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Seoul is apparently one of the most expensive cities in the world. It may not be a budget travel destination, but it is a great city to explore, to get lost in, it’s full of fun and adventure. A little travel planning for certain aspects of your trip (transport, accommodation, food and shopping) will go a long, long way. Your every dollar will be stretched so far that you’ll be tempted to extend your stay. Here’s what you need to know:
1. LOOK FOR THE CHEAPEST FLIGHT
I’m often asked by my friends how much a certain flight should cost, or how to know when you’re getting a good deal and what’s the best site to use. Like me, most budget travelers turn to low-cost carriers like Cebu Pacific or AirAsia to fly to South Korea. It’s important to check more than one site before you book your ticket. You can use flight comparison sites such as Budget Flight Finder, Skyscanner, Flight Aware and Expedia.
It is also possible that non-budget airlines such as Philippine Airlines and Korean Airlines provide a better deal, so don’t leave them out in your search for the best flight prices.
Flight prices fluctuate and sometimes, using the general rule of three-month advance purchase may not give you the best deal. Instead, it is imperative to watch out for seasonal flight deals and to follow the different airlines on Facebook to be in the loop for the latest promotions.
2. FIND THE RIGHT ACCOMMODATION
If you haven’t sorted out yet where you are going to stay in Seoul, check out Agoda.com for a comprehensive list of hotels in all price ranges. But if most hotels are well beyond your budget, look into guesthouses or Hostels instead. A bonus to staying in guesthouses and hostels is that they offer common areas like a shared kitchen where you’ll have the chance to make friends with travelers from all around the world. Alternatively, opt for a home stay with a local host, which you can look for through Airbnb or Couchsurfing.
Also, ensure that the location of your accommodation is in central to save on transportation costs. When in Seoul, you won’t go wrong if you pick Myeongdong, Itaewon or Hongdae as a base. Before booking your accommodation, read the reviews. This will give you an idea of the services and accessibility issues of the hotel you have in mind. Lastly, if possible look for accommodation that provides free breakfast so you’ll pay one less meal for each day, do take that into consideration.
3. MAKE USE OF THE PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION
There are several choices available for transportation in Seoul: taxis, buses, and the subway. Almost any point in Seoul can be reached using one of these modes of transportation. Public transportation in Seoul is reliable, convenient and inexpensive and easy to use.
The fastest and most efficient way to get around the city is by subway. Subway signs are generally in Korean and English, but keeping a small subway map makes it much easier to get around Seoul. There are two different fares for the subway, depending on the zone you travel. Zone one is 500 won (US $.40 – approximately), zone two is 600 won (US $.50 – approximately).
There are three different kinds of bus: regular, express and village (shuttle bus). For regular bus, the fare is 500 won for adults. Cheaper than the express bus, the regular bus has more stops, which means it takes longer to get to your destination. You can pay with tokens, cash, and bus pass. Express Bus the fare is 1,100 won ($1 US) and can be paid with tokens, cash and bus pass. The advantage of using the express bus is that there are usually seats available, fewer stops which mean faster service and more comfortable than the regular bus. Village (Shuttle) Bus – the fare is from 300 – 400 won ($.25 -.30 US). Have very short lines and only service short distances in the small districts. They mainly connect the subway station to a few places in those districts.
Taxis are also relatively inexpensive and easy to find, you can hail one on the street or at one of the many taxi stands. Taxis cost 2,400 won ($2.15 USD) for the first 2 kilometers and 100 won (10 cents) for each additional 144 meters. I recommend getting a T-Money Card in any convenience store, load it up then you’re equipped to go and explore the city. You can use this to pay for fares on the subway, buses, trains, taxis, and some convenience stores.
4. EAT LIKE LOCALS
Food can take a big portion of your budget when traveling. Don’t worry, Korea has tons of options for eating on the cheap. You don’t have to spend a lot of money to eat well in Seoul; in fact, if your budget is tight, you can survive nicely on Korean comfort food such as black bean noodles for 4,000 to 6,000 won depending on the location, gimbap (rice and veggies wrapped in seaweed) for around 1,500 won and street snacks like Odeng (fish cake), ddeokbokki (rice cakes cooked in red pepper paste) or meat kebabs are both on the cheaper side.
5. CREATE A THEME
Korea is packed with countless sights to see and places to visit, such as ancient palaces, traditional markets, and high-end shopping districts. There’s enough to see and do throughout Seoul for free so take advantage of that. And I am not talking about places that are second best to ones you need to pay to see — these include some of Korea’s most famous landmarks. Moreover, some are even eminently walkable.
It’s important therefore to identify your objective – ask yourself why do you want to go to Korea? Is it for culture & history? Food trip? Shopping? Nightlife? Photography? Or simply just to have the time of your life? You can definitely do all these in Korea, but the importance of having an objective is to identify which ones to prioritize since you will not be able to visit all the places if you’ll stay for a short period of time.
The main website I referred to in planning my itinerary was the Official Korea Tourism Organization. It contains information such as operating hours, admission fees, and directions via public transportation. Most of my online searches were specifically within Seoul. Here’re my suggestions for those who will visit Korea for the first time.
This is a 6 days itinerary that I’ve created based on my experience and some reviews which are sorted based on potential objective and travel buddies.
I hope I’ve given you some good ideas on how to plan your trip on a budget. Now I want to hear from you. How do you plan your trip to Seoul? Post your answers as a comment here.
You may also want to check my blog on N Seoul Tower and Namsan Park, Gyeongbukgong and Changdeokgung Palace, Hanok Village, My First Impressions of Seoul,Budget Travel in Seoul , Korean BBQ Experience, 15 Must try Street Food in Seoul, 15 Must try food in Seoul, Places to Visit in Seoul