5 Tips for the Solo Traveler to Seoul
Its 1am and I am supposed to be packing my bags for my third solo trip to Seoul. I get asked a lot about what its like to travel alone in Seoul, is it safe? What do you do there? Where do you stay? Was it difficult to get around the city? So here are my top tips for any of you who might be contemplating a solo seoul-searching trip.
On my first trip, the toughest decision was to decide on the type of accommodation that I would be staying in. I wanted somewhere not too far away from the main attractions, safe and most importantly easy on the wallet. I ended up deciding on a guesthouse! Guesthouses or hostels are very popular choices with younger travelers in Seoul and also a very competitive business. A quick search on AirBnB and you will be swarmed with choices. Guesthouse owners are also in some ways, ‘living advertisements’ for their businesses and many of them will go out of their way to make you feel right at home! For the solo traveler, guesthouses are the perfect place for you to make friends with like minded people from around the world. If you need some help in deciding one, just go on TripAdvisor, there are currently over 300 hostels reviewed on the site.
Picture credit: http://www.kpopstay.com
2. Getting Around
The Seoul Metro is one of the most convenient subways around and the way to travel in Seoul. That, and Google Map, I found were my two best friends when getting around Seoul. The subway gets you to most of its major attractions and the fares are somewhat similar to those here. Be sure to get a T Money Pass from any of the convenience stores or vending machines in subways bearing the T Money logo. It is super convenient and works just like your ezlink card with prepaid value stored inside. Stations also have English names so you do not have to worry about not being able to read or understand Korean. Always download a map of the Seoul Metro in your phone so that you plan out your transfers and routes.
Picture credit: visitkorea.or.kr
Now, trying to decipher addresses in Seoul is a different matter altogether. My first few days locating cafes and restaurants by their numbers turned out to be a complete nightmare. I eventually googled how to read addresses in Seoul but I will spare you the details here. So my advice is to use Google Map if you want to locate a specific destination, look out for landmarks (e.g. convenient stores, Starbucks).
3. Stay Connected
The first thing you should do when you land at Incheon Airport is to rent a wifi router! You can do that at the Olleh or KT counters located near Gates 6 and 7 at the Level 1 Arrival Hall. The average rate is around 8,000 won per day but check out the visitkorea.or.kr website, they have promotions for rentals from time to time. I think it is one of the must-haves for solo travelers in the event that you get lost or need assistance, Google is your best friend.
Picture credit: khajochi.com
At the point of publishing this article, I also found out that data SIM cards (EG SIM Card), previously incompatible with foreign mobiles, are now available. However, it seems you will need to stay for at least three days before applying for it.
4. What to Do
Cycle and have a picnic at Yeouido Park. Catch the sunset along the Han River. Have some Makgeolli while you enjoy the busking scene in Hongdae on a Friday night. Or why not join a hiking group on Meetup? Hiking in Korea is some kind of national sport and you will find A LOT of them on the subways on a Saturday morning. Most of these hikes can be completed in a day. Koreans take their hiking fashion very seriously, so do not wear your comfy jeans and strap on sandals on your hike if you do not want to feel out of place. You have been warned! The experience is addictive, that adrenaline from scaling something truly majestic. It is also extremely peaceful to be in the mountains – the fresh air, the friendly annyeongs, leaving all your worries at the bottom of the mountain. So, to all you soul-searching solo travelers, try it and I would love to know if you enjoyed it as much as I did.
5. Make some new friends!
Solo travel is the best time to step outside of your comfort zone and try something that you have never done before. It is also the best time to meet and make new friends and Seoul is a great place to do that! I have found the Korean people I have had the privilege to meet in all my trips to be extremely warm and hospitable. They may be a little shy and hesitant to approach you speaking English, but if you show appreciation for the Korean culture, they are usually more than happy to share with you. As in all countries, always be nice and show sensitivity to the local culture.
Picture credit: infinitesatori.org
Are your bags packed yet?