Asia,  Destinations,  South Korea,  Travel Budgets

A month in South Korea | May 2023 Travel Budget Breakdown

In May 2023, I spent a month backpacking through South Korea. I came over to Busan from Fukuoka via the JR Beetle, an international ferry! Then I visited Jeju Island, flew up to Seoul, went to Jeonju and Gyeongju before ending back in Seoul again. At the very end of the month, I went to Singapore.

Mostly I wanted to visit South Korea for the food and for the history, and I got plenty of both!

This post contains affiliate links. If you click on one and buy something, I get a small percentage of that at no extra cost to you. Read my full disclosure here.)

South Korea travel budget

I actually arrived in South Korea at the end of April and stayed through the end of May, but to make it easier on myself, I’ll just show what I spent during May itself. There are 2 days at the end of the month where I was actually in Singapore, as well, which I’ve noted in the appropriate categories.

All prices are in USD.

Total: $1,939.11 or $62.55/day

I definitely went over my monthly budget goal of $1,500 USD, and it’s partly because I spent double the amount I had previously on eating out as opposed to cooking my own meals. While it’s not super expensive to eat at restaurants in South Korea, it does add up after a while. I also paid for an international flight, which always bumps the budget up (one of the reasons I prefer ground travel!).

Accommodation: $542 or $17.48/day

South Korea was the first place I really embraced the hostel lifestyle. I’d stayed in a few hostels before, but here’s where I actually started to enjoy them and the benefits that staying in shared accommodation can bring. Except for one short stay in an apartment in Seoul, I spent the whole time in Korea in hostels!

See where I stayed here: Where to stay: South Korea hostels & hotels for solo female travelers

The most expensive accommodation was Jongno Stay at $28.00/night. This was a fairly up-to-date hostel with VERY tall bunks, decent bathrooms, cheap laundry, and a kitchenette area. It’s on a quieter neighborhood near some of the old palaces. I had to book last minute and this was the cheapest place at the time. It must’ve been a holiday week or something, as all my other stays were cheaper.

The least expensive accommodation was AIRPORT Guesthouse at $1.67/night. This was a tiny hostel located close to GIMPO airport, well outside of the main part of Busan, so unless you like spending a lot of time and energy getting back into the city for sightseeing, this really is only good for a short stopover. Indeed, the one other traveler I met was only there for a night as well! Still, the owners were really nice and it came with free breakfast, and it’s within walking distance to the airport shuttle area.

My favorite accommodation was Yeha Guesthouse on Jeju Island, which I booked at $13.91/night WITH free breakfast. Not only were the beds comfortable, but the common areas were fantastic– a big table for people to sit and have breakfast together, couches to lounge on, and a kitchenette to cook at. It’s also centrally located in Jeju City, right next to a major bus station.

I also spent $61.88 in Singapore at Bluewaters Pods at the end of the month, about $30.94/night. I think the prices for this have gone way up now, maybe because of its great location. The pods are pretty stuffy at night and the bathrooms don’t have air conditioning and are also very hot, and there’s no breakfast (but there is a kitchenette). I DID meet a very friendly staff member who gave me some good tips for sightseeing in Singapore.

I use HostelWorld to book (most of) my hostel stays around the world.

Groceries: $0

Oh dear! I actually did buy a few things to make at my AirBNB and hostels, but I think they ended up in the Cash category. That said, I DID eat out a lot in South Korea compared to other months. See below!

Food: $444 or about $14/day

Restaurants in Korea are relatively cheap, and freshly-made Korean food is so delicious! I also ate a bit at convenience stores, which have an amazing selection of drinks and snacks.

Some of my favorite Korean foods I tried:

  • Dweji gukbap, a pork rice soup invented in Busan
  • Cheese dalgabi, spicy fried chicken swimming in a river of cheese
  • Haemultang, seafood hot pot — get it on Jeju with fresh-caught seafood!
  • Deulkkae sejubi, perilla seed soup with wheat dumplings
  • Tteokbokki, chewy rice cakes you eat in a sauce, or add to ramen, etc.

My mouth is watering thinking about these meals! You can see why I ate out every day.

Korea also has some pretty good cheeseburgers (local restaurants!), and their KFC chicken is spicy and delicious. I had a very good month’s eating!

Tourism: $2

This seems artificially low because the major tourist thing I did, going to Phantom of the Opera in Busan, technically took place in April. The ticket cost me $123.35 and was totally worth it!

Otherwise, I bought some entrance tickets to historical palaces, museums on and the caves on Jeju Island, but I paid for them with cash so all that’s in the Cash category below.

Some of my favorite sightseeing adventures in Korea:

  • Exploring Jeju Island with my backpacker friends
  • Walking the underground mall from my hostel in Seomyeon all the way up to Busan Citizens Park
  • Wandering around Gamcheon Culture Village in Busan
  • Walking up Gyeongui Line Book Street in Seoul
  • Eating yummy Korean food all over the place
  • Going to see the hill tomb complex in Gyeonju
  • National Intangible Heritage Center in Jeonju! Amazing museum and FREE

All the national museums in Korea are FREE, btw!

Transit: $95 or about $3/day

This was mostly spent on intercity buses getting around the country. It’s a wonderful way to travel, as the buses are very comfortable and (as far as mine went) always on time.

To give an example of prices, I went from Seoul to Jeonju for $10.81, then from Jeonju to Gyeonju for $19.50. From Gyeonju I went to Seoul for $24.17. Very affordable, though sometimes flying can be cheaper if you manage to snag a cheap ticket on one of their discount airlines.

Buying bus tickets in South Korea can be a little tricky because you basically have to do it in person at the bus stations, as their online payment options don’t accept foreign credit cards (or you need a local phone number, or an ID card). Luckily the routes I took are super popular, so they had multiple buses going all day with plenty of open seats.

Flights: $279 (3 total)

This includes two domestic flights and one international flight.

I went from Busan to Jeju on Jeju Air for $24.01, and then from Jeju to Seoul on T’Way Air for $22.82. Both of these tickets were purchased online a few days ahead of time.

Then I went from Seoul to Singapore via Scoot (Singapore Airline’s discount branch) for $231.75; this includes a change date fee because I wanted to leave SK earlier than I originally planned. Whoops!

Shopping: $168

Most of this was actually spent in Singapore, because I splurged on a pair of Tevas sandals that I desperately needed for the upcoming hot-weather travels. I bought them on the very last day of May for a shocking $96.28, but they came in SO handy for the next 7 months that I don’t regret purchasing them. I still have them now, actually!

But for South Korean purchases: I bought a few postcards, some stickers, an adorable Jeju diver keychain, and a few other small knick-knacks. Plus I stopped at Uniqlo and got a few clothing items.

Cash: $244

This category is hiding quite a bit of spending that should be in the tourism, shopping and eating out categories. On Jeju Island, I went sightseeing with friends from the hostel and we split everything and swapped cash around, so I gave up tracking it and only JUST managed to keep track of how much cash I actually had in my hand.

Medical: $83

I have a monthly insurance policy with SafetyWing. I haven’t had to actually use them so I can’t vouch for anything other than affordability, but I prefer having it just in case I need it.

The rest was spent on a medical emergency! I ripped a filling out of a tooth with sticky candy, and I spent $37.80 to stick it back in by an English-speaking dentist. In retrospect, I probably should’ve submitted this claim to SafetyWing…

Other (including SIM cards, postage, laundry, etc.): $83

I bought eSIM cards from Klook, for a total of $51.27. Korea SIM cards were surprisingly expensive; the cheapest 30-day plan with a decent amount of data was about $40 USD. I compared the Klook eSIM prices to the physical ones in the port store and they were basically the same price, so I just went with Klook as it was easier.

Other things: I sent a package home with souvenirs and spent a mere $13.99 on postage. Score!

South Korea Photo Gallery

Here’s some of my favorite photos of my time in Korea! Click to enlarge the photos:

Thanks for reading! Check out my other travel budget posts:

Some other traveler’s budgets for South Korea:

Anastasia is a former librarian turned digital nomad. She's been traveling the world full time for two years and has visited 18 countries so far! Just Gone Wandering is a travel resource for solo female travelers on a backpacker's budget-- or slightly more-- and highlights amazing places to visit as well as providing tips and tricks for traveling smart and frugal. Read more...

Leave a Reply