So you’ve got your tickets, booked that Airbnb, and made sure your luggage fits well within the bounds of standard weight allowance. But before you bring yourself to sign up for “city tours” or “tourist packages”, consider taking the challenge of facing the alien streets of Seoul without a forever-grinning guide with a microphone urging you on like a flock of sheep to the next stop on the itinerary.
Seoul may not be as easy to traverse as Manila (as Koreans normally speak less English than Filipinos do), but it’s certainly a piece of cake given adequate preparation. These are the things you’ll need to have on you during your trip (particularly for the monsoon season)!
LIGHT RAIN JACKET AND UMBRELLA
The rainy season in Seoul runs from June to September. If you come during this time, it’s best to pack for rain instead of rushing to buy umbrellas at the nearest convenience store after getting drenched while looking like a drowned rat. To save on shopping costs (put that money to better use; ahem, sheet masks?), try to pack the rain jacket as well.
This kind of goes without saying. The passport is essential for a tourist to have on hand at all times. You’ll need it as an ID, at the money changer, and for tax-free shopping. On the subject of tax-free shopping though, it’s best to go to stores that offer instant tax refund. Otherwise, you’ll have to go through the tax refund counters at the airport and I honestly think that the refund you get will not be worth the hassle. I think I came to them with a receipt of 60,000KRW and the refundable amount was around 2,000KRW. Also, you’ll need to spend a minimum of 30,000KRW at all stores in order to receive the tax-free benefit. Keep ahold of your receipts!
This transportation card is your ticket to getting everywhere you need to go in Seoul. You can use it for the subway, the bus, the taxi, and hell, even the convenience store. This is the first thing you should pick up at the airport. I believe there are vending machines that dispense these. You can also find T-cards at all convenience stores. It’s only going to cost you 2,500-4,000KRW. There are machines for reloading the T-card anywhere there is a subway. You can also ask the cashier at 7-11, CU, and GS25 to load it with money. (You’ll only need one per person. I just have two because I came with my family last time and I wanted the other design!) Each subway ride should only cost around 1,250-1,500KRW, and you get a small discount if you use a T-card instead of a Single Journey Ticket.
NOTEBOOK AND PEN
I personally use this small notebook to write down my itinerary, expenses, shopping lists, and addresses of the places I want to go. It’s going to be handy to have these addresses in both English and Korean- in case you get lost and you need help. Additionally, when taking taxis, it’s best to just show the drive the Korean address than try to read the romanized translation out loud. You can also use your phone for these purposes of course, but I like to handwrite these notes.
Unlike Manila, the plug shapes of power outlets in Korea are rounded. If your device chargers aren’t, you’re going to need these round adaptors. I borrowed mine from the office, but if you’re here on vacation, you may have a hard time finding these. I know you can get them at Daiso for about 5,000KRW, but I’m not sure where else you can go. Better bring your own just in case.
SUBWAY KOREA APP
Subway Korea is a life-saver. This is what the locals use to navigate their efficient subway system. It has a subway timetable that receives daily updates. It’s interface is pretty easy to understand. You can input your departure and arrival stations and the app will inform you of your travel time, number of stops before arrival, transfer details (if any), and transport fare.
GOOGLE MAPS AND TRANSLATE
This is pretty self-explanatory. Make sure to download offline translation as soon as possible. Half of the time there will be wifi while you’re out on the streets (WiFi ID: iptime, Public Wifi Seoul) and most restaurants and cafes are equipped with WiFi. If you’re worried you can rent a portable WiFi egg at the airport, but I’m not sure about the cost as I myself didn’t think it was necessary.
I hope you find this information useful and that you enjoy your trip to Korea as much as I did mine!