Seoul is not seen as a budget destination. In fact, it’s one of the most expensive Asian destinations along with Japan and Hong Kong. Still, if you are smart, there are ways to get around Seoul on a backpacker budget.
It’s true that South Korea has hit our regular $42 per day for two people budget pretty hard. Although it would be possible to get our daily budget down to that level for Seoul, it would mean making sacrifices that would defeat our reason for travelling – ie. we want to be able to enjoy ourselves!
Still, $25 per person per day is comfortable, although with $40 per person you could get out and enjoy great restaurant meals too. We’ll include some suggestions below on how to get the prices even lower, if you so choose!
Itaewon Spa Land – $30 per night, private double room
We’ve done a full post on this accommodation which you can read through to get locations and specifics. In summary, Korea is full of cheap bathhouses. Every town has multiple options, they are called “Jimjilbangs” and the 24 hour ones are the cheapest accommodation in the country.
Most of these spas have a very public sleeping area – everyone grabs a sleeping mat and shares a big communal room. However, Spa Land in Itaewon (central seoul) has private rooms! The regular price for a double room is $35 a night but if you speak to the manager, Lee, you should be able to get a discount to $30.
Save more money? If you are travelling solo, or don’t mind the lack of privacy, then you can sleep in the capsule style dorm (gender segregated) or the communal sleeping room for only $10 per person per night.
Seoul may be generally expensive but there are many cheap/free attractions to keep you entertained without breaking the bank.
Saunas & Baths
If you are staying at the Jijilbang anyway then all of the facilities, including saunas, steam room and baths are inclusive! For an hour or two per day you can take it easy and rejuvenate those worn out travellers’ bones and muscles. Be warned, the bathhouse area is single sex and nudity is compulsory.
Korean War Memorial Museum – Free!
This museum is very well put together: Interactive, informative and with plenty of English language translations and multi-media, they even have a large outdoor exhibit of vehicles used in the war. You can easily spend 2 or 3 hours learning about the Korean war of the 1950’s and how America and the UN got involved in the fight against the communist north.
Leave from exit 12 of Samgakji station (Line 6 & 4) and walk east about 100m and you’ll see the memorial on the left.
⇒ Want more info about Seoul? Click Here to check out our Podcast “The Dish” and listen to our full episode about the history of Kimchee and What to Eat in Seoul
The easiest way to get around Seoul is using the subway system. It’s clean, modern, efficient and extensive! More importantly, its cheap! For around $1 per trip you can get to most places within the city. If you are staying in Seoul for more than a few days it’s worth picking up the “T-money” travel card for $3.50, you save a small amount on each trip and it is far more convenient than lining up for tickets every time.
Food & Drink
Welcome to convenience store bar culture!
Although this might sound a bit tramp-like, in Korea, eating and drinking at the convenience store is pretty normal and, at most, it’s possible 24 hours a day!
Most convenience stores also have tables and chairs, either outside or inside, where you can hang out with a drink and eat your meal. They also have regular deals (2-4-1’s etc.) and sometimes you can get a meal and free drink included. They have microwaves and boiling water for making up pot noodles.
If you fill up your water bottle for free at the spa (Water is free and safe to drink at most restaurants and attractions, so always carry a water bottle to fill) then you don’t need to buy additional drinks, or bring your own tea bag and borrow a cup and boiling water for free.
So, lets set up a day’s menu for two at the store!
2 Bananas ($1.20) and two pastries ($1.80) = $3
2x Pot noodle = $2.20
2 x Sushi triangles = $1.40
2 x Korean style bento boxes (with chicken, beef, little sides and plenty of rice) = $7.20
1 x Soju (korean vodka, 26%) = $1.50 (This is a traditional spirit that is drunk with food by most Koreans)
total = $15.30
(Alternative – Head to a “Pizza school” outlet (which are all over seoul) for dinner where you can pick up a pizza for 2 people for $6! It’s not the best pizza in the world but you don’t want to eat microwave food every day!)
Transport: $4 (1 round trip for 2 people)
Food & Drink: $15.30
Total = $49.30
(If you go with the dorm at the Spa and grab a pizza rather than a bento box then that brings the total down to $38.20!)
Looking for hotel options in Seoul? We recommend HotelsCombined. They have a great selection and help you get the best possible price!