So you’ve decided to travel to Korea? Looking for some South Korea travel tips or some solid South Korea travel advice? Whether you travel with a friend or family or travel to Korea alone, you need these quintessential Korea travel hacks.
Now you may be asking, why should I listen to you when there are so many other blogs out there? Well, I’ve lived in Korea for five years now and I can navigate my way around the country like a boss and local. These are some tips I wish I had when I traveled here for the first time back in 2014 and now I’m sharing my wealth of knowledge with you… That way you don’t make the same stupid mistakes I did.
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1. Purchase a T-Money Card
One of the top Korea travel tips I can give you is to purchase a T-Money Card. This awesome pieces of plastic is going to save you tons of money on traveling via train and the bus. The basic fee to travel on the train is 1,250 won. Whenever you need to transfer to the bus or another line, you will only pay 100 won extra. You can buy them at any convenience store and at Incheon Airport. Also, Klook is offering an exclusive deal where if you get a T-Money card through them, they will also give you a 5,000 won T-Money top off coupon! So pretty much your first four rides on public transport are on them. Get your T-Money card and coupon here.
2. Get a Sim Card
While Korea is mostly connected with tons of free wifi everywhere, you just can’t beat getting a sim card in Korea. Because Korea is that darn convenient you can also pick up at Incheon airport. They offer a sim card for 1/5/10/30 day increments along with calling if you choose. The cost of a sim card in Korea will be anywhere from 6,000 won to 76,000 won depending on if you’d like data, calls, calls and data, as well as the length of time. Book your KT Korea Sim Card here.
3. Get the Discover Seoul Pass
One of my absolute favorite travel hacks I’ve ever used here in South Korea is the Discover Seoul Pass. You will gain access to Korea’s main attractions for free. You’ll get perks like renting a hanbok, free admission to Lotte World Adventure, and the Han River Cruise. They have the pass available in 24/48/72 hour increments and you honestly cannot beat the value. This pass also functions as a T-money card. You can also pick up your pass at Incheon International Airport. Is the Discover Seoul Pass worth it? Absolutely. It’s worth every penny. Book yours today here.
4. Early Bird Gets the Worm
Koreans are not early risers. They wake up later and sleep later. If you’re a night owl, then this will definitely be your vibe. However, if you’re a morning person like me, then going early to all the major attractions will be much more enjoyable for you. There are less people and more opportunities to get photos with no one in it.
5. FREE Luggage Delivery Service
What many people don’t know is you can get free luggage delivery from Incheon Airport to Seoul Station and also to the CoEX Mall in Gangnam. Instead of carrying around your heavy luggage and being inconvenienced, you can send it there and it will be waiting for you. Alternatively, you can also check in ahead of time with a variety of airlines and they will take care of your baggage for you. Check the list of City Airport Logis and Travel Korea website for a full list of airlines that offer this service from the CoEx Mall. For Seoul Station, check here.
Alternatively, you can also store your luggage safely at Incheon Airport, Gimpo Airport, Seoul Station, or Hongik University Station. Click here for more details on how to reserve your locker.
6. Book Your Trip With Asiana
This totally isn’t sponsored and should be. (Ayyeeee Asiana! Pick me to be an ambassador.) I find Asiana flies to a lot of destinations in the USA nonstop. Whenever I want to get home without transferring to a million flights, I pick Asiana. In addition, their vegetarian options are delicious. The cost of travel to Korea may very, but from the US it starts upwards of $800USD round trip and up.
7. Cheap Accommodation
The most common myth about Korea is it is an expensive place to travel. Accommodation in South Korea is not as expensive as you might think. Compared to Japan, there is a variety of pretty cheap accommodation in Korea. Some of my favorite hacks for them are:
- Agoda – I will swear up and down by Agoda. They have the biggest range of properties in Asia with the ability to find one for your budget.
- Airbnb – I’ve seen some super cute apartments in central Seoul for cheap on Airbnb.
- Love Motels – It’s exactly what it sounds like. You can rent the rooms for a span of one to four hours or for the night. It’s usually pretty cheap.
- Jimjilbang – Ranging from 8,000 – 15,000 won a night, you can also sleep at the Korean spa. You will get access to a variety of health rooms and pay extra for a massage or skin peel.
8. Korean Apps You NEED
Every country has apps that will make your life 10x easier. Of those apps, I highly recommend downloading these before you get into the country so you can start off on the right foot.
- Naver Map – Don’t bother using Google Maps in Korea. It won’t work and you’ll be very far from your destination. Naver owns Korea.
- Seoul Subway – One of the most useful apps in Korea, you can set alarms to wake you up, see what car to sit in for an easy transfer, and the time schedule.
- Kakako Map – An alternative to Naver, this will also help you find some cafes not easily found on Naver Map.
- KakaoTalk – WhatsApp who? We don’t know her. Everyone in Korea uses this chatting platform.
- Kakao T – This is dead useful in calling a taxi to your exact location.
- Yogiyo – Hungry and don’t feel like going out? Choose from Korea, Japanese, and pizza.
9. Learn Useful Korean Travel Phrases
I know this goes without saying, but there are still quite a few folk here who cannot English and that’s totally cool. They shouldn’t have to because they’re Koreans living in Korea where they speak Korean. Savvy?
Anyway, you can totally spend an afternoon learning hangul with this FREE 90 Minute Hangul Reading Cheat Sheet.
Essential Korean Travel Phrases
Also, I’d like to introduce my favorite basic Korean travel phrases. These will pretty much get you through your travel to Korea.
- Hello. 안녕하세요.
- Thank you. 감사합니다.
- Over here. 여기요.
- I have an allergy. 저 알러지 있어요.
- Can you speak English? 영어 할 수 있어요?
- I don’t understand. 잘 모르겠네요.
- I don’t speak Korean well. 한국말 잘 못해요.
- Do you have _________? _____ 있어요?
- It’s okay. 괜찮아요.
- It’s fun. 재미있어요.
- How much is it? 얼마에요?
- Please give. 주세요.
- Really? 진짜요?
- One beer, please. 맥주 하나주세요.
- Where is the toilet? 화장실이 어디예요?
10. Watch Kdramas & Listen to Kpop
After you learn some essential Korean, you can test it out on the pop culture. This is one of the best ways to suss out the local culture and not be completely in shock when you visit. Just remember most things you see in entertainment culture are an exaggeration of real life. Although there are some things that have truth in them. For Kdramas, I highly recommend Secret Garden, My Love From the Star, Goblin, and Crash Landing on You. For Kpop, listen to BTS, BlackPink, Big Bang, and 2NE1. If you’re interested, you can also check out the ultimate Kpop Lovers Itinerary for Seoul here.
11. Hiking is FREE and Fun
After taekwondo, the national sport of Korea is mountain climbing. Every mountain is marked with beginner, intermediate, and advanced trails so you can pick one that best fits your level. A lot of the famous mountains in Seoul are great for a day trip and the views are second to none. It’s an old Korean trip to bring a kimbap and makgeolli to celebrate the views as well. The best hiking in Korea is done in the spring or autumn and my favorite mountain to have climbed to date is Hallasan.
12. Get FREE Entry to All of Seoul’s Palaces
You can rent a hanbok for 10,000 won at Flowery Hanbok or you can also book an amazing hanbok photoshoot if you feel like splurging. Granted, you’ll also get great photos and FREE entry to all of Seoul’s Grand Palaces.
13. Go on a DMZ + JSA Tour
Even if you have no interest in military affairs, this is by far one of the coolest trips I have ever been on. Even my mom who knows nothing about the history between North and South Korea found this to be one of the coolest experiences of her life. On this tour you’ll get to pass Unification Bridge and arrive at Camp Bonifas where you will see a fake town with no people in it. You’ll also get to visit the third tunnel which North Koreans were digging to invade Seoul. And get a taste of what the real DMZ is like outside of the popular drama, Crash Landing Into You.
But the cherry on top of the trip? That is the Joint Security Area Panmunjom. This is where President Moon Jae In and Dictator Kim Jong Eun shook hands. It’s also the only place you can go into the small meeting rooms and stand in North Korea. Just note, depending on the tensions that day, this part of the tour may be canceled.
14. Book a Tour
While being herded onto a bus with other travelers may sound like a nightmare to you, sometimes it will be one of the best ways you can see South Korea—especially if you want to go to Nami Island, Petite France, or Garden of the Morning Calm. Outside of Seoul, it gets harder to navigate and communicate because a lot of people in the countryside don’t speak English.
15. Wear Comfortable Shoes
When I tell you Korea has destroyed many pairs of shoes in a short period of time, I’m not exaggerating. I’ve had to throw away so many due to holes and breaking apart at the sole. A lot of the pavement in Korea is very uneven, so it will be very easy to get scuff marks and wear down your shoes. You’ll also be doing a lot of walking, so I highly suggest getting comfortable. There’s a reason why sneakers are number one sellers in Korea.
16. Visit Korea in Spring or Autumn
The most lively and exciting festivals always happen at this time of year. The weather in mid-spring and autumn literally cannot be beat. I don’t recommend visiting Korea in summer because of the rainy season and humidity that will drown you when you go outside. Korean winters are dry and brutal and your skin will suffer from the pollution as well.
I highly recommend checking out Autumn Festivals You Can’t Miss in South Korea so you can see all the fun activities Korea has to offer in my favorite season.
17. Getting Cheap Food
Who doesn’t love tasty, delicious, and cheap food? If you want to get the cheapest food, eat in a university cafeteria or university area, a convenience store, and eat street food.
18. Chopsticks Are Inside the Table
This is the one thing many non-Koreans struggle with. A lot of things in Korea are self-service so where on earth would the eating utensils be? Koreans typically use metal chopsticks and spoons. These are kept in drawer on the side of the table along with the napkins.
19. Free Water Everywhere
Many restaurants have filtered water machines. If you go in, you can fill up the table jug and your own water bottle for free.
20. Is Korea expensive?
Compared to Japan, Korea is one of the cheaper Asian countries to travel to if you know how to budget hack. This means to save money in Korea, you should stay at jimjilbangs, eat cheap convenience store food or around university areas, and stay away from the fancy drinks at all the coffee shops here.
- $1 USD equals about 1,235 won. Or you can round down to 1,000 won for easier conversions. In Korea, the paper money runs in denominations of 1,000, 5,000, 10,000, and 50,000 won notes. The coins are in 100, 50, and 10 won increments.
- The best place to exchange your money would be in Myeongdong or Itaewon and not at the airport. They will give you the best rates.
- Meals can cost anywhere from 5,000 won to 20,000 won. This depends on what you eat and where you go. Traditional Korean foods with side dishes are usually the cheapest meal option. Western food or any variation of it is more expensive.
- Drinks at Korean clubs or bars start at 8,000 won and go up from there. You’ll find most people drinking outside of convenience stores before they go in to save money.
- Cover charges for clubs also start at 10,000 won.
- A cheap hostel in Seoul in a shared room can go from 10,000 – 15,000 won a night.
- Street food goes for 1,000 won – 5,000 won. (The best place to get the cheapest street food in Seoul is Gwangjang Market.)
- A Seoul Subway ride starts at 1,250 won.
21. Check Out The Big Festivals
Most of the big festivals are super cheap to go to. They usually have tons of food stands (you’d have to pay in cash), and you can bring your own beer and drink very cheaply. In Korea, you can drink in public. You can also find cheap tours on Trazy or Klook that will provide round trip transportation, entrance tickets to the festival, and sometimes more.
22. Go To Cafes
For my absolute favorite cafes I’ve ever been to in Korea, check out the cafe list on my blog to decide which one is best for you. They’re usually a cheaper way to amuse yourself for the afternoon. You’ll have to buy a drink or snack, but then you’re free to enjoy your time and take as many photos as you’d like.
23. Take a Bus
They say all roads in Korea lead to and from Seoul. You best believe the transport system in Korea is one of the best I’ve experienced. There are several big bus terminals in Seoul, but the two biggest ones are the Seoul Express Bus Terminal and the Nambu Bus Terminal. Attendants will help you book tickets and many buses run very frequently around the country. Bus tickets range anywhere from 8,000 won and up. The buses also have super comfy seats and even ports for charging your electronics.
24. Namdaemun Community Lounge
This is a lounge specifically for foreign tourists. You can try on hanbok for free, store your luggage, watch traditional performances, make crafts, try Korean drinks and snacks, as well as use the computers and get free travel information. The Namdaemun Community Lounge is perfect if you’re trying to budget hack and understand Korean culture for free.
25. Coin Norebang (코인노래방)
If you’re a female solo traveler in Seoul, then this is a GREAT activity to partake in. You pay for the songs you sing and when you finish you can get up and go. And yes, I’m totally using a photo of Eric Nam because I was invited on a FAM tour in 2017 and got to see a private concert hosted for influencers.
26.Get a Foot Bath
If you’re not up for getting undressed in front of everyone at a Korean spa, I highly recommend trying the Solgaheon Traditional Tea Cafe. You can enjoy delicious medicinal teas and a foot bath in a quaint and quiet courtyard. It’s super relaxing and one of my favorite experiences I’ve done in Seoul. I also recommend this experience for people who want to experience traditional Korean medicine and healing.
Hopefully these travel tips for South Korea will help make your trip easier and cheaper. Cheap accommodation in Korea is an easy hack to find, as well as budget accommodation in Korea.
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