Travelling is fun, but it is expensive. Tokyo is no exception. Hailed as 2013’s Most Expensive City to live in, Tokyo is both a dream and nightmare for budget travelers. It is a dream because Tokyo is, in my opinion, one of the friendliest, craziest cities in the world, and is completely safe for solo female travelers. It is a nightmare because everything is so expensive.
Meetrip: Cheap Tours that don’t cost an Arm, a Leg, and Half your Wallet
A couple months ago, I discovered a peer to peer travel website, Meetrip. It is a website where locals offer tours in their city, and show wandering tourists around their city. It’s basically like traveling around with a friendly stranger who is very excited to show you around their neighborhood. Since it skips the “middle man” (travel agencies), and all the money goes directly to the guide, the tours are surprisingly cheap.
I like the idea, because I detest traditional tours. They seem impersonal (not to mention expensive) and don’t show the “true” side of a city. However, I hate traveling alone because I am indecisive. When I travel, I prefer to do so with someone who know the city; rather than pave my own way, I prefer to travel alongside a seasoned explorer who already knows the (and can take me to) the best points in the city.
How it works:
Meetrip operates in thirteen cities, four of which are in Japan (Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto, and Okinawa). Despite the fact that Tokyo is freakishly expensive to live and travel in, most tours are $10 – $20 (the website used USD) and run from two to three hours.
Each city has its own webpage with a list of tours. Each tour has a picture of the guide, a short description, some pictures of the place, and the price. The website is completely in English.
To book a tour, send the local host a private message with your name, your interests, and when you are visiting Tokyo. They will throw out a couple suggestions, help you figure out a timeline, and decide on a day to meet. You pay via PayPal; there are no hidden costs. I usually send out five or six messages at a time, since about half of the tour guides will be too busy to respond.
Click here for the Tokyo Meetrip page.
Examples of tours:
Initially skeptical, I signed up for my first tour with a friend who was visiting Tokyo. She wanted to see famous temples in Japan, but I had no idea where to take her. For $10 per person, a group of two adorable Japanese girls showed us around Asakusa, took us to a nearby parade, and went out to eat with us at a charming, hole-in-the-wall restaurant in Harajuku. I had a wonderful time; both the girls added me on Facebook later, and we meet up occasionally to go to events in Tokyo (for free, of course).
Another one of my favorite tours was a fake food museum in Tokyo. Nearly every restaurant in Tokyo has those realistic, delicious looking plastic food samples in the front window. I was curious where all this fake food came from; I found a guide on Meetrip who was willing to take me to a museum and fake food factory near her house. At the gift shop, I bought my own plastic food kit and made a (crappy) melon soda ice cream float at my house the next day.
Last week, a Japanese man and his girlfriend took me to my first sumo competition. They went out of their way to make sure I had an English pamphlet, explain the rules of sumo, take me around the stadium, and take my picture with a passing sumo wrestler.
Recommended Tokyo Accommodation
All of those tours were only $10. I try to go on a Meetrip tour about once a month, since it is a great chance to practice Japanese, see the relatively unknown places in Tokyo, and meet new friends.
Meetrip is a great service for Cheapos that hate traveling alone. Not only do the guides help translate, but they also take care of most of the planning. Some are interested in the money, but most are generally interesting in meeting foreigners. Traveling in Tokyo