You were bitten by the travel bug once again, booked that South Korea-bound flight in an instant, and silently whispered to yourself “I’m gonna make this trip the best in my lifetime!”
Just about three months ago, I went for a trip in South Korea and those five gorgeous days I spent wandering around Seoul were probably the best travel days I had to date. Looking back at how I prepared for the entire trip, I became so keen about sharing to everybody the lessons I learned both while planning and building the itinerary and while I was making my DIY-itinerary come to life.
So if you’re somebody who is about to go to the land of K-dramas, read on as I enumerate the most important things I think you should know while planning for a holiday in South Korea.
Lesson # 1: Go during the season you want to experience South Korea the most.
South Korea experiences all four seasons: spring (March to May), summer (June to August), fall (September to November) and winter (December to February). Each season has its pros and cons, but choosing which one is the best should be all up to you. Ask yourself. This travel after all should end up making you happy and satisfied.
As for me, I was torn between spring and fall. I think both seasons should be equally happy and beautiful as colors are surely vibrant everywhere. But because I was more excited to see autumn colors and experience the cold, I decided to time my visit during the fall.
Lesson # 2: Check the weather forecast before heading out.
We could all agree that the best day to tour any place in South Korea (and even Philippine and other foreign destinations) is the day when the sun is proudly up. Believe me, no traveler would want to get caught by an unexpected rain shower in the middle of his/her visit around a great tourist spot. I am that kind of a traveler, that’s why I learned to check how the weather would come through on those days I am scheduled to wander around. And I think everybody should, too.
For our South Korea trip, we we’re supposed to visit Nami Island on the third day. Yet, upon checking the weather forecast a few days before our trip, Gangwon-do Province (where Nami Island is located) will mostly have rainy days during our schedule, except for the first day of our trip.
We decided to move our Nami Island DIY tour the day right after we arrived in Seoul just to be sure that we will surely enjoy our time there. We literally had to lose some precious hours of sleep (as we headed out of the hotel as early as 5:00 o’clock in the morning) and endure the ‘Saturday crowd’ just to enjoy Nami Island on a sunny morning.
Well, except for the crowd, I’d say that Nami Island and its beautiful autumn foliage display was still our best experience in South Korea.
Lesson # 3: Know the places and attractions you want to see in South Korea.
May it be Seoul, Busan, or Jeju – South Korea has plenty of tourist spots to offer for her visitors. In fact, there are too many that it will be impossible for anybody to see them in a week. The trick? List down those places you really wanted to go, then build your day-to-day schedule from there.
Many travelers who have been there already would tell you to visit this and that. If you get confused, again, know what you want. Do not be guilty for going to a place you really really wanna see just because not everybody is visiting it, in the same way as you should not be forcing yourself to seeing something you’re not interested with just because it is considered a “must-see” by some.
Lesson # 4: Know everything about the places and attractions you decided to visit.
You finally listened to yourself and now has decided which palaces or parks you want to include in your itinerary. The next thing you should do is research everything about them. When I say everything, I mean everything – from knowing how to get there, opening days and hours, admission fees, proper etiquette and such other important information.
I do not know with others, but I am just the type of person who is very detailed and specific when it comes to making my travel itineraries. For this trip, I even downloaded Korea subway apps months before we departed just so I would know how many minutes will it take me to travel from point A to point B and how much that one-way ride will cost. Call me OA or what, but my OA-ness never did once disappoint me.
Lesson # 5: Do not squeeze too much attractions to visit in a day.
Set a realistic itinerary. Stop trying to see everything in a short period of time, because more often than not, you will just be disappointed for not seeing them all just the way you planned it. It will not only tire the heck out of you, it will also cost you the joy of a ‘real’ vacation.
As for me, I usually just include three to four attractions to see in a 10-hour itinerary, in which one of them should be usually dispensable (only when I run out of time, of course). That way, I don’t have to feel guilty for not having seen it because in the first place, it is just optional. And in that way, I don’t have to rush going from one place to another just so I can tick them all off my bucket list.
Lesson # 6: Learn to compromise.
Whether you are a pro or an amateur in the travel-planning arena, let’s admit it, not everything you wanted during your trip happens. You could miss a train or a bus; you might forgot to check updates on the opening and closing days of the museum or temple you wanna see; and such other similar cases. You can throw your tantrums everywhere but it won’t solve your problem! So? Just accept your lapses, compromise and move forward.
For example, when we visited Gapyeong County in South Korea, we included Nami Island, Petite France and The Garden of the Morning Calm in our itinerary. But because traffic that day in Gapyeong was bad (due to the influx of tourists who visited Nami Island), we thought that proceeding to The Garden of the Morning Calm after Nami Island and Petite France would cost us of getting back late to Seoul. What we did? We skipped it. And while on the train, we console ourselves with the fact that Nami’s autumn foliage that we have experienced (that by the way, we enjoyed so much) was more than enough and more than what we expected. Therefore, being guilty of not being able to go to the Garden and see its own version of fall foliage is not necessary at all.
Lesson # 7: Expect the unexpected. Be flexible.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with sticking to your original travel plans – that is after all how you foresee your trip to be. But what if you suddenly get tired from all of your walking activities and want to enjoy some relaxing time at a coffee shop you saw nearby? Well, I’d say that a little diversion won’t hurt at all.
Don’t be guilty if you have to change your itinerary suddenly due to unforeseen circumstances, or if you have to skip some attractions to spend some quite time for yourself. Just accept the bumps as they are, and maybe it will open up new opportunities for you.
In our second day in Seoul for example, we visited Bukchon Hanok Village and Changdeokgung Palace in the morning, and tour separately in the afternoon with Roma going to SM COEX Artium and Michael and me supposedly going to Haneul Park (Roma wasn’t very interested in going here, so we decided to see this while she’s somewhere else).
But even before we could board the train going to Haneul Park, Roma was already informing us that she’s done at SM and will be joining us to Haneul. That was around 2:30 p.m. already. Having to wait for her somewhere, we thought that going to Haneul Park that afternoon might not work for us anymore as going there will involve a whole lot of walking.
We checked our itinerary and decided to go to Namsan Tower instead and enjoy a 360-degree view of Seoul on a sunset. While we never thought of visiting Namsan Tower on a late afternoon, we were able to enjoy the place during a magical hour because of instances like this. Quite an opportunity there, right?
Lesson # 8: Do not be afraid to get lost.
South Korea is such a huge country that the idea of getting lost is 99% possible. With the extensivity of their transportation system and the ever-existing barrier between the English language and theirs, it is generally okay to get confused, be dumb and lose your way.
Yes, it is unavoidable. Yet, you can always ask someone for directions. Sometimes, online maps won’t suffice and staring at it more while you already don’t know where to go and what to do will surely make you more confused. My advice? When times like these come, do not hesitate to ask locals for information. As far as my experiences are concerned, they were always happy to help.
Lesson # 9: Travel at your own pace.
Heavily inspired with how other travelers conquer South Korea and the world? That is absolutely and totally okay. Yet you should remember that you are on a vacation trip, darling! You should act like you’re a real bakasyonista! I highly suggest for you to make your own bucket list to tick off. Do what you think suits your travel preferences.
If you think that spending your whole day walking and shopping around Myeongdong is worth it and will really make you happy, then do it. How you spend your days, time and money while traveling is always your decision to make. And again, never be guilty for not doing things you think you are not 101% interested with.
So there you are! You’ve found you’re way through my long talk! I sincerely hope that one day, those tips I shared will all be handy and helpful to you. Wishing you the best travel days ahead! Kamsahamnida! ❤