How to travel South Korea on a budget: the ultimate 2020 guide!

How to travel South Korea on a budget?

Welcome to my first blog post! In this post, I will be sharing my information on traveling to South Korea on a budget! I have learned all of these during my travel experience. For all the people who asked how I did it, here it is!

I will not start my post with a boring way to tell why people should travel to South Korea or anything like that. If you are here reading this post, I believe you already have a reason to travel to Korea. So this post is for the ones who are searching for ways to lower their costs.

I was at the very same point as you a few years ago. I started travelling abroad after I turned 18, I was always super interested in Asian countries. After my first two-week long trip to Japan, I was in love. But I wanted something more not just going there and wandering around, I wanted to live the country that I am traveling to, learn the language, memorize the road from work to home and shop like local people and even learn to cook in their way.

I wanted to experience the culture rather than just seeing it. If you feel the same way about traveling to South Korea, I think you can find lots of valuable information and tips in this post!

So let’s get started!

Before every trip my first two big questions-to-answer are;

  1. How much money do I have?
  2. How long am I planning to stay?

(Please consider your visa situation before answering the second question.)

After answering these two big questions we can continue with the ultimate solution set!

Work Exchange (and more)

Since our budget is not much, we do not want to spend too much on accommodation. For backpackers, I believe the best way to handle it is couchsurfing. However, if you are like me, you might want to stay at a place for a longer time, maybe, for several months. In that case, my best suggestion is workaway. It costs around 40-ish dollars for a year round membership. For South Korea, the jobs posted on workaway are mostly working in a language cafe or at a hostel in exchange for accommodation. I’ve tried both, and loved it!

Most of the posted jobs offer you a place to stay in exchange for your work. They usually don’t pay you because it is not legal if you do not have a working visa. 

On average you should work five days a week/3 hours per day. And you will have a bed in the hostel you are working at or in the case of language cafe, all of the volunteers will stay at the same house.

I would prefer the language cafe version since it is easier to have a chance to become friends with Korean people as well as other foreigners, since speaking with Korean people at a cafe is the job itself!

Though workaway has plenty of jobs in it, I also have another free option.

If you want to try out working in a language cafe in Busan that I also worked at, you can write them on their Facebook page.

As well as for the hostel volunteering, the Kimchee Guesthouse offers a work exchange program which is free to apply on their website. And they have many options in terms of location both in Busan and Seoul.

However, if you are looking for a bit more meaningful experience, one of the cheapest ways to travel and volunteer is Aiesec’s volunteering programs. Especially for students, I believe the best budgeted yet well-organized volunteer programs are available on the Aiesec’s website. You can find many different social projects from women empowerment to climate change.

To find the best program for yourself, you can contact your local Aiesec team and/or check their website for the current opportunities in South Korea.

If you have ever dreamed to experience farm life and get away from big cities the second option is the best way to do it!

You will live on a farm and help with the work and maybe the cooking and housework in exchange for a free stay and food! This one is one of my biggest traveling goals that I couldn’t able to accomplish yet.

The idea of doing farm work, getting closer with nature living with other people and cook and eat together makes me feel like I can build myself from scratch, even the thought of doing it makes me grow personally.

If this suits you go check wwoof. You may find similar opportunities in workaway too.

Food

The Korean Food…

The motherland of the famous trend, mukbang, South Korea has so much to offer!

When it comes to traveling to an Asian country I believe the biggest joy is the food! In South Korea, both luxurious and budgeted options are mind-blowingly delicious. Meal prices can vary in South Korea, however it is a bit expensive. An average spending on food is around 26 dollars per day for a traveler.

If you prefer to eat at convenient stores and try out street food rather than eating at cafes and restaurants, you will spend a lot less. You can find cup noodles, triangle kimbaps and regular kimbaps (though I definitely prefer to buy it from kimbap ahjummas on street) in convenient stores for 1-3 dollars per meal. If you try hard enough you can make it cost 6-8 dollars per day. It is hard especially for the foodies like me but nothing is impossible!

Overall Cost

While organising a trip, I believe it is important to know your expectations and preferences. For example, if you want to go clubbing in Hongdae street in Seoul several times, then this is your preference. You can check out the guesthouses around Hongdae so that you don’t have to use any transportation!
Especially if your budget is limited, you must prepare yourself and act according to your budget limit. In this way, you can be safe and less worried about your money!

So, what would be your average spending as a tourist?

Accommodation$10-15/day
Transportation$1-2/ride
Food$3-20/meal
Entry fees (for some of the temples etc.)$5-8
coffee$2-6/cup

Accommodation

Accommodation, to be more specific, hostels in Korea are a lot cheaper compared to Europe. The average night at an 8,0+ hostel would averagely cost 10-15 dollars per night though it may cost a little lower if you plan where to stay beforehand and make a reservation depending on the season. You can check Expedia, Booking and Airbnb for the cheap deals. It will also cost lower if you reserve a place for a longer period.

Tip: Check if the location is close to subway/bus stations while deciding where to stay.

Transportation

In South Korea, public transportation is very easy to understand (to a foreigner) and comfortable. Although it is not super cheap, it is your best option. First of all, you’ll need a subway/bus card to start. The transportation card itself costs 2500 won($2). Price differs for every ride you take considering how far you are going, but an average adult ride with subway/bus is 1,350 won which is around $1.

As a tourist you can also buy Korea Tour Card for 4,000 won ($3.5), it has lots of benefits and discounts for tourists. You can check this website for more information. Also, make sure to visit this website for more info on the regular card and the transportation costs.

When it comes to switching cities, the best way to do it is the trains for me! The ride and the views is a whole experience itself. If you are going some near town around Seoul or maybe from Busan to Gyeongju the faster KTX option will cost around $5-8. However, if you are taking the train from Seoul to Busan or vice versa you have three options;

1.KTX-fastest takes 2.45 hours from Seoul to Busan economy class costs around $60
2.ITX-takes around 4.45 hours economy class costs around $40
3.Mugunghwa- 5.30hours, costs around $20

You can check the prices, departure hours, availability, and make reservations from this website.

If you are planing to move a lot between cities in a short period of time Korail Pass might be suitable for you. It is only available for foreigners and price differs for how many days you plan to use it. It is a free pass for the trains and it has other affiliate benefits and discounts for foreigners. You can check here for more info.

Note: They do not use Google maps that much in Korea, so I would suggest you to have these apps downloaded on your phone beforehand.

WiFi

When it comes to WiFi South Korea is my absolute number one! You have it everywhere, on subways, on the street and every cafe/shop. However, you may still need a Korean phone number to call a taxi to order food, etc. Some of the apps they use for these purposes requires you to have a Korean phone number. You can always ask a Korean person or anyone who lives in Korea that has a Korean phone number to do that for you. However, if you are planning to stay more than 3-4 months I suggest you to get one for yourself. But it’s possible and very easy to live with free WiFi only as well.

Tip: Do not buy it at the airport! It is definitely a lot more expensive. You can check this blog post for a detailed information on this.

I hope you liked it! If you have any extra information that you think is useful please share in the comment section!