You might have seen a lot of travel blogs and articles telling you how they enjoyed their Korea trip with a minimal budget. But you might find this one rare as it boasts a budget of ONLY Php 20,000 for 10 days. It either sounds too good to be true or extreme enough to keep you traumatized on your next travel. What I can assure you is that I enjoyed the trip more than a typical tourist.
The trip can be subdivided into a 3 Days and 3 Nights trip in Busan and a 7 days and 6 Nights trip in Seoul. But I won’t be detailing my whole trip itinerary (you can read other articles for suggestions on that) but I’ll give you the relevant pointers and some anecdotes that might help you on your trip.
Basically, I started my trip on these conditions:
1. I was travelling with six other people (You’ll know the importance of this later on).
2. The plane tickets were already paid beforehand (It only costs 5,000 pesos roundtrip, thanks to the promo fare).
3. All of the accommodations were also paid beforehand. (Airbnb is really a lifesaver. Sign up here!)
4. I only have Php 20,000 to spend for the whole trip duration (This includes the travel to and from the airport to my house in Quezon City).
5. The trip was during late August to early September (So the weather is not too hot but also not that cold)
During the whole trip I followed these self-established rules for my survival:
1. AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE NO SHOPPING
It was my first time in Korea so it seems logical to go on a shopping spree in Dongdaemun, Insadong, Ewhaand specially Myeongdong. But like me, you also have the option to enjoy this on your next visit. You can just enjoy the trip as it is. It’s like eating sushi without the soy sauce and wasabi. It might seem lacking but still taste great.
However, it’s not that I didn’t buy anything during my trip, I was just extra careful (too careful I must say) on all my purchases. My biggest takeaway would be the on-sale acid wash distressed pants (that I used for a good 3 years) that I bought in Gukje Market, Busan for only 14,000 won (from 20,000 won, it’s a steal). I also bought a few obligatory souvenirs for my officemates, friends and family but I had to let go that 10,000 won backpack in Insadong.
Pro tip: Food souvenirs such as traditional snacks like rice crackers, yakgwa, laver flavored crackers and dragon beard’s candy are the best choices for courtesy souvenirs. You can buy them in bulk for a cheap price at the traditional markets like Gukje Market and Gwangjang Market. Also, it’s a rule of thumb that the more touristy the area is, the higher are the prices of commodities. In buying souvenirs like keychains and ref magnets you can try at browsing at the subway malls.
2. PLAN AND PRIORITIZE
Saying that our trip to Korea this time is “heavily-planned” seems like an understatement. Our trip was in August but we booked our flights December of the previous year. We immediately proceeded with the planning, that was almost eight months of planning.
Like what I mentioned earlier, there were seven people in our travel group, 2 boys and 5 girls. The biggest advantage of this is that you can share some expenses like baggage allowance fee, food and accommodation cost. However, there are some disadvantages like: (1) It would be harder to find accommodations that have that much of vacant slots (2) Unless you all have the same wavelengths, you’ll have to compromise your itinerary most of the time. (3) You need to consider each other’s travel pace.
Pro tip: Like in group tours, free days are necessary to accomplish everyone’s target goals. If you had time to prepare for your trip itinerary, make sure that you have a backup. Murphy’s Law (all things that could go wrong will go wrong) is strong especially on instances like this. In my case, we were “Last-called” on our flight to Seoul and almost missed our flight back to Manila.
2. T-MONEY and SUBWAY APP is the KEY
Unlimited transport passes are famous for tourists, but actually T-Money and the Subway App is enough. T-Money is one of Korea’s reloadable transport cards that can also be used in convenience stores. Transport rides are not unlimited in this option but that’s where the Subway App comes in. Use the app to accurately tell the cheapest and fastest transport route to your next destination. You can also use Google maps for this function; if you are always connected to the internet.
Pro tip: If you can afford renting for a pocket Wi-Fi or travel sim, do so. But if you are like us, poor travelers, the Korean Subway system will save you. Most (if not all) of the subway stations in Korea offers free Wi-Fi. So, if you are lost or just need to search something on the web, go to the nearest subway station and connect your smartphone.
3. ENJOY FREE ENTRANCES
Being a visitor in a foreign land, especially in a nice country like South Korea, beautiful views and picture backgrounds cannot be that hard to find. Good news is that many tourist spots are free of entrance fees. In Busan, Gwangali Beach, Haeundae Beach, Busan Tower, BIFF Square, Gukje Market, Jagalchi Market, Gamcheon Culture Village, andeven Taejongdae Park is free of admission fees.
Meanwhile in Seoul, Bukchon Hanok Village, Gangnam Star Road, DDP Plaza, Cheonggyecheon stream, Insadong, Gwanghamun, Ehwa University, Han River Park, Myeongdong and many more are also free of charge.
If you have a limited budget like me, you should be choosing a walk Han River Park over an admission ticket to a museum. This is where you need to decide on your sightseeing priorities. In my case, I really wanted to visit MBC Dramia (See the details here) so I alloted some of my budget for that.
Pro tip: The view from the base of Busan Tower and Namsan Tower is already enough to fill you with memories of the night scenery. For me, paying for another 10,000 won to experience the viewing deck of Namsan Tower is kind of regrettable (I should have bought that bag in Insadong with that money). Also, the viewing deck is actually a tourist trap, there’s always a lot of people up there especially at night so it’s actually hard to get a good 360-degree view of Seoul.
4. WALK IF POSSIBLE
South Korea is a very walkable country, you shouldn’t miss your chance to explore the places on foot. In any travel, you should consider walking not as a transportation means but as a sightseeing activity but you should be ready with your walking shoes. As a simple guide whether you should walk or not, remember that if it will take you more than an hour of walking, it’s probably not worth the energy. Just walk to the nearest subway station and hop on the train.
Pro tip: Taxis in Korea are actually cheap compared to Japan for example. But, you’ll need some basic knowledge of the Korean language as taxi drivers in general are not fluent in English. Also, remember that subway stations close at 12 midnight so if you are planning to go shopping at Doota and Milgliore or decided to experience the nightlife of Hongdae, make sure that you know your way home. We almost slept on the streets in Hongdae because no taxi would give us a ride to our hostel but we are not brave enough to walk on the streets that will cross Han River at 2 o’clock in the morning.
6. BRING YOUR FOOD SUPPLY
This doesn’t mean that you need to bring a luggage of groceries (but I almost did >_<). Just pack a few snacks; biscuits, cup noodles, instant noodles, canned goods or anything that will help you save money spent on food and midnight snacks. If you can, book an accommodation with free breakfast. Again, travelling as a group will come in handy on this one as you can share your “packed food supply”.
Pro tip: There are microwavable rice available on convenience stores so you can pack some canned goods and have a proper meal. On this trip, I remember eating on an actual restaurant for only twice, the rest are street foods, fast foods and convenience store foods. You can say that I deprived myself of eating fancy Korean cuisine restaurants and specialties, but I can always go back for that. For this type of trip, those triangle kimbap will be enough to satiate your hunger. The important thing is you still get to eat 3 meals and some in between snacks.
I arrived in Manila with some loose korean coins and my allowance for the taxi home. The whole 10 days was really tiring with all the walking that we had but I was really amazed that I managed to extend my budget for 10 days.
I hope that you picked up something from reading this and have the actual chance to apply it. (Here’s your chance!]