Quite a few people have asked me how Jeff and I afford to travel. Most people assume we make a lot of money, but I can definitely tell you that that is not true. When we got married we decided to make certain things priorities in our lives, one of them was to travel. We employ several strategies when it comes to saving money, which I could write a whole post about, but I thought I would break down the budget for our Japan trip and hopefully shed some light on how we make it all work. Keep in mind that Japan has been a dream for us for the last three years so though this might make it sound like it was thrown together in a matter of weeks, it was not. Years of saving and hoping and planning went into this trip.
It all starts with the budget. Through research I get a rough idea on how much the basic things cost in the country we want to visit (accommodations, food, attractions) and how much it’s going to cost to get there. After a few weeks of research I develop a rough budget, for Japan it was between $5,000 – $6,000. I typically break any trip budget into several sections; Accommodations, Transportation, Attractions, Food + Miscellaneous and I input everything into an Excel spreadsheet. Then we book the flights. I had had my eye on flight prices while researching so when I saw a good one we bought the tickets and never looked back.
Once we know our dates I start looking into where to stay. We prefer to stay in private rooms in hostels, usually with a shared bathroom. In Costa Rica it took a bit getting used to but now it doesn’t really bother us. I’d rather save the money by staying in a hostel and I like the community atmosphere, there’s always someone to talk to and you get to meet a lot of really interesting people. I use Hostelworld.com, Hostelbookers.com and Hostels.com to find options and then I review the ones I like on Tripadvisor.com. Some of the things I look for in a hostel are a reasonable price for a private room, free wireless, easy to get to location and pictures of a clean kitchen and clean bathroom/shower room. The places I decided on for this trip were Juyoh Hotel, Kyoto Hana Hostel, J-Hoppers Hiroshima and J-Hoppers Osaka.
With the flights already purchased I moved on to figuring out how to get around Japan and getting a JR Pass made the most sense for us. Then I looked into getting to and from the airports, as well as how much public transit cost in each city and averaging it out over the days we would be there. Going to Japan I had a rough idea how much the Transportation was going to cost us and once we got home I finalized what we actually spent.
Using the internet and the guidebook Japan, Day by Day I looked into the different things we could do in each city that interested us. It was a long list and I knew we weren’t going to be able to make it to everything, but we originally budgeted that we would. That way we would go to Japan with a bit of extra cash in case there was an emergency or we found something else we wanted to do. Once we got home I figured out where we went and how much was actually spent on all the Attractions we visited.
Last is the food budget and miscellaneous items. Wi-fi is hard to find on the streets in Japan and I was nervous about getting lost without Google Maps so we rented a pocket wi-fi from Japan Wireless. The wi-fi was really fast and we had no problem getting signal anywhere we went, except on the trains. We aren’t big souvenir buyers so our budget for this usually isn’t very big. I think if we saw something we absolutely loved then we would splurge, but most of the time our souvenirs are small but meaningful.
The Food budget is usually the hardest to figure out and I searched a lot of forums to see what the average cost of food is in Japan. Typically we eat breakfast at our accommodation (yogurt, fruit and a pastry) bought from a grocery store and then lunch and dinner are eaten out. 7-11s and other convenience stores in Japan are great for cheap meal options, like sushi and noodles. In North America you probably can’t imagine eating sushi from a convenience store, but in Japan it’s quite common and most stores have a great selection. We don’t always stick to our per-meal budget, but we do try to stick to the per-day food budget. For example, if we have a big lunch then we’ll have a small dinner and vice versa.
My strategy is to overbudget initially and then come home with any extra cash we don’t end up spending. We try to not use our credit cards while travelling to avoid bank fees, but that’s not always possible depending on the amount of cash we would need to carry around. After we get home I go through each of the separate budgets and adjust the numbers to what was actually spent. In the case of Japan I originally planned on spending $5500 and we actually spent $5300 – very close! We also happen to luck in with a good rate for the yen, when I started planning the trip it was roughly 80 yen to the dollar and now it’s closer to 97 yen to the dollar.
Though the destinations may change my method is usually the same. Now that we are home from Japan the burning question resurfaces, “Where to next?”