13 Tips to Travelling Around South Korea on a Budget

13 Tips to Travelling Around South Korea on a Budget

From availing free accommodation to lesser-known eateries & shopping districts!

Good news! South Korea has removed all its travel restrictions related to COVID-19 since 1 Oct 2022. However, the question remains: How can I travel around Korea on a budget? Besides, with so much to see, eat, and buy, it’s truly important to know where and how to save on a couple of bucks — while ensuring that the fun remains in The Land of Morning Calm.

So, here are just some of our travel tips to keep in mind when in Korea, from transport and food to hacks on how to snag free deals!

Also read: 15 South Korea Theme Parks & Amusement Parks Worth Visiting

Budget travel around Korea by saving on transport & accommodation

1. Hop on the KTX Express for all your inter-province travels

ktx express korea budget travel guide

Image credit: Janko Luin

When travelling via the KTX, foreigners can get the Korail Pass: A discounted pass that lets you travel around unlimitedly for a certain number of days! For instance, you can travel to Seoul, Jeonju, and Busan in a span of ten days without having to burn a hole in your pocket.

The best part? It’s a convenient and reliable transport service that you can hop back on if you wish to continue on your journey.

Pro tip: When riding the Airport Railroad Express (AREX) from Incheon International Airport to Seoul, simply present your KTX voucher to redeem a discount! 

2. Get a T-Money card for transportation (and more)

korea budget travel guide t-money card

Image credit: Karl Baron

When travelling in Korea on a budget, it’s a must to get yourself a T-Money card to minimise the cost of your subway, bus and cab rides!

In other words, instead of single journey tickets, fares are much cheaper when using your T-Money card. Also, depending on the bus colour code and the duration of travel, transfers from subway to bus may also be free. Most importantly, having a T-Money card on your person saves you the trouble of lining up to get single journey tickets or searching for change when riding the bus.

Craving a snack at a pyeon-uijeom? Good news: You can even use your T-Money card for transactions at affiliated convenience stores!

T-Money can be used in multiple municipalities, including Seoul, Busan, Incheon, Daejeon, and Daegu. To fully understand how T-Money works and to see the full list of the provinces where you can use the card, visit Korea’s official tourism website.

3. Skip the hotels and stay at a hostel instead

South Korea has numerous quirky and homey hostels to choose from. Though breakfast buffets usually aren’t available in these hostels, you can still expect all your basics like cereals, bread, and eggs, along with coffee, tea, and juice.

Anyway, with so many cafes lining the streets of Korea, you’ll only need to walk for a few minutes before finding an appetising option to start your day!

Also read: 15 Unique Cafes in Seoul for Coffee, Brunch, & More!

Budget travel around Korea by looking out for free deals

4. Exchange work for free accommodation

Nothing says South Korea budget travel like snagging a free deal! So, if you’re thinking of spending a few weeks or a month in Korea, why not work for a free room? Perhaps the best part is that most hostels will only require you to work at least 3 hours a day in exchange for free lodging and food!

You can also go WWOOF-ing, where you’ll be working on an organic farm in exchange for food and lodging.

5. Join a free guided tour

Image credit: Kentaro Toma

Yes, you heard it right — you don’t actually have to pay a hefty amount for group tours.

For instance, guided tours are available at cultural and historical sites without having to pay a single cent. It’s also a great way to befriend fellow travellers and explore the city’s hidden gems that aren’t usually in guidebooks.

Fun fact: Most people who conduct the walking tours are locals wanting to practice their English; so, your participation in the tour will actually be helping them hone their craft. And, even though it’s a free tour, a token of appreciation would certainly be a welcome gift.

To get you started, check out Seoul Free Walking Tour and Youth Goodwill Guides in Seoul, and Busan’s Bens Free Tour.

6. Avail the student or senior citizen discount

korea budget travel

Image credit: Matese Fields

A student I.D. is a great ticket to discounts that are redeemable in many countries! Moreover, if you’re travelling with your grandparents, make sure they’ve got their senior citizen card with them, too.

Most admission fees are classified under 12 and under, adults, and students and senior citizens; the lattermost group has entitlements to discounts at most tourist attractions!

7. Wear a Hanbok for free at Tourist Information Centres

rent hanbok korea

Image credit: Kseniya Petukhova

While some Tourist Information Centres offer Hanbok fitting for a small fee, most centres will allow visitors to try on the traditional garment for free.

For instance, we got the chance to try on a Hanbok at the Tourist Information Centre along Cheonggyecheon free of charge! Hanbok for men was also available here.

8. Prioritise tourist spots with no admission fee

han river seoul

Image credit: Marie

The easiest way to budget travel in Korea is by heading to tourist spots that are free of charge! Our favourites in the provinces around the country are:

  • Seoul‘s Bukchon Hanok Village, Han River, Ihwa Mural Village, Cheonggyecheon Stream, and Dongdaemun Design Plaza
  • Busan‘s Haedong Yonggungsa Temple, Haeundae Beach, Gwangalli Beach, and Gamcheon Culture Village
  • Jeonju‘s Hanok Village Omokdae, Deokjin Park, and Hanbyeokdang Pavilion
  • Incheon‘s Songwol-dong Fairy Tale Village, Wolmido, and Freedom Park

Budget travel around Korea by using a trusty device: Your smartphone!

9. Print out coupons or vouchers to avail discounts

korea budget travel

Image credit: milindri via Canva Pro

If you plan to visit some of Seoul’s most popular destinations such as N Seoul Tower or Trick Eye Museum, browse the interweb for discount coupons.

Tip: You can even get discounts on Korean cosmetics, which are perfect if you’re planning on stocking up on K-Beauty while you’re there!

10. Download the Visit Korea App

Nothing beats great access to information when you want to travel on a budget in Korea. Download the VisitKorea app for all the information you need on destinations, attractions, and more! To top it off, you can also find discount coupons for shopping, dining, and performances.

Budget travel in Korea by knowing where to shop

11. Spend wisely on food

korean night market

Image credit: Mike Swigunski

Away from flashy restaurants and fast-food chains are unassuming corner restaurants offering authentic food at crazy affordable prices. For instance, we’ve seen kimchi jjigae (kimchi stew) or bibimbap that go for only ₩5,500 (S$6.70)!

In Busan, neighbourhood barbeque restaurants offer samgyeopsal (grilled pork belly) for as little as ₩2,000 (S$2.40). Truth be told, these prices can’t be found at the BBQ restaurants of tourist hotspots.

For the best budget foodie experience, head to the traditional markets around Korea’s cities: Busan’s Jagalchi Fish Market and Gukje Market, Seoul’s Gwangjang Market, Jeonju’s Nambu Market, and Daegu’s Gyodong Market.

Also read: Eat Your Way Through Seoul: 12 Delicious Korean Street Foods & Where to Find Them

12. Buy souvenirs and Korean snacks at neighbourhood groceries

best korean snacks

Image credit: ihatemyselfq

Peppero and instant ramen are two of the most common Korean snacks to bring home. However, instead of buying them from convenience stores, look for the nearest supermarket or neighbourhood grocery to avail these souvenirs at fraction of a price!

Beyond being our go-to for all our candy and biscuit needs, it’s perfect for buying things in bulk, too.

13. Go to Namdaemun and Dongdaemun for cheaper shopping in Seoul

korea budget travel namdaemun

Image credit: Marco_Piunti via Canva Pro

There’s no denying that South Korea is every shopaholic’s haven, with Myeongdong often considered the shopping mecca.

Nevertheless, to get real steals, head to Namdaemun and Dongdaemun for low prices — and, even practice haggling while you’re at it! On the other hand, Edae and Hongdae are perfect if you’re looking for trendy items at affordable prices.

Also read: 10 Tips for Shopping in Seoul, According to Frequent Travellers

That being said, if you think you have to break the bank when visiting Korea, then we hope this article has convinced you otherwise! Even with a tight budget, you’ll still be able to enjoy your time here and leave with your heart and wallet still full.

About Authors

Cassandra Nerva
Cassandra Nerva

Cassandra seeks comfort in warm blankets, period dramas, and all things hazelnut. If she's not getting carried away with a wartime novel or decorating her house with plants & fairy lights, she's uncovering hidden gems around her as she continues to embrace her keen sense of adventure.

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Jane Galvez
Jane Galvez

Jane is a homebody, but the promise of an adventure of a lifetime inspires her to spend her weekends travelling. When she's not on the road travelling, she's writing about the places she's been to or planning her next exploit at Oh My Janey.

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