I just turned 30 last March, Seoul in South Korea was my very first leisure travel since I started my career almost eight years ago.
Check out some of the cool and cheap tours you could do in Seoul.
I was there with friends last April. Does that make your eyebrows meet? A grin perhaps? I understand.
Eight months into my second job, my boss sent me to Cebu for a plant visit. I was almost 27 then, and that was my very first plane ride. I was ecstatic. It was after that when I began to fancy traveling. Given my improved financial capability, I could have indulged myself. However, my family is my priority so I have to set it aside for the meantime. When our youngest sibling graduated in 2013, my dream of traveling to different countries was revived.
Being hooked to certain Korean TV series like Full House and Moon Embracing the Sun, plus my fondness of ancient architecture and culture, it made me want to travel to South Korea. That turned into a reality when we got a promo fare last November 2014 from Air Asia. The visa application haunted me at one point because before this trip I only had one stamp in my passport and that was when I went to Thailand for a business trip last January. I heard that travel history equals travel credibility. But everything went smoothly, and I was granted a tourist visa. I was overjoyed.
Since this was my first vacation trip, I wouldn’t be an expert in going into details, Not just yet. However, I would be more than happy to share few guidelines based on my experiences and the things I’ve learned when I traveled to Seoul that helped me (and hopefully you too!) improve on future travels.
So here you go…
Read. If reading could cause the brain to bleed, I could have got brain damage a month before our trip as I have to feed my neurons with all the relevant information I can get. Yes, you have to read and read and read especially related blogs and forums. Why blogs? Simply because these are first-hand experiences although the perspectives vary from one traveler to another and you’re going to learn a great deal.
Eat the map. Just like reading, if studying the map of Seoul can cause indigestion, I’d probably have suffered from one. For someone like me who is “bulok sa direction,” I had to pore through the google map. Did I mention this was a DIY trip? Being a runner, it also helped since I can tell by the distance from one tourist site to another if it is practical to go by foot (even though I have no idea if I measure the right roads and routes, it turned out they are right). I call that “Tantiation” – estimate in other words. I used free mobile apps to help me going around the city. In Seoul, there are loads signboards with the street map on it, so this will help you figure your way back when you get lost. The Koreans are very helpful too and would even accompany you. Honestly, I did not mind getting lost during our first day because the city is beautiful.
Due-Risk-Prudence. I have been saving for this trip since last year, and I made sure I already paid all prior dues before I go on a trip. It helped a lot when I was already planning the details because I can focus on my travel expenses and avoid bills chasing me as well when I get back. I call that the P&S rule – Pay and Save before you go. Though I’m not sure of my chance of getting a Korean visa, I prayed, took the risk of booking that promo airfare and paid in cash. After all, you wouldn’t get anything done if you don’t take the first step. While taking risks is sometimes good, it doesn’t mean you forget to be prudent. It is still cold at the onset of spring, so I bought a coat plus a few knit wears from thrift shops (Ukay-ukay) for as low as PhP80-150. Be practical. You need not be lavish; you can look good if you know how to mix and match the clothes that you already have.
Itinerary. List and devise an appropriate itinerary according to the proximity of the places you want to see. On our first day, we visited the grand Gyeongbokgung Palace, watched the royal changing of the guards at Deoksugung Palace, walked through Samcheong-dong area and strolled in the beautiful Bukchon Village where we happened to bump on Jose Mari Chan. At night we did some shopping in Myeongdong. These are all in Seoul city. On our second day, we went to The Garden of Morning Calm, Petite France, and Nami Island, all located in Gapyeong, around 50km away from Seoul. Thanks to our two friends in Seoul, we managed using the subway. On our third and last day, we strolled in Namsan Park and Namsangol Hanok Village plus we had a Korean buffet dinner in Sinchon and the last minute shopping in Ehwa, also in Seoul city.
Bring what you need. When you say bring what you need, girls will usually pack their aparador (wooden closet) and everything that’s in it for their luggage. I am still in the learning process on how to travel light. I recall packing five jeans which ate up a significant part of my luggage. If you are traveling to a country like South Korea, pack your things according to the season. Spring can be rainy and freaking cold. Temperatures can drop to as low as 20C at night. It also pays to watch out for their daily weather forecast; it is very accurate.
The Sting of Stinginess. Being prudent is different from being stingy. I canceled three hostels before deciding to book a simple guesthouse two blocks from Myeongdong ( the seemsshopping district in Seoul). The twin room cost us P6,600 for four nights (P825/night/pax). Pretty inexpensive and the reviews onseemnice. But when we arrived, I realized we literally paid for just the room and it’s not that clean. Lesson learned: Adding around PHP400-500/night in your accommodation expenses will not leave you bankrupt. You may spend a little more if it will mean good service and comfort (not luxury!). Book a hostel within or near the central districts; it will save up on fares. And don’t miss the authentic Korean cuisine. You can eat and fill you at a very reasonable price. Honestly, I am not a shopaholic, so I leave the shopping at your own prerogative.
Patience is a virtue. It was already past 7pm and from Changdeokgung Palace, we were looking for the city hall because from there it would be easy to figure out our way back to Myeongdong. By the way, the sun sets late in Korea. We were lost and I sensed that my friend was already beginning to become irritated. If there is one thing I am really good at, it’s controlling my temper. I tried to respond with calmness to avoid clash of clans. We walked for around 12 hours the whole day and exhaustion may have made her grew impatient. Nobody ever choked from swallowing his pride so be patient, you can avoid brewing conflicts in doing so.
Manage time, wisely. Of the commodities that we possess, time is one of the most abused. On day 2, we headed back to the guesthouse at 5am of the following day because our friend was so into the idea of making the most of our time. We were so tired we started out on the third day at 12 noon. It is perfectly fine to maximize your stay, but don’t be up until dawn roaming around the city as if it will no longer be there tomorrow. It’s like trying to fit the whole grocery store into one bag. Know when to stop and head back home. After all, you need some rest for the next day’s fun, unless of course, you consumed a barrel of caffeine.
Have Fun. It is one of the reasons you travel in the first place. Back then, my eyes were always on my watch. I was worried we will not be able to cover the places listed in our itinerary. After the trip, I realized, it eats away the fun. Savor the moment. What if you were not able to cover everything as listed? That’s fine. You can do all of them; you just can’t do them all at once. You can always go back. What matters is you enjoyed every minute of it.
The Purpose Driven Travel. No, this is not a sequel to Rick Warren’s book. Before I left for Seoul, I asked myself, “What is my purpose for doing this?” ,“What will I learn from this?” “Will I be a better person when I come back?” A friend once told me that traveling can build your character. She’s right. This was my very first take on DIY travel, and so the less I know, the less I am equipped, the more I depended on God that he will meet every need and even rescue me from any trouble I will get myself into while I am in a foreign land. To me, more than the fun, the purpose of travel is to know God more as I marvel at the world he created. To see more and more of the world is to know more of his character.
An Attitude of Gratitude. Above all, recognize who gave you your resources. Our capacity, from planning to the day of travel itself, did not really come from the depths of our pockets but from the hands of God. Be a good steward of your money and be thankful to whom gratitude is due.
This coming October, I will be on an 8-day trip to Japan with a colleague. We will explore Kyoto, Nara, Osaka plus a side trip to Kobe. I may have started out late but I am eager to pursue the world around me. After all, it is a temporary destination and I am just a traveller passing through. I might as well make the most out of it so that at the end of the day I can truly say, “It is well with my soul.”
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About the Writer
Angela is an Agricultural Engineer by profession and at present a business officer in a Japanese Firm. She wants to inspire with her stories and impart wisdom to her readers. She is fond of ancient architecture and dreams of traveling the world. She is also a runner, single and joyful, and ultimately, a follower of Jesus.
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