Now that we’re done, for real, forever, with our Korean Adventure posts…which lets me tell you, though I’ll be glad to get my weekends back, having them be done is bittersweet. It’s an undeniable fact, my Korean adventure is now part of my history. As we’ve gone along, I’ve promised you a list of tips and tricks, links to tours we took, places we stayed, tools we used that would ease the way for your eventual trip to South Korea.
Because you know you’re going to go, right? No matter how long it takes, it’s inevitable now.
Let’s start with some tips! These are in no particular order.
- BUY travel insurance. With everything that happened on this trip, I learned a crucial lesson: travel insurance is not something you go…nah, I’m sure everything will be fine. You never know what’s going to happen to you when you’re away, you never know what’s going to happen back at home when you go. Do future you a favor and buy the insurance. Mine, for an upgraded plan, cost me $137.
- Start saving early! It took me over a year to get to a place where I was comfortable with making this trip. I wanted to be in a place where I wouldn’t have to worry about money while I’m there. If you’re wondering how much it cost, I can say I budgeted about $4,000 for the trip to include everything and came home with a bunch.
- Travel Wallet. LAUGH. See 2. As much as I wanted to not worry about money, being frugal and worrying is part of my DNA. Knowing this, after talking to the ladies while I was there, I downloaded an App called Travel Wallet. It might just be an android product, but I’m sure if you’re an iLover, there are going to be versions of this for you. Essentially, you open the app, create your trip, the app will ask what you want to name it, what your budget is, and for what dates you’ll be gone. It then gives you a daily budget. Every day you add in each and every purchase. Don’t cheat! I actually even rounded up. Since the app runs on dollars, I put every Won in as dollars. (EX: 1253 thousand won became $12.53. Since the exchange rate leans towards us, it gave me even more cushion in my budget.) The app calculates as you go along if you overspend one day, it removes it reduces that amount from your daily budget going forward, if you underspend, it folds it into your budget. Let me tell you, I was always under budget in Busan, but once I hit Seoul? Ouch. I made up for it there! Travel Wallet really was a lifesaver, taking the guesswork out of what I spent and how much I had left. I know I talked a lot about shopping…and have the extra bag I had to prove it; however, I came in almost a thousand dollars under budget!
- Group Dynamics. Chances are, if you’re going to do this, you’re not going to be alone, so plan accordingly!
- Planning: Everyone needs to come to the table with a wish list. This list should be pretty broad. Separate it into two categories your ‘must’ list, and your ‘would like to’ list. Get together and be honest, what is a deal-breaker for you? What can you let go of? You’ll be surprised how many things match up.
- Compromise: Hate to say it. Compromise is essential when you’re doing something traveling in a group, not just in the planning but also in the execution. Egos put aside for the good of the group. Tread carefully on feelings, especially in larger groups. Be aware of not only your own behavior and attitude but that of those around you. Don’t be afraid to speak up, but know when to back down. Hold onto what’s important to you. You are the heroine/hero of your own story, and you’re the one who has to look back on this trip, make sure you do so without regrets, regrets of places not gone, regrets of words said or not said.
- Don’t be afraid to go out on your own. You can do it! The people are friendly and mostly willing to help you. Trust me, nothing makes you feel badass faster than striking out on your own. Yeah, you heard me, put on those big girl panties, pack up your wallet, egg, phone and passport, and strike out on a solo voyage, be a day trip, or even just a trek to the local convenience store for triangle kimbap.
- Splitwise – talking about groups. KOREA DOES NOT LIKE TO SPLIT A CHECK. One of you pays (no tip) and the rest of you pay back that one person. The days of handing cash around the group are gone. The struggle of writing out who owes who what on a napkin is over. If you’re going on a trip with friends, download the app Splitwise. It works on both android and iPhones. For this to work, everyone creates a Splitwise account and then create a trip, adding your members to it. From here, you can add in whatever your splitting and with who. You all split a dinner? It will evenly distribute. Only Alix, Leila, and I go to a coffee shop, and I pay? You can change who you’re splitting the bill with and how. Splitwise will keep a running total of who owes who how much. There is even a feature where it connects to Paypal, and you can pay your portion to a specific person directly. It was a lifesaver, and we’ve used it for other trips since.
- Comfort Plus! This is a Delta feature, but I’m sure all international airlines have a version. It’s not first-class, it’s not business class, it merely boosts your ticket to a slightly bigger seat, with just a couple of inches more foot space, and more/better food. I’m cheap as fuck, and I dragged my feet on willingly paying more for an already expensive plane ticket, but Sara and Alix were right. It was totally worth it. You have to be on this plane for so long, why make it harder for yourself? I think it cost us $400 more, but I’ll willingly work the overtime again for it. Plus? They were feeding/watering us what felt like every hour or so.
- Try all the food! I say this; however, I did not try the larva. In my defense, I was never actually offered larva either. If it had been put in front of me like boneless chicken feet and not so dead octopus had, I probably would have. I ate so much there, stepping out of my normal food boundaries, and they were experiences I won’t forget!
- Make sure to try those smaller, out of the way places. Communication isn’t too bad, they are happy to have you, and you can have a delightful, off the beaten path experience. Perhaps you too can try your own Man Loves Market or meet your very own Milk Tea Coffee Prince.
- Find a place that will make hoteok as you wait. I mean, from scratch, them simply reheating already made ones is not the same. Stand there, wait, and eat your fill. Though this will ruin you for all other hoteok. Be prepared.
- Internet Egg. Get one. I was surprised when I landed that my cell phone company actually provided service while I was in Korea, however, that 2G wasn’t going to be doing anything for me. The high-speed egg was worth every single Won. It allowed me to have the internet everywhere I needed in an instant. Good for directions. It allowed me to have ongoing conversations with people at home, which, shout out to Jami and Thea, their conversations with me, their wanting to experience everything I was, added so much to my trip. The egg also allowed me to keep frantically searching Soompi as all of Kpop burned down while I was there. I recommend purchasing your rental in advance as you can get a discount on it; however, I didn’t have any trouble getting one as soon as I landed. I paid like 60,000 won for the ‘month.’ There are multiple booths at the airport where you can pick up and drop off.
- Luxury Taxi! Especially if you’re going with a group. A luxury taxi really just means a nanny van. Trust me, the last thing you want to do after a day plus of international travel is navigating the subways. I think to get us from Incheon to our first Airbnb by Seoul Station in Seoul was 100,000 won. Split by all of us? It was a no brainer. Plus, regular taxis do not love big suitcases. We had many skip us when we tried it once we came back from Busan. A professional man eventually had to yell at a cab driver in our defense. All other times we hoofed it or took public transport, but those first moments can be a bit much. Give yourself those minutes.
- Not all ATMs are for you! You need an ATM specifically for foreigners, or your card won’t work. You can find these in some banks and the bigger subway stations.
- Arrive with some won in hand. Go to your local bank and order some. Takes 1-2 business days for it to arrive, but it’s handy not to have to desperately search for an ATM as soon as you get there.
- Busses. Tap your card both getting on and off; otherwise, it will beep at you in a shameful way when you try to use it again, alerting everyone around you to the fact you didn’t finish paying your last trip.
- This goes without saying, but stand up for old people. They will either expect it of you or will be surprised that you were brought up with enough foreigner manners to know you should.
- Hold on TIGHT. Those busses fly. I was on one that, for real, did a U-turn in the middle of a street.
- They will also pack tight. Be prepared to be packed in like gummy bears.
- South Korea does not have diet soda! It has Coke Zero, but if you’re a diet soda fan, you’re fucked. Sorry, Friend. Learn to like Coke Zero.
- Bathroom Situation:
- You’ve all heard the rumors, but Korean plumming seems to be headed in a good direction, there was only a couple of places where you weren’t directed to flush toilet paper.
- Bring just in case tissues! You should add on, don’t forget to check the stall before you go in there as some places keep their toilet paper on a string outside the stalls (think one roll for the whole bathroom), but you can eliminate those whoopsie moments by just carrying a pack of tissue with you.
- Take a quick look at the stall door before you go in. Korea is a mixture of sitting and squatting toilets, sometimes within the same bathroom; however, they will clearly label what you’ll find inside the stall on the door.
- Try the squatting toilet at least once.
- Try not to embarrass yourself with the bidet. Best not to touch any of the electronic buttons. Trust me on this.
- Never fear, bathrooms are EVERYWHERE! And for the most part, super clean.
- Going in a group? Don’t be afraid to book a private tour for those more significant destinations. Split among our group, the cost was quite manageable. Added onto this? You have someone to drive you around to specific locations, who can also give you all the details and history of the area. Tour guide, driver, entertainer, easy memory maker. At first, the idea of it weirded me out, hanging the entire day with a stranger, but this is their job, and part of it is to make you feel comfortable enough not to be weird. We wouldn’t have been able to do as much as we had in Gyeongju if it weren’t for Steve. And spoiler alert! Steve was one of the highlights of our trip.
- Speaking of going to Gyeongju? The gift shop at the first palace is best..and if you’re there anyway, buy me another of the mugs with the flowers on them — I’m good for it.
- Pack a reusable shopping bag. Think one of those ones that fold into a little pouch. Some shops charge you per bag and, if you’re buying on the go, you don’t want to have to keep track of a bunch of shopping bags on your travels.
- Hongdae is a great place to stay if you’re looking to be in Seoul. While it can be a bit pricier, it’s easily located, right on several subway stops, and there is always something going on.
- Pack a disposable bag. Or a reusable, washable bag. Here’s a tip. It’s very rare for you to find a public garbage can. You walk away from a coffee shop with a cup? You’re going to have that cup with you for a while. SaraG actually had me on the floor laughing when she complained after our Milk Tea Coffee Prince gave us those little cookies with our last coffee. Essentially, joking, he was giving us a piece of garbage to carry around with us for the rest of the day. (Speak for yourself, my friend, I STILL have that tiny wrapped cookie, it’s going to live forever in the memory box.)
- Download Naver Maps. Really Google maps are pretty much useless in Korea, even in the bigger cities. Naver Maps isn’t that hard to use and will easily get you to where you need to be without getting lost partway through. (Thanks, Google.)
- Wet bathrooms are the best! I loved showering and just bending over to spit toothpaste into the sink.
- Get out of Seoul! There is more to South Korean than its capital. Might I suggest Busan? It’s pretty amazing.
- YOU WILL NOT HAVE A SOFT MATTRESS. Ever.
- Going to a music show? Be prepared; fans can get aggressive. Be ready to fight back or to lose your spot. You lose your spot? You lose my respect.
- Eat all of the triangle kimbap you can from the convenience store. And if you do, try to make it spicy tuna, it’s the best.
- Going to a BBQ joint? The stools you’re sitting on? Lift the lid and put in all your stuff. Not only does this help keep the floors clear, but it also has the added bonus of limiting the smell fo cooked meat that’s going to follow you around for the rest of the day. Brilliant
- JET LAG IS REAL AND IT IS A REAL BITCH. Be prepared. It’s not that bad when you get there, but on the way home? Ugh. It took about 2 weeks for my sleep schedule to come back. Don’t try and tough it out as I did. Drugs are your friend. In my case, it was Nyquil. Otherwise, you’re just going to spend most of your night laying there, wishing for sleep.
- Before you go, make a list of who you are going to buy souvenirs for! Don’t leave anyone out, and don’t accidentally overbuy.
- Don’t be scared. You can do this! You’re going to go, you’re going to have a blast, you’re going to remember it forever, you’re going to want to go again. Embrace it.
Here are some links to places that we went to, things we did, places we stayed.
Airbnb: BusanHaeundae BnB FrontSea Fetch BigGroup Festival. This was a great place. It didn’t have any views, but it was a reasonable price and was within walking distance of Haeundae Beach and Deombaeksom Island. Plus the best hoteok in all of Korea. The host, Jinny, was just the best, so sweet and willing to help us.
Gyeongju Day Trip from Busan Including UNESCO World Heritage Sites – this is the tour we took to Gyeongju. As I mentioned before, it’s totally worth it. And if you do go? Do yourself a favor and book Steve, you won’t regret it. (Psssttt….. If you ask nicely, he will stop at a rest stop “because we heard they were cool” without laughing at you too much. He’ll even help you buy a corn dog.)
Spend some time wandering the Gamcheon Cultural Village. It’s easy to get too and a lot of fun. Definitely a Busan highlight for me.
Nampodong, Gukje Market and BIFF Square – so much to do and see here. In one direction you can catch the largest fish markets, on the other side the site of the Busan International Film Festival, behind that? All the shopping and street food you could ever want. Plus a cafe with meerkats!
Samgwangsa Temple – Seeing this particular temple as it builds towards what it’s known most for, the lantern festival, was a sight to see! I’m certain if you give it another week or two it would go directly from cool to jaw-droppingly amazing.
Oryukdo – a series of small islands on the very edge of the sea, Oryukdo is an easy place for a solo tour. If you dare, take a trip on the glass skywalk, buy fresh seafood from the halmonies, and take the time to do the nature walk.
Haedong Yonggungsa Temple – Every single view from the seaside temple, Haedong Yonggungsa, is picture-perfect.
A caveat, here I’m going to leave out the obvious, the stuff that is already on, or should be on, your MUST do list. Han River (DOIT), Palaces (DOIT), SM Museum (eh, at least go to the gift shop) and, of course, Namsang Tower (we hiked it, will you???), Hongdae (I’m not even going to say do it as you’d be a fool not too and my readers are not fools.)
Starfield Library / COEX Mall – This library which sits smack dab in the center of a huge Gangnam mall, is mind-boggling and a must for those of you who love books.
Foodie Night Out 🙂 – this is the food tour we took with the super fun and cool Gloria. You know you’re going to go to Seoul, do it, just do it, totally worth it and you are NOT going to regret it. Tell Gloria we said hi.
Myeongdong – A huge shopping center with all the newest and brightest, beauty stores galore, plus one of the best Kpop stores you’ll find.
Namdaemun Market – Where Myeongdong is the newest and brightest, Namdaemun Market is where you’ll find the smaller stalls and bustle of regular people. We had a lot of fun poking in and around here.
Man Loves Market – When you do happen to find yourself in Hongdae, for once leave the BBQ places be and go eat at Man Loves Market. This tiny little restaurant, tucked away on a small side street, run completely by the chef alone, it was probably one of the top 5 moments for us there. It was a great place for us to sit and recharge while watching a delightful man do what he will with what he found at the market.
Insadong – this is a small area located directly between the two palaces filled with history, shopping both corporate and artisans. Wander the twisty alleyways and find some of the greatest local food you’ll eat.
Bukchon Hanok Villiage – These classic houses are so pretty and you could use the uphill steps to burn off all those hoteok you’re going to consume. Tucked in between the houses you can find some great artist works. While I’d pass on the dueling kpop shops, besides that I’d totally go back and spend an afternoon just wandering.
One of C Coffee Shop – And finally, if you’re in Hongdae, if you’re waiting for Man Loves Market to open, feel free to stop by and visit my Milk Tea Coffee Prince. Feel free to swoon. Also, feel free to somehow tell him Stephanie has not forgotten him and that she’ll be back.
And with this, we’re officially done! Good luck to you on your future trip. If you have any questions or want any more tips, feel free to give me a shout. All this though, it makes me wonder….just when am I going to go back???
P.S. For those of you wondering about the shoes. Think I was exaggerating that squeak? You be the judge.
- KOREAN ADVENTURE DAY ONE: AIR PLANES, TIME TRAVELS, AND MULTIPLE SARAG(S)
- Korean Adventure Day Two: Sadly, No Zombies
- KOREAN ADVENTURE DAY THREE: THE SOLO JOB
- KOREAN ADVENTURE DAY FOUR: BY THE POWER OF STEVE!
- KOREAN ADVENTURE DAY FIVE: STAIRS, AND MEERKATS, AND POLICE…OH MY!
- KOREAN ADVENTURE DAY SIX: EMERGENCYS, BELLY RUBS, AND TIPSI TEXTS
- KOREAN ADVENTURE DAY SEVEN: THAT WEIRD SHAPED ARTY BUILDING IN GANGNAM
- KOREAN ADVENTURES DAY EIGHT: KPOP TAKES A VACATION
- KOREAN ADVENTURES DAY NINE: WE LOVE A MAN WHO LOVES A MARKET
- KOREAN ADVENTURE DAY TEN: STEPHANIE DOESN’T DO NAKED
- KOREAN ADVENTURE DAY ELEVEN: LET’S GET SAEGUKY
- KOREAN ADVENTURES DAY TWELVE: THAT TIME WE DIDN’T BREAKUP BY THE HAN
- KOREAN ADVENTURE DAY THIRTEEN: MILK TEA COFFEE PRINCE
- KOREAN ADVENTURES DAY FOURTEEN: ACCIDENT? SHOPLIFTING? I’VE HEARD IT BOTH WAYS
- KOREAN ADVENTURES DAY FIFTEEN: A TALE OF TWO THURSDAYS
- KOREAN ADVENTURES ADDENDUM: TIPS, TRICKS, HOW TO’S AND MUST DO’S