05 Jul 6 Tips for Budget Travel in Korea
South Korea was often overlooked by travelers to Asia who opt to visit Japan or Southeast Asia. But thanks to Kpop and the Hallyu wave, Korea is gaining recognition and attracting more tourists.
Upon arrival, one will quickly discover that there is much more to the peninsula than kimchi and BB cream. Serene mountain ranges, quaint villages, vibrant rice paddies, rambunctious markets, and tranquil Buddhist temples can be found in tucked away corners.
Dynamic is perhaps the best adjective to describe the clashing of generations in a nation that went from shambles to one of the most economically powerful countries in 50 years. So, it goes without saying that Korea is a rewarding place to explore. Here are some tested tips on budget travel in South Korea.
Save money on accommodation by sleeping at jjimjilbangs (Korean saunas)
Sore feet from a day’s worth of exploration? Pamper yourself in hot baths and get a place to sleep for as little as little as $6 USD. Going to the public bath is a favorite pasttime for Koreans and a must on every traveler’s bucket list for the ultimate Korean experience. Do note the adjective, public, so you are naked among dozens of locals of the same sex. It may be uncomfortable at first, but most people become accustomed quickly when they realize everyone is in the same boat. Talk about a great way to step out of your comfort zone! In the coed sleeping area, don’t expect luxurious comfort, but rather a floor to sleep on and perhaps a mat and pillow. Sleeping overnight in a Korean spa is fa from luxurious, but still a unique experience nonetheless. Read more details about staying at a Korean sauna.
Eat at Kimbap Shops
24-hour kimbap shops are ubiquitous and a decent way to try a variety of Korean food without breaking the bank. Prices range from about $1.30 to $6 USD. The dishes won’t win any awards, but it is a fine introduction to the various dishes such as stews (Kimchi jjigae), soups (dumpling and rice cake soup), kimbap (rice and vegetable rolled in seaweed), rice dishes, pork cutlet (adaptation of Japanese tonkatsu), and spicy rice cakes (tteokbokkki). Check out this menu for a general translation.
Get out of the big cities
This may be a given for most travelers, but I’ve met quite a few people who went to Korea and only stayed in Seoul. Unless you are only interested in citylife, I highly recommend going out into the countryside and visiting some of Korea’s slower paced life. Like the water? Visit one of the many islands dotting the coast such as Namhae and Bigeumdo. A mountain goat? Take your pick at one of the many mountains and national parks. Seoraksan, Jirisan, and Wochulsan are among the most beautiful mountains. To be frank, the big cities in Korea all look the same and have the same kind of franchises, so sticking to just Seoul and Busan is good enough for a short trip.
Carry a reusable water bottle.
Summer is steamy and you will need to hydrate often. Save money and abstain from consuming plastic by carrying a reusable (preferably BPA free) water bottle. Filtered water machines are ubiquitous in Korea. Fill up with clean water at any restaurant, bus terminal, train station, and even cell phone shops. Plus, it’ll save you from the daily scavenger hunt of finding a public trash can.
Search for transportation options using KoreaTransportation.info
This comprehensive website searches various methods and transfers between cities via bus and train. While you cannot book tickets on the site, you can search for routes to have a better idea of the time table. Buses between large cities are frequent and you can just show up any time, but to get to smaller towns, plan accordingly. Read more about traveling in Korea via bus.
Learn some Hangeul 한글 (the Korean alphabet)
안녕하세요! This is not a direct money-saving tip, but it will help tremendously and ultimately save time and money in the long-run. Korean may look intimidating at first glance, but once learn the writing system, you will be surprised how simple and scientific it is. Since there is barely any English outside of the big cities, knowing how to read Hangeul saves a few headaches. Besides, it’s fun and rewarding! Locals will be impressed and appreciative if you know a few phrases as well. Hangeul can be learned in just a few hours. I recommend watching this video for pronunciation and taking a look at this comic for a quick lesson.
Have you been to South Korea? What are some of your favorite tips for budget travel?
About the Author:
Lianne is a Korean-American adoptee who taught elementary school in Korea for three years. She traveled to nearly every Asian country with her boyfriend on a budget of $15 per day. She is passionate about finding ways to make travel meaningful on a budget such as CouchSurfing and volunteering. She is currently teaching English in Japan. Read more about her teaching experiences, travel tips, and adoption story at LianneBronzo.com.
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