Category Archives: Travel Budget Tips

Making Accommodations Affordable in Japan

At the beginning of this year, I had no concrete plans to travel except to DC for FinCon.

As I look back, I pause for a moment of gratitude. I was a little ping pong ball this year, bouncing all over the place. Getting work done and catching up with some of those people who have meant so much to me over the years.

In 2019, I visited:

I promise I’ll cover all of these trips, as they were all made pretty frugally. But today I want to spend some time on the accommodation situation in Japan.

Affordable Accommodations in Japan

If you’re planning a trip to Japan, you’re probably worried about the cost of accommodations–especially if you’re staying in one of the big cities.

While it’s true that Japan can be expensive, it doesn’t have to be. While I did stay with my friend for three nights (I was there for her wedding!) most of the time I was away I was able to score low-cost accommodations without even feeling like they were low-cost to begin with.

Tokyo Hotel

Sliding door with woman's lips on it, between her teeth insider her mouth it says "Play on Moxy Tokyo moxy"

I booked my flight through miles, and apparently getting from Pittsburgh to the Western side of Japan is darn near impossible via rewards. So both times I have gone, I ended up flying into Tokyo.

This time, I decided to take a little time in Tokyo before the wedding to catch up on sleep and adjust to all the shifts that come with traveling to the other side of the planet.

I managed to get out a little, too, between naps. Those adventures are currently being logged on Instagram, but I’ll write about them here, too, in the near future.

I had points built up through the Marriott Bonvoy program. The Moxy Tokyo Kinshicho was affordable, available and in a great location, so I booked. I had enough points that I was able to get half of my nights in Tokyo for free.

If you don’t do the rewards points thing through specific hotel chains, another method I use to get free nights is booking through Hotels.com. Your tenth night is free, regardless of the hotel chain you use. You can book the Moxy here. I’d also recommend this method because they have killer discount prices.

Moxy Tokyo Kinshicho

My stay here was great. The room I booked was small; while I had two twins, there was only about a foot between the end of the bed and the wall.

This is Tokyo, though, and the layout of the room was so smart that the size wasn’t even noticeable. There are collapsible tables, chairs, luggage racks and more hung along the wall in the entrance way. The shower room in the bathroom is a good size, allows for American- or Japanese-style showers, and even has a stool if you need to sit down.

The decor was adorable and trendy. This place markets itself as a party hotel, though I largely stayed during the week so everything was pretty quiet. I met a lot of other gaijin guests in town for different world events; there was no shortage of socialization opportunities. It just might be louder on the weekends.

The location is perfect, too. Walkable from the Kinshicho station–even with luggage in tow–you can easily get to everything in the Sumida City neighborhood. Probably the biggest attraction is the Skytree, which is the second tallest structure in the world. But that really is just the tip of the iceberg.

If you’re travelling using the JR Rail Pass, the proximity of the station makes it easy to get everywhere else, too. I used it as a jumping off point for Odaiba, Roppongi Hills, Nakano and Shibuya, but also spent time exploring the neighborhood itself.

Airbnb in Hiroshima & Kyoto

Airbnb is one of my favorite ways to travel on a budget. Not only is it often more affordable than a hotel, but you also usually get a better travel experience, too.

Affordable Private Apartment in Hiroshima

After the wedding, I headed to Hiroshima for one night. It is something I highly recommend everyone do if they have the opportunity to visit Japan. I’ll write about the transformational experience soon, but right now I’ll just cover accommodations.

While I was in Hiroshima, I booked a private apartment. It was the best experience. I had access to laundry so I could prep my clothes for the next leg of the trip. The bed was like sleeping on a cloud — a true rarity in the land of the rising sun. I had privacy and space and slipped into sleep easier than I have in years.

My host was amazing, too. He knew I was staying for just one night, and sent over this guide prior to my stay to help me maximize my time and money while I was in town. It was incredible.

The room itself cost about $70, which was cheaper than a cheap hotel. On top of that, I had enough Airbnb credits to get more than 50% off.

If you want to use the same method, you can sign up for Airbnb as a new member and get $55 in credit towards your first stay. Then, when you refer your friends you’ll get more credit when they complete their first stay.

Hostel Kyoto Gion

As a solo traveler, I have booked hostels in the past. I’ve found that the fears I had in the past are overblown, and that being a safe traveler in a hostel is easier than you’d think. In fact, it can be good to have other people there to notice your presence or absence when you’re in a big city by yourself.

When I went to Kyoto, I also booked on Airbnb. The last time I was in Kyoto I missed one of the key attractions: Gion. The older-feeling part of the city (so much relativity here) known for its geisha.

Much to my delight, I found the Hostel Kyoto Gion. It would have been under $100 to book for 3 nights had I not had had enough Airbnb credit to cover the stay 100% free.

I was a little nervous about it being a co-ed hostel, but I figured if there was anywhere to give it a shot, it was the ultra-safe Japan. I felt 100% safe the entire time. Most of the co-ed people staying there were couples in two separate beds, mixed in with one pair of male friends and a few other female solo travelers.

There were cameras. I never felt unsafe, but it’s always nice to have that little extra layer of assurance there — to know that there is accountability even in an ultra-safe environment. Each bed was spacious and had curtains and outlets and a light and earplugs so you could have complete privacy.

Perhaps the best part of this stay, though, was the hosts. My Japanese is not great, though I have studied it through my local library sporadically in preparation for my trips. While my hosts’ English was limited, it was way better than my Japanese and they were so adept at using interpretive technology that communication was not only never a problem, but so warm and sincere that at times you forgot you were in a hostel rather than doing a home stay.

I mean, on top of free coffee, printed travel guides and local tips from the hosts themselves, I was offered a meal in the spur of the moment one day. We talked about my kids and the host ended up buying them their favorite souvenir from Japan: Japanese candy. I know one of them ended up taking another guest to some type of festival when she asked about things to do.

Oh, and for the first time ever? I got the bottom bunk.

It was my best hostel experience yet, and it was 100% free thanks to those Airbnb credits. Here’s where you can get started with yours.

Affordable Narita Hotel

I did end up staying at a hotel in Narita my last night. It was near the airport and there was a free bus and because of a combination of the booking platform and points, it was crazy cheap.

But they tried to nickle and dime you for everything once you’re there. No free breakfast. No water bottles waiting for you in your room. Literally the only dirty carpets and hotel bathrooms I’ve ever seen in Japan. The shower room was in with the toilet without any separation between the two.

So I wouldn’t highly recommend this particular place.

But I would recommend finding a place near the airport for your last night if you’re flying out of Narita. It’s not close to Tokyo — depending on where you’re staying it can be an hour or two ride by train. By staying near the airport that last night, you have a way easier commute when your flight does take off. Plus, if you do a hotel, most of them have free shuttles.

Have you ever been to Japan? How did you manage the costs of accommodations?

7 Pocket-Friendly Ways to Explore Australia

by Britt Sharman

Australia has a lot to offer during the summer between beaches, deserts and mountain ranges (come back for the snow in winter, we’re not joking it’s amazing!) However, you might have heard it is super expensive.

Well, after plenty of years as broke students we know all the best budget things to do in Australia! Here are some favourites!

Some Sweet Treats

You don’t have to shell out restaurants to try Australia’s best food! Just head to the bakery. Bakeries are pocket-friendly and full of treats you will have never seen before!

The next two are best to get from a bakery. First is the lamington. It is basically a fist-sized piece of sponge cake filled with jam, rolled in chocolate and then coconut, sounds like a mess, and it is, so grab a napkin! 

Next, grab yourself a vanilla slice. The name might seem unassuming; however, the Vanilla Slice is an iconic treat. The slice has a crispy pastry bottom and top of thick, vanilla custard filling. Simple yet life-changing, again thank us later!

Last but not least (and not from a bakery) is a classic Tim Tam. Now, this is something that will most likely be life-changing. Grab your Tim Tam and bite off two opposite corners. Grab a cold glass of milk, please don’t use anything hot! Dip in one corner, then use the other corner like a straw and suck. What you have is a delicious chocolate milk drink, then the biscuit turns into a fudgy chocolate bar.

Hang Out in Byron Bay

Byron Bay. You might have heard of this idyllic town that is now home to many famous people. But its reputation is well-deserved; it is bloody beautiful! Azure blue water, the softest sand you’ve ever touched and a a beautiful beach-side village. While it can normally be pricey in these types of spots, lucky there are many house sitting opportunities!. It can be competitive so find out the best tips to getting started.

How About Some Shopping? 

Melbourne is famous for its shopping. If you’re after cheap boutique finds head to Smith St in Collingwood or Greville St in Prahran. Both streets are full of treasure troves of designers.

If you come at Christmas time, you have to head to Myer. They are famous for their beautiful window displays as well as stocking all the best brands!

If you’re looking for some bargains, head to DFO. You wouldn’t believe the location. It’s set on the side of the Yarra River, with lovely restaurants overlooking it. The perfect place for an afternoon espresso martini. You can pick one up at happy hour for around $4. 

Master the Art of Surfing

Surfing is more than a sport in Australia. It is a lifestyle. Take a surf lesson during your travels. It may not be budget, but once you master it, it’s free for life! Trying to stand, fall, and trying again… the attributes of perseverance and persistence create grit which is a necessary personality trait for any Australian. Nothing beats the sense of achievement when you succeed. 

Swimming Under a Waterfall 

The Blue Mountains in rural NSW has some beautiful waterfalls. There are many tracks, so enjoy the bushwalk to a beautiful waterfall then strip down to your togs and jump in. The walking tracks are endless here so make sure you grab a national park map! 

Get Lost on a Road Trip

Australia is best seen from the road. If you fly you miss out on all the best beaches and parks. Head off on a road trip, you can find looks of cheap/ free cars and campers by searching for relocation cars. 

 Eat Fish ‘n’ Chips 

Having a ‘feed’ of fish ‘n’ chips is about as Aussie as you can get. However, these fish ‘n’ chips are not the kind that comes served in an ironic serving basket for $35.99 at your local fine dining restaurant. We’re talking about the real fish ‘n’ chips!

This is going to your local fish shop, ordering a $20 family pack and heading down the beach to eat it with your hands while watching the sun go down. Every fish ‘n’ chip shop has a $20 family pack. However, what is in the family pack can differ from place to place. You will usually find they contain something along the lines of 4 pieces of crumbed fish, 2 scoops of chips, a couple of hot dogs & a small army of potato cakes.

This delicious pack of deep-fried goodness will always come wrapped in last week’s newspaper, which is used as your table at the beach! Always remember your can of tomato sauce and lemon to get the full experience.

There you have it, all the best things to do in Australia just like a local. Not only that, they won’t cost you an arm and a leg. So what are you waiting for? 

Brittnay is one half of the Travelling House Sitters. They are professional house sitters, who have looked after homes in over 10 countries including Italy, France, Greece, Thailand, New Zealand, Australia & The UK. If you want to become a house sitter, they have just released a brand new course.

5 Ways to Save on Travel This Spring

Happy Monday, everyone! Today I’ve got a special treat for you–a post from my long-time fellow personal finance blogger Greg of Club Thrifty! Greg and his wife Holly are always impressing me with the amazing trips they take with the whole family, and I’m excited he’ll be sharing some of their travel tips with us today!

Green airplane icon. Beneath that it reads "5 ways to save on Spring Travel femmefrugality.com" Beneath is a picture of a dark-haired girl walking towards a cherry blossom tree. Her coat is the same shade of pink as the flowers.

Spring is officially here! The sun is shining, the flowers are blooming, and people are itching to get away after the drudgery of winter.

Most people would travel more if they could afford it, but alas, globe-trotting (or even interstate travel) isn’t always easy on the wallet. Even so, I believe that seeing the world is something worth building into your budget, if at all possible.

If you’re like a lot of people, that might be easier said than done. Even if you’re in a great place financially, it can be hard to find extra money to indulge your travel whims. Just thinking about the cost of airfare and accommodations can make that trip you’ve been daydreaming about feel out of reach.

The good news is, travel doesn’t always have to be as expensive as you think. I’ve been traveling the world since before anyone would think I could afford to, and let me tell you, there’s always a trick to save a few bucks. And if you know what you’re doing, “a few bucks” can translate into hundreds of dollars.

These five tips will help you cut your spring and summer travel expenses down to size.

Use Credit Card Rewards

I find people tend to be quite divided on the topic of credit card rewards. Either they’re obsessed with them or they couldn’t be bothered. Can you guess which one I am?

If you have the discipline to use credit responsibly, you should be using a rewards credit card for 95% of your purchases. Preauthorized bills like phone, power, and gym membership? Credit card! Expenses like gas, groceries, eating out, and clothing? Credit card! A $1 soft drink at the corner store? Yup, that goes on the credit card, too.

Essentially, you should be using a rewards card for absolutely everything you can. Why? Because you earn points or cash back (I prefer points) on every single dollar you spend, and that really adds up. After a year of using a credit card for all your purchases, you’ll probably have enough points to cover the cost of a domestic flight.

If you don’t currently have a credit card that offers travel rewards, you need to do something about that! The best cards come with generous signup bonuses you can unlock when you meet a minimum spending requirement. True, some have annual fees, but if you use your card for all your purchases, the value of the rewards will outweigh the cost.

Don’t believe me? My family and I have literally saved thousands on travel using credit card rewards like Chase Ultimate Rewards points. There’s no reason you can’t, too.

Look for a Sightseeing Pass

Just like some people don’t bother with credit card rewards, even savvy travelers overlook the value of sightseeing passes.

When you’re planning on hitting a lot of the major tourist attractions in a big city, two things are usually true: It’s probably going to be expensive, and there’s a way to do it for less. If used appropriately, some sightseeing passes can cut your expenses in half.

All-inclusive sightseeing passes charge a fixed fee for unlimited single entry to a bunch of attractions for a certain number of (usually consecutive) days. So basically, the more you do, the more you save. You can also get passes that grant you access to a set number of attractions for a discounted price.

No matter the type, many passes also offer fast track entry to certain attractions, saving you time on top of money. Who wouldn’t be into that?

If you want to save money on your sightseeing costs this spring and summer, I highly recommend checking out the sightseeing passes available for your destination. Again, I’ve got real-world experience to back up my claims: We’ve used several different passes over the years, including this attractions pass in London that helped us save well over $100 USD during our first visit.

Book Last Minute

It isn’t generally the case with flights, but you can score some sweet deals on hotels by booking at the last minute.

Obviously, if you’ve booked a flight and are heading to your destination regardless, you probably don’t want to risk not having a place to stay. So, here’s what you do: Book a hotel with free cancellation but keep your eyes open for cheaper last-minute deals. If luck is on your side, you can cancel your booking with no penalty and head to the cheaper digs.

Expedia, Booking.com, and hotel websites usually allow you to reserve a hotel with free cancellation, and Priceline and Hotel Tonight are good sites for scoping out last-minute bargains.

Be Flexible

You can save a significant amount on travel if you’re a bit flexible with your dates and destination.

Maybe you know you want to visit Germany but would be equally excited to see Poland or Hungary. Perhaps you’re craving a beach getaway but aren’t picky where it’s located as long as there’s sunshine and sand. If you’re not married to a particular week, even better.

When you have flexibility, you can let price be the deciding factor. Use tools like Google Flights to search for the cheapest dates and destinations within a given time frame; then, choose the one that checks the most boxes for you. If you know you want to get away for a week in June, just plug that in and see where and when the deals are.

You’ll also want to make sure you subscribe to airline newsletters so you know when one of your many bucket list destinations goes on sale.

Consider Driving or Taking the Train

If you’re traveling relatively nearby, you might want to look into driving or taking the train instead of flying.

It might not work if time is limited, but if you can spare some extra travel time, a road trip can bring a whole new element of adventure to your plans. If you’re traveling with friends or family, it’s almost certainly cheaper to pile into one vehicle and make the drive than it is to buy multiple airline tickets.

Alternatively, taking a train can be more comfortable and less expensive than flying (but faster than driving). Plus, you get to take in the scenery along the way.

Final Thoughts

Travel is worth the money, but why spend more than you have to? I hope these tips gave you some ideas on how to do more for less this spring and summer.

Do you have any trips on the horizon? Let’s hear about your thrifty travel plans!

Greg Johnson is a personal finance and frugal travel expert who leveraged his online business to quit his 9-5 job, spend more time with his family, and travel the world. He is the co-owner of the popular blog Club Thrifty, where he teaches others how to spend less and travel more.

Saving Money at Disney World

Disney World castle lit up in icicle lights at night. Bluish purple words beneath the image read: "Disney World Savings Tips femmefrugality.com"

The capstone on our Florida trip was Disney World. We had gone not all that long ago, and I had politely put in a complaint about accessibility issues at the park. They offered me free tickets to compensate us for our troubles, so we tried again a few months ago.

Things were mostly better this time. Far from perfect; policies at the park still do not give adequate access to the disabled. But I appreciated that they tried and that we only ran into one gnarly park employee this time around.

Aside from having an overall better experience, I did learn a couple things I wanted to tack on to last year’s Disney savings tips.

Balloons are exchangeable.

 

I spent an embarrassing amount of money on a balloon for one of the littles. I mean, it was pretty awesome. A balloon inside of another balloon–both of which have yet to pop.

The quality might be the reason why the balloon lady let me in on a little secret: you can totally exchange your balloon. If it pops or flies away, just bring your receipt and any balloon remains to the nearest person selling balloons to get a replacement.

Now, let’s say you bought your balloon at Magic Kingdom. The balloon floated away on your way to the car, but you’re not going to Magic Kingdom the next day. You’re going to Disney Hollywood Studios.

Doesn’t matter. Take your receipt to the balloon seller at Hollywood Studios and they’ll get a replacement with no hassle.

Yes, I was tempted to take my receipt to the balloon seller at Hollywood Studios to score a second awesome balloon dishonestly.

No, I did not follow through.

Eat before you go to the park.


Last time we went to Disney World, we tried to wake up early and get there as soon as the parks opened. It was May. It was muggy. Everyone got moody.

So this time, we left a little later in the morning, grabbing a leisurely brunch on the way there. One day we did pancakes in the timeshare (which was once again kindly given to us as a gift by a family member), another we hit up a diner, etc.

In turn, we grabbed one meal, generally at a quick-serve place, while we were at the park and stayed out past bedtime.

If we judge by happiness levels, this was a much better plan. Although another contributing factor may have been the time of year.

I mean, was I happy to pay $60-$70 for quick-serve food? No. But if I’m honest, the quality of food there was higher than what we would have gotten at the fast food joint I would have stopped on the way home out of sheer exhaustion. The price wasn’t ideal, but…

Budget-wise, it was a major win over last year. We ate far fewer meals at the park total, and I cut the character meals altogether. We had already done that once, and the hack I found to meet characters for free for sure at a scheduled time was employed heavily this time around. Calling it a hack might seem like a bit much, but after you’ve spent money on the character meals, it feels like one heck of a hack.

So we didn’t have to stress about meal plans, It also meant we weren’t rushing around to make our reservations because we didn’t have any. So. much. less. stress.

And so much less money.

Ordering professional photos.

Around the different parks, you’ll see opportunities to get your picture taken. Sometimes it’s with mascots, sometimes it’s just at a scenic park. We noticed a bunch of these especially in Animal Kingdom.

I don’t have the best camera on my phone and I’m not the best photographer, so this time I made sure to purposefully take advantage. I tried to bunch together all our professional picture taking at two parks so I could pay to buy the photos from the Disney app for each day. By only doing two days, I was able to save money over paying the “whole trip” price.

Unfortunately I did that last time. There were just too many great memories and pictures. But I did learn the bunching method from that experience.

Do you have Disney World savings tips?

What are your favorite Disney savings hacks? Leave them in the comments!

 

Exploring Calusa Culture at The Mound House

Blue text with brown drop shadow reading: "Learning about Calusa Culture at the Mound House   femmefrugality.com"; directly beneath text, there is a table sitting in front of a window. On the blue table top, which is labeled "Nature's Toolbox" along with some other illegible text, are several tools made out of seashells and wood.

While in Florida, I came across a sign when I was driving back from one of my many Walmart trips to my hotel on Estero Island:

Mound House
Archeological Site –>

I was intrigued. I don’t know that I have ever visited an archeological site before. Historical sites, yes. Reenactment villages, for sure. But an archeological site?

Something new and right up my alley.

When I got back to the hotel, I looked up some info and planned a visit.

Touring the Mound House

 

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The Mound House was built on top of a shell mound built by Calusa Native Americans over the course of 2,000 years. The house itself was built in the 20th century on the highest point on the island.

When they went to install a pool sometime around the 1950s, they realized how real shell mounds were. The residents found themselves digging into shells rather than earth, which had been arranged there specifically to provide high ground in the case of all-too-common regional flooding.

Today, you can go underground and see the excavation site, learning a bit about how Calusa society worked, how they recycled and how that recycling scrambles the dating of the shells when you’re going through them layer by layer.

 

 

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It was extremely interesting. We also got to try out replica weapons, including an atlatl–a mysteriously universal ancient hunting tool–along with some of the wildlife in the region including one bold heron who didn’t flinch as we walked by, less than a foot away.

After the official tour was over, we explored some of the exhibits upstairs. Here we learned about the history of the house, which was built by a local tycoon in order to inspire tourism to the island in my extremely watered-down version of history.

 

 

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The Shrouded History of the Calusa

But also the Calusa Indians, who lived in this region for millennia prior to Spanish invasions, have had their history extremely watered down, and in some cases completely eradicated. And not just in my retelling.

The tribe, whose name means ‘The Fierce Ones,’ were notorious warriors and did very well for themselves. When the Spanish came, they defended themselves heartily. But the introduction of new illnesses to the Calusa contributed in large part to their eventual extinction–at least as I understand it from the short tour I went on that one time when I was in Florida.

The little ones did get to try on replica masks, though. They got to learn about the weapons made of shells that these warriors used to assert their dominance.

 

 

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We also got to learn a bit about the religion, which ironically may have been preserved better than some other aspects of the culture with the introduction of literate Spanish missionaries. One aspect of the religion which I found particularly interesting was the idea that we have three different souls, and they all go different places (or stay) depending on their individual purpose.

We had so much fun and learned a ton. It was easily one of the best last-minute vacation experiences we’ve had as a family.

How much does The Mound House cost?

Visiting and getting the tour wasn’t the most frugal adventure ever (some of the things we did on this trip were free), but it also wasn’t crazy expensive and was worth every penny. Kids’ admission is $5 for children ages 6+, adults get in for $10 and students get in for $8 with an ID. Kids ages five and under do get in for free. Some of the tours won’t cost you more, but the most expensive one, which happens in kayaks, will run you $50/person.

Again, so worth it. Check hours and the tour schedule before you plan your trip, and you could set yourself up to see a replica carving demonstration, visit a touch tank full of the local marine life, kayak through the mangroves or learn more about archeology in a hands-on environment.

The place is magical.