South Korea isn’t always an included stop on a backpacker route of Asia, but there’s too much exciting culture, history and delicious cuisine to explore to miss this country off your bucketlist! Although definitely not as cheap as some Southeast Asia countries, you can definitely travel around South Korea on a backpacker’s budget. Have a read of our ultimate guide to backpacking in South Korea to find out everything you need to know.
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1. Pack accordingly to your destination
Despite being a relatively small country, South Korea’s regions can vary quite in climate and terrain quite a lot. From bustling mega-cities like Seoul, to rolling hills in Busan, and sandy white beaches of Jeju Island, you’ll want to do your research to ensure you’re packing appropriate clothes. We highly recommend figuring out your itinerary before travelling so you don’t end up lugging around a heaving bag full of clothes you didn’t end up wearing. Even if you’re more of a wing-it kind of traveller, at least have an idea of the types of places you want to visit, even if you haven’t chosen the specific activities yet.
Activities in South Korea can are also varied, from quirky cafes in the capital to relaxing on the beach, diving in the ocean to hiking mountains. If you’re planning on having an active trip, comfortable, sturdy walking shoes are an absolute must, for hiking but also for large amounts of walking as you explore the cities. A great hack for packing efficiently is to take into consideration the facilities in your chosen accommodation. If you know you’ll have access to laundrey services throughout your trip, you can pack less, and mix and match outfits, washing them as you go! It’s incredibly easy to overpack for a holiday (honestly, everyone has done it at least once!). Our best advice? When you think you’re finished packing, take half of it out – trust us!
2. Leave some space in your luggage
If you’ve packed efficiently, your bag will (hopefully) not be bursting that the seams before you even leave. We’d recommend leaving some extra space in your luggage for any shopping you’d like to do. There’s nothing worse than seeing something you love and knowing you done have any room in your luggage for it. Whether it’s souvenirs for your friends and family, or treating yourself in the upmarket shopping districts of Seoul, you’re bound to want to buy at least something during your trip.
South Korea is most famous for it’s top-notch skincare and unique make-up products, so if that’s your thing, you’ll definitely want to leave some room in your luggage for some sneaky purchases! From glowy skincare products to cute animal facemasks, South Korea sells absolutely everything cosmetic.
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3. Find the best time of year to travel for you
South Korea experiences four distinct season, similar to those in Europe, and the variations between the regions are relatively small. The best times of year to travel to South Korea are generally considered to be Spring, running from April to June, and Autumn, running from September to November. The weather is typically pleasant and sunny, with little rain and comfortable temperatures. You’ll probably only need a light jacket or jumper in the evenings if it gets chilly. Winter in South Korea, which runs from December to March, is cold and dry with lots of snow fall, especially further north. Summer, which run from July to August, is the hottest time of the year, with high humidity levels and monsoon rains.
Although not very well-known, South Korea also experiences its own cherry blosson season, much like it’s neighbour, Japan. It’s important to consider factors like this, as well as national holidays like Chuseok when planning your trip, as you could encounter larger crowds or more expensive accommodation.
4. Make the most of the free attractions
The main factor turning people off from travelling to South Korea is the cost, but it’s very easy to stick to a budget while you’re there. Of course, if you’re eating lavish meals and spending money on each activity you do, you’re bound to spend a lot – but that goes without saying for a holiday almost anywhere! The great thing about South Korea is that so many of the main things to do and see are free, or virtually free! Here’s a list of some of the best things to see while you’re travelling:
- Bukchon Hanok Village
- Jogyesa Temple
- Namsongol Hanok Village
- Grand Palaces (10,000 won/£6)
- National Museum of Korea
- War Memorial of Korea
- Seoul Museum of Art
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5. Eat what the locals eat
Experience the cuisine is without a doubt one of the highlights of travelling to South Korea. Although it’s slightly lesser known than Japanese or Chinese cuisines, Korean food is definitely on the rise. We guarantee you’ll fall in love with it after just one trip there! From Korean fried chicken in sweet or spicy glazes to Korean barbeque (a great meal for big groups) and endless rice and noodle dishes, you’ll have something new to try everyday! Kimchi, which is fermented, spicy cabbage, is a staple in Korean cuisine. While it might not sound like your thing, we highly recommend trying it, both as a side dish and as a ingredient for flavour in dishes like kimchi fried rice.
To really get a taste of the local cuisine, we recommend paying a visit to the street stalls in each city you visit. You’ll find a variety of delicious snacks both sweet and savoury, including Korean-style such (Gimbap), spicy rice cakes on skewers, and red bean paste pastries in the shape of fish.
Here are just a few of the most popular dishes to try during your travels:
Korean Fried Chicken – crispy (normally double fried!) fried chicken in a sweet or spicy glaze
Korean BBQ – variety of meat cuts cooked on table-top barbeques, eaten with small side dishes
Tteok-bokki – stirfried rice cakes in a spicy, gochujang sauce
Bibimbap – mixed rice with meat and assorted vegetables
6. Keep toilet roll or tissue in your bag
Most restaurants and cafes in South Korea will have Western-style toilets, however, if you’re visiting more rural areas, you may find that the toilets aren’t what you’re used to. Squat toilets are found in many countries across Asia, and despite seeming like a daunting experience, they’re actually a lot more hygienic than regular seated toilets!
It’s a good idea to keep some tissues or toilet paper with you in your day bag, in case any local public toilets aren’t fully stocked. It’s not uncommon for public toilets in South Korea to have a communal bar of soap, so if that’s not your thing, then pop a bottle of hand sanitizer in your bag when you’re out and about.
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7. Learn some handy Korean phrases
The offical language spoken throughout South Korea is Korean, with dialets varying slightly from region to region. Although much of the younger generations will speak good English (especially while you’re in major cities), you will might find that a lot of the people you interact with only have a limited understanding. Learning a few key phrases in Korean will take you a long way during your travels. Here are a few to get you started:
Hello – 안녕하세요 Ann-yeong-ha-se-yo
Please – 주세요 Ju-se-yo
Thank you – 감사합니다 Gam-sam-ni-da
Yes/no –예/아니 ye/a-ni
Do you speak English? – 영어 할 수 있어요? Yeong-eo-hal-su-iss-eoyo?
No straw please – 빨대는 빼 주세요 Bal-dae-nun bae juseyo
8. Buy travel insurance
It’s always a good idea to buy travel insurance no matter where you’re going because even the best planners can never predict what’s really going to happen! Flights can be cancelled, and baggage can be lost, leaving you with a giant hole in your pocket. And there’s always small a chance that you might get a little sick on your trip. Most of the time, the things that go wrong when people travel are out of your hands, so take control of the one thing you can and buy travel insurance! In fact, many travel companies – including us! – require proof of purchase when using joining their tours. Don’t know where to start? We’re big fans of the packages offered by World Nomads. Get an instant quote for your upcoming South Korean backpacking adventure below.