I’ve always held a penchant for travelling and I’ve been fortunate enough to have visited a couple of countries around the world. Even so, Seoul would always be particularly special to me because it was the first trip I have ever single-handedly planned – whereas my previous holidays were always left in the capable but rather inflexible hands of my mother and a travel agency. Because I traveled with one other friend and the miserable remnants of my internship salary, we really tried to keep the costs as low as humanly possible.

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So we went, there and back again. I’m really glad to say that our mini expedition was successful, in terms of the depth of exploration and cost! And here I am now, quickly drafting out a travel guide of sorts for the cheapskate soul as I attempt to calculate accurately – something I’m not exactly the best at. So do bear with me, and also take note that your flight prices may vary, according to the time where you book it and other intrepid factors as such, you know how finicky airlines can get.

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First things first, the flight

Flights often take up the bulk of the cost for a budget holiday like ours – so we really attempted to skimp as much as possible. We searched every conceivable flight that fit well into our schedule in Manila and Seoul by using the discount travel site, Expedia – and  we finally settled for a return flight with one stopover for ₱13,970*! I meant it when I said that flights took the biggest slice of the money pie.

However, because we booked our flight months before, we weren’t able to utilize this nifty travel hack: use sites like Groupon to snag the best last minute deals because airlines attempt to clear their expiring inventories by selling tickets for cheap there!

*Prices based on travels from October 2014. Suggestions quoted from similar period in 2015

So currently we’re at ₱13,970. Let’s move on.

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Accommodation

You’ll be in for a pleasant surprise, but accommodation in Seoul is really not expensive. Really. Of course, my friend and I opted to stay at a instead. These types of hostels are scattered all around Seoul – though not sporadically, because there are surprisingly many! We got a hostel at the Jongno area called Backpackers INSIDE, and stayed there for six nights.

Unlike the other times I travelled – where I was always cooped up in a single lonesome hotel room without much interaction with the native Koreans or other travellers – staying in a hostel made this particular holiday very cozy, warm, communal, and oddly comfortable. There was a common area where travellers could make easy conversation about our day in Seoul, toast some buttered bread and play board games. I really believe that’s what travelling is all about: learning bits and bobs from other cultures and finding pieces of ourselves in others. In the end we realize we’re really not as different as we think we are.

All that aside, a bed per night was ₱1,200 when we booked it through Hotels.com. There was a flash sale when we booked it and we grabbed the deal as soon as we saw it. And thus, six nights at the hostel cost ₱7,200*. Don’t worry though, because the hostels in Seoul operate with similar prices. You’ll definitely be able to get yours as affordable as well! Check out hostels like the cosy Kimchee Gyeongbokgung Guesthouse in the same area for some super cheap accommodation (around ₱1,400 to be exact). However, if hostel-livin’ isn’t your plate of kimchi (or well… cup of tea if we’re sticking to the old adage), you can always get cheap hotels over at Hotels.com. No big deal, really.

Alternatively, you could do the hotel booking and flight together with a travel package. Check out the affordable package deals on Expedia. You’ll get a stay at a guesthouse, or hotel of your choice along with a return flight ticket, all-inclusive. Prices start at under₱12,000. I say if you want to slack on the planning, these packages are the way to go. Check out Expedia’s offers today as they are available for a limited time only!

In total, we’re up to ₱21,170.

* Accurate at the time of booking


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Food, food and more food

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Onward to the most satisfying part of travelling to Seoul – stuffing delicious Korean delicacies into our greedy mouths! The best thing is that food in Seoul is relatively inexpensive if you stay away from the high-end restaurants that travel groups have a tendency to trot you to.

Most of the time, my friend and I settled for street food – known locally as bunshik. Look out for the Korean street food trucks where you can order a substantial (or obscene, depending on your level of hunger) amount of tteokbokki (spicy rice cakes), twigim (fried snacks) and an odeng (fish cake) all for less than ₱240. We shared these (hence ₱120 each) – the portions are really, really huge – and were good to go! At least, for lunch or to settle impulse hunger on-the-go.

Other times we headed to the kimbap restaurants. These restaurants are basically your typified Korean fast food restaurants – but with a twist. They usually sell kimbap, ramyeon noodles, bibimbap, fried dumplings, kimchi jjigae and many, many more. Most of the items on the menu are affordably priced – which averaged to about ₱270 per meal!

Therefore, we spent about ₱390 give or take, per day on food! And man, were we filled and brimming with food-induced happiness! Therefore, food on the trip cost us about ₱2,340. We’re at ₱23,510 now.

Activities

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What my friend and I did the most during our trip was to relentlessly walk. We enjoyed traipsing the streets of Jongno immensely and soaked ourselves in the breezy atmosphere. Jongno, which is situated in Seoul, is an extremely artistic and historical town and we loved taking in the sights, snapping quick pictures of the people and places, and integrating ourselves with the Koreans. My friend could speak Korean, so life there generally became more interesting. For instance, we had an hour-long chat in one of Seoul’s many cafes – with my friend taking dual roles of translating and adding her piece to the conversation – with a group of young Korean ladies.

Therefore, we didn’t spend excessively on out of the ordinary activities, if at all; you know, things like Everland or going up the N Tower on the cable car. What we really wanted to do was to simply be there and live like a Korean for a little while.

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But if that’s not your cup of tea, there are also free temple tours by Korean students, museum visits and many more! However, most of the more popular museums in Seoul cost money, but they’re not too bad a pinch. Alternatively, you can always head to Myeongdong to get free makeup samples (they’re surprisingly generous), or to any supermarket for food samples as well!

If you are willing to spend a bit on sight-seeing, some travel sites offer suggestions on things to do according to your location. These activities may cost some money though so only go for it if it’s in your budget! Another option is the aforementioned Groupon. Check the site to see if they have any travel or tour packages available when you plan your trip. Right now, the site has an ongoing deal for a 4-day, 3-night return flight package with accommodation and a tour to Lotte World all for only ₱14,899! Isn’t that just amazing?

But for our trip though, we spent a decent ₱23,510 each for six whole days. Of course, that’s not counting the souvenirs and other miscellaneous things we bought in Seoul – that wouldn’t be fair, would it? For me personally, I spent the rest of my cash on arbitrary things like Korean skincare, stationery (Artbox is so affordable there!) and random boxes of Korean food.

In all, Seoul is an amazing place with the best food and people. And you should go there. Right about now.

Have fun, folks!

Prices quoted were accurate at the time of booking. Rates and availability are subject to change.


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