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How much pocket money should I bring to Japan? (PART 1)
Traveling to Japan is not as expensive as you think
I had only 20,000 Pesos (Jpy 52,410 or Usd 429) when I went to Japan for my birthday last month. Those were ALL my savings. In fact, I have even pawned some of my jewelry to fulfill 20,000. It was literally all that I have and if you want to find why, the history is in this post. That sad past aside, I know people will ask, why did I put all of my savings for a trip abroad? The answer is simply: I need to know if I can. And I did.
Amongst its neighbors in Asia, Japan is the most expensive to take a vacation in. I have not been to the West, but I can say this amount is the biggest I have shelled for myself. It took me a month to finalize this amount. The trip is supposedly a honeymoon (I'm traveling with my husband) and as a lady, I do not want to go 100% backpacker. I did a considerable amount of research to come up with this number. I was actually saving for 30,000 but personal receivables didn't materialize and I have to stick to 20,000.
So, how did I do it?
Tip # 1 : Plan well for the trip
I cannot stress the importance of planning well enough. Planning, creating and knowing my itinerary by heart gave me an 80% success rate with this budget. Planning should involve the following:
- the place/s where you will sleep (lodging)
- the transportation fee from one place to another (transportation)
- the things you will bring
- the food you will eat
- the entrance fee of sites you will visit
Why? Because these are the situations where you will shell out most of your pocket money. Also, to be on the safe side, especially that you are going to a foreign land, the budget for lodging and transportation must be the top priorities and non-negotiables. This means you should not buy anything unnecessary if it would mean getting money form the lodging or transpo budget.
Tip # 2 : Pack THOROUGHLY according to the planned activities and the weather
To check the weather before arriving in a foreign country is an SOP for all travelers. This portion will let you know of what we overlooked and unlike us, you should be very thorough.
When I learned that it is summer in Japan during our visit, I thought that Japan summer is similar to Philippine summer because both countries are in East Asia. WRONG! Japanese summer is very very humid and this humidity level is very different from what is experienced in the Philippines. Before we went there, I asked some of my friends about the weather and they were giving me feedback the moment they were there (of course). I didn't think that the weather may be hotter once we arrive. And it was. In short, we under estimated the weather.
This underestimation has immensely affected our planned activities. My husband and I do not function well with heat. We become cranky and nauseated. To avoid it, we had to travel very early or late in the afternoon to avoid it and because many tourists spots were only open during the day, we had to forego some of them. There was a lot of walking to do in Tokyo and Kyoto and there is no way to go about it but brave the heat. We were not in Japan to stay in bed anyway.
In order to go on with the adventure, we had to buy an umbrella (600Y / $4.91), a fan (100Y / $0.82) and lots of bottled drinks from the vending machine (approx 2,250Y / $18.4). Doesn't cost much actually and the fan doubled as a souvenir but it hurts to buy a foldable umbrella given that I have 3 back at home. Also because we sweat a lot, we had to spend extra for laundry (500Y / $4.09). This should have been avoided if we brought 3 more shirts and 3 more sets of underwear.
As a light packer and a girl, I packed two shoes - one pair of sandals (for dressy nights) and a pair of sneakers (for walking). However, I packed more clothes that will go well with the sandals. Therefore, my sandals were used thrice as much as my sneakers. Because this pair were not made for long walks and they were quite old, the soles gave way. I had to buy super glue (400Y / $3.27) for it.
So you see, if only I was thorough enough, I would have saved 3,800Y / $31.
Tip # 3 : Forget capsule hotels. They are NOT the cheapest accommodation in Japan
I have always wanted to try sleeping in a capsule hotel when I was planning for our trip to Japan. In fact, it was our first choice of lodging. However, when I was trying to find one, I learned that majority of capsule hotels are for males only - precisely because they are made for salarymen who are too tired or who are unable to catch the last train. In addition, majority of them will require you to check out daily. This set up is uninviting for us because we have heavy bags. Now capsule hotels have evolved to accommodate women and longer days although they are still few at the time of writing.
Because I was trying to save money, I tried creating an account with Couchsurfing. Unfortunately because I had no referrals, all of the people I contacted refused my request because I was trying to book for my husband and I and I was trying to book for a long stay. Couchsurfig hosts usually have just one bed for one person and that they logically will trust a guest more if they had more couch surfing experience. Unfortunately, I learned of Airbnb too late so I wasn't able to check their rates.
Looking for cheap lodging, I chanced upon guesthouses. They have assorted rooms and they allow guests for more than 2 days. We booked at Yadoya Guesthouse which only costs 2,300Y/night/person compared to a capsule hotel where the cheapest will be at 3,500Y/night/person. There are many guest houses around major cities but it is important to book them early because slots easily get filled up.
Now, one of my dreams is to stay in a traditional Japanese room while I was in Japan. When we transferred to Kyoto, I took it as an opportunity to look for a cheap Ryokan. It was a challenge because there was a high demand for ryokans and therefore they will be a little more expensive. I learned that I can get a cheap room in a ryokan if (1) we didn't include breakfast with the fees, (2) if we choose a common bathroom instead of having a personal one in the room and (3) if we decided not to have a very good view of the city. These options are very practical because we do not intend to stay for the whole day in the inn anyway. Thru Booking.com, I booked a traditional tatami room at Hanakiya Inn with all these in mind and I got a cheap deal.
As a traveler, you can also save in lodging by taking the night bus or spend a night in a 24-hour cafe. Japan is a fairly safe country and even locals do this technique. Also, pick lodging that is not only cheap but is also near places of interests or transport terminals. It will save you money in transportation.
For lodging, our expense was only Php 20,000 or Jpy 52,700 / $431 for both of us (which is Php 10,000 for me or half of my pocket money already (uh oh))
**Please check the next post for the second half of my Japan budgeting adventure HERE. :)