Elvin and I have just returned from our short trip to South Korea and we couldn’t wait to share with you what we’ve learned about travelling and all things in between.
You see, the concept of travelling is not entirely new to us. We’ve been to Hong Kong, Malaysia, Japan, and Thailand in the six years that we’ve been together as husband and wife. So, we kind of have a little idea of how to go about travelling abroad, BUT as most travelers would say, every experience is unique. So, there’s always something new to learn about each time we go out of the country.
This year, we are blessed to have been given the chance to visit South Korea.
Travel Trivia: Did you know that if you are a BPI Gold or Platinum cardholder you may qualify as a recipient of a multiple-entry visa from the Korean Embassy? The visa is good for three to five years, depending on whether you have a BPI Gold or Platinum credit card. The promo is called Imagine Your Korea. We tried it and it worked!
Our decision to visit South Korea was largely affected by a number of factors.
First, my best friend of 20 years is working in Seoul, the capital of South Korea, and I haven’t seen him in almost two years. So, my desire to visit him was really strong.
Second, sometime in December 2016, I happen to have received a notification from AirAsia airlines, dubbed as the world’s best low-cost airlines, saying that airplane tickets going to South Korea are on sale. Out of curiosity, I checked the rates using their mobile app and confirmed that the airplane seats were indeed selling for cheap.
Third, Elvin and I are on vacation from law school until the second week of August, so we really have nothing much to do on the dates which were offered on sale.
Fourth, my best friend is also on vacation from his teaching job, so he’ll also have nothing much to do on our target dates.
Fifth, since we didn’t have school work for three months, we thought that we could save some extra cash from our regular budget so we could come up with a reasonable allowance for our South Korea visit.
Because of all of the abovementioned circumstances, we decided to give Korea a go!
What can you learn about scheduling a trip to Korea?
For many others, the best time to visit South Korea would be the winter season. They cite the presence of snow as one of the main reasons for visiting during the months of December to February. On the contrary, we chose to visit Korea in July, summer season. We have two main reasons for doing so. First, we didn’t have to buy winter clothes. Winter clothes cost a lot of money and we won’t have the need for it in the Philippines, making it a bad purchase. Also, the last time I visited Japan on winter season, my knees hurt so bad from the cold, I didn’t want to leave bed where I had four fluffy blankets covering my whole body. I also didn’t even want to take a bath, much less go out and touch snow. If we visit Korea in summer, all we had to do was bring our regular clothes and we’re ready. So, visiting Korea in the summer was the best choice, at least for us.
There are, of course, two other seasons we have not mentioned here, which are spring and autumn. Spring is from March to May, while autumn is from September to November. It would also be less cold on those months, so it would seem to also be a good time to visit Korea, but as I have mentioned in the previous paragraphs, those months will coincide with law school days, making us largely unavailable for almost anything else. Perhaps, the same would be the case for parents who have kids enrolled in school.
Lesson No. 1: Choose a comfortable time to visit, considering your regular schedule and your preferred weather.
What can you learn about booking airline tickets to Korea?
There are a number of budget airlines offering trips to South Korea. So, even though it was from AirAsia that I received a notification for a seat sale, we still made sure to shop around and compare rates with other airlines. Because of this, we found out that Cebu Pacific was then offering the cheapest rate for a ticket from Manila to Incheon and that AirAsia was then offering the cheapest rate for a ticket from Incheon to Manila. Because of this, we flew from Manila to Incheon via Cebu Pacific and returned home via AirAsia. By doing this, we saved about P4,000.
Lesson No. 2: Always “shop around.”
What can you learn about planning your stay in Korea?
Planning what to do in Korea was quite easy for us, thanks to my best friend who, by himself, figured out how to get around Seoul. However, if Elvin and I would be travelling by ourselves, we imagine how difficult it would be without little preparation. Why? One of the reasons why we think it would be very very challenging is because Koreans have a different language from us, Filipinos. And the truth is, when you get to Korea, very little is written, much less is spoken, in English. So, going around would be a real struggle and could really dampen the spirit of wonder and awe for all the great sights and things in Korea, because much of your attention would be focused on how not to get lost. HAHA.
So, we really are very much thankful for the efforts my best friend has put into figuring out where and how to bring us to beautiful places in and out of the city. With him, we were as comfortable as are goslings (baby geese) are following their mother goose.
Lesson No. 3: Either find your kind of mother goose (either a friend or a professional tourist guide) or plan a detailed trip yourself if you are brave and patient enough.
What can you learn about scheduling a visit to Lotte World and Everland?
Lotte World is the world’s largest indoor theme park, located at the heart of Seoul, South Korea. On the other hand, Everland is South Korea’s largest theme park, located in the Province of Gyeonggi-do. And the awesome thing is that we’ve been able to visit and enjoy both of them in just one day, without missing out on any ride we wanted to try!
You may ask, “but how’s that all possible?”
The answer lies on the date we chose to visit the parks. We visited on a Monday and as it turns out, not a lot of people come to visit theme parks on a Monday. So, in Lotte World, the theme park which we chose to visit first, we were almost always first in line. And in just an hour, we’ve already enjoyed four rides. What a stroke of luck!
As for Everland, we pre-booked what they call a “Q-pass,” which gives you instant access to the ride of your choice, so Elvin also didn’t have to wait around when he rode the world’s fourth steepest wooden roller coaster called the T Express. He’s done in just about 10 minutes, enough time for me to buy a strawberry-banana smoothie from a nearby restaurant.
Lesson No. 4: Visit theme parks on Mondays or week days to avoid long lines. Also, pre-book an express pass for rides you really want to try.
What can you learn about buying tickets for Lotte World and Everland?
When we checked the Korea Tourism Organization’s website for ticket prices, we saw that a full-day admission fee to Lotte World costs 52,000 KRW, while a full-day admission fee to Everland costs 54,000 KRW.
Fortunately, however, we were able to purchase discounted tickets from the website FuntasticKorea.com, priced only at 29,000 KRW and 35,000 KRW respectively.
With such big savings, visiting both theme parks in one day became guilt-free!
Lesson No. 5: Look for and buy heavily discounted entrance tickets online.
What can you learn about buying food in Korea?
A budget of 10,000 KRW or less is a reasonable amount for a good meal in South Korea. Once, when buying lunch at Lotte World, Elvin mistakenly ordered a 17,000 KRW meal for each of us. When the food came, we were both shocked to find out that each of the meals is good for two people. In short, the food was priced more than our 10,000 KRW budget for a reason and we had to learn it the hard way. HAHA.
Lesson No. 6.: If you have difficulty communicating with restaurant staff, observe others first. Then, buy accordingly.
What did we learn about what to wear in Korea?
Koreans wear comfortable clothes and when I say comfortable, I mean lose clothing and rubber shoes or flat shoes. There’s a lot of walking involved in going around South Korea. They have a very organized and highly reliable and enviable transportation system, particularly their railway and bus system, so there is a lot of comfort in commuting. The only drawback is that for travelers like us who planned on going to a lot of places in one day, walking from one station to another could be an added burden if we were wearing the wrong footwear. Thankfully though, I was wearing my rubber shoes the whole time and didn’t feel weird alongside everyone else because they were wearing comfortable shoes too. The color of my shoes seemed to be less popular, however, because most of their shoes were in black, white, gray, or pastel color, NOT neon pink. My shoes were quite easy to spot in a crowd. HAHA.
Lesson No. 7: Leave your towering heels at home and hold on to your most comfortable pair of shoes.
What can you learn about getting ill in Korea?
As I have mentioned above, the difference in language is one of the challenges we faced when we were touring Korea. So we can imagine how much more challenging it is to buy medicine in a pharmacy in Korea. How do you say, “Can you please give me a medicine for gastroenteritis or migraine?” We don’t know. And we think we really don’t have to know, especially if we’re only visiting for a short time. What we did was to bring in our hand-carried bags our own medicine for every problem imaginable, like migraine, fever, nausea, vomiting, asthma, food allergy, and many more. Good thing, we didn’t need much of them during our stay, but our pre-packed paracetamol tablets definitely helped us get through our tiring days. No need to worry about where and how to get one.
Lesson No. 8: Bring your own medication for your usual illnesses.
What can you learn about buying pasalubong in Korea?
We really made a lot of mistakes in buying pasalubong in Korea. First, we definitely overspent. Converting from Korean Won to Philippine Peso in our head wasn’t a very easy thing to do, especially when we were in a hurry to buy. So, we literally wasted a few thousand pesos on some things that we didn’t really want to buy. And those that we really want buy, we failed to do so for lack of time. So, it was a little disappointing, but we learned quite a few things in this area. First, don’t buy when you’re tired. It’s hard enough to convert money in your head, but it’s harder to convert won to pesos when you’re dead tired and sleepy. Second, set a budget for each purchase, like you would in buying food, or anything else. Third, do not get intimidated or pressured by sales persons offering you products you don’t need. Otherwise, you’ll end up regretting your purchase in the end. Fourth, if you find a good deal, don’t think twice. Buy it right away and when you’ve already bought it, don’t worry about it anymore. Fifth, if you want to buy something, research on it before the trip and make sure to know how much it costs so you know if you’re getting a good deal or not.
Lesson No. 9: It’s easy to spend. It’s hard to spend wisely. So, plan in advance and grab only what you really really need or want.
What can you learn about drinking water in Korea?
There’s a lot of drinking fountains everywhere in Korea, even inside the tourist spots. So, it is wise to bring a water bottle with you and refill accordingly. You can eliminate the need to buy bottled water, which cost around 1,000 KW per bottle, by simply finding where those drinking fountains are, unless you have a very sensitive tummy. By doing this, you can save quite a lot of money.
Lesson No. 10: There’s no shame in drinking free water. Bring your own water bottle.
We know that travelling abroad may not be the smartest thing to do, especially while you are at a point in life when building the foundation of your wealth is crucial, as it can really be a big expense. But some would argue that the memories you create are far more valuable than money. In the end, being reunited with my best friend and having fun with him again, after a very long time, made all the sense.
Travelling is an act of purchasing an experience that is unlike anything you’ve ever had before and it may come with a hefty price tag – your money, your time, and your energy – but the fruits of such experience, although intangible, lasts a lifetime.
Today, I am sending out an S.O.S. to the heavens above, so that all who are reading this post be blessed with the capacity and opportunity to also go out of their usual routine, and have the resources to also see the world and make lasting memories with people they truly care about.
May our story help you learn a lesson or two.
And may the Good Lord continue to bless you and your family.
Helping you make better life decisions,