Japan isn’t well known as a top budget travel destination for good reason, it isn’t cheap. But if you want to know how to do Japan on a budget here are the top 10 tips. Japan appears on almost every travellers list at some point or another as it is a truly unique and beautiful place to visit. Read on to find out how to visit Japan on a shoestring budget.
1. Cut out the middle man
Avoid organised tours in Japan and you can save yourself a bundle of cash. The transport network in Japan is world famous for being reliable and with the recent upgrades to provide signs in English at many major cities it is now easier to use than ever before. By using sites like Hyperdia you can plan your journeys easily online. Plan out the perfect Japan backpacking itinerary before you visit to save money and time.
2. How to travel around Japan on a budget
Although Japans railways are super reliable and easy to use they sure aren’t cheap! That’s where a JR rail pass comes in. Buy a 7, 14 or 21 day pass to use on all JR trains including Shinkansen bullet trains and even the Hiroshima-Miyajima ferry. Just pre-book online and pick up at specified major stations when you arrive in Japan to save a bundle of cash.
3. Where to stay in Japan on a budget
Hostels are surprisingly expensive in Japan which can make solo travel expensive. Capsule hotels offer a much more affordable option with all of the basic amenities and added privacy. Air BnB is a great option if sharing and couch surfing, although still up and coming in Japan, is a good way to save money if travelling on a budget in Japan. If you are travelling with other people share a hotel room to cut costs in half, just be warned the rooms are generally small and practical so be prepared to get up close.
4. Cut down on meals out
Eating a main meal at lunch instead of dinner time can save you a bundle in Japan, and lunch time offers are everywhere! For even greater savings shop like a local in places like 7/11 where hot food is cheap and delicious. If you are staying in an apartment with a small kitchen its easy to pick up some noodles or fresh vegetables and cook yourself dinner, saving money for eating out as a treat. There’s also no need to buy drinks out as drinking water is available just about everywhere. Tea is often also available at temples and shrines totally free of charge, places like the Nara info point offer this and a warm and comfy place to relax after feeding the local deer. Another great place to look for a bargain are 100 yen shops, Japans version of a pound shop where you can buy almost anything.
5. Where to eat in Japan on a budget
Western food can be extremely pricey in the land of the rising sun. Save money by eating like the locals do. CoCo Ichibanya is a wonderful chain restaurant serving Katsu chicken curry and other easy to order, simple and delicious Japanese dishes. It can be tricky ordering out in Japan and deciphering menus that aren’t in English but you can’t go far wrong with a good Ramen, Teppanyaki or a Teryaki chicken burger from a nearby McDonald’s (It’s a bit taboo for travellers to admit to a cheeky Maccers but these burgers are delicious!).
If you’re in Japan over Christmas take part in the strange modern tradition of eating a large amount KFC for the festive season! Queue’s stretch down the street on the 25th of December due to Colonel Sanders similarity in appearance to Santa Claus and a clever marketing team at the Japanese Kentucky Branch.
6. What to avoid in Japan
So many sights to tick off, but they are all so busy not to mention expensive! A lot of temples and castles are surprisingly minimalist (read empty) inside so not always worth the price, most of the sights are much more impressive from the outside. Some of the best sights are free; including parks, gardens, streets and temples.
7. How to plan a trip to Japan on a budget
Usually last minute discounts are a great way to book your accommodation when travelling but it’s not the case in the super busy tourist hot spot of Japan. Booking in advance is essential to make sure you get a place to stay at a reasonable price. Seasonal prices can vary hugely so be careful when you go to avoid pumped up rates! Booking.com is great for finding a nice place to stay at a cheap price in all of the major destinations.
8. Where to get pocket WiFi in japan
Data is no exception when it comes to Japans expensive reputation. Grab some pocket WiFi with your JR pass to save some money. Starting from £49.50 for 5 days, the pocket WiFi can be used simultaneously with up to 10 devices and provides you with unlimited Internet anywhere! Definitely cheaper than hefty roaming charges or expensive sim cards for each traveller.
9. How to travel around Japan on a budget
If you are travelling for extra days outside of the JR Pass or need less than the minimum seven days grab yourself a Seishun 18 pass. For just 1205 Yen you can travel 5 times on any rail excluding Shinkansen, limited express, express / sleeper trains. You can even split the pass between multiple people often saving up to 50% on the standard ticket price.
10. Have a plan
I’m definitely of the wander around aimlessly and find random things to do variety of traveller but Japan is an exception. It is a very structured and organised country, everything has a specific place and function. Doing some research and having a plan in place before you arrive is the best way to save money and cut down on time wasted when there. Things like free walking tours are a wonderful way to experience the culture and learn a lot more about a place than say a costly museum. It’s all about picking the best bits to suit your price range.
Japan is a beautiful country and should be seen by everyone even if you are on a tight budget. To give you some idea of what to budget for Japan we spent between £30-50 per night on accommodation, £5-40 per meal (for two), the JR and Seishun passes and a fair few sites and souvenirs. In total we spent about £1800 each for 3 weeks (21 days over Christmas and New Year) inclusive of accommodation, all food, transport and activities (not including flights). Look around online and combine these tips and you can get cheap holidays in Japan from the UK.
We took in the main sites (and animal highlights of course) by visiting Tokyo, Nagoya (Mount Fuji), Osaka, Nara (Deer Park), Himeji, Hiroshima, Miyajima Island, Kyoto, Kanazawa, Yudanaka (Snow monkeys, traditional Ryokans and Onsens) and back to Tokyo. Don’t miss this beautiful country because of price restrictions as you can travel around Japan on a budget.
How to travel better for less
Booking.com – I always book with this site if looking for cheap accommodation as the filters are so easy to use. Become a genius member after five bookings and get great discounts too!
Air BnB – Sometimes you can find great local places to stay on Air BnB. In some countries, like Cuba, it’s the only way to book!
Transferwise – A debit card you can use all over the world and get great exchange rates with no hidden fees. This bank has saved me £100’s in bank fees!
Monzo – A similar travel card to the above with additional features like joint accounts and bill splitting.
Ethical Superstore – My go to site for cleaning products, eco clothing and even groceries. All ethically tagged and delivered free from plastic packaging. Plus eco friendly alternatives to your toiletries.
Omio – The place to go for all of your public transport needs in Europe. Save a bundle!
G Adventures – A sustainable, fun, responsible travel company. I’ve travelled with them many times and wouldn’t hesitate to recommend any of their amazing trips.
Contiki – The day job. Group travel for 18/35 year olds and memories to last a lifetime.
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