I’ve done plenty of solo trips in the last couple of years – my last trip in 2013 was 21 days, SGD$2000 all inclusive. Went to 3 concerts, partied twice, ate comfortably too. While travelling on an extreme budget may seem like a dream to some cash strapped people, but it sure isn’t enjoyable, as it is a waste of time.
The following are some things to take note before reading the guide:
– The typical Singaporean is obsessed with their mobile phones, and uploading their travel photos instantly on the internet. You wish to maximize your savings by travelling in a group or solo – a group will be able to benefit a MIFI device better. Just grab the one offered by our very own Changi Airport. It’s fast and reliable, and best of all, hassle-free. You don’t need to fumble and ask for directions at either Haneda or Narita Airport just to have access to a MIFI device (which may even be more expensive than the ones offered in Changi Airport) and navigate your way to your hotel via Google Maps.
– While understanding Japanese isn’t a requirement to enjoy Tokyo, it does help A LOT. Simply being able to read hiragana and katakana would help you loads, especially when it comes to finding special priced food and lodging. Oh, and don’t expect to be able to find supermarkets wherever you go – not every shopping mall in Tokyo has them.
– Train rides in Tokyo easily costs 2-3 times more expensive than our local MRT lines. Hyperdia helps a lot in that aspect, allowing you to plan your travelling time and cost much better. Make sure you don’t travel during the rush hour.
– Be aware of Japan’s public holidays. Festivities and special events usually happen during that period. Do some research if you wish to maximize your enjoyment.
– Book your flight ticket EARLY. At least 3 months before. Monitor offers from your desired airline company from time to time.
– do some research of the events or concerts you’ll want to go during your travel period.
I will be writing all the costs in Japanese yen, as it is unreliable to use Singapore Dollar as a means to estimate your costings due to currency exchange. I have experienced 1000 yen convert SGD$11.50 and SGD$16 before, so your mileage may vary. Transportation cost from Haneda/Narita airport varies in cost, too. But general rule of thumb is to set aside 3000 yen. I will also be breaking the budget levels into tiers, from cheapest to comfortable.
Basic I: 4300 yen – 4800 yen
Food – 1000 yen (lunch, dinner, 1.5L drink)
Lodging – 2500 – 3000 yen (hostels, shared apartments, airbnb)
Transportation – 800 yen (1 location)
Basic I’s pretty basic. Yes, capsule hotels and manga cafes are good ‘alternatives’, but you’ll get none the desired privacy, space or amenities. Try to find a hostel, or opt for Airbnb if you’re travelling in groups of more than 3. Don’t bother investing into a Pasmo or Suica card, as you’ll be spending more for the card for no subsidized travel costs, unlike our EZ-Link cards. Locations to travel to include areas near train stations, like those from Shinjuku, Akihabara, Tokyo, Harajuku, Shibuya and Ikebukuro. You can spend practically the whole day shopping, mostly. Sightseeing is also optional at such places, but you’ll need to go to the outskirts of Tokyo, or pay through your nose to go up to Tokyo Tower or Tokyo Skytree (2000-3000 yen). Unless of course, you’re including local shrine visits as part of sightseeing. Sakura Hostel gets my approval for its accessibility and cost. House Ikebukuro gets my approval if you have another companion with you.
Basic II: 7000 – 9000 yen
Food – 2000 yen (breakfast, lunch, dinner, 1.5L drink)
Lodging – 4000 – 6000 yen (3 star hotels, business hotels)
Transportation – 1000 yen (2 locations)
If you want slightly more comfort and a lot more privacy (especially when travelling solo), opt for a business hotel if you’re a guy or stay at a 3-star hotel if you’re a lady. Business hotels tend to be near or around seedy district areas, so it’s generally less safe for ladies to stay in that region. One can extend their itinerary to two locations with just an additional 200 yen, since it involves 3 trips. Sometimes, you may even get to book 4-5 star hotels for 6000 yen during non-peak travel periods, which is a steal. There’s also an increase in the food budget, so that you can either start or end the day with a sumptuous meal. General searches at hotels.com or jalan.net will net you pretty good hotels at this price range.
I heard you can purchase food from supermarkets at up to 50% discount in Tokyo. Why didn’t you include that in your guide?
A: As mentioned earlier in this guide, don’t expect to be able to find supermarkets wherever you go. Not every shopping mall in Tokyo has them, or offers their food with huge discounts after 8pm. Besides, do you really want to wait until after 8pm to have your dinner after all that walking to save on transportation?
I’m worried about navigating Tokyo’s railway system. Are there any preventive measures I can take?
A: Use Google Maps. A lot. and Hyperdia. They have been pretty robust over the years. Hyperdia is very reliable as well. Print out or screencap them, and make sure they have some Japanese text so that the information counter can guide you should you end up getting lost.
More great tips from friends:
– Use Skiplagged if you just want to travel and don’t intend to do much shopping at all – they only allow carry-on luggage. (from Lenon Peh)
– If you can bear the suica/passmo initial cost, it’s worth getting one and using as much as possible. You can pay transport, vending machines, convenience stores and now many restaurants if you’re in a big city. If you use cash, you find that your money disintegrates into tiny coins very quickly – and putting as much through suica as you can prevents this.
– ticking ‘with breakfast’ option even at a modest hotel can add ¥1000-2000 to your daily bill. Convenience store sandwiches are delicious – I pick up a pack on the way back to the hotel at night and eat for breakfast. I bring coffee from home, or heat a can of coffee (unopened) in the room kettle. Breakfast cost ¥150-250. (From Andrew Booth)
– If you can’t read much Japanese and you don’t know where to eat, just head for the food level of a large department store. Most restaurants have food models in the window, most have picture menus. (From Andrew Booth)
– Eat a bigger lunch and smaller evening meal to save money. Restaurants can have some very good value lunch time set menus, for maybe ¥1000-1500 you can end up with a good selection of interesting dishes. (From Andrew Booth)
– If you’re European you need to stay hydrated… you probably need 3L of liquids a day at least. Pocari sweat is the very best drink to rehydrate… it’s great that it replaces lost salts. Remember it also contains sugar though. (From Andrew Booth)
So, say I wish to travel to Tokyo for 10 days, and I want to spend as little as possible. I’d take the following costs into account:
– Flight: not more than $800 without offer
– Basic I tier x10
Based on a rough estimate of 1000 yen to SGD$12, the basic costs for a 10-day Tokyo trip will be around $540, excluding flight.
This guide is based on my own user experience thus far. I have mostly travelled alone, and occasionally with friends. There’s a lot more stuff I can comment, but I’ll wait for more user feedback from other well-travelled readers =P
This post will constantly be updated based on user feedback. Feel free to comment if you have more ideas or methods on how to save more for your trip!