Seoul Searching: My First Solo Travel

Thursday, November 05, 2015

I tell you, the best experiences are the hardest ones to write about. It has been almost one year since my trip to Seoul. To this day, I'm still not sure about how I should document this amazing experience.

You'd find a lot of articles on why you must travel on your own at least once in your life. These articles tell you how amazing it is to travel on your own terms, your own pace; how you could 'eat-pray-love' and finally find yourself. You know, that great chance of introspection, and to experience the glory of Me, Myself and I. (NOTE: Some articles forget to talk about the serious struggle of stressful self timers and unflattering selfies along the way. No hipster photos for you, babe.) Kidding aside, of course, I somehow expected that my first ever 'Solo Trip' would take that same direction, but to my surprise it just detoured towards more... In case you're wondering how traveling alone looks like... It's nothing but awesome, and I promise, it's actually something that you must try as well.

You'd find yourself in the beauty of careful planning to come-what-may (eventually) and every crazy thing in between.
I spent hours, days and weeks of searching Airbnb, contacting hosts, figuring out modes of transportation, searching for every must-see, must-do & and must-try to writing down 'Kahamsahanida' in Hanggul! It could be both fun and really frustrating, but careful planning makes it all worth it in the end.
You'd get that Resfeber at its finest: the restless beating of a traveler's heart before a journey, in mixture of excitement, anticipation and anxiety (like serious anxiety)
In English, Resfeber sounds like: OMG, this is it! It's gonna be awesome! But what if I get kidnapped? What if I get lost? What if something crazy happens? What bus number should I take again? Which station? ...
You'd be very proud of your strategies, that sense of strength and independence and yet you'd cringe and laugh at every epic fail, what was I thinking moment and  "bloopers" along the way. 
I remember how I freaked out after I was jokingly told that one of my room mates in the hostel was a Chinese Mafia. I dreaded not wearing some sort of thermal wear and endured the cold all night long. You sure would need a list of "firsts" and you'd be able to fill it, effortlessly...
You'd find fulfilment in reaching each destination successfully, in easily figuring out subway routes, in trusting your discernment and intuition for every twist and turn, and of course for being able to stick (and not stick) to your own plan.
There's nothing like realizing you are seated in the right bus, and riding the right MRT line... I never, not even once, got lost when I was there. I found every destination set on my itinerary, ticked them one by one.. and really, it's one of the best feelings in the world...
You'd find yourself in the kindness of strangers, in the company of new friends, in the warmth of hosts and have that priceless feeling of Home in a completely unknown place with completely unknown people.
The very moment I entered my hostel, a group of Chinese travelers asked me if I already had my dinner and whether I wanted to have a bowl of noodles so they could cook for me. That was even before they asked my name. They were not able to speak English well and yet I had my very much needed bowl of soup... I must say kindness is in fact more universal.

On my second day, I had the amazing Seoul Mate to take me around Bukchon Hanok Village. They were a group of Korean students who welcome tourists and travelers in their city during their free time -- with no charge!! Ahh, they were really nice, friendly and were too patient with 'slow travelers' like me.
You'd be amazed by how you risk and entrust your life & safety to complete strangers -- then later realize and feel that utter gratitude for how much they've made your trip very meaningful. Connecting with people and making friends, despite the language and cultural barrier, isn't as hard as you think.
I remember I 'asked out' a fellow solo traveler if he could come with me to a lantern festival. Late at night, I risked crossing dark alleys with a 'new friend', trusting completely. I enjoyed listening to him as he talked about his culture, his experiences from traveling alone, and even about his girlfriend. On our way home, I was limping in pain after walking all day, and I was really amazed with his patience and genuine concern, offering to take me to a clinic and waiting until I get to walk properly.
Friends from SeoulMates and with the Volunteer Group
You'd be surprised by how you can instantly 'belong and blend', interact with locals in a deeper way, and can actually make a difference. :)
I signed up for a volunteer program where you can teach kids in certain communities (some are North Korean refugees). That was really my favorite part!!!! The kids were very nice, friendly and were very eager to learn. There, I also met fellow volunteers who were international students and expats and they'd help you find your way around the city.
You'd encounter God in different ways, in different instances... That is the beauty of being outside your comfort zone: you'd pray your way out of your fears and doubts. And for each prayer, I tell you, you will find answers.  
I prayed every step of the way -- for wisdom, protection and provision. Also, since it was my very first time to experience and see the fall foliage -- at the sight of the beautiful colors, I couldn't help but worship and be in awe!!! I also made time for my devotional and books in cozy and cute cafes -- Seoul has it all.
You'd be affirmed of that security, joy and wholeness despite being alone. You'd appreciate the season more - not grumbling in loneliness (worse, in bitterness) but in a dreamy kind of excitement that someday one day you will tell your (future) husband and children about every adventure! (Haha, yuck, cheese balls!) 
Seoul looks exactly like those you see on Koreanovelas - filled of extra cheesy-clingy-touchy-feely lovers! They were everywhere -- parks, malls, train. Heart-check!!! Indeed, I didn't mind, they were actually cute rather than annoying... I loved and enjoyed looking at them! Haha!!
Finally, you would realise that you are not alone, and it's not just 'about you' after all.
Traveling solo may offer you that Major Me Time. As for my experience, traveling on my own was an ultimate chance for "extrospection". It's where you don't search and look within, but even look beyond you. I found myself in and out of streets and seas of people completely unknown to me; and there, I felt small, positively & awe-inspiringly, realising how I am just one soul out of billions-- yet more than just strolling solo in the midst of it all, I am fully connecting, experiencing, receiving and giving what I could in that little corner of the world...
I encourage you too to go!! For such wonderful experience of freedom is a very rare chance, only found when you are far from the comfort and distraction of people known to you, when you cannot rely on anyone, when no one else is looking, when you are on your own...

Love,
Angel

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If you are planning a trip to South Korea, this might be helpful to you:
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30 comments

  1. Beautiful, insightful and inspiring. Thank you for sharing, Angel.

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  2. Once my daughter is grown up and on her own... I plan to just travel where ever... I have had people say you can go with so and so... I am going on my own so I can do what I want when I want... I want to be on my own time table and enjoy my experience like you wrote here xox

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  3. Inspiring and Thank You!I am also on my first solo trip to Seoul in September :) May I know how to volunteer to teach like you? Rachel

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    1. Hello Rachel! :) Thank you, I'm excited for you and your trip this September. You can sign up in MeetUp.com and find the group "Korea International Volunteers". Then you can RSVP to one of the sessions. :)

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    2. I'm also going on a solo travel trip to Seoul this September! I am very anxoius, worried, but excited haha. After reading about your experience there I'm even more excited. Also, the volunteer work sounds awesome! I think I will look it up. I also signed up for a Meteor Youth Tour.

      Jen

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  4. Oops....its d same person :)

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  5. Hi Angel, I would like to know if wala ba maging problema if Couchsurfing ang accommodation ko pagdating sa Seoul? Hindi na sila madaming tanong sa immigration? I have my visa na and will be leaving for August. Jik

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    1. Hello Jik! Based on my experience, I wasn't asked of my accomodation na when I was in the immigration. :) But I just prepared all the docs (exchange of emails with my host and all other booking confirmation, address & contact details, etc.) just to be prepared. :) God bless & enjoy your trip! :))

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  6. your post is so inspiring! i too, dreamed for a solo trip to seoul and hope to be able to make it this fall

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  7. hello what month were you there?i can that its autumn im plannimg to visit there too late october or early november is it the peak of autumn? and is it really cold there? do i need to bring thick outfits?thanks.

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  8. Hi Angel, for a visit to Seoul na 5 days, if flight and hotel bookings are done, magkano kaya ang estimate ng gastos for five days? sa food and fare, entrance fees? gusto ko lang malaman if magkano yung pwede kong ipa exchange na money. para hindi naman masayang if mapasobra ako ng exchange tapos di ko pala magagamit, kahit yung pinaka cheap na budget na. Thank you, Elvie

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  9. hello angel!
    i am going korea in November, can i check which hostel did you stay?

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  10. Hi dear
    I am also travelling alone to Seoul next week. Kinda of excited and scare! How do u contact the Korean student to bring you for a tour at Bukchon Hanok Village? Does the Bbq Korean restaurant have 1 serving ? I am kinda worried of eating alone ..:(

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  11. I just loved reading your experience. It has truly inspired me. Thank you so much for sharing.

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  12. Indeed very inspiring.. I'll be travelling solo in Seoul on April... Thanks for sharing your experiences..

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  13. Same here thanks for sharing your experience, I will be travelling solo in Seoul for a part of my trip in April, really looking forward to it :)

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    1. Always my pleasure! :) I am very excited for you! Have fun there! :) Have fun and make every turn count! :)

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  14. Hi Angel :D what an inspiring story you have here. Actually I am going to have my first solo trip this fall. I am so nervous right now thinking how am I going to adapt with the siuation :'D if you dont mind, could you share your itinerary to seoul with me? Here is my email sabrinaomar7@gmail.com . I really hope I can be as brave as you :)

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  15. Very Nice and inspiring too. I am solo male (not required to mention I know) traveler but I do resonate the same thoughts. Planned a solo Seoul trip this April and looking forward to it.

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    1. I hope you enjoyed it and had a great trip!! :)

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  16. Hi,

    Can I just check when was the period that you went? I'm planning one in Mid September but I'm afraid that it isn't fully autumn yet.

    Thank you!

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    1. I went before the autumn ends, which was on the last week of November. :)

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  17. I really feel like going. Btw, was it DIY? or with tour package?

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    1. It was all DIY! :) But I joined a small tour group called SeoulMate, which offers tours for free! :)

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  18. OMO so inspiring! Haha BTW your photos are all nice in filter! VSCO?

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  19. Hello! Love your write up. It definitely inspire me to be brave and to go for a solo trip on my own. May I know what volunteer event did you sign up for? Thank you.

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  20. Thanks on your marvelous posting! I actually enjoyed reading it,I appreciate it.
    Dreaming of traveling solo can really uplift your mind, You can travel solo at these 8 Best places in Himachal Pradesh.

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  21. Thanks for your inspiring words and useful information Angel! They encourage me for my coming first solo trip at Seoul as well!

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