This is a summary of all our expenses for the 39 nights / 40 days we spent travelling South Korea during May / June 2019. You should keep in mind that if one travels at a slower pace it's easier to make savings as especially transportation can eat into your budget quickly. That said, we found that if one can contain accommodation costs and avoid specialised or fine-dine restaurants, South Korea need not be an overly expensive destination. Travelling full-time changes the way one travels and it becomes less of a quest to tick off the 'popular' sights than it becomes a way of experiencing your surrounds in a slower, relaxed fashion. Many further cost savings are indeed possible, but one should also not completely deprive oneself of uniquely local experiences that ultimately add value to your visit to a foreign country. However, more often than not, the events, encounters and connections with people that stand out, are those that you do not foresee or could even have planned for. Like most things in life, a balance between being frugal and making use of opportunities should be sought.
You can listen to our podcast on this topic here:
Although it was not yet the official summer season, we found the weather to be very pleasant most of the time with only a few days of light rain and mostly blue skies with a light breeze.
We found that we were able to swipe our MasterCard for the vast majority of our spending in South Korea. Overall only 27% of our total spending was in the form of cash.
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(Note that the following spending does not include flights to and from South Korea.)
Gwangalli Beach, Busan 11 nights - Godory's Place
The apartment is in a mixed-use building on the 7th floor. The apartment itself was fairly spacious with a couch, small desk and very basic cooking facilities (¾ fridge, microwave, 2-plate electric stove & kettle). It has a modern bathroom with separate shower. Location was a 5-minute walk to Gwangalli Beach, 10-minute walk to a local supermarket and also very close to numerous local bus stops. The best thing about the apartment was the view of the Gwangan Bridge, although this may soon disappear with the current rate of construction taking place!
Haeundae Beach, Busan 4 nights - Haeundae S-one Hotel
(Upgraded to Deluxe Double)
We booked a standard double room but were upgraded to a deluxe double upon arrival. The room was enormous and also had a separate spa bath in addition to the shower. There was also a very small fridge in the room with free water and juice. The downstairs snack room has free hot and cold water as well as coffee all day long. In the mornings there is sometimes a small breakfast selection of boiled eggs, toast, jam and juice but this seems to disappear very fast! The location was very close to the Haeundae Pedestrian Street which leads straight to the beach as well as the Haeundae Street Food Market.
Andong 3 nights - Queen Motel Andong
The motel is in a small alley and is definitely past its prime. That being said, the room was clean and functional albeit very compact without much space to unpack anything. There is a small fridge as well as a small table and 2 chairs in the room. The bathroom is a wet-room style and somewhat dated. Downstairs there is a microwave, kettle and toaster with coffee, tea, juice, toast and jam available throughout the day. The location is very close to the Andong Train Station which is very convenient and there is also a big Homeplus Supermarket just around the corner. This is definitely a no-frills, very basic accommodation choice!
Sokcho 9 nights - Yun's Place
(Airbnb Studio Apartment)
This lovely modern studio apartment was on the 6th floor of an older building just 5 minutes walk from Sokcho Beach. The window allowed for natural light as well as a view over the city and of the Seoraksan National Park Mountain Ranges. There was plenty of cupboard space as well as a small couch and coffee table. The bathroom was modern but wet-room style. The “kitchen” is very basic, with only a kettle and microwave. There is however a full-size fridge and freezer as well as a laundry washing machine. The location is less than 10 minute’s walk from the Sokcho Express Bus Station and about a 15-minute walk to the large E-Mart Supermarket.
Seoul 5 nights - Sang's Place
(Airbnb Studio Apartment)
The apartment is on the 3rd floor of a residential block just a short walk from the AMSA Metro Station. Although the room does have a window, the adjacent building is about 1m away and blocks almost all-natural light. The apartment itself was clean, functional and comfortable for a short stay and also has plenty of cupboard space. The kitchen was well equipped with a 2 plate electric stovetop, microwave, toaster, kettle, filter coffee machine and rice cooker. There is also a laundry washing machine. The bathroom is very small and wet-room style, with the shower located over the basin. Its location is close to the Metro Station which is convenient, but do note that it takes a good 45 min to reach the centre of Seoul from here.
Hamdeok Beach, Jeju 7 nights - Badaya Pension
(Double room - Sea View)
The 6 sea-facing rooms are on the 2nd and 3rd floor of a small building and the main attraction is definitely the wonderful sea view which you get from the big opening windows. The room was spacious but very sparsely furnished with no couch, table or seating area. The kitchen was fairly well equipped for basic cooking with a full-size fridge/freezer, 2 plates electric stovetop, kettle and rice cooker. There is also a hot and cold water dispenser, microwave and laundry washing machine in the building for communal use. The location is 2 minutes walk to the closest bus stop and a small local supermarket. The beach is literally just across the road and the wonderful view of the sea from your bed more than made up for anything else lacking in the room in our opinion!
We generally try to eat like and with the locals. In South Korea this had a few small challenges, namely:
1 - The Koreans do not have a particular breakfast culture nor is there a specific or traditional breakfast food. We, on the other hand, believe that breakfast is the most important meal of the day!
2 - The Koreans like their food spicy and packed with chilli! Lisa, on the other hand, has a slight aversion to chilli and does not handle spicy food very well! With so many of the local dishes merely being a vehicle for their famous gochujang sauce (made of fermented soybeans and red chillies), this made things somewhat difficult.
3 - We found there to be a somewhat limited variety of traditional meals. Sure, there are plenty of rice, noodles and soup dishes as well as a wide variety of seafood or barbecued meats. But most dishes are similarly overly spicy.
This being said, there were a few local dishes which we really enjoyed, one of our favourites being Dakgangjeong (sweet and spicy deep-fried chicken pieces). You can read more about the local cuisine and our tasting experiences of Korean Eats and Korean Sweets. There is no shortage of small local eateries, however, speaking a bit of the language would prove to be helpful. Most convenience stores also sell a wide variety of fast-food style eats as well as microwaveable cooked meals. These are pretty cheap but not necessarily that healthy. Buying groceries in a supermarket costs a little more than cheap easy meals but provided you purchase local and seasonal produce it is not overly expensive.
We ended up eating market-style local dishes about 25-30% of the time and for the remaining time (whenever we had the chance to be in a place for a few days and with cooking facilities) we would buy groceries and prepare our own breakfasts and dinners. We did enjoy the occasional ice-cream and beer (ok, maybe a little more than occasional!), but rarely sat down in a restaurant for a meal or drinks. You could definitely eat for cheaper than we did, but if you want to eat fairly healthy, then you will probably have to allow for spending a little more as we were very aware of our spending and cooking for ourselves allowed us to make significant savings. Check out our videos of us eating lots of local food at BIFF Square and our Chimaek dinner in Haeundae.
We make use of local transportation as much as possible and only resort to taxis if there's a good reason or no alternative. Public transport is mostly easy and convenient to use in South Korea. We purchased T-Money Transportation Cards (you need one per person) which we used for the metro and all local buses. The card is a convenient and efficient way of using public transport and also offers cheaper fares compared to using cash. You can also use the T-Money Transportation Card to pay for other purchases at most convenience stores, which is handy for using any remaining balance!
For longer trips between cities, we used a combination of commuter trains and express and intercity busses where we could reserve tickets beforehand. When doing so, there is often a choice between a cheaper ticket at limited time slots or a more expensive, but also more comfortable seat. We found that it was easiest to book these tickets at the train or bus station as although reservations and schedules are visible online, they require a local credit card to actually make the booking.
For Express Bus Schedules and prices see: https://www.kobus.co.kr/main.do
For Inter City Bus Schedules and prices see: https://www.bustago.or.kr/newweb/en/index.do
We had one internal flight from Seoul to Jeju Island which cost just less than USD 30 per person with Jeju Air.
Taxi's are easily available all over South Korea and they generally all make use of the meter but are fairly pricey in comparison to making use of local transportation.
We did not rent any private transportation (car or scooter) and generally found that if you are only two people, this works out rather expensive. It would, however, definitely save you A LOT of time and be much more convenient in certain cities where the public busses are very unreliable and less regular. In particular, we would refer to Andong and Jeju Island.
For more information on how to get around in South Korea, see our South Korea Transportation Tips
CELLPHONE & DATA
Being very dependent on data for getting around and rather heavy data user generally, this is one of the first things we investigate when staying in a country for a period of time. We found the best option for us was the Orange KoreaSIM deal from KRSIM.net which gave us 30 days of unlimited data. We only bought 1 sim card between the two of us. For the last 10 days, we were without mobile data and just made do with WiFi at our accommodation and at free WiFi spots. There are generally plenty of free WiFi spots all around South Korea, at most metro stations, many public open spaces and even some bus stops which are mostly very easy to connect to. All our accommodations also had free WiFi included.
If you want to save yourself some hassle you can pre-book your SIM card and have it ready and waiting for you upon arrival.
Our "General" category includes everyday expenses like toiletries, medical, laundry & small shopping items. We bought vitamin C tablets which were fairly easy to find, but oddly came in very large quantities! We only paid KRW 1 000 for laundry powder once, the rest of the time we made use of free laundry facilities where we stayed. We were rather surprised that a laundry machine is more common than a stove in most accommodations throughout Korea!
We generally try to stay away from very touristy places and prefer to explore independently. In South Korea, there were a few “tourist activities” which we did spend money on. Most entrance fees were very low, varying from KRW 1 000 - 5 000 per person. The more expensive activities are cable car rides which cost between KRW 10 000 - 16 000 per person but were still worthwhile. There are dozens of free public spaces, coastal walkways and even public camp areas throughout Korea which we really enjoyed. There are also usually very good and clean toilet facilities near all public places.