September 21, 2012 by Dan
J and I just got back from Japan; why Japan? J really wanted to go, and I have liked everywhere else I’ve been in Asia, so…why not?
The biggest reason to not go to Japan is the cost. It’s a really, really, really, really expensive place. But it’s also a really, really, really, really interesting place. My interest in interesting beat out my inner cheapskate, and we decided to go .
I started working on the trip with this wonderful post from Nomadic Matt as a guide. He goes over the basics of how someone on a backpacker budget can make the place manageable. I took some of his advice, didn’t take some, but it was a good place to start.
The biggest costs in Japan are
- Getting There
Everything else is pretty manageable. I attacked each problem in turn, as best I could, without going to the point of insanity (I think).
This was actually the easiest part of the three. For the past year or two I’ve been playing games and gathering frequent flier miles (want to get started doing this? Check out The Points Guy and One Mile at a Time, and their blogrolls. It’s not that hard), and I had enough to get us there in style, if I could find seat availability. Unfortunately, we were planning the trip at a point where I was working about sixty hours per week and traveling to Los Angeles every other week; I didn’t have the time to spend on the phone or poring over airline websites.
Enter PointsPros. Ben’s business model is simple – you tell him where you want to go, when you want to go there, what miles you have, and what class you’d like to fly. He does the rest. He knows the airlines, the schedules, and the systems; I can’t recommend him enough. After about six emails over maybe thirty hours, we were confirmed on first-class American Airlines to Tokyo, and business class ANA back to San Francisco. Score!
This was a doozy. I really wanted to go to Sapporo and Hokkaido in the north, as well as hitting some spots in Honshu. Japan Railpasses have traditionally been the best way to do this – we would have had to get either a 14 day pass (around $550 apiece) or a 21 day pass ($700) to make this a good deal, and it would have involved at least two 13 hour train journeys, including one right after landing in Tokyo. No thanks. I did the math and buying individual train tickets and using Jetstar and Peach Airways for cheap one-way flights was a better use of our time and money. Railpasses can be great, but they make the most sense if you plan your trip around the pass. I was planning the trip, then figuring out how to get to where we wanted to go. Your mileage may vary.
Business hotels – small rooms, between $80 and $100 per night – were our salvation. That and the Chase Hyatt Visa, which got us two free nights at the Park Hyatt Tokyo. (Tip: if you have Hyatt free nights, don’t rely on their online tool for availability. Call).
So with all of that knowledge, and quite a bit of planning, we were looking at an expensive – but not ruinous – vacation. Next post: the fun begins! And a celebrity sighting!
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