A Guide to Seoul Korea, a Life-Changing Trip

Traveling used to be something I would do to recharge and cool off from all the drowning office work. It was a welcomed break and my first-ever trip to South Korea belonged to that category at first. I went with friends on a tour and arranged to go on a solo trip for six more days. I came back so excited and full of stories to tell. I revamped my travel philosophy and the way I plan my travels when I came home from that trip. Traveling would be something I would actively pursue and I didn't want to wait until I am retired to freely do so.

I am writing this so that you may have a starting point when you are going somewhere you've never been to, possibly somewhere that doesn't have an English-speaking population or just somewhere you really, really want to explore on your own without the constraints of a usual tour group.

Here's what happened during my Seoul trip. I started this "travel ritual".

Preparations after securing that my entry documents to Korea are all in order: 
  • Money 
    • My initial tour of 4D3N days with the tour group and extra 1D cost around 900USD all-in with 4 to 5-star hotels, transportation, entrance fees and plane tickets Asiana Airlines (Manila-Incheon-Manila, very impressive airline). 
    • I doubled that so that the "extra" will serve as my money to spend on everything in the next 6 days (also as emergency money). My goal for the "extra" was to eat what I wanted, explore the city and have a modest accommodation. 
    • I exchanged some of my unconverted peso to won in Manila beforehand just in case I would have difficulty finding a money changer. For easier conversion back to peso in my head, I use 10,000 won = P400.
  • Research
    • I began searching online (which I never did, this was back in 2009) for all the food I am willing to eat in Seoul. I saved the food list, together with restaurant addresses and explanations. I also noted down if I came across activities or places of interest. I wasn't sure if I could surf the net and print as freely when I get to Seoul. I would also rather spend my money eating the best food and exploring the free parks and attractions (it was autumn when I came - October until early November).
    • I subscribed to the Seoul Eats blog (until now) and the very informative official Korean Tourism Organization website (both general and food) for the promotions and suggestions. This is where I found out that there were Tourist Information Centers (TICs) all over Seoul where I can find English-speaking people and free guides (in my case, I scored a very good book). You can also check out Korea.Net. Here are other suggested and reliable Korea links. There is also the Korean Cultural Center of the Philippines to give you a taste of Korea in Manila.
    • Sometimes, I ask other bloggers, Google and friends for my trips.
    • When do you stop with the research? I usually stop when my list consumes a lot of paper already (like 5 to 10 pages). I keep the back empty most of the time for my trip notes.
  • Find a local who can point you to the right direction if you can
    • This was probably the best coincidence of all. My Korean friend Emily happened to be studying in Seoul when I came. I found out only about a week before my trip. 
    • She has never explored Seoul herself but she can speak Korean, she is passionate about her country and she knows good Korean food. Our mode of communication was all in Mandarin. I stayed in an inn owned by her aunt too.
    • It's good to have a contact so I noted down all her details on paper, on my phone and my email just in case.
    • I don't really need to meet the person if they have busy schedules. I email bloggers for questions, even the airport for directions to the bus or something.
  • Secure everything back home so you don't worry about it during the trip
    • Keep copies of your passport, visas, hotel arrangement and contact details (including your contact abroad) at home.
    • Back up your photos, computer files and make sure you know important passwords like email which you will use abroad.
    • Pay any outstanding bills and make sure that the account linked to your ATM card has money.
    • Keep your licenses, other credit cards, keys, gadgets, jewelry and other things you won't need abroad in a safe place.
  • KTO just opened their Foreign Service Weather Service! You can check it out here =)
  • Need Travel Info while on your trip? Just call 1300!
  • Thinking about Train rides in Korea? Check our the KR Pass here.
  • I'd like to try out the K-Shuttle Bus Tour Packages too!
  • Want a Volunteer Tour Guide? They have it too! =)
  • How about a Korean Homestay Experience? 

During the solo trip (after the tour):

  • Every morning, I gave myself the liberty of sleeping some more when I wanted to. Don't get me wrong, I can wake up early if I wanted to as well, especially for theme parks. 
  • I did my itinerary for the each day the day before based on our conversations and my research but everything is very very flexible. If a new idea or location pops along the way and I happen to really like it, I would gladly exchange that for my original plan. I would converse with my friend the night before and we would concretize the plan the next morning.
  • I would normally have brunch. I only eat on tours when the room comes with a hotel breakfast. My friend would go over my "food list" and say "let's eat this today". Generally though, some locals are tired of eating their own food. Better make it clear. The food I ate on the tour gave me the impression that Korean food is better in Manila. The food I ate after the tour with my friend is the best Korean food I ever ate. The Korean Spicy Rice Cake food street, Teokbokki Street, which I found online and came highly recommended, that my Korean friend has never heard about, turned out to be so bad and we turned to where it all began - the streets.
  • I took down a lot of notes for my post so that I could return to it in my next Korea trip. 

This was the trip that turned my life around. The biggest leap I took was when I chose to become a full-time travel blogger because I wanted to make more itineraries (and trips) and preserve this first one well in my memory. With this leap came an impromptu 2-week trip to Beijing, an invitation to revisit Baguio in 2 days, a 5-day non-stop marathon with CineEuropa, a 6-day solo trip to Iloilo for the Visayas Blogging Summit, a 4-day trip around General Santos, South Cotabato and Lake Sebu, an exclusive coverage of the Philippine Hot Air Balloon Fiesta, an all-expense paid 7-day Japan experience with Air Asia X (Tokyo and Osaka) and many more trips =) I am currently waiting for my December trip to Bali and Labuan Bajo with the Indonesian Tourism Board!

As I said, Traveling used to be something I would do to recharge and cool off from all the drowning office work. Today, I find meaning and stories wherever I go.

This is my second contribution to the Pinoy Travel Bloggers Blog Carnival. Guiltless Getaways is in Reiza's (of Wander If You Must) compilation of Leap of Faith: When Traveling Changed My Life stories from Travel Bloggers all over the Philippines

My first ever contribution to the Pinoy Travel Bloggers Blog Carnival was a 3D2N and 4D3N itinerary to El Nido, Palawan. Click here for other 3D2N Suggestions for destinations all over the Philippines from Eileen (of Possibly Pinay).

Click here to know more about the Pinoy Travel Bloggers Blog Carnival and the past Blog Carnival topics and link compilation: http://langyaw.com/pinoy-travel-bloggerss-blog-carnival/

Share in the comments: How about you, have you ever had a trip that turned your life around?  How do you prepare for your trips? Any tips you would like to add for the trip preparations? I would love to hear about your experiences and trips below!