There are plenty of ways to experience Japanese culture on a budget. You can order sushi, take a class on bonsai, or read something (anything, really) by Haruki Murakami. To experience Japan in all its manga-loving, high-tech, Asian-Pacific glory, however, you have to go there. And if you need to travel on a budget, you’ll have to do some planning.
If you follow the value of the yen, you’ll know it’s a good time to visit Japan. Back in 2013, the news was that Japan was a hot spot for American travelers because you could buy 80 yen for a buck. Today, that same dollar will buy you over 117 yen. That’s nice a jump if you’re looking to squeeze as much doing out of your wallet as possible. But the exchange rate isn’t everything. Plenty of people spend way too much when currency is on their side, and others do just fine when it isn’t.
So, how do you plan a great trip to Japan? The three essential travel expenses are lodging, transportation, and food. There are other expenses, too—tickets to shows, museum admissions, souvenirs, the bar tab—but that’s all nonessentials. And whatever you save on the essentials can go toward the nonessentials.
Lodging: Like Europe, Japan has a thriving hostel culture. For solo travelers and small groups of friends, hostels are the way to go. Not only are they often the cheapest option, but if the other guests are willing to look up from their phones, you get to meet a lot of new people. If you like the amenities of a hotel, think about traveling off-season when the rates are better.
Transportation: Research public transportation. There’s no sense in paying for a taxi, when a bus will get you there just the same for pennies on the dollar. (Though the word is that Japan’s taxis are insanely nice.) Uber is an option in Tokyo, but you will want to research cost. The ride-sharing app is running into all sorts of obstacles as it tries to establish itself on the island.
Food: Food is not only essential to surviving a trip, it’s an essential part of experiencing Japanese culture. Frugal travelers know all about stocking up at the grocery store and eating light, but plan for at least one meal every day that will challenge your palate and get you out there eating the way the Japanese do.
Non-essentials: A little bit of googling will show you that there are a lot of free things to do and see. Some cities, like Tokyo, have volunteers who will give guided tours. Public spaces are an essential part of Japanese life, so enjoy the parks and markets. Visit a Shinto shrine or one of the many beautiful public gardens.
Our overall, top tip to travel Japan on a budget is to get the best deal on your flight over. If you’re a college student, or under the age of 26, you shouldn’t be overpaying for your flight to this exciting island-nation thanks to our exclusive deals. So what’re you waiting for? Search for a discounted student flight and discover Japan.