Travel CEO James Thornton in Japan, with wife Natalie Placko-Thornton and son Art. Photo / Supplied

3. Take the kids

Thornton travelled on one of Intrepid's Family Trips — the groups are made up of three to five like-minded families, all of whom have children under the age of 18. For Thornton's son Art, who at the time was 5, it was a big hit.

"He loved the food — sushi for breakfast — and he loved the train rides. Probably the thing he loved most was not the big cities of Tokyo or Kyoto, it was getting off the beaten track and out of the way."

4. Know the rules

Japan has specific etiquette to abide by so as not to cause offence — things like taking off your shoes before going into some restaurants and guesthouses, not showing tattoos in onsens (hot pools), not talking on the phone on public transport and, one which will be particularly welcome to Kiwi travellers, it's offensive to tip.

There are some great guides to help you navigate your way around these rules — I've found Megan Andrew's A Sports Traveller's Guide to Japan (New Holland) particularly useful.

To hear more about Japan, as well as James Thornton's favourite travel memories, and his tips for being an ethical traveller, listen to Trip Notes. Subscribe, and each new episode will automatically download every fortnight — ready for you to listen on your way to work, while you dream about your next holiday. You can also go to nzherald.co.nz/tripnotes to watch video from the podcast.

For more travel inspiration, go to intrepidtravel.com

Listen to Trip Notes at iHeartRadio, or wherever you get your podcasts.
Listen to Trip Notes at iHeartRadio, or wherever you get your podcasts.