It's no secret that travel is getting more expensive with the increasing prices of goods and services like transport, accommodation, and food, among others, besides the unfavourable foreign currency rates.
But, the good news is … it's still possible to travel as there are options to get around it.
If you're headed to Seoul, here are some ways to better enjoy your time in and also lighten your budget:
1. Card it all the way
We're not referring to credit cards … but transportation cards. Don't be afraid to take public transport because it's a lot more convenient than it sounds.
If you buy the T-money card (Korea Transportation Card) or Cashbee card, it can take you on all modes of public transport like buses, subways and even some taxis.
These transportation cards are easily available at convenience stores like CU, GS25, 7-Eleven, Ministop, With Me, Buy The Way, and Story Way. T-money cards are also available at ticket vending and card reload machines inside subway stations. They can be easily reloaded at these locations.
They can be used not just in Seoul but also in other metropolitan cities and locations throughout South Korea.
Besides enjoying discounts on rides during transfers from bus to bus, subway to subway, bus to subway, or subway to bus (within a transfer time limit), you'll also save the hassle of having to purchase single journey subway tickets for every ride.
You can easily pick up one when you arrive at the airport (at one of the convenience stores) and when you fly back home, just return it for a refund of the unused balance.
Or, you might even want to keep it as some of the cards have unique designs (especially the limited edition ones) and make good souvenirs.
Learning a new language is never a waste and you never know when it will come in handy. Korea Plaza in Menara Hap Seng Kuala Lumpur offers free Korean language classes, but registration is required.
If you prefer self-learning rather than learning in a classroom setting. You can use your spare time while waiting or commuting to listen to language tapes, or even play them while you drive.
Practice makes perfect, and there are Facebook communities where you can learn the Korean language together with others in an online community. And you get to practice what you've learnt in Seoul.
3. Homestays and Backpacker hostels
If you're travelling alone or with a few friends, staying at the home of a local might be cheaper than a hotel (hotels in South Korea are relatively expensive). Also, you might have access to the laundry so you don't have to pack so much clothing.
The other alternative is staying at a backpacker hostel. Some are actually quite nice and comfortable. I did both on my recent holiday there.
It is also a good way to meet some locals, practise the Korean words and phrases that you've mastered, and also experience the other side of Seoul that only locals see.
4. Eat like the locals do
Check out eating places that locals frequent in Seoul. These are probably less expensive and serve delicious food.
Street food is also usually more economical than dining at a fancy restaurant. Your host or if you're staying at a backpacker hostel, other travellers who have been there earlier than you, might be able to give you a few pointers on where to find good food.
Here is where knowing a few Korean words like the names of your favourite dishes and how to order them might come in handy.
Here are a few local dishes that you might want to try:
- Bibimbap (Korean mixed rice bowl with vegetables, meat, egg and red chili paste) or Dolsot bibimbap (served in a stone bowl)
- Samgye-tang (Ginseng chicken soup with a whole young chicken filled with garlic, rice, scallion, and spices)
- Japchae (Stir-fried glass noodles with meat and vegetables)
- Jajangmyeon (Korean black bean sauce noodles)
- Bulgogi (Marinated grilled beef)
- Haemul Pajeon (Korean seafood and spring onion pancakes)
- Fried Chicken And Beer
If you're eating at a local restaurant, refillable side dishes, including kimchi are usually served.
5. Shop at night markets
If you plan to go shopping, Seoul's night markets and underground (subway) malls offer some of the best bargains in town - from clothing and accessories, to toiletries and skincare, and even street food.
Here are a few night markets you should check out:
- Yeouido, located by Han Riverside Park offers food stalls, cultural performances, and handicrafts.
- Dongdaemun offers a variety of shopping with the Dongdaemun Design Plaza Night Market with its fashion shows and live performances; Dongdaemun Yellow Tent Open Market offering clothing and accessories; and its Late Night Snack Market.
- Gwangjang Market, further down from Dongdaemun Gate, is a traditional market popular with the locals, offering delicious streetfood, textiles and hanbok (traditional Korean clothing).
6. Get to know locals
Do your homework before your trip.
Get to know friends from your destination country who might be able to host you or show you around … or if not, at least find out where the locals eat and hang out. You can always return the favour when they visit Malaysia.
In the process, you get to broaden your horizon, learn about other cultures and even language, and make new friends in the process. There are many online communities on social media where you can interact.