Japan’s appeals are blindingly obvious, but it’s not your typical budget destination – in fact, it’s not really a budget destination at all. That being said, your trip doesn’t have to be overshadowed by a chronic fear of looking at your overdraft when you return home. As with any backpacking trip, there are always a few travel tips to save your pennies…
1. Plan, and do your research
Japan loves technology and is one of the few destinations in the world which has all the information you could possibly want online. With a bit of careful research, you can figure out your budget before you even book your flight.
Not only is couchsurfing a free place to stay for a couple of nights, it also often means making new friends who know the area really well and want to show you around. Japan is one of the safest countries in the world, and people are without exception kind, generous and hospitable, making it the perfect place to couchsurf – plus you’ll pick up local knowledge on the area you’re staying in, as well as learning more about the culture.
Take a look at couchsurfing.org for more information.
3. Book your hostels in advance
The exact opposite approach to South East Asia: backpacking in Japan may never really take off because of the expense of visiting, meaning that budget hostels are few and far between at times. Booking in advance will save you both money and headaches in Japan. Hostels are definitely the best option for budget travellers though, as despite the bewildering number of options when it comes to accommodation choices in Japan, hostels are still far cheaper than anywhere else. The good news is that everything can be booked online via websites like booking.com or hostelworld.com. Phew!
4. Take advantage of the freebies
All tourist information centres are brimming with useful information and free maps, most hostels and cafés have free wifi, and lots of shops also give out free samples and tasters of local sweets and delicacies. Don’t haggle, though, and remember to take no for an answer – Japanese culture is much more reserved than its South East Asian neighbours. Talking to staff and other guests in your hostel is also a great way to find out what you can do and see on the cheap.
5. 7-Elevens are king
Unlike their US counterpart, 7-Elevens in Japan sell a whole range of decent quality, cheap and very edible food, drink and other goodies.
6. Eat like a local
Eating out in Japan can be pretty affordable and is an unfailingly wonderful experience. There’s really no such thing as bad Japanese food, and thanks to the emphasis placed on honesty and respect in Japanese culture, you’re incredibly unlikely to get ripped off. For the best food finds at dinner time, explore the backstreets and find the izakaya bars or places without English menus – there’s normally someone inside who can tell you what they serve and help you order. It will often be a cheaper and more rewarding experience, plus you’ll get talking to locals and make some new friends.
7. Drink the tap water
Yep, that’s right – you can drink the tap water in Japan!
8. Find the ¥100 stores for your basics
Did you forget your toothbrush? Suddenly, that’s not a problem anymore. Find out from your hostel where the nearest ¥100 store is, and you’re back in track without being out of pocket.
9. If you’re planning on moving around a lot, get a Japan Rail Pass
It’s a bit of a sting when you first buy it, but it’s valid on almost every one of Japan’s numerous types of train as well as several bus and ferry lines, so it’s worth considerably more than it’s weight in gold as soon as you arrive in the airport.
10. You’re still a student – get your ISIC card from STA Travel
Having an international student card in Japan entitles you to a lot if discounts for museums, galleries and cultural attractions, so take advantage!