A Budget Traveler's Guide to Tokyo
I recently returned from a quick trip to Tokyo, Japan's capital city. Tokyo can get expensive for tourists, so as a traveler who loves to save money abroad, here are a few thrifty tips from my recent visit.
Flights to and from Asia are becoming cheaper and cheaper, especially for U.S. flyers. There are now many daily flights to choose from (like LAX to Tokyo Haneda on American) and all this choice increases competition, which in turn lowers prices. I booked my flight about two months out with a fare sale on Delta -- $492 for a round trip flight from Phoenix, Arizona! The price of the flight made it a no-brainer, and I registered for a status challenge on Delta which gave me Silver status just for flying this itinerary.
If you're young and traveling solo, you might be interested in some of Tokyo's inexpensive hostel options, like Imano Hostel for $42/night, or the famous Capsule hotels in the city center which start at around $30/night. If you're traveling as a family or with a larger group, Airbnb has some great options (even whole apartments!) for under $100/night.
For those who want to stay in a hotel in the center of the city -- especially during cherry blossom season, which is my favorite time to visit Tokyo -- things can get quite expensive. My itinerary included a trip to Tokyo Disneyland, because I'm a huge Disney fan. That area is located a bit out of the city center (about 30 minutes from Tokyo Station), so we stayed around there. This meant a little extra commute during the day, but it saved us $100-$200 a night, without compromising on the niceness of the hotel, which was a Hilton. I have Diamond status with Hilton, so by staying there I received a room upgrade with fireworks view, free breakfast daily, and a lot of points.
If you want to stay in the city center, Hotwire is a great way to get the very cheapest hotel, with the tradeoff that you won't know the name of the hotel until you pay (and reservations are non-refundable).
I found food to be quite manageable in Tokyo, price wise. While you can spend $300+ on sushi at Jiro's (if you can even get a reservation), there are other options that are very reasonable, even if you want to dine at a Michelin-starred restaurant. One of the world's cheapest Michelin restaurants is the one-starred Tsuta. The bowls are about $8, and they really impressed the Ramen Adventures guy:
If you love snacks, like I do, you'll love Tokyo. From mochi to rice cakes to candies to teas, Tokyo has it all. I recommend heavily to wander in high-end Ginza, and pay a visit to a department store's basement. In every basement, there's a "depachika," which is essentially a Whole Foods on steroids. Really, people, you don't know what you're missing out on. There are snackable items for sale here, as well as full-meals. You can take what you've bought at many of the department stores, and consume them on their rooftop gardens. It's divine.
The dollar is strong, and the yen is weak. Now is the time to visit Japan. Everything is automatically cheaper than "regular" prices because of this situation. Public transportation is a bit expensive, but can get you everywhere you want to go (as long as it's not after midnight).
Things to Do
One of my favorite things to do in a city is wander and people watch. I think it's an excellent way to get to know a culture. Tokyo is one of the best cities in the world to do so. For one, everyone is exceedingly polite -- they put Midwesterners to shame. Parks are free, and very well taken care of. If you want to take in an observation deck, you could skip the Tokyo SkyTree and the Tokyo Tower, and visit the Tokyo Municipal Building, which has a very tall (and free) deck in Shinjuku. Tokyo Disneyland is also the cheapest Disney park in the world right now -- only $60/day and still, in my opinion, the best Disney park on the planet. And I should know, as I've now been to every park.
Overall, Tokyo makes for a great five-day trip, and I had no problem getting around knowing just three words of Japanese. Feel free to drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org if any of you are planning a trip soon.