Traveling on a Budget

Affording study abroad is hard enough, not to mention feeding yourself while you’re there and buying souvenirs for everyone back home. And what about traveling inside the country? You didn’t come all the way to Japan just to sit in JCMU’s lobby every day.

It can be difficult to set aside enough time and money to take the exciting trips you’ve always dreamed of. Once you get to Japan, you realize that Tokyo isn’t as close as it seems on a map. Don’t let that turn you into a homebody, though – it’s possible to travel Japan even as a student and even on a limited budget. Here’s how:

Choose your target wisely.

Obviously, the further away the place you want to go is, the more time and money it’s going to cost you. This may mean sacrificing a trip to Tokyo for a trip to Japan’s third largest city, Osaka, instead. Osaka’s a day trip away from JCMU, whereas Tokyo really needs a whole weekend.

You may find that the things you really want to do and see in that further away place are also available somewhere close by. Many cafes and shops in Tokyo have Osaka or Nagoya branches as well, and more places than just Tokyo can give you that big-city vibe. In the case of historical locations, Shiga and its surrounding area has Tokyo beat, even: there’re the temples & shrines of Kyoto, the ninja village of Koka, and Hikone Castle just minutes from JCMU’s campus.

The Osaka Gudetama cafe

Of course, each place is unique. There’s something about each boutique, bar, and shrine that makes it special and worth visiting. But balance your interest with the cost of travel. One trip to Hokkaido might cost as much as three trips to Kyoto, Nara, and Otsu. But if your heart’s set on Hokkaido, that’s okay! You might just have to come back to Japan again to see the rest… And that’s not so bad.

Consider all forms of transportation

All roads lead to Rome! Or Kumamoto, as the case may be. Japan has lots of options for public transportation, including trains, buses, and planes. Most of the time, you’ll have the choice of any of them to get where you’re going.

Shinkansen (bullet trains) are clearly the most exciting, as they’re rare in many other countries and will definitely get you there fast. But they’re expensive, too, and a plain might actually be the most affordable option. There are lots of domestic airlines in Japan that offer very cheap flights across the country, such as ANA, Peach, and Vanilla Air. Of course, the smaller and cheaper the airline gets, the less variety it offers. But depending on where you’re going, they might be a good choice. Do your research and ask a Japanese friend or JCMU Student Services Coordinator if you’re unsure if the company is legit.

Peach is one company that offers cheap domestic flights

Another popular option, especially for trips to Hiroshima and Tokyo, is a night bus. They leave in the evening and arrive in the morning, driving through the night and giving you a chance to sleep (or try to) on the way. It can also help you save on accommodations since you won’t have to book a hotel for that night.

Also consider regular trains, which are great for short-distance travel (like Osaka or Kyoto) and offer great views of the countryside. They’re also less expensive than faster options, but you have to decide whether time or money is more important.

Look beyond standard hotels

Hotels range in price from reasonable to ridiculous, and you can certainly find a nice place without paying too much. You can have a pleasant stay at a capsule hotel or hostel, and usually for much less.

Capsule hotels are infamous for being kind of gimmicky, with their futuristic appearance and compact size. They’re worth going to for the experience alone. But they can also be more affordable, and ensure that you have your own space that’s clean, quiet, and private (even if it’s only seven feet long). Some hotel booking sites have specific filters for capsules. It may not be pleasant to hang out in during the day, but the point of traveling is to see the place you’re visiting, anyway.

Hostels are also a reasonable option in Japan. Unlike in some countries, Japanese hostels are safe, clean, and usually pretty well organized. They can also be dirt cheap. Many hostels are less than ¥4000 a night, and occasionally they drop as low as ¥1000. The key is booking ahead of time and staying outside of the most popular areas. And who knows, you might discover a hidden treasure just off the beaten path. Still, do your research!

Just enough room!

And from the JCMU staff’s personal experience—think twice before trying to stay at an internet cafe.

Look for cheap attractions

Now that you’ve figured out how to get there and where to stay, what are you going to do there? Maybe there’s a specific place you know you want to visit, or maybe you like to take things as they come. Just do a little research—are you going to have to buy tickets ahead of time, or can you decide on a whim? Starting to plan to plan early can also help you make a budget.

That said, sometimes it’s more fun to travel without any plans or preconceived ideas. There are lots of things to experience wherever you go that don’t need prior planning, and even activities that it’s impossible to find out about beforehand. For example, that mom-and-pop ramen shop may not have an internet presence, but you’ll stumble into it and fall in love with the noodles. And there might be a local festival going on, or you’ll make a Japanese friend who wants to show you around.

It doesn’t cost a dime to wander the streets of Osaka

There are free attractions, too—Hikone Castle is free with a JCMU student ID card, and you can walk through places like the Philosopher’s Path in Kyoto to see autumn leaves without paying a cent. And most hiking paths are open to everyone without a fee. Right around JCMU, there are lots of things to do within walking and biking distance, which means they’re quick and don’t require a train fare.

No matter where you’re going or how you get there, do your research, be safe, and have a good time! Keep an eye on your funds and you’ll be able to make your travel dreams come true. And remember, there’s always next time, because who can stand to go to Japan only once?

One thought

  1. I enjoyed your comments! I lived in JApan for almost 2 years when I taught ESL in Kashawazaki, Niigata.
    I took the regular train headed south then was on the Shinkensen for the remainder of my journey to Heroshima which was on my bucket list. I appreciated the difference s between the 2 trains compared to the local trains I had often used. I did quite a bit of sightseeing and then came back in the fall when Michigan and Shiga celebrated 50 years of goodwill missions for a look at another aspect of Japanese culture. I still would like to return because I keep learning about more places in that beautiful land that I would like to visit!

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