Watch out Japan! Team Tawcan is heading you way in a few days. Although I've been to Japan numerous times, this will be Mrs. T and Baby T's first time in Japan. We are very excited about spending time in this beautiful country exploring the different areas, learning about the culture, and eating the different types of delicious Japanese food!
Japan can be an expensive country to visit but there are many ways to reduce the cost. Here are some ways that we're keeping our Japan trip expenses low.
Transportation is probably the highest cost when it comes to traveling to Japan. We definitely found creative ways to save money when it comes to transportation though.
Airfare - Typically airfare would be roughly $1,500 per person for economy tickets. We got very lucky and managed to spend roughly this amount for two round trip adult tickets plus Baby T's lab infant ticket. We wanted to go to Japan before Baby T turns two to avoid paying full airfare for him. Since we use Capital One Aspire Travel World Elite Master Card for every day purchases, we were able to have sufficient points to cover our airfare. So on top of the wicked airfare deal that we got, we're essentially flying to Japan for free! If you're considering going to Japan (or anywhere), I highly recommend analyzing airfare cost using Google Flights as the website gives you a good overview of how much airfare costs each day. This will allow you to plan your vacation based on airfare availability and cost.
Train - When it comes to traveling within Japan, Shinkansen (bullet trains), are the way to go. For foreigners going in Japan, one can purchase the JR Rail pass which allows for unlimited use of Japan Rail trains for 7, 14, or 21 days. Typically one would buy the ordinary pass but you can also get the green pass (1st class) if you want to you travel in style. The price of the JR passes change depending on the exchange rate. The latest rates are:
- 7 days – Ordinary $325, Green $434
- 14 days – Ordinary $518, Green $703
- 21 days – Ordinary $663, Green $914
We purchased two 14 day ordinary passes for Mrs. T and I. Baby T doesn't need a pass since he won't take up a seat. Lucky for us, we purchased the passes before the latest price update so our passes only cost us $986 in total, a saving of $50. According to our calculation, a 14 day pass is worth it if we make a return trip to Hiroshima from Tokyo, which we will be doing. I've gotten the 7 day pass in the past and if you make a return trip to Kyoto from Tokyo, you already got your money worth. (One time I used a 7 day pass to travel all the way to Fukuoka from Tokyo, totally got my money worth). You must purchase the RJ rail pass outside of Japan and you must purchase it within 3 months from your travel date. You can only activate the pass when you arrive in Japan. Once the pass is activated, the time starts counting.
Local transportation - We plan to walk as much as we can whenever we cannot utilize our JR rail passes. One time I walked from Tokyo station to Shinjuku station and stumbled upon many interesting things along the way. Walking with a toddler and a stroller may be more challenging this time but we're up for the challenge.
When we cannot walk, we plan to take local transportation. For Tokyo we may take the subway here and there. I already have a Suica card from previous Japan travel and we'll probably be getting one for Mrs. T.
Suica card is great because you can just load the money and insert the card whenever you need to use local transportation instead of buying tickets each time. Many convenience shops in Japan also accept Suica as payment. For Kyoto and Hiroshima, because the lack of local JR trains, we may end up using buses and trams too. Walking will always have priority over local transportation if we can walk.
After transportation, accommodations is probably the second biggest cost for our Japan trip. Not surprisingly, we took the frugal approach when it comes to accommodations.
Airbnb - We are staying at two different Airbnb apartments in Tokyo. Hotels in Tokyo can be really expensive. I remember paying over $300 per night for a tiny hotel room in Ginza for my business trips. The Airbnb apartments we booked are much more affordable, around $70-80 a night. We booked apartments located near stations on the Yamanote line so we can get to Tokyo attractions quite easily. f you haven’t used Airbnb before, use Mrs T's invite and get a $27 dollar credit toward your Airbnb stay.
Hostel - We are staying in a hostel for 3 nights while in Hiroshima. I stayed in this same hostel years ago and absolutely loved it. I've stayed in a few hostels in Japan and they all blew away my expectation. They are super clean and very well-run. The staff I've met are very friendly and helpful. We'll be staying in a Japanese style private room (staying in a dorm room with a toddler isn't a good idea for us or other people) which cost roughly $220 for 3 nights. A very frugal option compared to staying at hotels.
Hotel - Thanks to all my business travels, I have accumulated enough Marriott points for 4 nights of staying in a category 6 Marriott hotel. Marriott offer their members a great deal where you can stay 5 nights for 4 nights worth of points. So we're living it up in style and staying in Osaka Marriott Miyako Hotel for 5 nights for FREE! Apparently the daily rate is 37,420 Japanese Yen per night (~$411 Canadian), so we definitely scored big here.
Outside of transportation and accommodations, food is probably going to be the third most expensive expense for our Japan trip. We plan to check out all the different types of food Japan has to offer. I've had some excellent Japanese food on my various business trips and I hope to show Mrs. T a few of these. We are estimating a $60 per person per day food budget. Baby T probably will share meals with us so his food budget is probably around $10 a day or lower. A budget of $1700 for the two weeks should be more than sufficient. Most Japanese restaurants are cheaper for lunch so we plan to check out these restaurant for lunch and stick with the cheaper options like ramen or izakaya for dinner. We may also check out Japanese fast food/chain stores that serve healthy and tasty Japanese options as well as night markets and street food options. I got Mrs. T hooked on mochi from my previous trips to Japan so Mrs. T wants to eat mochi every day. Maybe her food budget will be a bit higher than mine 😉
There are a lot of free attractions in Japan. We plan to check them out as much as possible to stick to the frugal travel theme. Some attractions like Kiyomizu-dera Temple and Kinkaku-ji cost money but it's well worth it. We also booked the cheapest tickets for sumo wrestling to take in the full Japanese experience. The reality is, we can spend as little or as much on the Japanese attractions. People watching is always free. 🙂
Other Frugal Ideas
- We plan to use credit card to pay most expenses while in Japan and we plan to use Marriott Rewards Premier Visa card since it doesn't charge foreign exchange fee. The extra 2.5% foreign exchange fee does add up very quickly.
- We are exchanging some CAD to Japanese cash before we arrive in Japan. If we need to withdraw cash while in Japan, we'll use our debit cards instead of our credit cards. Credit card companies charge high cash-advance interest rate and the rate starts counting on the day we withdraw money. Not ideal.
- Convenience stores can be a great place to get cheap lunch. Most Japanese convenience stores carry Onigiri (rice balls) for a pretty good price. We'll probably hit convenience stores here and there to save on our food budget.
- Similar to convenience stores, grocery stores and department stores are great places to get cheap and high quality food items. We'll probably check out grocery stores and department stores to save on food budget.
In total we estimate our Japan trip to cost us roughly $4,000. That's roughly $143 per person per day. Pretty reasonable for an international vacation.
Japan is going to be a lot of fun. I'm very exciting to head back to this beautiful country for the 4th year in a row and finally being able to bring my family too. 🙂