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Planning a trip to Hokkaido? Take on these 11 tips to make sure you’re getting the most out of your budget!

Mount Tokachi - Hokkaido Road Trip GuideYou might be familiar with the usual budget tips in Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto but much of Hokkaido lives on its own rules. The pace of life, the preferred mode of getting around and even their food has a nice twist on the usual Japanese cuisine we’re used to in Tokyo, Kyoto or Osaka. If you’ve read our 8-day Hokkaido Itinerary for less than S$1k, this Hokkaido budget guide is a great supplement to planning your Hokkaido road trip!

Transport

1) Enter via Hakodate with your JR Pass

JR East Travel Service Center - JR Pass Japan Budget Guide (Tokyo to Osaka)

If you’re on a 7, 14 or 21 day Whole Japan JR Pass, reserve the last few days for Hokkaido! From Tokyo station, it’s around 4 – 4.5 hours direct via the Hayabusa Shinkansen. You can take the latest train at 7:20PM and arrive at Shin Hakodate at 11:33PM. The single ticket fare is already ¥22,810 (including seat reservation) and is likely to exceed the value of your pass.

Hanami along Motomachi Park-Budget Hokkaido Itinerary Road TripFrom Hakodate, you can reserve another day on your JR Pass to travel to Sapporo or rent a car from Hakodate to begin your road trip. We recommend the latter so you can cover Lake Toya and Noboribetsu on the way towards Sapporo.

Travelling with a JR Pass? Here are some of our JR Pass inspired itineraries:
– Whole Japan JR Pass: 7D Tokyo to Osaka for less than S$1.1k and 8D Japan Winter Itinerary: 8days, under S$1.2k
– Kansai-Hiroshima JR Pass: 8 days, 9 Cities from Osaka to Hiroshima for under S$1.1k

2) Drivers, get the Hokkaido Expressway Pass (HEP)

Hokkaido Expressway Pass (HEP) - Hokkaido Budget GuideThe Hokkaido Expressway Pass (HEP) is a concessional pass for toll roads in Hokkaido. To give you an idea, one-way on the toll road from Hakodate to Sapporo costs ¥6010 or ¥7430 if you stop at Lake Toya and Noboribetsu. If you’re on the road for 8 days, it’s only ¥1,025/day so you do the math.

If you love long drives and aren’t in a rush, there’s always alternative routes with smaller roads to skip the tolls. Though, for us I think a huge perk for getting a HEP was that it gave us a peace of mind when following the GPS. The GPS tends to automatically select the shortest route which will very likely include tolls. But since we were on the HEP, we didn’t have to stress about making a wrong turn and ending up in front of a toll gate unintentionally.

Sakuragaokadori Road-Budget Hokkaido Itinerary Road Trip

Do note that the HEP is for the entire duration of your car rental even if you don’t plan to take the toll roads on certain days. Despite not using toll roads everyday during our 8-day road trip, we still exceeded the ¥8200 value we paid for our 8-day HEP — we would have otherwise spent ¥22,290 on the ETC card.

Note that unless you own an ETC card, there’s a one-time rental charge of ¥324 on top of the HEP.

4) If you’re renting a car, travel in 4s

Monbetsu Okhost sea-Budget Hokkaido Budget Guide

While Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka are great for solo travellers, driving seems to be the best way to explore this region. Optimise your cost by travelling in a group of 4 since this is the most comfortable number for regular A-Class (mid-range) cars. They fit 4 medium-sized luggages fit perfectly and many accommodations cater for either 2 or 4 (e.g. Japanese-style tatami rooms or couches that open up into a queen-sized bed).

Connectivity

5) Get your SIM Card/WiFi device from Singapore

SIM Cards and WiFi devices in Japan are really expensive! 7-day SIM Cards come in 2GB and unlimited but cost ¥3,800 (~S$46.50) and ¥4,980 (~S$60.80) respectively and WiFi devices cost from ¥814–1,296/day depending on the total duration of rental.

We got collected our WiFi device from Singapore at S$3/day and an 8-day unlimited data SIM card for S$41!

Accommodation

6) In cities, save on parking by picking accommodations in convenient locations

Hakodate Kokusai Hotel-Budget Hokkaido Itinerary Road TripIn cities like Hakodate, Sapporo, Otaru and Asahikawa, parking can be pricy and hard to find. Stay somewhere central where you can either walk or take a quick local train ride to the attractions. For example in Hakodate, our Hotel Hakodate Kokkusai was wedged right between the Hakodate Asaichi Morning Market and Kanemori Red Brick Warehouse both of which were only a 5–10min walk from our hotel.

In Otaru, the Otaru Canal is a major tourist attraction but there are limited parking spaces near the canal and are about ¥300/30minutes if you do snag one.Hotel Sonia Otaru is located directly across the road from the canal and some rooms even offer one of the best views of it! The Sankaku fish market as well as famous dessert stores in Otaru like LeTao and Kitakaro are also within walking distance from this hotel.

*Pro-tip: Get 5% off your accommodation at any of the Hotel MYSTAYS outlets mentioned above by using <TTI5> under coupon code! 🙂

Activities

7) Free alcohol tasting!

Nikka Whiskey Tasting in Yoichi-Budget Hokkaido Itinerary Road Trip

Sake, whiskey, wine or beer lover? There are breweries around the Hokkaido region open to visitors for free and usually end with a few tester cups to taste. The down side is we always end up buying a bottle or 2 anyway because they’re much cheaper for the quality you get here 😛

These make for a great evening pit-stop just before arriving at the next city’s accommodation. Just make sure the driver doesn’t drink too much or is given enough time before you hit the road once again!

Sapporo beer museum - Budget Hokkaido GuideSapporo:
Sapporo Beer Museum — while the beers aren’t free to taste, the museum is free and a set of 3 taster cups costs ¥600.
Asahi Beer Factory — comes with 3 free beers to taste after the 90-minute tour (Closes at 3PM)

Nikka Whiskey Museum in Yoichi-Budget Hokkaido Itinerary Road TripYoichi — 30 minutes from Otaru:
Nikka Whiskey Distillery — Comes with 3 taster cups of Nikka whiskey (Closes at 4PM)
Yoichi Winery (Closes at 5PM, not open on Tuesdays and Wednesdays)

Asahikawa:
Otokoyama Sake Brewery and Museum (Closes at 5PM)

8) Must-see sights that are free

While ski resorts, major flower parks and certain observatories require entrance fees, there’s also a lot that don’t! Here’s our top 5 places:

1) Hakodate

Goryokaku Park Sakura Trees-Budget Hokkaido Itinerary Road Trip
Sakura season at the Goryukaku Park

2) Biei

Shirogane Blue Pond in Biei-Budget Hokkaido Itinerary Road Trip
Shirogane Blue Pond

3) Furano

Lavender Ice cream at Farm Tomita Furano -Hokkaido Road Trip Itinerary
Lavender Ice Cream at Farm Tomita

4) Lake Kussharo

Bihoro Pass Obsevertory - Budget Hokkaido Itinerary
Bihoro Pass Observatory

5) Lake Shikaribetsu
Lake Shikaribetsu - Hokkaido Road Trip Itinerary

Food & Shopping

9) Plan for pit-stops at convenience stores

Convenience store lunch-Budget Hokkaido Itinerary Road Trip

Convenience stores like Lawson, Seicomart, 7-eleven and Family mart probably need no introduction. But other than getting affordable and decent meals (some you can even have freshly heated), convenience stores are also great pit-stops whenever you need a toilet break while on the road. To save on time and money while on the road, we’d usually have at least one meal at a convenience store everyday. Unless there’s a must-visit food stop, convenience stores were our go-to breakfast/dinner stops. (Why not lunch? See next point.)

10) Have restaurant meals during lunch instead of dinner

Unagidokoro Takahashi (うなぎ処 高はし) in Hakodate-Hokkaido Budget Guide
Unagidokoro Takahashi (うなぎ処 高はし) in Hakodate

Whenever possible — especially if the restaurant is famous for a certain dish — plan to visit for lunch simply because the lunch menu is cheaper than dinner. This usually only applies to the cities like Sapporo, Hakodate and Otaru though! Note that they open pretty late (around 11AM) so if you need to leave the town early and can’t make it for lunch, splurging on some dinners ain’t that bad.

11) Get your snacks at the New Chitose Airport

Many observatories and rest stops have shops selling famous Hokkaido snacks but resist buying them as they’re definitely cheaper at the airport! Getting them at the airport also saves you from carrying the load of snacks around on your trip; and potentially finishing them all before they reach home. The airport even sells Kinotoya’s baked cheese tarts and LeTao’s famous Double Fromage cake which you can purchase along with an ice bag so it will last 9-10hours.

And that wraps up the 11 tips we picked up on our 8-Day Budget Road Trip in Hokkaido! Got any personal tips that weren’t in this list? Would love to hear of them in the comments section below! 🙂


This post was brought to you by MYSTAYS Hotel.

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ENFP and Co-founder of The Travel Intern. Fuelled by yoga, the outdoors, and anything that spells adventure, she quit her 4 year marketing job to explore yoga for 3 months in India. Back with a little more flexibility, zest for adventures and stories to tell, follow her adventures on Instagram @cheriesyw :)

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