10 Tips for Travelling South Korea on a Budget

Are you currently planning your long awaited trip to South Korea and wondering how to travel this stunning country on a budget? Or maybe you simply wish to reduce the overall cost of your South Korea trip a little by applying a few budget tips and tricks!

South Korea is a country that can be travelled quite well on a budget. However, it is also pretty easy to spend a lot of money here if you don’t watch out for a few things. We travelled South Korea for six weeks on a budget and had to learn a few things the hard way. But, lucky for you, you don’t have to!

In this post, we will share our top 10 tried and proven budget tips that we think everyone should know about before travelling to South Korea!

South Korea Budget Tips You Need to Know

South Korea is a travel destination that becomes increasingly popular at the moment. At the same time South Korea is a country where you can have very different experiences with very different price tags depending on how you plan your trip and where you go.

In our six weeks in South Korea, we tried to experience many of these facets, while at the same time maintaining our not indefinite budget. On one hand we wanted to take part in South Korea’s café culture, visit the Seoul N Tower and see the glamour of South Korea’s modern side, but also experience historical sights, hike in more rural areas and sample the local cuisine. And the good news is – it is all possible on a budget, with the right balance and following the right budget tips!;)

Our South Korea budget tips cover various categories. To be more precise, we grouped our tips into four categories, transportation, food, cafés and sightseeing – which are four categories relevant for any South Korea trip. So, let’s see how YOU can reduce the cost of your South Korea trip, shall we?

Tips for reducing your transportation cost

One of the more expensive categories on your South Korea trip will probably be all things transportation. Be it transportation between cities or transportation within the city, the cost will add up quickly.

So, here are a few tips you can apply that will significantly reduce your travel expenses when it comes to travelling around South Korea!

1. Take the bus instead of trains and planes where possible

When travelling from Seoul to Busan for instance, you will have three options: take the bus, the train (KTX) or a plane. While it might not be the fastest option, the cheapest option is definitely to take the bus.

And, honestly, the bus really is not that bad of an option. The bus system in South Korea is really efficient! You will find Express/Intercity buses running between all major cities/towns in South Korea several times per day.

Additionally South Korean buses are quite comfortable. If you wish to learn more about South Korea’s bus system and how to use it, head to our post on the Best way to travel in South Korea: South Korea’s Bus System!

Of course the bus won’t get you everywhere in South Korea – it is not possible to get to Jeju Island by bus;). But the plane there won’t cost a fortune as you may see in our Jeju Island Cost Breakdown. And if budget is really tight, we would advise you to maybe leave Jeju Island for the next time.

Note: While prices are not always 100% accurate, Rome2Rio is actually a great website to get a first grasp of what your transportation options are, while travelling from one place to another! For more detailed information on a specific connection in South Korea download Naver Map!

2. Try to reduce your travel days between cities to a minimum

When looking at our daily travel expenses in South Korea, it becomes quite clear that travel days were always the most expensive ones. So, if you want to stretch your travel budget to a maximum in South Korea, try to reduce travel days as much as possible.

One mistake we did for instance was to travel back and forth between cities quite a lot. As an example: from Seoul we made our way to Sokcho and then back to Seoul, then from Seoul again to Jeonju and again back to Seoul! There were a lot of unnecessary travel days!

So, while planning your trip through South Korea, try to eliminate these unnecessary travel days and avoid going back and forth between cities!

3. Don’t zick-zack your way through a city, choose one or two areas per day

Typically local bus and subway fares inside a city are somewhere around 1.200KRW per person per ride (~0,86€). Which does not sound like much and really isn’t that much. However, if you start to take the subway or the local bus several times per day to travel all over the city (especially in Seoul and Busan), these will add up!

It still won’t be amounts that will break the bank, but you will find yourself constantly recharging your T-money card. And, it is a cost that can easily be reduced!

What we would do is choose one or two areas per day and then try to see and do everything we wanted to before moving on to another area of the city the next day.

This will not only save you quite some money, but also a lot of time. Travelling around South Korean cities can easily take up 30-40 minutes depending on where you go. Just keep that in mind!

Travel time from Haeundae Beach to Busan Centre (App: Naver Map – one of 4 free apps you should download before going to South Korea).

Tips for spending less money on food

In South Korea, food is a category that can get expensive but really doesn’t have to! If you look out for a few things you can significantly reduce the money you spend on food while sampling a lot of authentic local food options at the same time!

4. Eat at local restaurants

And with that we mean, try to avoid restaurants that are either located in tourist areas, that are selling western food like pizza and pasta or restaurants that are laid out to be picturesque/‘instagrammable’. When travelling around South Korea, you will understand quite quickly what we mean.

Just to give you an idea, at local restaurants you will typically find meals for around 5.000 – 10.000KRW per person. On the other hand, the more touristy or picturesque restaurants will often have price tags between 10.000 – 25.000KRW per person.

Bibimbap at a local restaurant in Sokcho. We only paid 6.000KRW per bibimbap!
Amazing Korean restaurant in Busan. Here we paid around 12.000KRW per person.

This does not mean that you can’t ever eat at a restaurant from the latter category, we did too, but try to eat at local restaurants most of the time. Your budget will thank you – trust us!

Also, it might be worth noting that Korean BBQ is not included in the cheap local restaurant category! And, gimbap will be your best friend if you are looking for a cheap, but filling meal!;)

5. Avoid eating at touristy street food markets too often

We say too often, because we do enjoy going there and we definitely ate at street food markets a few times. I mean, honestly, who doesn’t love street food?

But, here is the thing. Since those street food markets are often frequented by tourists the food is usually priced accordingly. For one item you can expect to pay 4.000 – 9.000KRW on average, depending on what it is. Some street food items will cost even more.

If you are strategic about it and only choose one dish, this is rather cheap. But, usually you will want to try at least 2-3 different items – because, first of all, there are amazing options and, second, one item is usually not enough to fill you up. I guess you can do the maths. 

That being said, street food markets are amazing and you should definitely visit at least one during your time in South Korea!

6. Look out for 1+1 promotions in convenience stores

When you are travelling through South Korea on a budget you will, probably more often than you think, grab something to eat at a convenience store.

And while you browse through the aisles to find your lunch or dinner, maybe look out for these small signs with 1+1 or 2+1 on them. They usually indicate items where you either get two for the price of one or three for the price of 2.

Since we travel as a couple, these promotions sometimes came in handy. Make sure though to check that you don’t end up paying more when choosing such an item compared to another one.

7. Drink the free water at restaurants

One thing that is really amazing for budget travellers in South Korea is the fact that you will get free water at every restaurant. This is especially true for local ones! In Europe you can usually get free tap water if you ask.

However, in South Korea this is just a part of their restaurant culture. They will serve it without you asking for it!

So, my budget travel friends, just embrace it and benefit from the fact that you can get by without having to order an additional drink at every restaurant!

Tips for reducing your coffee expenses

This category is for the coffee drinkers among you. South Korea actually has quite a substantial coffee/café culture, which is a blessing and a curse at the same time.

A blessing because you can find really nice coffee in most places. A curse because too many café visits can unfortunately absolutely destroy your budget.

8. Go for take out coffee

If you are mainly interested in finding a location for your daily coffee, the cheapest way will be to opt for take out coffee. South Korea is home to several coffee chains, such as e.g. Venti, Compose Coffee, etc.

These local coffee chains are typically cheaper than let’s say your average Starbucks. For instance, one Americano for take-out will cost you around 1.000-1.500KRW, which is really affordable for quite decent coffee.

Another advantage of these coffee chains is that they open a bit earlier in the morning. Unfortunately, this cannot be said for your average café or breakfast spot in South Korea. As a rule of thumb for the latter: don’t expect much before 11 a.m.!

9. Choose your ‘fancier’ cafés carefully

Since cafés are such a huge part of modern South Korean culture, it would actually be a shame to not visit any. Especially, if you are into drinking coffee. But, if you do, chose the ones you wish to visit carefully.

Cafés in general tend to be pricier, but this does not necessarily mean that they automatically serve better coffee. Like everywhere, cafés that focus more on aesthetics might lack a little in food quality and vice-versa. Some manage to nail both.

Hands down best tiramisu in Gyeong-ju!
view on traditional Korean tea house from inside
Stunning traditional tea house in Jeonju.

All we are saying is, know what you are looking for beforehand and choose your café picks accordingly. That way, you spend your budget wisely and won’t be disappointed, if you decide that South Korea’s café culture is something that you don’t want to miss!

Tips for spending less on sightseeing

The last category we wanted to address is sightseeing. The latter can usually be as expensive or inexpensive as you want. However, we think that it is relatively easy to visit South Korea and not spend that much on sightseeing!

10. Look into South Korea’s numerous free sightseeing options

Apart from a few exceptions (e.g. theme parks such as Lotte World, viewing platforms such as the Seoul N Tower, excursions like Nami Island or the DMZ etc.), which tend to be more pricy, most sightseeing can be done at a pretty affordable rate.

A lot of interesting spots and locations can be accessed completely free of charge. For instance, access to most temples and mural villages, sometimes even smaller historical buildings is free. And, South Korea is home to some stunning beaches, hikes and walks which of course can also be enjoyed for free.

Gamcheon Cultural Village in Busan.
Bulguksa Temple near Gyeongju.

Also, part of the charm of travelling South Korea lies in visiting Hanok villages, food markets and interesting neighbourhoods. While you will probably spend some money there on food or the occasional café, the experience itself is free!

Similar to how you should limit the cafés you want to visit, only pick a handful of paid experiences that you absolutely do not want to miss. Balance is key here and as long as you don’t insist on visiting every theme park that comes your way, you and your budget should be okay;).

Final Thoughts on Budget Tips for South Korea

As you might have grasped by now, travelling South Korea can get expensive, but really does not have to. South Korea is home to a thriving café culture, fancy restaurants and some more pricey experiences. But at the same time, you will also find a great selection of free activities, cheap food options and a great bus system.

By choosing a few pricier activities that you don’t want to miss, while, at the same time, following our South Korea budget tips, you will be able to experience the best of both worlds! As with everything in life, balance is key!

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