We traveled through Japan for only 25 dollars per couple! Want to know how we did it? Read our 4 tips to travel cheap in Japan.
Japan is seen by many as an expensive country, an impossible destination in Asia for backpackers on a budget. Of course, if you compare it to other Asian countries, Japan isn’t the cheapest destination, but compared to western countries it’s actually not that bad. I’m sure, if you’re living in a western country, it’s not more expensive than traveling in your own country, so why not give it a chance? We traveled through Japan for 4 weeks on the same budget we had in other Asian countries, 25 dollars a day, for the both of us! With these 4 tips you can also travel cheap in Japan.
Of course this budget comes with some preparation and creativity during your trip, and you will have to let go of any comfort you’ve gotten used to at home or while traveling in Asia. Where this budget makes you live like a king in most Asian countries, in Japan it will probably make you feel more like a hobo.
Basically traveling consists of 3 major costs being:
If you can save on any or all of them, you will be able to travel cheap in Japan.
Below we will give you 4 more detailed tips to travel cheap in Japan.
Tip 1: Plan!
Our most important advice to travel cheap in Japan is to make a good plan. We could have saved a lot more money ourselves, if we’d made a proper plan. This plan is mainly for the route you want to follow. Take into account that Japan is a big country. You can’t travel from north to south in just 4 weeks. First of all, you will have to read about the country, the distances, public transport and other ways of transport like driving and flying. See also tip 2 for more information on this subject. Beforehand, think about what places you really want to visit and compare prices for transport options on every part of your route. Book flight tickets, if needed, well ahead to get the best fares.
When you’ve made a global plan, you will need to get more specific. When are you going to be where and how long will you stay there? Not the nicest way to travel, because you really limit your options, but in Japan it’s the best way for sure because booking accommodation ahead is a lot cheaper than booking last minute. There’s many budget accommodation available, but it makes sense that they get booked first. Don’t forget to check Airbnb, because if you have an apartment with kitchen, you can also easily save on meal expenses. Of course hostels are also great for this. More info on accommodation you’ll find at tip 3.
Tip 2: Choose the most suitable transport
By far the fastest way to travel on land in Japan is the bullet train. It’s an investment, but certainly worthwhile if you are going to travel a lot. Use this link to get a good price on your Japan Railpass, at a trustworthy company. You can get it delivered to your home or even a hotel if you’re already traveling. It’s valid on all trains, between big cities but also in the city centers.
You’re not constantly traveling long distances, but just a few times during your stay in Japan? Then it’s probably better to take a bus. For traveling by bus, time should not be your main concern, since it takes some time to get around by bus.
No time to waste, but you want to travel great distance? Fly! Low budget airlines like Jetstar Japan have many options for cheap flights, especially if you book ahead.
Lots of time? Hitchhike! Japan is one of the worlds safest countries, so that makes it the ideal country for hitchhiking. It can be a challenge though, because a lot of Japanese people have difficulty speaking English, but they are willing to help you. So you will get picked up, but be prepared to explain them where you would like to go by other means than speech. Google Translate’s offline mode is a really helpful tool for this. Here you can find other free applications that you might want to look into. Ask locals for the best spot to hitch, there are several designated hitchhiking spots in Japan.
You have a car? Driving in Japan is very slow, especially when avoiding tollways. Average speed is about 40km/h and there are many traffic lights. Mountain roads are, especially in winter, sometimes suddenly closed and force you to make lots of detours. Be aware of this when you start your road trip. If you have plenty of time, it’s not a too expensive way to travel, and it sure gives you a lot of freedom. We traveled by car from Mount Fuji, through the Japanese Alps, to Kyoto, Nara and Osaka, and we saved money to sleep in a tent on the car (as you can see on the picture at the top of this page).
Tip 3: Find the cheapest accommodation
In our opinion, accommodation is one of your biggest costs and therefor free accommodation is always your best bet. That’s why you should start your search on websites like Couchsurfing and Workaway.
On Workaway, most hosts ask for a long term stay, but there are some out there who only require you to stay at least a week. So if you can stay at one spot for week, Workaway might be an option for you. We did a Workaway just outside of Tokyo, which included all meals. So basically we spent a week there without any costs. All we needed to do is invest some time to get the work done, so for us this was ideal to rest up a bit and work on our blog. Of course if you are on vacation, and not traveling the world for a longer period of time, things will be a bit different but still, you should at least consider the possibility of Workaway.
Couchsurfing is always an option. But you need to know that Couchsurfing is not intended for providing you with just free accommodation. The initiative of Couchsurfing is to bring travelers together and let them share cultural experiences. So please, if you are considering Couchsurfing, be sure to spend time with your host and get to know them, don’t abuse your host as some sort of free hotel. They are willing to open up their house, so make sure to treat them with respect.
Couchsurfing, if done correctly, can be a great way to cut down on your budget and at the same time get to know the Japanese culture. Most of the time hosts will offer you some food, so you can taste the Japanese culture outside of an expensive restaurant, but this depends on the host. Don’t count on this to happen, but do be very thankful if it does. Also your host can help you answer questions you might have or give you tips on how to plan your trip. Because who knows better than a local, where to go and what to see. And also what time you should go there to make best use of your time in the country. If you have built a trustworthy relationship with a host, you could possibly ask them for discount passes they might have, that you can borrow for a day to go to a museum or show.
When you want to book your accommodation online, make sure to check out different website. I always use at least booking.com, Agoda and Airbnb to find the cheapest accommodation. All platforms differ in each country and even each town, so make sure to check them all with every new search.
Agoda hands out lots of discount coupons after you have booked something. These coupons you can use with your next booking.
If you use this code on booking.com, you get a US$15 discount on bookings from US$30, and with this code you get 15 euro discount on bookings from 30 euro. When you use these codes, you will receive a personal code after your stay, which you can use to get more discount on your next booking. Just share with friends and family and you will all benefit.
When you sign up to Airbnb using this link, you get a 35 euro discount on your first stay.
Tip 4: Know where to eat
For Japanese meals there is one simple rule; the less demands you have, the cheaper your food will be. Makes sense, right? If you don’t have any dietary restrictions or allergies, your best bet is always the supermarket. We found microwave meals in supermarkets for only 100 Yen, which is about US$1!
A traditional Japanese, and very cheap, dish is silken tofu with soy sauce. The Japanese eat this straight from the fridge, so why shouldn’t you? Tofu is one of the cheapest products in Japan. Supermarkets also offer tofu packages that look a little bit like an omelet, and it comes with sweet syrup. It’s very delicious and cheap. Junk food is always the cheapest option, but if you buy fruit and vegetables in big portions, it shouldn’t be too expensive. Snacks that fill you up easily are salted, dried beans, which you can find in the potato crisps and nuts isle.
When you’re in a city center, it can be hard to find a decent supermarket. Here your best bet would be a convenience store. A nice microwave meal will only cost you US$3, it’s a large portion and it actually tastes good. There’s many options to choose from, so even when you eat this twice a day it’s not boring. All convenience stores can heat it up for you at the spot, and you’ll get free utensils with it.
Got to know any locals, for example through Couchsurfing? They can surely help you to travel cheap in Japan! Often they will know cheap, local, family run restaurants, that you would never have found on your own. This is how we ate in Mount Fuji, one of the most touristic places in Japan, for only US$5 each. They used only fresh ingredients and we could eat as much as we liked, because the cook is like a mom for all her guests and keeps filling your plate. You can use Google Translate’s offline mode to communicate with your host.
Want to cook yourself? A large supermarket is your best option, but even in city centers you can sometimes find fresh fruits, vegetables and fish markets, where you can possibly also find herbs and spices. Luckily cheap Airbnb’s aren’t located in city centers anyway. Buy local vegetables and use Japanese ingredients like noodles, rice, tofu, soy sauce and fish sauce. Sometimes you can also find ingredients to make pasta, but this will be very expensive because it’s imported. Same for granola and cereal. You’re better off just eating miso soup with udon noodles for breakfast, as the Japanese do. Fish is the better choice over meat, because it’s not very expensive in Japan.
The easiest thing to safe money on in Japan are drinks. You can drink water from the tap, so just fill your (re-usable) water bottle at a water tap in the park or at a convenience store. Want to party? You can find sake at supermarkets and convenience stores for only 100 or 200 Yen.
Do you have any other tips for traveling on a low budget in Japan? Please let us know below.
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