Hey, Everyone! I’ve been debating on whether or not to do this series here, debating on whether these posts are too long, to much, or interesting to just me. Then I realized? Eh. These are really just my travel journals. I hope you like them, but if they are too long and boring, I’ll apologize and continue doing them exactly as I like. I figure, memories being what they are? Eventually, I’m going to want a minute by minute retelling of this epic trip that was #SouthKorea2019. I’ll stick at TLDR at the end for those just wanting a highlight reel at the end. This is going to be a series of posts coming out every Sunday.
The first day of our trip begins, as any does, with an Uber to the airport. I stayed at SaraG’s house the night before as traveling together is just fun, with the added bonus of only having one Uber fare. The night before I packed and repacked my bag, (a common theme to my travels) fretting about overpacking (also a common theme to my travels) until it was time for bed.
So, off to the airport, making great time, full plans to meet Ms. Alix at the plane for our first leg. We roll, passports in hand to check in — where we met our first roadblock. See, when we booked our plane reservations it was late at night, not only was it late at night, but it was late on a Friday night where we’d spent the evening drinking and carbing it up. As one can expect, this can lead to itsy bitsy slip-ups…like spelling ones name incorrectly.
If we learned anything on this trip — other than if you have a piece of garbage, you’re going to have it all day, fresh hotteok is delicious, and protect your phone at all costs — it’s that if you’re planning on traveling overseas, the name on your ticket must match your passport. Exactly. Whuoh. Luckily, SaraG and I are both charmers, so we were able to woo the man into not only fixing the error of the accidental pluralization of SaraG’s name, he was able to fix it at no charge, with minimal amounts of mocking.
We checked our bags and headed to our gate, eager to meet up with the equally sleepy Alix. The first leg of our trip was Denver to Seattle. I’d never been to Seattle, but I’d seen lots of episodes of Gray’s Anatomy, which, I’m sure totally counts. For our first leg, SaraG and I sat together but really didn’t speak much as it was way too effing early in the morning for polite conversation. She listened to an audiobook while I listened to my newest guilty pleasure, people reading Reddit on youtube (don’t judge me!) and emptied my phone of unnecessary photos clearing up space for what I’m sure was all sorts of pictures to come. (I’d brought my ‘good camera,’ but considering I’d purchased the 9+ for its camera feature, I was pretty sure I was just going to be using my phone for the duration.) As there were only two of us in the row we were going to invite Alix to join us, but looking behind, we found she’d scored an entire row to herself. so we left her to her win.
We deplaned in Seattle around 10:30, ready for food and really ready for movement as the next hop, Seattle to Incheon, would be the longest. Not going to lie, the Seattle airport is not the bright shiniest place to be. I’m not going to call it a hole, as that particular crown goes to Laguardia (although I hear it’s been recently upgraded), but it was pretty close. SaraG and Alix found some food, and I, the cheapo that I am (also, I wasn’t planning on falling off my WW train until I was officially on vacation, i.e., over international waters) had packed my breakfast. We wandered and recharged, both mentally and physically (and most importantly, device wise,) until it was time for our flight.
While yes, I’m a cheap-o (although I prefer the term hyper-frugal) I did allow SaraG and Alix to convince me to upgrade us to comfort + on the plane. More leg room, wider seats, free booze. As we flew over international waters, cramped in that plan, hour – upon hour – upon hour on end, we were grateful for those extra inches.
Remember, when I talked about all of the things I was going to prepare for the trip? I bought the Chromebook, loaded the stick with dramas, loaded up my Hoopla with new books, downloaded a bunch of new fanfics, I was READY. Turns out? The Chromebook wouldn’t play my videos, Hoopla wouldn’t connect to my books, and after doing the podcast with SaraG on Seventeen, I’d been inspired to try a bunch of new Seventeen based pairings. Turns out? All of the good writers are all writing BTS fic. What the? I did watch the new Melissa McCarthy movie, which was pretty good.
The plane, since it was headed to Korea, had an offer of bibimbop for dinner, which we all chose with glee. It was pretty tasty for plane food, and I found the tiny container of gochujang darling.
In a flash of things to come, the flight attendant on my side started joking with me throughout the night, as she delivered me Coke Zero after Coke Zero, that I must really like them, and would tease me whenever I swapped it up with water (hydration is key people!). I didn’t have the heart to tell her I only ordered Zero as this appeared to be a Diet soda free flight. Turns out? South Korea is a Diet Soda free nation. I blame my friend, Jami McFeeley. I’m sure she colluded with all of South Korean in her evil plan to get me off the stuff.
We dozed, we ate the snacks we’d packed (I kept pushing Vermont Turkey Pepperoni sticks on the ladies as I realized mid-flight, as it was a cured meat, I would not be able to take any into the country), we drank, we fidgeted, we eagerly watched ourselves getting closer and closer on the little video screen in front of us.
As we were almost there, I had a litttttle bit of a panic episode as Alix mentioned she and Leila (who we were meeting at the airport) had already purchased their mobile wifi devices (forever here referred to as eggs) previously and weren’t sure if I’d be able to get them at the airport. GAH! In my research, it had just said get the eggs at the airport, not buy them in advance! From that moment on, panic button was initiated. I had chosen not to get an international plan for my phone through my carrier as, even here in the states the carrier isn’t that great, and I didn’t want to pay extra and not have service. We had a half hour left on the flight so I flew into action, trying to buy the inflight wifi service so I could go online, buy an egg, and be secure in my knowledge I’d be able to get around Korea on my own should I get lost from the rest of the group
But I was thwarted again. It allowed me to go through my PayPal, pay for it, but then I just got the spinning wheel of death, saying the was trying to talk to the ground (confirm my payment). Then I had a new panic. What if it wasn’t just spinning? What if it was trying and trying again, draining my funds? (Please don’t judge me for my irrationality. It was a long day on very little sleep, and even on the best of days, my life is a rollercoaster of what ifs.)
There was nothing I could do but wait and hope for the best. (Not a particular skill set of mine.)
Finally, we landed! I was in South Korea! After all this time, all the planning and scrimping and saving, after having essentially Korean everything take over my life and life-choices for so long, I was finally there.
As soon as we landed? I received a text message from my carrier. Despite what the people in the store said, my plan did cover me overseas with free texts and wifi up to 2G. No, that’s not a lot of G, but it meant, if I didn’t get the egg situation situated, I’d be okay. Whew. Panic number 82: Averted.
We bust off the plane, and I’m not going to lie. For all of those reasons above? I got a little choked up. Incheon Airport was kind of amazing. Bright white walls, huge windows were letting in tons of light, moving electronic billboards advertising things by people we actually know from dramas, people in neat uniforms rushing around with walkie talkies.
It was literally like walking into a kdrama. It took me a minute to compose myself and luckily since I had to put myself back together from the flight (put shoes on, arrange jacket, repack bag) I was already lagging behind my group, so they didn’t witness such silliness.
Though I’d been quite concerned (panic number 86), going through customs was a breeze, we handed them our filled out forms, they asked us if we were smuggling in Vermont Turkey Pepperoni, scanned our fingerprints took our pictures, it was no lines, no fuss, no muss, and we were through almost instantly. Off to get our luggage!
Enter, Miss Leila (KpopontheDL)!
As she was coming from her home in NC, we were on different flights, but she’d managed to book it where she arrived almost the exact same time as we did. Nice planning, lady! After the requisite hugs and yawns and bathroom stops, where I found my first delightful Korean bathroom sign:
We collected luggage, met a new friend:
And we’re off to collect some eggs! Luckily, yep, it was no problem for me to buy my egg there. While the ladies were able to score a better price by pre-booking, mine at 55000 won for 1 month of service (which I’d only actually be using 2 weeks) was still a deal considering in the time I was in the airport, trying to update everyone I’d landed safely, I realized 2G just wasn’t going to cut it for the long haul.
Eggs in hand, SaraG went to the taxi desk and caught us one of the ‘luxury’ taxis as 4 women with 2 weeks worth of luggage just wasn’t going to be feasible in a regular taxi. To our delight? It was essentially a nanny-van. Let the Kpop/kdrama experience begin! We’re chattering along, excited to be there, eager to see Leila as it had been too long, and the driver actually had to tell us to be quite as he tried to figure out how to get to where we needed to go. (In a nice way!) We laughed and used the moment to sit back and take it in….before we started talking about Kpop bands, lightsticks, nugus, etc. (A fangirl can’t be silenced for long!)
As mentioned before, we’d actually decided to start out our trip in Busan, but rather than add on another 3ish hours of travel onto our travel weary bodies, we got an Airbnb for the night, right next to Seoul Station, where we’d pick up the train to Busan the next day.
It was so much fun driving through the cities on our way to Seoul. We were headed to Seoul! We were in South Korea! All of the signs were in Korean! All of the adverts were Korean stars! It was pretty exciting.
Arriving at our Airbnb, we realized not only was our place next to Seoul Station, but it was also right next to a Lotte Shopping Center! Lotte! It was official! We were in Korea.
We popped into our Airbnb, dropping our shoes off at the door (as you do in Korea-woot!)
We then dragged ourselves outside to look around and catch some dinner. As Lotte was right in front of us, we went there and ended up in their food court. (Food courts in Korea are a lot different than those here in the states.) We were perplexed with the system for a moment, trying to figure out how to do everything. In one room, there were all of these little places, making different types of food, and off to the side, there was a lady at a register. Turns out, what you did was chose what you wanted with the lady at the register, she gave you your receipt and a number, and you waited for the number to pop up at the little place that was making that particular type of food.
Up until now, the language situation hadn’t been a big deal. This threw us a little, but as soon as the lady came over with a clipboard, with everything in Korean and English, pointing out we just had to hand her a paper with the number of food we wanted, it was pretty easy!
Here is what I got. It was so yummy and, like a lot of Korean food, super spicy! We devoured our meal, ravenous, despite the airplane feeding us what seemed like every half hour or so.
As we looked around, we could see that the Lotte food court was a happening Date Spot. Cute little couples taking pictures of themselves, of their food, holding hands, beaming at each other, it was flipping adorable. There was one table where a dad and son ate, sharing a dish, the dad blowing on the thick soba noodles before feeding them to the boy who was more interested in the toy in his hand than the noodles.
After this, we decided to wander the shopping center, which had stores, outlets, and a large grocery store. Our major attempt at using Korean? Giant flop. Realizing we needed cash, we tried an ATM, the four of us huddled around it, me typing out messages to our friend Lisa who lives in Korea, trying to figure out how to use it. Note to future Korea travelers: Only use the ATMs specifically marked for foreigners!
Giving up, we wandered the large grocery store and, I’m happy to report, it’s just like what you see in the dramas. Several times, throughout the entire stay, the show Stars Falling From The Sky kept popping up into my head. At this giant store, it was with all of the sample ladies dishing out sample after sample to people, which reminded me of the scene where she feeds her family from samples, to the ire of the harrassed sample ladies. For people who had been traveling for what felt like 3 days, were tired, hadn’t showered in a while, it was a little overwhelming. But it was fun to see all of the adverts with famous people we actually know! (Unlike here in the states where, as emersed in K-entertainment as we are, sometimes I see an ad or a show and go…who is that?)
Having had enough for the day, we decided to go back to our house for our AirB&B as we had a big day ahead of us.
TLDR: Day One of travel, despite several hiccups we landed in Incheon, drove to Seoul and began our Korean adventure.