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.

Yuya Shino/Reuters/File
Mongolia-born grand sumo champion Yokozuna Hakuho throws salt during the annual 'Honozumo' ceremonial sumo tournament dedicated to the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo, Japan (April 18, 2016).

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

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.

Hotels/Lodging

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).

Food

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 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.

Overall Prices

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 mark@bradsdeals.com if any of you are planning a trip soon.

This article first appeared at Brad's Deals.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.