Budget Tips Korea

How to Travel in Korea and Still Save Money

To spend money or to save money? One of the biggest conundrums that teachers in Korea face every Friday when that final bell rings. Should you go out and blow all your money on mountains of soju and samgyeopsal? Or should you be sensible and save those hard earned wons for your next big trip, mortgage deposit, hefty student loan repayments or anything else you might be saving for?

Since I started my mega saving challenge I’ve been trying hard to strike the balance between living in the moment and saving for the future- we all know that the future is important, but at the same time, I’m not going to live on a street with multiple noraebangs and Korean Restaurants forever. Or an intercity bus terminal, giving me access to numerous destinations across Korea- so what should I do? Should I make the most of it? Or should I make the most of being able to save for the future?

Luckily, travelling in Korea doesn’t need to burst your budget. Spending all your money on shite you don’t need? Yeah, that will do the trick. But budget travel in Korea is pretty easy. Take my word for it- I visit a new place almost every weekend and still only spend around 500,000KRW a month on everything! I’m going to share some of the tips that I’ve picked up over the past 2 years so that you too can leave Korea with plenty of places checked off your bucketlist, and plenty of wons in the bank too.

All costs in this post are quoted in South Korean Won (KRW.)

(At the time of writing 1,000KRW = 60p (GBP) and 85 cents (USD))

Transport

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Coming from the UK, where we have some of the most expensive (and least efficient) public transport in the whole of Europe, I am always blown away by how far I can get for how little money here. Budget travel in Korea is easy when the transport is this cheap.

Most big cities (Seoul, Busan, Daegu etc) have a subway system and tickets run around 1,300KRW each way. More rural places might not have the luxury of a subway system, but they usually will have quite a well-connected public bus system. If you do ever need to get a taxi, it shouldn’t eat too much into your budget, but most of the time there is no need.

Top tips

  • If you’re going to be here for a while, learn a bit of hanguel and get yourself to grips with Daum Maps to find the quickest and cheapest routes.
  • Invest in a T-Money card. You can pick these up at most convenience stores- just load it up and scan it when you get on and off the bus. You’ll be treated to a slightly lower bus fare and won’t be charged extra for any transfers that you make.

For intercity travel, I would always recommend taking an intercity bus over the KTX. To me, the time saved just isn’t worth the investment. For double the price of a bus ticket, the KTX will only get you there a fraction quicker. Sometimes it’s nice to spend a little bit more to cut down your journey time- like taking a 45-minute flight instead of a 12-hour bus journey, but in this case, there is really no need. Another bonus- the bus usually has much more leg room and is far more comfortable than the KTX.

Accommodation

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My absolute favourite place to sleep on a budget is the notorious old love motel. While these places might not have the best reputation in the world, they’re clean, comfortable and are usually found near bus terminals or in the main downtown areas, so they’re super convenient too. Double rooms run around 40,000KRW but I’ve found a few for 30,000KRW- not bad at all when split between 2 people.

Probably the cheapest place to sleep, and a place that’s really unique to Korea, is a jjimjilbang. You might need to sleep on the floor with loads of ajjumas and ajjushis, but it’s only 10,000KRW and you can use the baths and saunas as much as you like too- visiting the jjimjilbang is one of my favourite things to do in the wintertime. If you do decide to sleep there, just remember your ear plugs!

Maybe this all sounds like a bit too much cultural integration for you? I’m sure you’ll be
glad to hear that there are more and more hostels opening up across the country. For not much more than you’d pay to sleep in a jjimjilbang, you can easily get a bed in a dorm room with breakfast included. However, you definitely won’t have as good a scrub down in the morning so choose your allegiance wisely!

Check out some awesome hostels in Korea here!

And then there’s camping. I love my wee tent that I picked up in homeplus for 40,000KRW. It’s free and legal to camp most places in Korea so it’s perfect for weekends in the countryside or at the beach.

Things to Do

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With so many free things to do in Korea, there is really no reason to blow all your budget on activities.

Outdoor junkies will be pleased to find that most cities have easily accessible hiking trails with amazing views from the top. Two big ones to check out are Bukhansan National Park in Seoul and Jangsan Mountain in Busan (confession- I’ve still not been to either!) which offer climbers some amazing city views and are completely free. Last weekend I did an amazing hike on an island called Saryangdo. Since I arranged all my own transport it hardly cost a penny. You can read all about it here.

My personal favourite free thing to do in Korea? Cycling! The country is blessed with an amazing bike path system which spans across most of the country and gives you a chance to see a more down to earth, rural Korea. If you’re staying for a while then it might be an idea to invest in a bike of your own, then sell it off before you leave.

For all you culture vultures- museums and heritage sites are both plentiful and are usually free or have a small admission charge.

And of course, how could we forget about the many FREE festivals in Korea. While some of these are a bit weird (like this red pepper festival…a lot of them are definitely worth visiting, even just for the street food! In Apri, I got my blooms on at the Jinhae Cherry Blossom Festival and Cheonju Mountain Azalea Festival without spending a penny, or having to leave my own city. The Korean Tourism website is a great resource for finding out about festivals across the country.

Eating

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As a general rule of thumb, the more you stick to Korean food, the less you can expect to spend.

One of my favourite places to eat in Korea is at the Kimbab shops such as Kimbab Nara and Kimbab Cheonguk. While I know that a lot of my Korean friends look down their nose at these sort of places, I think they are the ideal place for budget travellers in Korea. Personally, I love them because I can get a filling meal for less than 7,000KRW. Plus, they have a really varied menu, so they’re a great place to go if you want to try a wide variety of Korean dishes. I often go to these sort of restaurants if I can’t be bothered cooking through the week- cheaper than McDonalds, and better for you!

Now, I do understand that going into these shops can be a bit intimidating, especially if you’re not familiar with hanguel so here are some of my personal recommendations:

  • Donkasseu (돈까스) is a great choice for fussy foreigners who steer clear of seafood and aren’t too keen on spice.
  • Bibimbap (비빕밥) is great for veggies- just ask them to hold the meat.
  • And kimchi jiggae (김치지게) is perfect to warm you up on a cold day, or just to fill you up anyday!
  • My personal favourite? It’s a bit of a guilty pleasure actually! When I really want to treat myself I go for cheese rabokki (치즈라보기) which is tteokboki AND ramyeon together with a melted cheese slice on top- so indulgent, but so good!

 

Boozing

Apres Ski!

Apres Ski!

Stopping drinking is the absolute number 1 way to save money while travelling. But what if you’re a bit like me and like to toast the end of your day with a wee bevy? There’s one move you need to make- get out the bar, and get to the convenience store.

Convenience stores in Korea are a godsend for so many reasons. For starters, beer gardens are few and far between in this country. Convenience stores are equipped with little picnic tables outside so you can create your own beer garden- but without the huge markup on your drink. There’s a lot to be said for the variety of drinks too- so many flavours of soju (usually around 1,400KRW for a 350ml bottle/20%alc) that will get you pissed pretty economically and, these days, there’s also a really wide selection of international beers that are constantly on special offer. The cherry on the cake? They even have super convenient ice cups and bags of mixers which I honestly think were made with soju-mixing in mind!

Actually, last time I checked, a bottle of soju was cheaper than a bottle of coke the same size- so really boozing and budget travel in Korea go hand in hand!

So, as you can see, there’s really no reason to spend your year in Korea cooped up in your studio apartment, eating ramyeon and vowing to sobriety- unless, of course you want to! Travelling in Korea doesn’t need to be expensive-I hope these tips can help you really make the most of your time here without sacrificing too much of your savings. If you’re interested in learning more about budget travel in Korea and how I save money for all my big trips, then don’t miss these posts:

Anymore tips to add to this? Let me know in the comments!

How to Travel in Korea and Still Save Money

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32 Comments

  • Reply
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    22nd June 2016 at 4:36 pm

    […] How to Travel in Korea and Still Save Money […]

    • Reply
      Sonia
      30th June 2017 at 9:06 am

      Great tips! As someone who has lived (camped and biked) for most of the last 20 years in Korea. .. I could say “duh!”. . . but glad to see young people discover these obvious activities and publicize them!

      • Reply
        Nicole Louise
        5th July 2017 at 7:11 pm

        Haha thanks Sonja! You’d be surprised (or maybe not so much) by how many expats just hang around Itaewon every weekend and complain that everything in Korea is expensive. It’s great to get out and explore instead!

  • Reply
    Megan Indoe
    30th June 2016 at 10:39 pm

    These are all great tips! We try to find ways to do things budget friendly as we are saving for our future and travel outside of Korea. KTX tickets can really add up, we have been using the bus lately to save money. I love the kimbap shops you mentioned too! You can get all the banchan and main dish for so cheap! Did you know alot of the marts have a 4 for 10,000 deal on alot of imported beer cans!?! That was dangerous knowledge for us to learn as we started finding more reasons to drink not one beer, but 4 since it was a better deal! Haha. Thanks for sharing, this will be super helpful for anyone currently or thinking of living here!
    Megan Indoe recently posted…Kids Lose Their Minds Over The First Ever Egg OlympicsMy Profile

    • Reply
      Nicole Louise
      1st July 2016 at 1:16 pm

      Yes! That deal is dangerous, I’ve started drinking double the beer because of it! If you’re organised you can pick up single cans in the supermarket for just 2500 each which is also amazing. But I’m not that organised and struggle to let a beer sit in the fridge for more than a couple of days lol!
      Thanks so much Megan! 🙂

  • Reply
    Wendy
    1st July 2016 at 12:34 am

    Korea has so many nooks and crannies to discover and they’re all a delight. It will only cost you your tired feet and camera. You’re right about the T-money. Definitely saves you a lot of transport money since the system is centralized. So within 30minutes of getting off the bus or subway and you take on another bus or subway, you don’t get charged unless your distance already requires additional fare.

    It’s amazing to know that you are still on your budget and yet you get to explore. Enjoy, enjoy!

    • Reply
      Nicole Louise
      1st July 2016 at 1:15 pm

      Hey, thanks so much!! Yeah there is sooo much to explore round here and it doesn’t have to cost a fortune. Love the public transport!

  • Reply
    Gina
    1st July 2016 at 9:11 am

    I really loved reading this! These are fantastic tricks on how to save money! I actually gave up on drinking because it does cost a lot of money, but I will have a beer with my chicken. It’s just not Korea without that delicious mix! A great way to save on beer and chicken is to order take out and buy your own beer from the local grocery store. 😉 My boyfriend and I did that on our anniversary! I’m really excited to read your Mega 5 Month Saving Challenge!

    • Reply
      Nicole Louise
      1st July 2016 at 1:14 pm

      Thanks! That’s fab that you gave up drinking. I did that for a while in the winter but now that it’s hot I keep craving beer and ice cups full of soju lol!
      Totally agree with you on the fried chicken- you just can’t eat it with pepsi or cider! 🙂

  • Reply
    Samantha | There She Goes Again
    1st July 2016 at 11:42 am

    Ah I love being able to save money in Korea. It’s SO easy if you just have patience and aren’t too picky about your food. Some of my friends are over Korean food, so of course all the foreign restaurants start adding up! And the hiking is major. There are so many options, and most of them are totally free. They’re SUCH a beautiful side to Korea as well!

    • Reply
      Nicole Louise
      1st July 2016 at 1:10 pm

      Aw there are so many foreigner friendly things yous could go for- I love dalk galbi and galbi jjim! Foreign restaurants defos do add up but it’s nice to get a wee taste of home sometimes 🙂
      Yup, love the hikes! Perfect for us penny pinchers!

  • Reply
    Emre
    1st July 2016 at 11:43 am

    Fantastic tips that will save travelers a lot of money. I remember the first time I stayed accidentally in a love motel. I flicked on the lights and instead of normal light it was blacklight, and a whole neon mural popped up on the wall. I thought that night was going to be a bit sketchy, but really it’s not that much different than a regular hotel (except the whole blacklight thing obviously). Another tip I have is when you want coffee don’t go to the big chains. They will charge you double than the small independent stores. The atmosphere is also better at those places, because their interiors are all unique.
    Emre recently posted…Cafes on the Han RiverMy Profile

    • Reply
      Nicole Louise
      1st July 2016 at 1:07 pm

      Haha love motels are the best!! I’ve never experienced a neon mural in my room though lol, that would definitely give me a headache!
      Yeah, that’s a great tip! I actually go to the Asia Marts and stock up on huge bags of vietnamese coffee to help feed my coffee cravings without spending too much money. Starbucks is an absolute rip off but there are plenty of cute wee indie cafes about. Even in the smallest of towns 🙂

  • Reply
    Williams Kyei
    1st July 2016 at 12:05 pm

    I couldn’t agree more with you on these great tips. I was shocked to experience the cheap transport system here in Korea, yet very efficient. And oh, I don’t cook so I eat at the Kimbap restaurants, everyday. Way too affordable and good. Thanks for sharing fellow..
    Williams Kyei recently posted…My father’s last wordsMy Profile

    • Reply
      Nicole Louise
      1st July 2016 at 1:08 pm

      Thanks so much! Yeah public transport is amazing, especially in comparison to The UK where our transport prices are astronomical!
      Those kimbab restaurants are amazing. Everytime I cook something and look at all the dishes I need to go, I wish I had went there instead lol 🙂

  • Reply
    Shirgie Scf
    1st July 2016 at 10:05 pm

    Great tips Nicole, these tips come in handy. But modesty aside, I’ve been here in Korea for almost three years and I have checked a lot of places out of my bucket list already and I just realized that traveling Korea is not really expensive. I am not sure if you’ll agree but saving and traveling can be done here. And should I add, if you find it expensive to buy food when you’re on trip, convenience store is everywhere in Korea, you can grab ramyeon and water or sandwich for something to eat.

    • Reply
      Nicole Louise
      4th July 2016 at 9:07 am

      There is literally a convenience store on every street, it’s amazing! Travelling definitely doesn’t need to be expensive here 🙂

  • Reply
    Jackie
    2nd July 2016 at 3:00 pm

    I personally find it hard to save money in Korea because I’m always tempted to buy the delicious food or go splurge on Korean BBQ! Traveling-wise it’s not expensive but food is a different story altogether. Thanks for the tips though and for pointing out that coke is just the same price as soju—I didn’t know that! Lol

    • Reply
      Nicole Louise
      4th July 2016 at 9:07 am

      Eating out is my biggest vice too! But I find that if I stick to Korean it’s ok- an all you can eat BBQ place opened in my neighbourhood and it’s only 10,000 won. Dangerous! Haha yup, that’s a fact you probably didn’t need to know!

  • Reply
    Hanani
    2nd July 2016 at 3:05 pm

    Amazing tips, Nicole! I love reading this. Thank you so much for sharing — I’m gonna put these tips into practice too!!! 🙂

  • Reply
    Izzy
    3rd July 2016 at 1:22 pm

    I honestly didn’t think that Korea was that expensive on an overall save for all the shopping sprees and all the going out I would do. If you’re a homebody, you can actually live pretty frugally however theres so much to do so I feel like that was a near impossibility for me. And I’m glad you share my love of cycling in Korea. It truly is something else over there right? I miss my bike sooo, sooo much!

    • Reply
      Nicole Louise
      4th July 2016 at 9:04 am

      The cycling is amazing!! Wish I had known about it in my first year but been taking advantage of it more recently 🙂

  • Reply
    Alla Ponomareva
    4th July 2016 at 8:28 am

    Great post and tips! I’m also a frugal-type gal, biking places, going to clothing exchanges and have a Beer-Brewing husband alongside definitely helps to keep the cost of boozing down. Maybe you should look into Homebrewing, if you’re keen, he has a few courses you might enjoy – http://www.ibrewubrewbeer.com/learn-to-brew/

    • Reply
      Nicole Louise
      4th July 2016 at 9:02 am

      Ohhh, some of my friends homebrew and their beer is always amazing! Will definitely look into this, thanks for sharing 🙂

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  • Reply
    Eryn
    19th December 2016 at 12:06 pm

    If you want to see some interesting things you can also do things with Adventure Korea. We went ice fishing and to North Korea to name a few. Not too expensive and normally covers all the costs.

    • Reply
      Nicole Louise
      19th December 2016 at 9:11 pm

      Great tip! I usually tend to travel independently as it works out much cheaper. However, sometimes those tours can be economical!

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