If you’re anything like me, you’ll want to save, save, save on everything you do. Going travelling isn’t about spending money on fancy hotels (because at the end of the day, it’s just a place to sleep) or expensive attractions. Decide what you really want to do and see. You’re in Japan after all, walking around and just enjoying the place itself is one of the best attractions anywhere you go.
Travel sites, guides and agents will all tell you, Japan is expensive, one of the most expensive countries in the world! But it’s only as costly as you make it to be. If it’s your style to stay in a 5-star resort, go out to dinner at fancy restaurants with exorbitant prices, and pay top dollar for a tour guide to take you to the far off spas that require ridiculous entrance fees, then of course it’s going to be expensive!
I think if you pick one aspect of your holiday to splurge on (the aspect that matters most to you), whether it be the souvenirs, first class seats, the hotel itself, the amount of attractions you visit or wining and dining about the place, then you won’t be missing out on more important things.
My recommendations are;
Stay in a budget hotel room
Your accommodation is the biggest expense you will encounter (aside from flights). But you can get great prices on a budget hotel or hostel room, plus a taste for the homelier side of Japan. You can get pretty good deals, even in the middle of the main cities, for somewhere along the lines of $60-$80 per person, per night. These room rates also generally include a free breakfast at the buffet for the duration of your stay there.
Another way to save here is to visit in the off-peak season. Prices drop to bring in more guests, and no matter the weather, Japan is always beautiful. Sure, it will be cold in Winter, but there’s also so many more amazing things to experience in the snow!
For cheaper alternatives to hotels, I recommend the following types of accommodation:
J – Hoppers | J-Hoppers is the name of a hostel chain in Kyoto, Hiroshima, Osaka and Takayama in Japan. Prices are ridiculously cheap, leaving you to spend your holiday budget on other exciting things. They offer free wifi and remain close to the best attractions. This chain is perfect for those hopping from city to city in Japan, hence the “J-Hoppers” !
Airbnb | Airbnb is a website for people to rent out and book houses, flats, rooms, etc for lodging and accommodation. It has listings in 192 countries. You must register and create a profile with them before booking any accommodation. Every property registered is accompanied by a host whose profile comprises of recommendations by users, reviews by other guests, as well as a response rating and private messaging system, so you know what you’re getting yourself into. It’s a great way to get private accommodation and you can get pretty good deals that you wouldn’t find at hotels.
Find a cheap flight
Well, flights to Japan aren’t cheap – averaging on the $1,000 mark for return fare (well, there goes half your holiday budget!). If you aren’t fussy with dates or times, be as flexible as possible. Keep an eye out for sales and discounts.
For instance, once or twice a year, Jet Star has a big Japan sale. The price for flights shrinks down to half the cost of the usual fare. This means big savings! The same goes for Expedia – once a year they have ‘The Asia Sale’ where tours and hotel package prices are slashed.
You can usually find out when these sales will occur a few months in advance. If you can work around the time of the sales, you can pull together a great trip on a budget price. In Australia, if you’re under the age of 26, you can also take advantage of a company called Student Flights, which supplies inexpensive hotel, flight and tour deals/packages, without actually having to be a student. Ah, but what about Scoot? FlyScoot provides cheap flights to Asian countries, and Japan is no exception!
For more information on booking flights, visit flights under the Holiday Travel menu. You’ll also be able to find information regarding Japan’s international airports.
Organize transport prior
Under the Trains menu, there were several options on how to use the trains and what tickets best suited which traveler. A great way to save on tickets is to purchase a JR Pass. This pass allows you to take any JR train, wherever you want to go in the country, and as many rides as you want in the time that your ticket is valid (longest validity per ticket is 21 days).
So if you want to travel across the country, this pass is the best way to save money on train tickets. However, if you plan to stay in one city, you can simply walk between destinations, or walk part of the way – why spend extra time and extra dough on the leg of a train trip, when you can walk the rest? Besides, you’ll get to see stuff you may have missed while in the carriage!
For Japan, it generally isn’t recommended to hire a car or take a taxi, due to the high cost involved, and the fact that everything can be accessed by walking or taking the train.
Making your meals
Eating and dining is the other main expense you will encounter. As said above, most hotels include a free buffet breakfast – well, technically free. It’s generally included in the price of the room. Although it has been noted that these breakfasts don’t have a lot of variety, mostly toast, cereal, eggs, rice and coffee. If you don’t like the buffet, you can buy your own food to store in your room and make a meal yourself every morning (such as porridge, which only needs hot water and milk).
You can also pre-purchase ingredients to pack a lunch when you go out, or simply buy a bento box or sandwich from the local 7 Eleven – which are everywhere! This ensures a saving; bento boxes and sandwiches are quite cheap (and pretty healthy too!). If you can, make lunch your main meal of the day, as many restaurants offer midday specials.
For dinner, I reckon you could splurge on a couple of nicer restaurants during the course of your trip. It’s an experience to have, after all. But if you’d rather save the money for more important things, stick to noodle bars, curry houses and other forms of fast food – estimate about $10 per dish.
When setting up a budget and saving for your trip, include an ‘allowance’ for food, because let’s face it, nearly all of your meals will be eaten out while visiting another country. It’s recommended to over-budget for food – about $90 per day ($30 per meal). This ensures you won’t starve, and in the end, you may find yourself with left over cash that you can spend on the fun stuff.
In the worst case scenario where you’ve only got 300 yen left (about $3), relax and know you can still feed yourself. Get to your local supermarket and head straight to the instant food isle, entirely dedicated to instant ramen. Think of it as two minute noodles, only tastier. If you want something even cheaper, there are 100 yen shops around which carry instant noodles for a buck. Heck yeah.
Choose your attractions wisely
This may not even need to be mentioned, because a fair amount of the attractions around Japan are free or close to it. To enter a shrine or temple, there is generally a small entrance fee. If you aren’t keen on doing this, simply visiting outside is just as interesting.
For example, leading up to the Senso-ji temple in Asakusa is a flurry of markets and shops. It’s an attraction all in itself, without having to spend anything – though the market is full of great souvenir opportunities (eek, shopping!).
Some of the more expensive things to do would be visiting theme parks like Disneyland or Universal Studios, or taking a cruise along Lake Ashi (Mt Fuji). You can skip these expenses and swap them for cheaper alternatives like; touring Odaiba, visiting the collective shrines and gardens in Yoyogi park or seeing the Ghibli Museum.
My few last words of advice are:
- Only do the things you’re most interested in – don’t give in to seeing the Tokyo Metropolitan Building if you could care less for it.
- Do only the things you have enough money for. If you don’t have enough of your budget left to go to Tokyo Disneyland, then find something else to do (there are plenty of cheaper, yet still fun, theme parks around).
- In conjunction with that, plan the entire trip (budget and attractions included) way ahead of time. This leaves no room for surprises which may leave you running low on cash.