Having lost our passports, my camera and all our money and credit cards (as well, by the way, my new black Longchamp bag!) in a taxi on the very first night we arrived in Seoul three days ago, I do believe I have some authority on the question of how to travel around cheaply (and most importantly survive) here. So, without further ado, here are some tips on how to stretch your dollar, save some moola and a very important travel tip.
1. Avoid the foreigners’ areas, for instance Noksapyeong and Itaewon. These areas are catered mostly to foreigners who have come here to teach English to Korean students. Although the restaurants here are nice and serve great Western food (eg Italian, French and German), each dish is also around 2-3 times more expensive. So, unless you have serious cravings for pasta, my tip is to avoid these areas and eat at local Korean restaurants where a dish averages around 4,500-6,000 KRW.
Other cheap food options include street food (bunshik), bakeries (eg Paris Baguette and Tous les Jours sell sandwiches for less than 5,000 KRW) and, if you’re feeling extremely poor, 7-11 has some good cheap meals such as triangle kimbap, instant noodles, sandwiches from 1,500 KRW (we had to eat this on our first morning in Seoul after we lost all our money and credit cards. Tragic, but true).
2. Save on renting a Korean phone and take advantage of the free wifi in cafés, as well as phone apps like Kakao, Skype, Whatsapp, Wechat and Facebook Messenger to communicate with friends and family. The Korean phone system (CDMA network) does not use SIM cards, so most travellers have to rent a Korean cell phone to use here which costs around $5-6 AUD per day. If you do decide to rent a phone, the best place to get one is at Incheon International Airport when you arrive, although according to Lonely Planet some discount electronic stores also have new and used phones for sale. There is no wifi on public transport unless you have purchased credit with Olleh, a South Korean telecommunication services provider.
3. Take the subway as the cheapest form of public transportation within the Seoul metropolitan area. Though the trains do not come as often as the ones in HK or Taipei, they are still convenient, efficient and reliable. However, if you want to travel outside of the Seoul city area, you will need to consider alternative forms of transportation such as a bus, the KTX/ITX (high speed train system to get you to places such as Busan) or plane. If you are staying in Seoul for more than a few days, it is a good idea to buy a T-money card (2,500 KRW each) as it saves you 100 KRW for each trip compared with paying for a single-journey ticket with cash. Refunds are available for the T-money card at the end of your trip.
4. Take a taxi* as they are relatively cheap. Fares begin at a mere 3,000 KRW (around $3 AUD) for around 5 minutes, and then increase by 100 KRW according to time or distance (142m). If you have a T-money card, you can also use it to pay for taxi fares.
*Orange taxis are owned by companies, whereas the white and silver taxis are privately owned. In case you forget something on a taxi, try to avoid the white and silver ones as you’re unlikely to recover lost belongings without a receipt or the taxi’s ID number. The orange taxis have a better reputation of putting lost items online (here), or taking it to the police. As we lost our bag in a silver taxi, our chances of finding it are quite slim. Which brings me to my travel tip:
5. Invest in a good travel insurance policy. I cannot stress enough the importance of this, and it should be a no-brainer for any traveller. In the unfortunate case that you should lose something, have something stolen, or worse suffer an injury, you will in most circumstances be covered by your insurance policy so invest in a good one that is suitable for you, and make sure you understand what your particular policy covers and what its terms and conditions are before you travel.
For our policy (we went with Medibank Insurance), there is a policy of filing a police report within 24 hours of an incident, so if that is a condition for your policy too, make sure you comply with it or else your insurer will likely not pay up. Also keep your receipts for important items you bought during your holiday in case you lose them, too. And for those of you who are a bit arrogant and think that nothing will happen to you on your travels, think again and always expect the unexpected. Get yourself covered for those unexpected situations, because for a few hundred bucks it’s worth the peace of mind.
Stay tuned for more Seoul adventures!