How to Enjoy Tokyo Without Going Broke

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It won’t be the bustling metropolitan that will be the first thing that will get to you in Japan, it will be the politeness of it’s people. They take more care of respecting their visitors than any other culture in the world and if for no other reason, you should visit Tokyo to learn a lesson in good manners.

But all that aside, Tokyo is a bustling metropolis center with so many different travel tastes to offer that I could spend months there and never feel like I have exhausted all the secrets of the capital city. From street markets to beautiful gardens breaking up the concrete jungle, it’s a beautiful place to just breath it all in. So take my tips for saving a little here and there that can make a budget trip feel more like a luxury holiday—it’s easy and won’t feel like skimping!  

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1. Choose Your Dates With Care

Like any travel hot spot, the time you decide to take your trip is critical and with Tokyo it’s no different and you can save a bundle if you go in the off-season. I personally prefer to travel when it’s off-season anyway because it means getting to take my time visiting the big things and fewer lines to get into the hot spots.

When it comes to Tokyo, spring means cherry blossoms and makes April and May really busy times to be in the city, as well as the end of summer, and around the holidays for Christmas and New Years, so if you want to make a go of it without the huge prices, go on an unassuming week in October, November, February, or March—it’s the best way to see your money stretch a little further.

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2. Take Public Transport

There’s no denying that taking the subway in Tokyo is an adventure all on its own; with many different lines, crazy rush hours, and more, it’s a no-brainer that you have to have your wits about you as you grab the Ginza line at Omote-sando Station.

But the other no-brainer is that there’s no better, or cheaper, way to get around the city, so grab a map and practice your breathing exercises; it might take a few times to get used to the sardine like conditions if you hit morning traffic from Nakano to Shinjuku or from Kawasaki to Shinagawa.The Pasmo Card is the rechargeable version of the Tokyo Subway ticket system, or you can get passes for specific routes all along the way and it’s much cheaper than taking a taxi anywhere, especially in a city sprawl that means you can’t walk everywhere you need to go.  

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3. Eat, Stay, & Play In A Neighborhood

Tokyo is full of picturesque areas and if you’re going to save a couple of dollars here and there, stay in a place outside of Shinjuku or Harajuku, which will be big cosmopolitan areas that will have the highest prices. My favorite place to stay in is Shibuya and travellers benefit from the great nightlife that surrounds the student and young office worker neighborhood. Its got the “Times Square of Tokyo” location and is close to other big areas so it makes grabbing a train ride to the neighboring district is no big deal.

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I also suggest to look for alternative ways of sleeping: home shares, hostels, Airbnb, and if you’re travelling solo and want a unique take from a local, couchsurfing. Hotels can be expensive in prominent areas, and the share economies in Tokyo are also helpful for getting a bird’s eye look at the local goodies—hosts are always great resources for good finds and it’s good for the finances as well.

Pro-tip: In Tokyo there are really cool, really cheap ways of travelling if you’re trying to cut on spending and they’re called capsule hotels. With just enough space to sleep, and freebies like personal televisions, spots to lock up your stuff, and shared bathroom facilities, it’s for people who like hostels but are light sleepers and prefer to have their own space. But be warned, it’s not for the claustrophobic! Also, if you book using a Japanese site, you’ll get a better price.  

4. Buy A Local SIM Card

My personal money saving tip for most travel destinations is to let go of your cell provider’s international plan and opt for a local SIM card instead. I have an extensive collection with the tiny tech cards from all over the world to prove it, because not only does it save you money in roaming charges, but you also get cheap rates and great bars because you’re tapping into the local providers. What’s better than that?

The first thing I do when I arrive at the airport (or train station, or bus station) is immediately make my way to a cell phone station to purchase the card. Not only will the cards be cheap here and you can get started being connected immediately, you can have the employees help you install. If you grab it at a convenient store and want to do it yourself though, it’s really easy. Just pop open your phone, put in the card, and viola! If you have any trouble getting your phone to start, you might need to unlock it first, but most phones come already unlocked and you can skip this step.  

And the best part is that using a SIM doesn’t interrupt your regular service, so no need for extra hassle or price hikes—it’s a do-it-yourself that will save you and it’s easy.

5. Use Your Credit Cards

While it’s never a bad idea to have a little cash with you wherever you go, I do think it’s a much better system to travel with cards rather than a wad of cash. The charge per transaction from your bank or credit provider is going to be anywhere from 3%-5%, which is going to be a lot cheaper than the price of commission at a exchange center. Not only will exchange places totally rip you off (and doing it at home with your bank requires a lot of planning) but many credit cards offer reward programs for flights, meals, hotels, and more, when you use them abroad so you can get cashback on coupon deals for the next time you travel while you’re abroad.

Also, it’s a great way to keep track of your expenses and doesn’t require that you save all of your receipts. All it takes is one call to your credit card company to make sure they don’t put a hold on your account (I usually authorize a region, just in case I’ll decide on a day trip around) to get started.

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6. Be Judicious With Your Souvenirs

I’m already one to be totally against the bad practices of tourist traps that sell Bangladesh made goods in Paris (like shot glasses and desktop Eiffel Towers), but it will save you a lot of money if you make some smart choices. There are some really great buys, like Kokeshi dolls, that will make you want to throw down the yens.

First, I’m a big fan of Ink Cards and Postagram, two apps that change your photographs into beautiful postcards that can be sent internationally right from your phone, as well as Social Print Studio’s square magnets that make great souvenirs that mean you aren’t carrying around presents in your limited space.

My other souvenir tip is to get small things that represent Japan but won’t be found in the shops—chopsticks, packets of ramen noodles, and stamped subway tickets are great little trinkets that can save big in the long run but also have a personal touch of Tokyo.  

7. Eat Street

Sushi in Tokyo is beyond amazing, and if you’re a lover of the American or European Japanese sushi, let me tell you something: you know nothing. In Japan, there’s no spicy mayo on anything, just fresh fish, sticky rice, and perfect ingredients all around. And that’s why at least one meal you need to make a stop a verified institution for some great Tokyo cuisine. But this is not a wallet-friendly adventure, and the rest of the time, you should definitely save with cheap eats because not only are they good for the budget but they’re delicious as well.

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Supermarkets, street food stands, convenient store, and even ticket machine restaurants can make for a delicious meal that can counteract the fact you dropped a lot of money at dinner Sukiyabashi Jiro because you watched Jiro Dreams of Sushi on Netflix too many times not to.

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Whether you’re headed for the Harajuku fashion, the Shinjuku vibes or the serene temple gardens, Tokyo is a place that everyone should visit at least once in their lives and with a little smart navigating, it can be a trip that everyone can take as well, no matter the budget. So book your flight and get to packing, Tokyo is calling!

Bon voyage!

This post was written by Claire Lovesti; traveler and chief blogger at www.traveltio.com.

All images via shutterstock

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