South Korea is a beautiful country and if you are planning a trip there soon, I have come up with a few travel tips to help you! I either learned before I went and found them actually helpful, or tips I did not learn that will help you if you plan on going soon. Also, I lived in Seoul the four months I was there, and did travel to Busan with some friends. If you are visiting a place besides Seoul and Busan, this list may not be super helpful, as I don’t really know what it’s like to visit the countryside or a smaller city or town.
Preparing for your trip to South Korea is so important and will take a lot of stress off your shoulders. One thing I loved about South Korea was how accommodating they were for english speakers. It assisted my travels a lot, and is not a tip in this article, but is something I wanted to note before jumping into things. Here are my travel tips for South Korea if you’re going soon!
Download Naver Maps
There are a few apps that caters to South Korea, Google Maps is not one of them. Prepare in advance, screenshot places you know you will go or frequent often and always prepare before you leave your place. Maybe you have a phone plan that gives you coverage in South Korea and that’s great, but if not and you don’t get a SIM card while in South Korea, the wifi at home is your best friend. Screenshot buses you will be getting on, ways to get to the subway, and streets near your destination. Accept the fact you’ll probably get lost and don’t let it stress you out. Seoul is pretty safe, but be aware of your surroundings. Make sure you have someone with you, but if not, go to an info desk in the subway and ask for help.
Naver Maps is great in my opinion because it has English in the app, you can type places in English and suggestions will show up, and Hangul is also there. It updates quickly so you know what time a bus or subway is coming and even shares transfers with you if you’ve input your destination. It saved me so much time while I was there and made traveling so easy.
Don’t Take Taxis
I think it’s a common thing in other countries for taxi drivers to take advantage of foreigners. People visiting are unfamiliar with the geography, may not have access to internet to see where they are going, may not be able to speak the language and are probably also tired because of all the travel they’re doing. I recommend avoiding taxis in Korea, unless you can pass as being a Korean citizen, have a Korean friend with you or you can fluently speak Korean. They will take routes they know that will get you to your destination in a decent amount of time (so it seems like they are on the quickest route but in reality they aren’t) and then act like they didn’t know. I got scammed all four times I took a taxi which is why I say this. I have friends that have had positive or neutral experiences in South Korea, and definitely don’ want to throw every taxi driver under the bus, but I personally suggest avoiding them to save money and time.
Bring An Empty Suitcase
I suggest doing this for any trip abroad, but for South Korea especially. They have so many cute clothes, so much cute make-up, amazing skin care products and great non-perishable snacks you can bring back home to friends and family. Most international trips allow you to bring two checked bags, so I suggest putting your essentials in one, and leaving room for goodies and souvenirs in the other.
Get A T-Money Card ASAP
A T-Money card, transportation money card, can be used on all public transport throughout all of South Korea. It is amazing. You load money onto your T-Money card, it can be any amount from $1 to I think $100 at a time, and you’re good to go on any public transport in the country. You do need to buy tickets on certain trains that travel long distances, but buses, subways, taxis – all use the T-Money card. Some of them even accept credit or debit cards, but a T-Money card is more reliable because they all accept it.
They are sold at the airport and in every subway station, and every mini mart. They usually cost $1 or $2, but some with cute designs may be up to $5. Each ride costs about $1 and you can go anywhere you want. Transfers are free as long as you swipe that you have left out the back door, for the next 30 minutes, and there may be a 30 or 50 cent fee if you hop on the subway after taking the bus to get there. It’s very cheap and efficient in Seoul and most major cities. If you are going to be in Seoul for a while and don’t have access to a car, definitely get a T-Money card as soon as you can.
Obviously, you should not do this as the mall or in a retail store, but if you go to any market, you should take advantage of haggling. Hopefully you can speak Korean, or have someone that can speak it for you, but if not you should learn some phrases to help you haggle with the booth. Especially if you are planning on purchasing clothes or non-perishable items! They jack prices up for foreigners and make it seem like a deal because the items are very cheap, but they are cheap for a reason. If you ask for $5 off, they will most likely agree to it, and if not, just leave. I guarantee you a booth 50 feet away is selling the same thing and would gladly haggle with you. It’s very common in the markets here, so don’t be afraid to do it.
Go During Fall Or Spring
South Korea is prettiest during these two seasons in my opinion. Winter and summer are also beautiful, but the weather during those two seasons is very harsh. The winters are very cold and dry, and the air quality during that season is very poor due to pollution from China blowing in and micro-dust in the air from South Korea and everything it produces in the small country. Summers are very humid, there are lots of bugs and it smells in the city during this time. Not everywhere, but the heat makes bad smells last longer, although I know many places do try to keep everything clean.
Fall and spring have the most beautiful colors and the best weather. The air quality may be poor depending on when you visit, for example the beginning of spring and end of fall may have worse air quality because winter is closer to those seasons, but it is usually fine. Just a heads up. Fall in South Korea is amazing. I was lucky and got to see all the golden gingko trees, all the vibrant oranges, reds and yellows, and feel crisp and refreshing air while I was there from August to December. I loved it so much. From friends that go to stay the whole year, they said the blossoms during spring were breathtaking and all the wildflowers that bloomed and seeing green come back to the mountains was gorgeous. They also noted the weather got warmer quickly, but stayed at a comfortable temperature before summer started.
I definitely suggest visiting during those seasons if you can. Any time is a wonderful time, but if you hate humidity avoid summer, and if you need better air quality, avoid winter.