If you accept your limitations you go beyond them. - Author Unknown
I know that many of you are wondering (and continue to ask) how I am able to continue to travel financially on such a small daily budget, not only in a First World country such as Korea when the suggested daily allowance according to Lonely Planet is between ₩100,000 and ₩300,000 ($94 - $283) per day, but also in general? Well, budgeting is probably one of the most important skills you will either sink or swim by when expecting to do any type of extended travel, and as a backpacker I’ve learned several things, but today I will be more specific for the country that I am currently in, but several of these can be utilized in other areas of the world, with some exceptions of course. Once again remember that I have been averaging between $6 and $15 per day, some days it is more and others it is actually less, shockingly. So this is my list of,
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4 BIG WAYS TO SAVE MONEY IN KOREA:
Left foot, right foot, it’s called walking. This costs nothing, provides some good exercise (especially now when the weather is very moderate to cool), and this also allows you to become more familiar with the city and what’s going on at street level venturing out to many of the side streets and non-touristy areas. If you do have to take a form of transportation don’t be afraid to use the public transit systems (the subway and buses). Korea’s advanced transportation system is one of the world’s most expansive and is constantly changing and growing. According to data from 2010, there were nine major subway lines that covered more than 250 km (155 mi) and an average 8 million passengers are transported daily. The many natural gas operated buses also has a far-reaching configuration route, which is also quite extensive and reaches almost every area of the city. The rule of thumb is that if you are going to utilize these forms of transportation while in Seoul for more than a few days, whether that be the subway, buses, or even taxis, purchase a T-money card. This can be purchased for a mere ₩3,000 ($2.82) but most importantly make sure you add additional Korean wons, because the initial ₩3,000 is only for the card, you must load additional credits to it after retrieving the card from one of the subway vending machines or a convenience store. My friend Hanah realized the mistake of not adding additional credits to her card when we boarded a local bus, since there are card readers that will deduct credits from the card when scanned and there was the annoying beep that indicates you do not have enough credits for the ride. I also know what you’re thinking–how much value should I add to the card? Well the great thing about this system is that you can never add too much because even if you have quite a bit left over at the end of your stay in Korea not only can this amount be refunded back in Korean wons but you will also get a portion back for recycling the T-money card itself. This is also the case for single journey tickets and can be done after exiting through one of the turn-styles at a nearby vending machine, the recycle refund is only ₩300 (.28 cents), and I know many of you are laughing at this, but hey, when you’re a budget traveler every little bit helps and this is again how I’ve been able to maintain an incredibly cheap daily budget. Lastly, when using the subway or buses realize that transfers between the two are free, yes, FREE!
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This is where I can be an anomaly, camel-like at best. I know it’s not always the most nutritious, but I typically don’t eat breakfast and will fill up on a large late lunch or even early dinner. Street food and cheaper all-you-can-eat Korean BBQ have been great cheap options. Plus most of the restaurants provide multiple side dishes with free refills, so this is the time to attack it like a fat kid all over a cupcake.
Forget about Groupon in Korea, here it’s all about Coupang and Ticketmonster. Also if you have the time either while you are in Korea or my suggestion before you arrive (once again research days), check to see what days of the week museums or other normal paid admission activities may offer free or discounted days. Also grab every tourist map booklet you can find, since most backpackers are not staying in hostels, hit up a hotel or information station because almost 100% of the time there are coupons for 10% off or more for the attractions.
CouchSurfing has been one of the largest reasons for keeping my daily costs down, since the average hostel or guesthouse in Korea can run you between ₩9,000 - ₩23,000 ($8.46 - $21.63) or more (typically more) and the prices generally increase for Friday and/or Saturday bookings. The guesthouse I am currently at, Mugunghwa House 무궁화집, if by far the nicest hostel with the most amenities I have stayed in all of my travels. When I first arrived I was in a 4-bed dorm with three other guys, and granted through the adoptee reunion Home to Home Program the 7-nights accommodation costs were covered, but I am now in a large private room with only one other single bed and the cost is only ₩15,000 ($14.10) per day. The amenities though…wow! First, there is a full large kitchen that is stocked with lots of communal food, everything from eggs, milk, cereal, pasta, veggies, juice, coffee, etc as well as the ability to do free laundry any time where laundry detergent is provided.
All in all, I know that I have been able to keep an incredibly tight reins on my budget for Korea, with some financial assistance through ESWS, but even prior to this while I was CouchSurfing for two and a half weeks I was still maintaining this type of a daily budget and going to restaurants with my hosts almost nightly, so it is possible. This is just a few reasons why in 2011 CNN gave 50 reasons why Seoul is the world’s greatest city.
(Photo © of Exploring Korea)
Sunday morning I am woken up by a bit of chatter as my friend Ara has plans to go hiking with a friend, I think the time is around 6:30am but I can barely get my eyes open, which when you’re Asian say a lot. After just a few more hours of sleep after going to bed close to 1am I am up at 8:30am as I want to make the most of my last day with my mom since my train departs Iksan at 3pm. This morning my mom has asked me to accompany her to church, which is only about a 10-minute walk from her place. It still amazes me that because of the late night culture in Korea that most shops, surprisingly enough the coffee shops, don’t open until 11am or even noon. The cool morning air continues to wake me up as we arrive the San Cheon Kwang Presbyterian Church (say that three times fast), where I am greeted by several people, but unfortunately have no idea what they are really saying or asking me. As we enter the church there is a large choir standing on a grand stand to the right and from what I can count about five or six video cameras with large screen monitors at both the front and the rear of the room. It reminds me of a southern Gospel church, but the preacher is wearing a beaming white suit and is very energetic. Attempting to understand what is being said, eventually I just enjoy the atmosphere of the place in spite of how frigid the room is where I am unable to remove my jacket and begin noticing that no one else in the room has done this either. After the service, my mom–being quite proud and excited–has a number of people she wants to introduce me to and soon I am bombarded with hugs and sayings that I am unsure what is said, except that they are happy for the both of us.
After this sad, but very important history lesson–I feel, the food begins to arrive in abundance. Each tray is filled with dishes of an assortment of meats, vegetables, soups–practically everything you could imagine–and I waste no time in trying everything I can possibly get my chop sticks in to. Awe, how dey-ricious, (I can hear my friend Steph now, haha)! When I am filled to capacity-overload, I am given one more dish, which is a soup filled with rice and grains. Unsure that I can pack it away, I am told that this helps with the digestion of a large meal. There is not much flavor to this oatmeal type substance, but as I begin eating it, I can notice a large difference in how bloated and fat-kid-esque I was feeling just moments earlier. As we are leaving the restaurant, my mother’s friend tells me that she has two daughters and unfortunately no son, but after meeting me today she feels as though she has inherited one and gives me a great big hug.