How To Enjoy A Road Trip While On a Budget In Japan 【7min Read】

Travelling for extended periods can be quite a money vacuum…Here are some ways that you can save your wallet while still having a good time on the road!

Blog post written by M.K @ BeLocal

So my sister and I recently travelled to Shikoku, which is a big island made up of 4 prefectures, southwest of Tokyo. We travelled from the Kanto region, which is about a ten-hour drive directly but we took a week trip to see the well-known scenery and landscapes. However, the problem was that we were on quite a tight budget, so we couldn’t do the luxurious things that people might imagine on a week getaway. Regardless, both of us wanted to explore the natural scenery and enjoy the whole road trip experience. With our budget in mind, some things were essential to making the trip possible.


By far the most important part that saved us money is accommodation. Hotels here can get pricey so we decided to stay inside our car, parked at a roadside station commonly known as 道の駅 (michi no eki). These are little stops where you can park your car, go to the toilet and eat food. So these roadside stations provided us with the essentials for accommodation, without even a parking fee. These roadside stations are often relatively close to the main road so there’s no need for a detour and staying there is no danger as there are often other campers in the area. What’s more, since many people stop by, there are usually great views and souvenir shops there.

Note: In rural areas, it might be hard to find these frequently so it’s recommended that you search for them beforehand and plan your travels for the day. Also, most of the shops close quite early (before 9 pm) so if you were hoping for a meal there, please search the opening hours beforehand (most toilets are open 24 hours).

2.       ONSEN (CLEAN)

Another important aspect of a road trip is staying clean. We went to an Onsen or communal hot spring every night, which ranges from about 600 to 1000 yen if it is a privately owned place. Here you can not only get clean but many places have restaurants to dine in. If we go up a rank, sometimes you can charge your phone, read and lounge. The the best feeling is getting back on the road after relaxing in a steaming hot bath.

If it is a local hot spring (市営温泉 Shiei Onsen) then the price range should start from about 200 yen, which is a pretty good deal. The problem with these is that they are quite difficult as they are aimed at locals in that area. Note: Many places have shampoos, conditioners and body wash as well as combs and razors. However, towels usually are charged extra (about 200 yen). 

3.       EATING

Meals seem to be quite a challenge on the road, as they are just one of those things that the expenditure accumulates overtime. It’s quite tempting to eat out, as there are so many new things with each area, and I understand that this is part of the travel experience. However, since my sister and I are quite scenery-based travellers, we felt that luxury with food was a sacrifice we could make. Convenience stores may be the option for many travellers, as it is quick and easy, but we found that even this can accumulate to a lot (especially with snacks involved).

So we turned to レトルトRetoruto which is boil-in-the-bag food and brought along with us a portable cooking stove and a saucepan to prepare the food. At supermarkets here, there are many options like Gyu-Don, Oyako-Don, curries, etc. Rice can be bought in 6 packs (180g) for about 300 yen, giving us about 3 meals. Ramen could also be another cheap option, especially when bought in packs. These types of foods are quite convenient as it doesn’t go off and can be stored neatly away until you need them.

But what about vegetables and nutrients?
We sometimes bought vegetables and eggs at the supermarket, or the roadside stations mentioned earlier. The problem with vegetables though is that after one day of hot weather, they go south. At times, we got ice at the supermarkets for free (past the checkout counter) and stored the vegetables in a cooler. Otherwise, long-lasting vegetables such as eggplant (our personal favourite), cabbage and carrots could be the way to go.

One thing that I suggest and that I regret us not doing is buying water in bulk. It can be quite annoying to stop at convenience stores to stock up on water so I suggest buying a six-pack for cheaper at a supermarket.


And finally, fees for the actual travelling aspect of the road trip could also be cut down in some ways. Electronic toll collection cards, ETC cards which are like the road-equivalent of IC cards for trains) are quite common in Japan and make travelling a lot easier and cheaper. For example, we went on the Shimanami Kaido (Nishi Seto Expressway) on our way back and our fees were cut down to about half because we used ETC cards. You can see here the prices for this particular expressway with and without ETC.

Furthermore, the time of travel is quite important. There are midnight discounts (深夜割引Shinya Waribiki)for some highways, which allows 30% off the ETC fee if travelling between 12 AM and 4 AM. You can see more information about that here.

As for the scenery aspect, most lookouts that we visited were free (nature is free!). Just be careful with parking fees as with more countryside areas, parking can be quite pricey.

Unfortunately, gas was quite a major component of the money spent and it’s quite hard to budget on this. Regardless, we tried to pick the best time and lowest price to fuel up.

I hope some of these can spark some ideas about how to travel to Japan on a budget. Of course, with the current COVID-19 situation and the GoToTravel campaign, you can maybe save more on those travel fees!

Good luck with your exploring, friends! 


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