Travel: Seoul, South Korea | Preparation

Outside Ehwa University

One of my goals this year is to write about more than just product reviews on my blog and, while I’ve started a whole bunch of other posts before, I feel like they all end up being gibberish on my end – more word vomit than anything. However, while I was in Japan, I had this idea about not only writing about what I do while I am abroad (and Instagramming like crazy) but also working on a guide to my travels and sharing my experiences abroad. So, since I get the most questions about South Korea, I thought that this would be the best place to start!

So here’s a little about my experiences with South Korea:

A photograph of my plane as I boarded to spend the next six months in a completely foreign country – alone.

I first visited when I was younger (possibly in the single digits) with my parents on a business trip and – let me tell you – Seoul was incredibly different back then. I actually distinctively remember that no one in my elementary school knew what Korea was and, when we played games, I would always choose to be Korea so that no one would ever call my country and I would never have to run for that dreaded ball. Oh yes, I was a sneaky little kid.

Fast forward all of these years and I have actually spent a significant amount of time in Korea. Aside from all of those business trips, I also stayed in Seoul for six months back in 2015 as an exchange student at Yonsei University. Living by myself and experiencing the country like a local, it definitely gave me a different insight in comparison to what I saw as a tourist – and I think that that is very important. South Korea puts massive importance on their tourism industry and, for that reason, there will be a lot of touristy areas and tourist traps over there which are fun at first but… it’s not the real Seoul you want to experience.

So, far this series of posts (and I have no idea how many I will write), I’ll be sharing with you tips and advice about travelling and navigating in this wonderful country, misconceptions about South Korea and… of course, the best place to go shopping. I’m your personal tour guide, here to help! This first post will be all about preparing for your trip – what to pack, where to stay, getting around from the airport and things to know in advance!

Ready? Let’s go!

Shopping comes so easy in Seoul that you can spend your entire trip just buying, buying and buying. Don’t forget to come with an empty luggage (you’ll need it) to bring it all back and – of course – stop by all of the food stalls. This is a strawberry stand in the busy Myeongdong.

WHAT TO PACK

So the general rule when travelling is, of course, to pack for the weather. Rather than simply looking at the seasons, I would usually look at my Weather App for a few weeks leading up to see what the temperature is like. All of that is pretty much common sense but what I really want to put emphasis on is to pack light. If you are like me, then you will end up doing a lot of shopping and, unfortunately, Korea Air doesn’t have a very big baggage allowance (not for Oceania anyway). I usually end up having to mail my stuff back but I would prefer to keep anything valuable or delicate with me.

I would usually bring a few simple shirts and jeans. Make up wise, I bring bare essentials (same with skincare) but, depending on how sensitive your skin is, you can actually get away with buying it in Korea – or making use of the endless samples you will  no doubt receive. Depending on your dress size, there’s also no need to bring too much of that either – if you can wear their free size, then you can easily pick stuff up for 10,000 won (around 12$AUD) and sometimes cheaper.

For shoes, make sure you bring two pairs (one worn and one in your luggage) of very comfortable walking shoes. I say two because it is a guarantee you’ll be walking a lot and, when your feet are so tired day in and day out, a change in foot wear really heaps to distribute that pressure.

This is the view from CozyBox which overlooks a large street – this is on the edge of Edae and Sinchon, making both areas easy to reach. Edae is perfect for shopping and Sinchon is restaurants galore!

ACCOMMODATION

The best thing about accommodation in Korea is their guest houses. If you are money conscious (like me) or want a living style that is closer to the locals, a guest house in the best way to go. However, make sure that you do your research. You want a place in a convenient location, clean and safe – as a lot of apartments in Korea are rather old. In my opinion, there are three best areas to stay in Seoul: Edae, Sinchon or Hongdae. These three areas are right next to each other and are all ‘university’ areas for Ewha, Yonsei and Honggik University. They are on one of the main train lines, are plentiful where it comes to food and shopping, and are very affordable as well.

When I stay in Seoul, I have one go-to Guest House that I always stay with (and recommend). They were the place I stayed in when I first went there and I have been under their service for weeks in the past. Their location is super, service is great and it’s affordable too. If you’d like to check them out, they’re called CozyBox – I always recommend them to my friends and they’re a close walk from Edae station.

Learn a bit of hangul so that you can read the street signs (and know if the taxi driver is taking you out to no where) but, overall, the subway is so cheap, easy and efficient that you won’t need cabs unless it’s late at night.

TRAVEL + TRANSPORT

So there are two instances that I want to write about for this. In regards to travelling from the airport to your guesthouse (or hotel), this will be entirely dependent on where you choose to stay. For CozyBox, I usually ask them to book a taxi for me. Although it isn’t cheap – I’m not sure if it is cheaper to just get a cab from the airport – it’s really handy and, for those who don’t know their way around yet, it really gives ease of mind. Taxis in general aren’t expensive in Korea (especially compared to Australia) so I make use of them often.

However, be a smart traveller and know when the taxi drivers are trying to rip you off; it doesn’t happen all the time, but it does happen and there are ways to get around that sort of terrible practice. I’ll be expanding on this in a later post.

For daily transport though, you will want to look to using the train system – or subway, as they call it. The system in Korea is very reliable and easy to use, especially when you’re used to something like CityRail. There’s actually an app that you can download called Subway Korea (Apple or Google Play) where you can select your beginning and ending point, and it will calculate the fastest or easiest route for you.

Make sure you bring enough money (in Korean won) for food until you can exchange more money. Here’s my favourite dokbeokki place in all of Seoul – when I first went, I also ordered their fried squish (amazing) and they gave me free fish cakes!

CASH + MONEY EXCHANGE

This would depend on what country you’re coming from but, generally, I had no trouble exchanging money while I was there and it was actually a lot better than doing it in Australia. You can use your VISA or Mastercard, or Citibank if you have an account, but the fees can be pretty exorbitant, along with poor exchange rates, and I would much prefer to have cash.

There is a store on the main street of Edae (As of 2016, you walk up a bit and it is across the street from Holika Holika) which has really great exchange rates. Otherwise, ask around in Myeongdong but don’t settle for a store too quickly – ask a couple. It’s best to go slightly off of the main street as where ever there are too many tourists, you’ll get ripped off.

Coming to Korea, I recommend bringing enough money for a few meals (maybe a day or two worth) but exchange the rest while you are there. The only exception would be if you’re from a country where the currency is less accepted (?)

For the uninitiated, the Korea Grand Sale is a special event that happens during the ‘down’ season for tourism where tourists get special discounts and deals including coupons, cash back and even special kpop activities.

TRAVEL TIPS

  • Pack light, bring only necessities – especially when it comes to clothes and/or makeup and skincare
  • Download the Subway Korea app and learn to use it before you come
  • Do some research and list out where you want to go and how to get to places. Chances are that you can combine these places and go to more than one in one day
  • Learn some basic Korean to get you by – Ordering food, asking prices, asking directions. Overall though, I find that most people in Korea can speak English and will. After all, tourism is a massive industry there.
  • Check out if there are any special events for tourists happening at that time. A good place to start is the Korea Grand Sale!

So that’s it for this first post! I hope that i answered some of the questions you have been wanting to ask and, if I missed it out, feel free to drop me a comment below or on Instagram. I’ll either answer you right away (if possible) and/or I will include it in a future post. Please keep suggesting what you want to know about Travelling to Korea too!

Have a great trip!

Oh there's more!

  • This was an awesome read 🙂 ! I’m going to Korea in June.