Solo travel can be great fun. Doing it in Korea was an interesting as well as daunting experience. I travelled in Busan and Seoul on my own before and with friends on other occasions. Being alone forces you out of your comfort zone. You can’t rely on your friends for companionship or advice, you have to figure it out on your own. So below are my personal perspectives travelling solo in Korea.
You crave conversations that you can understand in full.
Get a hostel to stay in and mingle around. At the very least, you will still have someone to talk to even if it’s just a few words. Unlike other English speaking countries, I cannot strike up a conversation with just anyone on the streets. They don’t speak English in general so that option is out. I manage to get around with simple Korean phrase words and to get someone who understands English on the streets when you are lost is akin to striking a gold mine. It’s not impossible but hard. Unfortunately, I had opted to stay at a place with only single rooms. It was my first solo travel and I thought that it was great to have privacy at that time. At the end of my visit, I was longing for somebody to talk to in English to the extent that I kept dropping by the reception just to talk to the staff there.
Two portion rule in Korean restaurants
It’s not that the restaurants are not used to solo travellers, some food are not available as it is meant to be eaten as a group. Meat barbecue, for example, requires a minimum order of 2 portions as it is meant to be shared with other people. That is just how the culture works. So if you really wish to give it a try, try to have it with someone from your hostel. Otherwise, there is no rule saying you can’t order both portions for yourself. Just make sure you can finish it all, of course.
You feel single and neglected.
This is purely subjective but it is a pet peeve of mine. There are so many couples putting their couple-dom on display that you cannot help but feel left out. There are couples in matching t shirts, matching outfits (down to the same shoes and backpack carried), couple bicycles that I sometimes felt that I was probably the only one with no partner there. One time, I was coming down from Namsan via the elevator to the street. Somehow or other, I was stuck with all these couples around me, hugging and whispering to each other. In such a small and enclosed space, I could only bear with it for the short time it took me to get down and off. I then concluded that Namsan Tower is popular with couples since there are so many couple locks around that area
It’s the best time to visit the jimjilbang (sauna) if you are shy.
Jimjilbang is a wonderful and different experience that can only be found in Korea. It is similar to the onsen (hot spring) in Japan but is an experience that I feel should be tried once at least. For those who are shy, this is the best time to try it out. I went to one on my own and I was glad that I tried it out. For 4hrs, I was pampered with a massage, tried out the hot saunas, and had a good soak in their many different water baths. I left feeling AWESOME. For a country that is so conservative, it never cease to amaze me how open they can be behind doors. The locker room was full of naked ladies in all shapes and sizes. Pregnant ladies, old ladies and even male kids! It was a bit unnerving for me as we are not used to this in my country but it helped that I was on my own. So I just sucked in my tummy and walked around confidently naked to the hot baths even though I wanted to run and hide. Every time I tried to ask my friends to join me, they would refuse as they were shy so I was happy that I got to go on my own.
Cleavage is no good but short skirts are ok?
This is simply an observation that I have made and read about. Showing cleavage is frowned upon and not really looked on favorably. So when visiting, covering up a little may be more prudent when travelling on your own rather than attract the wrong kind of attractions. On the other hand, I have seen A LOT of short skirts so it often makes me think how contradictory it is. However, not everyone wears them as such, just that I have encountered more short skirts than cleavage baring tops.
Overall, I had great fun travelling alone. It required more planning on my part due to the language barrier whenever I wanted to go anywhere but the support system in place for visitors were excellent. In tourist areas, there are usually information counters with excellent English speakers, roaming translators and even a helpline for foreigners. It was when I ventured out of these tourist areas that you really feel the language barrier but most Koreans have been very helpful whenever I approach them. They can be a bit reticent at first but knowing a bit of Korean helps go a long way. Just keep a lookout for the ahjummas and ahjusshis though, that requires a whole new story to go with it…