Planning a trip to South Korea in 2015? Then you may find this post useful!
Granted, I’m not huge on planning when it comes to trips. I make sure I’ll be able to manage all the basics – transportation, accommodation, and communication – and then everything else is pretty spontaneous. I’ve had more than one person say that I’m an incredibly easy person to travel with. (Anyone want to plan a trip with me in the future? I really want to go to Singapore!)
Anyway, here are the things we planned and prepared before our trip to Seoul in September 2014.
1. Tickets. Obviously this comes first. Our direct flight from San Francisco International Airport to Incheon Airport on Korean Air Economy Class was $800 round-trip, including tax. Tickets range from $700-$1000+ with direct flights being around $880-1,000. We booked 3 months in advance using Priceline and managed to get probably the cheapest direct flight tickets of the season by some insane stroke of good luck! Be warned, booking earlier doesn’t always mean cheaper tickets. Our friends actually paid about $100 more and they booked several weeks before us… so keep a sharp eye on those prices!
2. Accommodations. You could do hotels, hostels, guesthouses, or hanoks but for us, Airbnb was a lifesaver. For just $80/night, I stayed in beautiful two-floor officetel near 광화문광장. It included full amenities: full kitchen, washer/dryer, large, flat-screen TV, DVD player, a full-size bed, leather couch, and couple twin mattresses for larger families. The best part though? The apartment came with a FREE portable wifi device!! The location was fantastic as well. We were walking distance from two subway stations, the palaces, Kyobo Bookstore, and a number of other locations. Check out our host Uni’s Airbnb listing by clicking on the image below:
3. Communication. Are you going to be making phone calls in Korea? If so, local or long-distance? Will you be needing data or wifi? Although many visitors do, I actually never bothered renting a phone because I have the greatest service provider ever. With T-mobile’s Simple Choice plan, I got unlimited data and text in Korea for no additional charge. That’s right – NO roaming fees!! In fact, as soon as I deplaned in Incheon Airport, I got a text message welcoming me to Korea and informing me of just that. With this plan, I also made exactly two 1 minute-long phone calls at a rate of $0.20/min (one was to make a hair appointment and the other was to check if a place was open on Chuseok). With unlimited data and text and no roaming fees, we didn’t feel the need to rent a separate phone for phone calls. Now, in spite of my awesome service plan, we ended up using my phone more as a wifi device. Since our officetel came with a portable wifi, I just ended up carrying that – along with a rechargeable battery pack – in my purse and voila. Perfect to look up directions, public transit info, and places of interest on the go.
4. Transportation. How are you going to get from the airport to where you’re staying? How about around the city? This was something I made sure I knew about before getting on the plane because I didn’t want to be caught unawares once I landed in the airport.
- From Incheon Airport. I judged that we’d be tired, hungry, and disoriented after a 12 hour flight so I wanted to make sure we’d get to our officetel safely without too much effort on our part. We opted to take an International Taxi which worked out great. Admittedly, it is pricier than other transportation options (we paid a flat-rate of 65,000W), but it made us feel comfortable and secure on our first night in Korea. The driver spoke English (giving me some time to ease into the language!) and I didn’t have to keep the regular taxi service’s complicated fare system in my head.
- Getting Around Seoul. First thing’s first: T-money is amazing! As soon as we had settled into our apartment, we headed to the nearest 7-11 and bought T-money cards for 2,500W each and charged them with 20,000W. Not only can these cards be used to pay subway, bus, and taxi fares, using them actually gives you a discount over using cash. You can add cash value at any T-money kiosk and pretty much any convenience store too. We didn’t venture on the public buses, but the the subway system is incredibly convenient and SUPER CHEAP. Even the city taxis (which we only used two or three times) were much cheaper than what we’re used to paying in San Francisco. If you’re scared of the subway system, don’t be! The Subway Korea app was a true lifesaver.
- To Incheon Airport. By the time we were ready to head back to the airport, we had scoped out enough of our locale to discover an airport limousine bus stop, a mere 10-minute walk from our officetel. It’s 15,000W to take the airport limousine bus, so we just made sure to fill up our T-money cards (yup, this bus accepts T-money too!) up to that amount to make the one-way journey. Super convenient, comfortable, and much cheaper than a taxi.
Once I had these four things – tickets, accommodation, communication, and transportation – down, I really didn’t plan any more aspects of my trip. I used one excellent guidebook (possible review coming up soon) to help me roughly figure out where I’d be going each day, but aside from that, I just enjoyed myself with as much spontaneity as I could. I wouldn’t have had it any other way. :)