I went on my first big solo trip this year, to Korea for a grand total of 79 days. It was something that I've always wanted to do ever since Covid started and I finally saved up some money after slaving away in National Service. Even wrote about travel for one of my mods in NTU. In this blog I'll be sharing some of my tips and takeaways, a compilation of my notes and journals.
When I'm alone overseas, I feel like I'm a different person. Travel can almost be a crutch in that it forces you to experience new things, explore as if your time is limited, and meet new people when you'd normally not feel the urgent need to. All of that is possible in your own city, it's just not handed to you on a plate.
I feel that in our own country, we subconsciously feel compelled to fit into a role in our everyday life which we shed when we travel. When we travel with friends, we also tend to feel more secure and less likely to do anything that makes us uncomfortable. However, when we're alone and know that people will probably never see you again once you leave their country, it makes it safer to be our authentic self. It took me some time to get used to it at first, but it became so much more fun after I let lose of myself.
Shared experiences are the best part of solo travel. It does sound ironic but you get to meet so many people along the way and do things together. Those will be what you remember as the highlight of your trip. However, there will be ups and downs. Not every hostel or person you meet will be nice, so learn to enjoy your own company and deal with loneliness. Go outside and keep yourself occupied, keep your brain engaged so you don't get bored.
How has it changed me?
I wouldn't say that there was some profound change, but having more confidence is definitely one. Because you know a lot more about new places and people which can become future conversation starters. Having the confidence to strike up a conversation with a stranger in a foreign language, as well as getting around and out of sticky situations by yourself.
I'm pretty sure I was at the peak of my fitness at the end of my trip. Started my first hike at Bukhansan, Seoul and my legs were sore for the next 3 days. Fast forward one month later I finished hiking Hallasan, Jeju in less than 6 hours and could still hike up Seongsan next day. Touched so much grass and never felt more alive.
It made me curious. What I've learnt during my journey made me want to know so much more, about everything and everyone because you realize in a way we are really all connected. I saw myself relating to strangers. With the exception of the occasional psychopath you run into that puts ketchup on everything, we are all the same. We all want the same. We are all driven by the same.
Which leads me to my next point that the world is (mostly) good. Strangers have gotten a pretty bad rep, from young our parents have taught to not talk to strangers - "Stranger Danger", which persists into adulthood. People who will rob you, sell your organs for money or turn you into a slave. But my own experience with strangers have all been great, majority of people want to help rather than harm. But of course we should still take necessary precautions.
Traveling allowed me to see my life back home from a third person's perspective. Things that can be improved back home, and also things that I've taken from granted. (e.g Insect repellent in parks, street lights on the ground for pedestrians who look at their phones) It also shifts my perceptions and reevaluate how I currently live my life and gives me a new understanding of what truly matters to me.
Lastly, language is the last frontier to begin breaking down the barriers that keep us segregated. You can try to erase the lines on the map, but if you don't even understand each other, there will always be a divide. Working on that now.
- Get out of your comfort zone. Very cliche but true. I'm usually quite introverted but when you travel you can be anyone you want to be. You carry no baggage when travelling in the social sense, people you meet are all fresh and have no idea about your past.
- Get a pair of good shoes. You will be moving around a lot, so make sure your shoes are broken in and high quality. I was doing more than 20k steps a day on average. (I wore the sponsored limited edition NB565) Trail runners are probably a better idea for hiking though, they provide way more traction.
- Don't pack too much. If you're going to be there for a long time, almost everything else can be bought at your destination (clothes, toiletries etc)
- Don't plan too much. Give yourself some flexibility but still have a general plan of which cities you're going to hit. I personally just marked every single place that I have an interest in and planned my day's trip around my "must go" places. Sometimes I even just wander off into a direction until something catches my eye.
- Know your limits. Both physically and alcoholically. With hostels and solo travelling, you're going to be moving about alot and drinking alot, know how much you can take, otherwise you might end up in bad situations.
- Say yes to everything within reason. Invited to explore the city - say yes. Invited for dinner - say yes. Invited to party - say yes. I regret some things that I didn't say yes for.
- Don't be overly frugal. Honestly, this one was quite hard for me. But if you want to do something, yolo. Who knows when you will have the chance to do it again.
- Do extended stays. It's easy to just stay in one city for 2-3 days and move on to the next after checking off all the touristy signtseeing spots. Nothing wrong with doing that, but I feel that the experience is different if you just spread out your itenary and allow yourself to linger around in places for longer instead of being in a mad rush to see everything and move on. There a youtuber that's doing a series of videos on exploring different neighbourhoods (dongs) of Seoul, parts of the city that tourists don’t normally go in to but filled with history. There are many things that we as foreigners find intriguing in seemingly normal neighbourhoods for the locals.
- Have rest days. On a long trip sometimes I'm tired I just head to the library or a cafe and chill, or do a lighter activity like visiting the museum
- Meeting people. Honestly the best ones happens unplanned, but there's apps like meetup where I found language exchanges or you can go on free walking tours in touristy cities like Seoul. But if it doesn't happen, it's totally fine too.
- Document your travels. I've never taken so many pictures/videos in my life and honestly I feel like quantity > quality when you want to relive those moments.
Specific to Korea
- Stay in hostels! The hostel culture is amazing and Korea has many many guesthouses. All provided me with towels and water. Use naver maps or yanolja to find them.
- 고시원 (goshiwon) - great choice if you want to have your own private space. Though small, the room comes fully furnished with free food. Many can be found on airbnb or goshipages.com
- 찜질방 (jjimjilbang) is a great alternative. Great place to be after hiking. It has everything you need. Sikdang, gym, various baths, place to sleep etc. Stayed in one for two nights straight LOL
- Free water in pretty much every restaurant you go to. Hydrohomie approved travel location.
- 편의점 (convenience store) has pretty much everything you need, 24/7, and it's everywhere. Go to Daiso for anything else cheap.
- 따릉이 (public bikes) to get around. Korea has designated bike roads and these are literally everywhere, great for short distance travelling - 24h for 1000 won
- If you learn to read korean, almost everything is in English (or Konglish)
- You don't have to buy tickets for intercity busses in advance. Most people just buy them on the spot. I once got off a bus, got a ticket at the counter and immediately boarded another bus.
- Woori mobile for cheap unlimited data.
- 김밥 can be a snack, breakfast, lunch or dinner.
- Go hiking! Korea is so mountainous there are tons of amazing hikes everywhere. Trails are all well kept and you don't even need special tools, just bring yourself, water and some kimbap.
- Regarding solo dining. Most BBQ and army stew places require a buddy or more, but otherwise it's pretty much normal for other restaurants. I've eaten bulgogi at driver restaurant before and it's perfect serving size for one. Acutally have thought of making a KBBQ matchup app for solo travellers.
- Will add on if I remember anything else.
Solo traveling, compared to traveling with a group of friends, is way more freeing. You no longer have to compromise on food, places to visit, things to do. Especially when you have different traveling styles, some people like to plan things down to the minute. I very much prefer to travel at my own pace, blitzing past boring places at times and taking it super chill other times, sometimes doing spontaneous unplanned things. One downside would be the shared experience though, having someone to reminisce with. One thing that I find helped was sharing your experiences on social media like Instagram. You're able to stay in touch with people you've met on your travel and share your experiences with people back home. At the end of the day when I'm winding down for bed I'll look through my pictures and upload stuff that I've found interesting. (for the gram)
It has been an incredible experience. I have no regrets and in fact, I'd say it's one of the best decisions I've ever made and definitely given me the travel bug. Just do it if you're on the fence, you'll thank yourself.