As you may know, I travelled on my own, for the very first time, to Seoul in May. I did everything myself; my passport, my itinerary, and my budget. I saved up my own money, I worked really hard and ended up in Seoul, South Korea to experience one of my favourite cities in the world and cross it off my travel bucketlist.
A huge part of my travel planning involved my budget. Saving money is hell, let me tell you and what’s even more difficult is deciding how much money I want to bring, how much would be enough and how much would be too much. Would I be able to eat by the end of the trip if I shopped this much? Would I be able to buy an appropriate amount of souvenirs? There are so many things to be taken into account, and now that I’ve experienced it all, I thought I should give you guys a helping hand.
Let me just say that when travelling, it’s not wise to convert every single one of your purchases to Malaysian Ringgit because technically speaking, when you spend South Korean Won, the only thing that’s decreasing is your South Korean Won, not your Malaysian Ringgit. You’ve already lost your Malaysian Ringgit when you converted it to South Korean Won so when you spend South Korean Won, you’re not spending Malaysian Ringgit anymore. I hope that makes sense. Also, it would give you a crazy headache knowing that you’re spending a certain amount of Malaysian Ringgit on something that could be cheaper in Malaysia than in Seoul, in Malaysian Ringgit.
What I’ve discovered about Seoul is that a lot of things are quite affordable. In South Korea, KRW1000 is valued as $1 or RM1. So, imagine buying a bottle of milk, similar to a small HL milk carton, for KRW1300, that’s only $1.30! Bottled drinking water is as low as KRW850 ($0.85) and an iced caramel macchiato by the street is KRW3000 ($3!)!
Essentially, food in Seoul is very affordable, if you know where to go. Local dishes are affordable, of course, mostly less than KRW10 000 per dish. If you eat at streetfood carts, you can easily spend less than KRW8 000. What I love about eating at Korean restaurants is anything you order comes with side dishes and drinking water so let’s say you order a portion of soondubujigae (tofu stew, my favourite), it will come with a bowl of soondubujigae, a portion of rice, drinking water and up to 3 or 4 side dishes!
Foreign cuisine like American breakfasts are obviously a lot more expensive, normally ranging from KRW15 000 to KRW30 000 per seating, depending on what you order.
If you’re planning on visiting cafes or even cafe hopping, you will be spending a good amount of money. Drinks are usually KRW5 000 each and desserts are even more pricey.
Tourist attractions are quite expensive, if you ask me. I think it’s the same at any city you visit, tourist attractions are always rated at high prices. Admission fees to museums and palaces are affordable, some are even free but audio guide rentals, hanbok rentals, cable car rides are some of the things that might take up some of your budget. There’s an app which you can use to get discounts on tourist attractions, I’ll share it with you in another post. If you buy a T-money card, they’ll give you a discount coupon pamphlet but it’s not extensive.
Going around Seoul is easy and affordable, in my opinion. I used the subway 95% of the time, and I used the bus twice, only when there aren’t any subway stations close by. Taxis are quite expensive, especially if you consider the amount of traffic there is in Seoul. Subway rates are at KRW1350 and it goes up the further you travel. Some places in Seoul are quite close to each other so you’re better off walking than spending KRW1350 on subway trips. For example, Gwanghwamun Square, Gyeongbokgung Palace, Bukchon Hanok Village, Samcheongdong and Insadong are all in the same area. They’re not exactly close to each other but walking can save you your bucks and help you lose calories from all the yummy Korean food you had.
Shopping in Seoul is another matter to take into account. It all depends on what you want, what you’re looking for, your budget and your preferences. Shopping in Seoul is affordable too, in my opinion.
If you go to boutiques and flagship stores, things are definitely way way expensive but there are many underground stores at subway stations, budget-friendly fashion stores by the street that can sell clothes for as low as KRW10 000, if you know where to find it.
What amazes me the most about budget shopping in Seoul is that most of the things really look like it came out of Tumblr, no wonder people in Seoul are so fashionable! Souvenirs, make-up, accessories are also affordable.
For affordable fashion items, go to Konkuk University, Ewha University, Hongdae and Myeongdong. If you’re looking for souvenirs, go to Namdaemun Market and Myeongdong. There are vendors and shops that would rip you off, I’ve encountered a vendor who was selling an unbranded trench coat for KRW55 000 and when I didn’t want to buy it, he actually got pissed. It doesn’t happen a lot but you should be careful. Avoid stand alone vendors.
Again, it’s up to your preference. If you’re looking for luxury and designer items, Lotte Department stores and Apgujeong-rodeo are great. Lotte has a great range of local and Western designer bags, shoes and make-up. If you’re looking for Western make-up products like NARS, Lancome and luxury Korean beauty products, Lotte is where you can find them. There are many Lotte Department stores in Seoul, you just have to Google them. The ones I went to were at Konkuk Uni Station, Seoul Station and Jamsil Station. The Jamsil one is my favourite. If you want to check out the local fashion scene and looking into grabbing some local designer items, head to DOOTA mall, opposite Dongdaemun Design Plaza.
HOW MUCH I ENDED UP SPENDING
Now I’ve made all of that clear, it’s time to tell you how much I saved up and the breakdown of my expenses in Seoul. I saved up RM5000+ in total. I spent around RM900 on my plane ticket (KL to Seoul, Seoul to KL) which included 20kg baggage allowances, 3 in-flight meals and booking a seat. I used RM3200 to exchange to Korean Won for my expenses in Seoul and the rest was for me to come back to because I didn’t want to come back to Malaysia as a broke 20 year-old. I didn’t spend on accommodation because a friend offered me a place to stay, which was so nice of her. It saved me a lot of money because if I were to pay for accommodation, it would’ve been an additional RM1500.
RM3200 gave me more or less, KRW900 000. It wasn’t a lot of money to be honest, it was enough for me. I still have KRW60 000 left in my wallet but if you’re really looking forward to shopping and you’re not one to think 10 times about your purchases, you might need a lot more than KRW900 000, especially if you want to buy expensive items like official k-pop merchandise, shoes and designer items.
Here’s a summary of my expense in Seoul :
- Food & drinks KRW234 590 (includes Korean food, cafes, English brunches)
- Souvenirs KRW168 100 (includes make-up items, keychains and novelty art pieces)
- Shopping (clothes, shoes, accessories) KRW123 800
- Make-up and skincare products KRW114 000
- K-pop merchandise & albums KRW104 700
- Palace admission, hanbok rental, cable car KRW21 500
- Public transport (T-money card & reload) KRW70 000
- Miscellaneous (laundry detergent, toiletries) KRW11 800
Everything I’ve listed above are taken from my expense tracker so I might have left a few bits and pieces out which I’m not aware of. Please be aware that I am a very paranoid person when it comes to money; I spent 10 months saving money and practising self-control so I subconsciously brought my cheapskate habits to Seoul when I could have spent way more than I did.
Talk again soon,