Survival Guide: Korean Convenience Stores

I’ve just come back from traveling in Germany and the UK and let me tell you, there were so moments where I thought “This would be so much easier if there was a convenience store around here.” Particularly for those on a budget who spend a lot of time walking to places and can’t afford to eat all their meals in restaurants, Korean convenience stores can be amazingly helpful when traveling. They are not only affordable but provide many of the products and services travelers might find themselves in need of.

Here are some of the things they can help you with if you’re traveling in a Korean city, where there are usually convenience stores (or two or three) on every block.

1. A place to sit

Larger convenience stores often have tables and chairs/stools either inside or outside for you to sit down. Convenience stores might not be nice places to sit and relax for a long time, but they can be good if you’ve been walking a lot and need a moment to rest (perhaps to escape from the heat during a humid Korean summer) or just need a place to sit and look at your map. Even small stores usually have a least a small counter area for you to prepare (read: unwrap/microwave) and eat any food you’ve bought there, but those plastic convenience store chairs can provide sweet relief for the weary traveller.

2. Free wifi

Not all convenience stores have free wifi, but many do. Check in nearby stores if you’re lost and desperately need wifi to check google maps. Other places to check would be subway stations, supermarkets, or pretty much any cafe if you can afford to buy something there.

3. Directions to public toilets

One thing that’s always helpful for travelers in Seoul is that there are free public bathrooms all over the place. Convenience stores don’t often have their own toilets, but the people working there should be able to point you in the direction of the nearest one.

4. Cheap food and drinks

This is the most obvious thing, but maybe the most important. Convenience stores are of course a great place to get cheap food: a quick coffee and breakfast on your way out in the mornings, a whole variety of snacks and drinks to refuel, a cheap lunch or dinner whilst you’re on the move, etc. There’s less need to worry about whether your hotel provides breakfast or whether you should buy something to cook yourself when you’re only there for a few days. There are many other options for affordable Korean food anyway, but convenience stores provide an excellent backup for those in-between meals.

5. Emergency stuff

Plasters, medicine, travel-sized toiletries, hair bands, tights, underwear, miniature sewing kits, sanitary products, wet tissues etc. Convenience stores sell a whole variety of non-food items which might be things you forgot to bring with you or didn’t realise you would need. For those emergency purchases, convenience stores provide cheap and accessible options for whatever you might need.

6. Open 24 hours

Whether you’re leaving in the wee hours of the morning to start a long day out or your plane arrives in Korea late at night, you never have to worry about getting stranded with no contact to civilisation as everyone else in the city sleeps. Convenience stores are open 24 hours a day, so you can access all of these travel benefits at any time and don’t have to worry about what time shops close etc. (In fact, various other places in Korea also stay open 24 hours, but where else could cater to your every imaginable need in the same way as the humble convenience store?)

7. Variation and number

Alongside the fact that they’re always open, another good feature of convenience stores is that there are so darn many of them. Not every area has convenience stores (such as purely residential areas), but most of the places an average traveler in Seoul is likely to visit will have some and you generally won’t have to go far looking for one. The biggest chains include CU, GS25, and 7-Eleven, but also look out for smaller brands such as With Me and Mini Stop.

Do you have a favourite brand of convenience store?

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