I always create my own travel itineraries, of course, this is based on weeks of research through various travel sites, published articles and blogs. Yup, I like to be prepared since my time and budget for travel are always limited. In my experience, SK has a lot to offer in terms of culture, food and shopping, and of course, if you’re into Korean dramas, you can customize your itinerary to track the places popularized by your favorite Korean telenovelas.
Choosing the Travel Period
In considering the travel period, I would usually check the seasons/climate or if there is a special event or festival worth visiting for. In the case of SK, it is a country blessed with four seasons, and most people I know would opt for Autumn (i.e., around September to November) to enjoy temperate climate and the changing of colors; or Spring (i.e., around March to May) to see blossoming of flowers and cherry blossoms.
We ended up choosing the Summer season (our travel period was last week of June 2015), mainly because we wanted to travel light (since the Spring or Autumn seasons in SK can be really cold requiring you to bring layers of clothing); and also because we were interested in visiting Busan, which is the summer capital of SK.
To learn more about the seasons and weather of SK, and help you decide regarding your booking, check these websites:
Preparing your itinerary
Preparing your itinerary really depends on your interests and priorities, like if you’re into culture/world heritage sites (like me), you can prioritize visits to the famous palaces (e.g., Gyeongbokgung, Changdeokgung, etc.). If you prefer spending more time for shopping, then include a visit to Myeong-dong area or allot a whole day of shopping at the underground of Express Bus Terminal Station and Gangnam Station; and so on. Here are my tips in preparing your itinerary for SK (based on budget travel):
1.Decide on what places to visit
To help you get started on your research and preparation of itinerary, I recommend going through the following sites to check out the top recommended or most visited places in SK
- Korea Tourism Organization: Visit Korea
- Visit Seoul: Visit Seoul
- Tripadvisor: Tripadvisor: South Korea
You should be able to ask yourself the following:
- Which places I want to see in Seoul or South Korea? or Why did I want to go there in the first place?
- How many days do I have for this trip? ( if you have quite a long list of places to visit in Item a, you may need to check the likelihood of achieving all of them based on the trip duration, so prioritize!)
- Who am I traveling with? (consider the level of adventure like if lots of walking is an option, and the type of accommodation that you and your companion can accept)
- Given the duration of the trip, the places I want to visit and the accommodation, how much can I spend or how much do I need to save for this trip?
2. Check out street maps to plan your travel route
it’s best to plan or map out your travel routes to optimize your time and budget, especially as there also popular attractions in SK that are quite far from Seoul (e.g., Nami island, Petite France, etc.). You can do this by studying street maps to have a better grasp of the places that you intend to visit and thus, decide on the best route for your travel.
3. To get your way around, use public transports (as much as possible)
Going around SK, particularly Seoul and Busan, it’s more convenient to use the public transports like trains and buses, since they are accessible, efficient and cheaper. Most train stations also have coin lockers to store luggage or backpacks. So, you should familiarize yourself with the Metro Subways (like for Seoul and Busan).
- For the Seoul Metro Subway, you can use the interactive train map and save a copy in your cellphone (or print a hardcopy). The interactive map may be viewed here: Seoul Metro Subway
- For the Busan Metro Subway check this website: Busan Metro Subway
- Unfortunately, the website of published bus routes in SK does not have English translation so you need to physically check the routes when you’re there.
- Know also the intercity train facilities (e.g., Korail) that can take you from Seoul to farther cities and regions: Korail
- If you’re staying in Seoul or Busan for a few days, it is more convenient to buy the rechargeable transport card called “T-Money” card (costs KRW3,000.00), which can be used in riding trains and buses. In fact, you can save more using the card instead of purchasing a single ticket every time, since train/bus fares are discounted via the T-Money card. For more information about the coverage of the T-Money card check this site: T-Money Card
4. Check out the potential climate condition (how cold) or weather forecasts
The website of the Korea Meteorological Administration (KMA) has accurate forecasts (daily, weekly) that will give you an idea on the percent chance of rain (especially if you’re traveling during Summer season) so you can adjust your itinerary accordingly.
You also need to check the potential climate/weather condition for your travel period via the KMA website to guide you on what type of clothes you should bring for the trip. Fortunately, most guesthouses (see discussion on Budget Accommodation below) have laundry facilities so you can take advantage of this.
5. Have your money exchanged for Korean Won in Myeong-dong
I recommend that your itinerary should include a visit to Myeong-dong, perhaps on your first of second day in Seoul, for your currency exchange (and shopping!). My advice is to initially exchange only a small or minimum amount of dollar to Korean Won while in Incheon Airport, just enough to get you to the City or your hotel (and allowance for food if necessary), then do the rest in Myeong-dong. There are several foreign exchange shops in the area that offer much higher rates compared to the rates offered by various Korean banks or in the airport.
In my opinion, the plane ticket for Seoul is quite expensive (the 2-way ticket is PhP7,041 per person, and this was already on sale price that was booked about 6 months in advance) so I think it’s best to be there for at least a week to maximize the trip (and the plane fare). Below is our 6-day Itinerary for Seoul. I don’t know if this is too much for some people, but this itinerary is meant for a lot of walking and picture-taking, especially in the historical places of Seoul as I truly enjoy visiting UNESCO World Heritage sites and learning about culture. I’m not so much of a “foodie” or the type to prioritize on popular cuisines (since this tend to take most of your budget, haha!) but I do like to try where the locals eat and avoid those touristy/expensive restaurants. Plus, of course, there’s always a room for shopping, but still on a budget.
Sample 6-Day Itinerary for Seoul:
Travel Period: 20-25 June 2015
South Korea may seem an expensive destination but really, it’s not impossible, especially for those who think they’re “too poor to travel.” Note: a savvy and budget traveler can survive and truly enjoy Seoul! 🙂