The Secret to Making your Budget Last Longer in Seoul

Travel budgeting is about making your wallet last a little longer while maximizing your time spent on your trip. Money-saving tips are applicable everywhere, but we’ve made sure to cover some Seoul specific tips as well.

It pays to know where to stay, how to eat more affordably and gravitate towards budget- friendly tourist attractions.

Seek alternative accommodation 

Luxury hotels are always tempting with their offerings of thick mattresses, quality service and guaranteed hygiene, but the downside is how expensive a room can be.

Luckily, Korea is familiar with backpackers and on-trends, enough to provide alternatives:

Guest Houses:

Who would have thought that Korea would have so many guest houses? Often set up for backpackers, short-term visitors and people hoping for more cultural exchange, guest houses are a good option if you don’t mind bunking with another person. Some even provide home-cooked meals by the aunties that run the place! These start as low as $19 CAD per night.

Airbnb:

Airbnb was welcomed by the Korean government in 2018 when the Pyeongchang Olympics saw an influx of tourists and not enough accommodation. It’s a cheaper alternative to hotels and more flexible in terms of location – you can easily choose your accommodation based on where you want to be, not just where hotels are available. Currently, home-sharing platforms like Airbnb are for foreign travelers only; they’re banned from renting out to Koreans.

Do take note of whether or not the Airbnb host has registered their property, as not doing so will get them fined and probably cause you some trouble as well. Also note that Airbnb hosts charge clean-up fees and payments upfront. On the plus side, hosts often give discounts to those who book longer stays. You can take that into consideration when deciding the length of your trip.

General tip:

  • Book early, consider which major attractions you have to see and be smart about your living area
  • Want to feel more like a local in a short amount of time? You can book multiple Airbnbs for shorter lengths of time to cover more areas of Seoul and get a feel of what each neighborhood has to offer.

Cut down on travel costs…

… by relying on public transport. Seoul’s metro and bus routes are comprehensive, extending out of city center to bordering areas. They’re reasonably priced too, initial charge starts around 1,000 won. Save even the tiniest bit of commute cost by purchasing a T-Money Card; Especially time by having this prepaid card.

Related: 3 Things you Need to Navigate Around Seoul Smoothly!

Another simple way to cut down on travel spending is to walk. Explore the areas between stations on a self-guided foot tour! Move away from mainstream commercial centers and hunt down independent cafés and restaurants. You see a lot more of the city this way.

Food doesn’t have to be expensive to be good

Seoul’s food scene isn’t obscenely expensive. In fact, the average Bibimbap (stone pot rice) or stew costs around 4,000 to 6,000 won. Generally, a three to four person portion of delicious Jjimdak (braised chicken) dish costs approximately 20,000 won to 25,000 won. But if you want to keep it more cost efficient, cheap eats can still mean good eats:

Communal dishes often come out at higher cost-value since you’re splitting the cost of a larger portion amongst more people. Going with more people and sharing large portions, family style, means you’ll be able to try more, for less. Korean portions are generally very reasonable.

Convenience store food is a good alternative to sit-down meals if you’re rushing from one place to another at a good price. Especially for late night eats.

There are some must-try goodies too! Sample their Kimbap, a long roll of sushi, and wash it down with some banana milk. There’s also a wide variety of Ramyeon (instant noodles) that will test the limits of your spice tolerance. Looking for more of a larger portion? Packaged bulgogi with rice platters are available for under 10,000 Won. Remember to pack some late night snacks like Onigiri in many flavours like Korean Style Fried rice with beef, and a drink for less than 4,000 Won.

Street food will also fill you up. They’re often smaller bite-sized versions of sit-down meals. Generally carb heavy, you’ll find Tteobokki, potato curls, egg bread, cheesy seafood, stir fried glass noodles and even friend chicken pieces at these road side stalls. Even better, they’re only 1,000 won to 5,000 won.

Traditional markets follow the route of street food but in a much bigger scale, incorporating vendor stalls and outdoor restaurants under one roof. Here you can find bargain deals on fresh produce, seafood, traditional dishes and all kinds of side dishes. You can easily order a rice and taste test a variety of side dishes and call it a meal. Or ask to sample food stuffs and slowly fill up your stomach.

Shopping:

For a cost-efficient shopping adventure, there are many alternatives to your average department stores. Seoul is surrounded by many boutique shops in Hongdae, Ehwa Women’s University shopping area, Dongdaemun’s Migliore and ApM Mall.

Sightsee for free

Hike up to Namsan Park for stunning views without paying to access observation decks. 

Seoul is surrounded with enough nature to keep you busy. Whether you picnic around Hangang River or hiked up to Haneul Park for a photo op, you’re still taking in the Seoul experience.

Visit temples and residential Hanok villages where you can pass through freely; but remember to be respectful! Traces of old Korea linger around the city in shape of traditional buildings, street markets, mural villages and recreational spaces.

Looking for more of a view? Bukhansan Park is a hike that’ll let you won’t forget. Depending where you start your hike from, it can take you about 2 hours to get up to the top!

Related: Add these to your itinerary with a list we’ve made for you of Top 10 Things you Need to do in Seoul!

General Tips

Book early. Everything is cheaper when you reserve them months ahead of time, whether it is plane tickets or accommodation. Since room price is demand-driven, more vacancies mean lower prices. You can also look towards booking websites or airline fanfares that offer flight-plus-accommodation packages, or other deals along those lines.

Consider when the best time to travel to that country is. Peak season often coincides with summer months and seasonal highlights (such as spring blossoms and fall foliage) but visiting a week earlier or later can make a huge difference in tourist traffic and subsequently, travel costs. In fact, you may discover hidden gems during off-seasons that mainstream travel tours miss out on.

Plan your itinerary around your budget. This way you’ll get an idea of how much everything costs and be able to compromise on where to live, what to see, etc. Planning early also means your budgeting starts at home! Cut down on eating out or miscellaneous shopping sprees a month or two before your trip and direct those savings towards your travels instead. Having an excel spreadsheet will also give you an idea of how much was spent already, and what costs you can allocate the rest of your budget towards.

Don’t just plan your itinerary, plan your route. How long does it take to get from this neighborhood to the next? What attractions are in the same area and what order should I visit them? Save time and commute cost by exploring one area at a time. 

We’ve put together some tips to help you navigate Seoul without breaking the bank and the best part is it can be applied to other cities as well. Saving money isn’t difficult as long as you prioritize practicality.