Are you planning to travel to South Korea but you are concerned about the price level? Korea can be both an expensive and a cheap country, depending on your standards and what kind of choices you make. From our opinion, South Korea and even its capital Seoul are surprisingly affordable destinations. Of course it will never be the same as South East Asia but it is possible to survive with a decent budget. We spent two months in South Korea with an average daily budget of only 16 dollars (read our budget sum up here!). Here are some budget tips that help you to travel cheaply in South Korea.
Cheap food and drinks in Korea
You can spend a fortune dining in Korea or you can find more affordable options and still enjoy the local specialties.
Eat street food and visit food markets. Street food stalls are everywhere in Korea and the prices for one portion are normally 500-3.000 won. Read more about our favorite Korean street foods. Our ultimate favorite is the seaweed rice roll kimbap! In local marketplaces you can find cheap eateries crowded with locals. You should stick to these places both because of the price and good quality. You can get a big portion of noodles or bibimbap for just 3.000-5.000 won.
Buy food in convenience stores. The food you get in 7 Eleven, CU and other convenience stores is maybe not the healthiest but will save your money. We recommend triangle kimbap (800-1.000 won) and instant noodles (800-1.500 won). Check out our Korean cup noodle review here.
Have dinner with a big group. Dining is a social event in Korea and most places serve big dishes that feed 3-4 people. When you want to have a proper restaurant dinner, remember that big portions are normally cheaper than individual dishes. When we had fried chicken in Korea, we used to order one big plate for 4 people and paid 4.000-5.000 won each.
Drink at convenience stores. Bars and clubs are expensive and will eat up your budget before you even notice. Start the evening by hanging out on the plastic chairs in front of a convenience store (drinking inside however is not allowed) and drink soju or makgeolli in a local way. At some point, locals will probably start chatting with you and you make new friends at the same time. Soju has the best “alcohol to price ratio” as one bottle costs only 1.500 won and equals half a bottle of wine (sometimes backpacking is like going back to the student life…). Try the pomegranate, apple and peach flavors which are our favorites besides the original one that actually tastes better as somek: soju mixed with beer. Another good combination is makgeolli with grape lemonade.
Buy takeaway coffee. In Korea the coffee costs even two times more if you drink it on the spot. If you don’t want spend half of your budget in a cafe, grab the coffee with you and enjoy it while walking around or sitting in a park. In Busan our favorite place was One Liter Coffee where americano cost only 800 won. We didn’t see this chain in Seoul but there are some places that sell takeaway coffee for 1.000 won.
Cheap (or free!) accommodation in Korea
If you want to save money in Korea, skip the expensive hotels! There are many ways to sleep in cheap places or even for free in Korea.
Volunteering. This is what we did in Busan for six weeks. Besides free accommodation and food, we had a blast and got to know the Korean culture and gained many many new friends! There are language cafes and hostels that regularly need volunteers. Check out Workaway and Helpx.
Korean spa. Jimgilbang is a great place not for only relaxing and bathing, but also for sleeping. The spas have a common resting space where people wear the clothes offered by the spa and sleep on the floor on thin mattresses. Maybe not the most comfortable place if you are picky or have back problems, but we slept very well in the spas. The price range is 7.000-12.000 won.
Couchsurfing. Like in any country, we recommend couchsurfing because it’s the best way to experience the local culture and save your budget. We surfed with several hosts in Seoul and one night in Jeonju and Daegu.
The trains work fine in South Korea but normally they are not the cheapest way to travel. If you want to save money on transportation, check out these options.
Buses. The buses are a great way to travel cheaply in South Korea. Because South Korea is not a big country and the highways are good, the bus journey won’t take you much longer than a train. The cheapest bus from Seoul to Busan costs 23.000 won and takes 4 hours. The trip from Seoul to Jeonju costs 12.700 won and takes less than 3 hours.
Hitchhiking. South Korea is a safe country for hitchhiking so why not to give it a try? There is not too much information about hitchhiking in Korea on Hitchwiki but we managed to hitch from Busan to Daegu. Our hitchhiking from Jeonju to Seoul was not that successful. After one hour of waiting a guy offered us a ride, not to Seoul but to the bus station. We ended up having free bus tickets because he insisted paying for them so we kind of hitchhiked a bus ride… Anyways, we are pretty sure that if you find a good spot in the beginning of a highway, you will get a ride sooner or later!
Are you planning a trip to Korea any time soon?