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How to Travel Japan on $10 a Day or Less

Bicycle

The following is a guest post by Lindo Korchi.

“I want to travel to Japan, but I don't have that much money!” exclaimed my younger self.

Today, I hear that same echo as I speak to family and friends. I'm here to let you know that it's definitely possible to travel without a lot of money while in Japan, even on $10 a day!

I understand the feeling of not having much money because I'm now in the same situation. I've searched online for budget-friendly ways to travel, yet even they were out of my price range (ex: $50 a day).

Trust me, it's frustrating, but that's when creativity begins to form, and a new door is created.

I'll give you an example: I love Japan. It's a country I've been fascinated with ever since I discovered that it made my childhood special via my two favorite shows: Pokemon & Yu-Gi-Oh.

From there, I expanded my knowledge of Japanese culture and fell in love with it. But I faced a big problem: I loved an expensive country and didn't have the finances to survive in Japan.

I had two options:

1. Cry about it.

2. Somehow find a way to travel Japan on a budget that was realistic for me. I tried option 1 and, well, it didn't get me anywhere besides the bathroom for more tissues. So I was only left with option 2.

Planning a trip to Japan? Book budget-friendly train passes here!

Dealing with Accommodation, Food, Transport, & Attractions

I realized that one of the biggest costs is accommodation. However, it never made sense to me. The majority of a person's finances is spent on a place they'll spend the least amount of active time.

My first step was to find a way around this barrier. Thankfully, Japan has hostels that allow you to work a few hours a day in exchange for accommodation. Bingo. I chose to go that route.

Next, the cost of food, transportation, and attractions were something I had to consider as well. I began to focus on priorities.

Yes, I'd love to buy everything in Tokyo, ride the Shinkansen all across Japan (which I still haven't been on), and alike, but my finances don't allow such, or if so, it would make for an extremely short trip.

While I do eat out in Japan, it's not every day. As for transportation & attractions, I'm not too crazy for attractions, and I usually walk and use a bike to get around, along with the occasional train ride.

My priority is to experience the country, meet the people, engage with the community, and enjoy the everyday life of Japanese society; to enjoy the rich culture without having to live by the media portrayal of spending = living.

The fact is that equation is an illusion. No amount of money can buy the experiences, friends, and adventures you get by simply traveling an area. It's when you don't have money that creativity begins to take place, and that's special.

Friends

Friends

Creating the $10 a day Budget and Why It's Not Suited For Everyone

When I arrived in Japan on Oct 6th, 2015, I didn't have a budget in mind. Within a week, I had no idea how much I was spending. On the 14th of Oct, I decided to stop the madness.

I was afraid that budgeting myself would limit & stress me, but it put me more in control and gave me peace of mind. It was the fact that I wasn't budgeting that stressed and limited me. Interesting, isn't it?

I saw that I could afford to do $70/week or $10/day. Though, before I continue, you have to keep in mind that while traveling for $10/day is possible, it's not possible for everyone and may ruin the experience of travel for some.

This budget excludes flights, an overnight bus to a new destination (ex: Kyoto to Fukuoka), and a month-long bike rental ($30-$60).

Though, with the bike rental, if I wanted to challenge myself, I could add it as part of the budget – maybe I'll test it.

Another thing to keep in mind, which is when I've been called “boring” or “too simple,” is that I'm not really into parties, clubs, attractions, dates, or drinks – and because of such, my finances don't go towards those things.

These things may appeal to others, and if so, I don't believe the $10/day budget would be possible.

Before implementing this budget, there were three points that showed me that it was indeed possible:

1. When I lived in NY, CA, and CO, I didn't have a job, but I still managed to somehow collect great memories, experiences, and friends without having any money.

2. If people, who have no money at all, could still enjoy life and give a genuine smile, then I, having $10/day, could surely find that humble spirit to do the same.

3. While I would like to have more than $10/day, I appreciate what I have and am grateful for it.

Budget

Budgeting for the Week

I've always enjoyed home-cooked meals over eating out (Thanks, Ma!). So, in Japan, I go to the supermarket & use the local ingredients to whip up a good, filling meal.

Here is a breakdown and example of one of my drafts for the first week of starting the $10 a day budget while in Kyoto, Japan:

  • Kishimen noodles: ($1 each), 10 (for 2 a day, lasting for 5 days) = $10
  • Udon noodles: ($.40 each), 4 (for 2 a day, lasting for 2 days) = $2
  • Sauces: Sukiyaki sauce ($2), Soy sauce ($2), Sushi sauce ($2) (lasting the entire week) = $6
  • Eggs: ($3 each) 1 (pack of 10 eggs for the week) = $3
  • Bread: ($1 each) 2 (totaling 16 slices to last 8 days) = $2
  • Fried tofu: ($2 each) 2 (dividing it by 3 to last for 6 days) = $4
  • Chicken: ($2 each) (3 packs to last for 3 days) = $6
  • Total: $35/week on grocery food for the above. (I rounded all costs to the highest dollar. Ex. $1.50? $2., plus rounded the above of $33/week simple to $35 for the week to make things simple)

After having spent $35, I have an extra $35 left over. I can use it to eat out once a week ($8-$10/ramen bowl; or, maybe, more groceries if I'd like. Explore Osaka & return to Kyoto ($8 round-trip), check out Kinkakuji ($4), Ginkakuji ($5), have some onigiri ($1), Japanese sweets & pastries ($1-$6), etc.

To make things simple, I treat each ?100 (yen) and make it equal to $1.00, even though it equals $0.81.

So when I say I spend $10 a day, or $70 a week, it's technically 1,000/day ($8), or 7,000/week ($56), but it just makes things simple in daily life when thinking of each yen as the equivalent to a U.S. dollar.

Alternatively, I can just spend ?8,000/week ($65), since that would be closer to $70/week. I can then set?4,000/week for grocery & the other?4,000/week for anything else, or any other structure.

I also found that managing my finances with the local currency was easier and saved me more money than trying to manage it with a credit card.

Also, there's something personal when you're in a country and using their currency rather than your card.

An Example of How $10 a Day is Truly Possible

Money quote

Even with the above points, it's still hard to consider this method as a practical possibility, I'm sure.

However, I want you to ask this question: “What is the difference between you, who has limited funds, and a Japanese student (example: Toshiro) living in Tokyo who doesn't have any sort of income?”

I want you to put this into consideration:

You may think it's impossible to travel to Tokyo for a month with an extremely limited budget. However, Toshiro is a college student in Tokyo who lives with his parents and has never held a job, thus has no money.

Regardless of this fact, Toshiro can still experience the country, meet with friends, hang out in manga shops, explore the city, engage with the community, and is embraced by Japanese society.

Is that not the whole reason you want to visit Japan? Little to no finance isn't limiting Toshiro from doing any of the mentioned points above, so why should it limit you?

Or, put in another way, your finances aren't limiting you from doing any of the mentioned points in your city, so what's the difference? Experiences don't cost anything; it's all in the perspective.

Now, let's add you into the picture. As Toshiro, you have free accommodation in Tokyo (via volunteering, etc.), unlike Toshiro, you don't have your meals covered (unless you volunteer in a place that provides food — no sarcasm), but that's where your $35 comes into play for the week.

And here's the best part: unlike Toshiro, you have an extra $35 (or full $70) for the week to further explore the city as much as Toshiro, plus some. Does this now seem more possible?

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Travel in its Simplest Form

I've been called “boring” and “too simple,” and if those words are far from describing who you are, then this budget would not suit you.

If, on the other hand, you can relate to those words to a degree, and have a limited budget, then this is something worth exploring.

I plan to stay in Japan until the beginning of January 2016. This time-frame, equipped with my accommodation, grants me the time to explore the places I'd like to see, and eat out while still maintaining my $10/day budget.

You may not have a lot of money, and neither do I, but we can explore the world if we choose to do so in its simplest and most essential form.

Live it up, this is your chance. Let me know if you'll be in Japan from now until January, I'd love to meet!

________

P.S. This budget puts into perspective that we can enjoy life even without a lot of money. I challenge you to enjoy your life without spending much, for a week, or even on $10 a day ($70/week).

I'm sure you'll gain a rich experience and still enjoy life in its simplest form. It's all in the perspective that makes life an adventure – not the finances.

Planning a trip? Go Backpacking uses and recommends:

Marta

Monday 7th of November 2016

For those interested, here are 3 more tips for budget travellers! (^_^) https://lingualift.com/blog/cheap-travel-japan/

Stanley

Thursday 14th of January 2016

Thank you for such useful information. It's inspiring if not really practical for everyone. I wonder what kind of job that provides free accommodation. Any age limit for it ?

Lindo Korchi

Wednesday 20th of January 2016

Hakuna matata. You can do some volunteer work for hostels or farms. As for age limits, you'd have to message whoever organizes the volunteer program and ask. Though, I think the oldest I've seen volunteering at a hostel was 30. Are you planning a trip to Japan?

Marilyn

Tuesday 15th of December 2015

Super awesome post!

Lindo Korchi

Thursday 17th of December 2015

Thank you. I'm glad that you found it useful.

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