가자 Korea Diary 2: Preparation Tips For Korea

Before I dive into my Korea trip's itinerary, I thought it might be useful to compile a list of tips/lessons that I learnt while I was preparing or on my trip. For those who are heading to Korea whether with friends or alone, I hope this helps :)

Here's the list:

1. Getting data on your phone

I can't deal without Internet and definitely not when I'm all alone by myself. Many people say that it's really easy to find free public wifi in Korea but I don't want to risk that. For solo travelers, I highly recommend getting a local sim card because it comes with mobile data as well as phone credit. If you are travelling in groups, you can rent a portable wifi (aka wifi egg) as it is more cost-effective to be shared around. If you are staying in an Airbnb, check with your host upon booking because some of them do lend it to you for free during your stay and you just need to return it to them before checking out.

I chose Evergreen Sim because it was the best deal that I could find on the market as of October 2017. I wouldn't have gone to look for this online before my trip if it wasn't for my friend who was cursing herself so badly that she didn't buy her sim card before heading over to Melbourne. That's when I learnt that many good deals are available online only.

Remember to take a screenshot your purchase order or save the confirmation email on your phone in case you can't connect to the airport's free wifi because that's what happened to me.

I went with the 'Awesome Plan' because I was there for half a month and I knew I would abuse my mobile data. EG sim cards are available for collection at these places (click here).

I collected mine at Incheon International Airport Arex Desk @ 272 Gonghang-ro Jung-gu, Incheon 1F between Gate 8 & 9.

This is how the counter looks like. It doesn't say "EG Sim" with huge sign, but it's the counter that sells tickets for express train from Incheon Airport to Seoul city.

Head over there and show the staff member your proof of purchase and they will get it ready for you.

To make sure everything's working fine, just pass your phone to them and ask them to get them up and going for you. Most of the staff that work in the airport do speak basic English. 

If you can't find that place, it is located directly opposite to VIPS Express (it's a coffee shop) between Gate 8 and 9. 

Needless to say, remember to keep your original sim card well throughout your trip. You don't wanna get back to your own country and be 'welcomed' with such issue. 

2. Find out where exactly you are staying

If you are heading to your accommodation right away, it is best if you know the address. Write it down in both English and Korean. Whether it's a hotel or an Airbnb, check with them to find the easiest and fastest and cheapest way to head over there. Come on, let's be real, dragging a luggage around is definitely not fun after a long flight. 

For me, I was staying at Hapjeong (잡정) and the host recommended me to take the airport bus as that would save me having to transfer between a few subways. 

The ticket booth for the airport bus is just a few counters away (same row, towards the right) from where I picked up my sim card and it was only 10000 won per trip. 

3. Sleeping pills 

I used to be able to sleep like a baby on the plane but recently I have been having problem sleeping whenever and wherever I want. Signs of aging? FML! Because the flight from Melbourne to Korea took me around 18-19 hours (including transit), I wanted to make sure I get enough sleep so I wouldn't need to take a few days to recharge if I arrived as a zombie. I got some sleeping pills from the pharmacy and packed it with my passport. 

4. Bring a pen

Pack it with your sleeping pill and passport. They are the things you need on your flight anyway because you'll need to fill the declaration form or arrival form before you land.  

5. Have an extra piece of your bank card 

Trust me when I say this because as a banker, you have no idea how many people went insane and even had an emotional breakdown as their foreign bank card got taken in by the local ATM machines. 

Don't go around throwing tantrum when the local bank staff refuses to return it to you because it's their job to not return it to you! So to save yourself from any trouble (either losing it or getting it swallowed or whatever), head over to your own bank and request for an extra piece. It's usually free of charge. However, you may need to go 1 or 2 weeks before your trip just in case they need time to process it. 

6. Travel insurance 

Of course I know we don't want to jinx the trip but seriously the consequences are scary to imagine. I don't even want to start with any examples. 

I wouldn't arrange for travel insurance if I were to travel from Melbourne back to Malaysia because that's home for me but I did get my 'Adulting 101' right by getting a travel insurance. 

NAH~ truth is, I got a credit card (hey, don't judge, I handle my finances alright) and got complimentary travel insurance. I don't have to pay for annual fee thanks to staff benefit, I get to earn points for my purchases and also get free travel insurance :P On top of that, the credit card may be helpful if you wanted to make any large splurges that's not within your original plan. Like me, I put my new MCM wallet on my credit card. 

7. Priority passes / Lounge passes

Painful lesson learnt: Do Not Leave Things Till The Very Last Minute 

I should've gotten my premium lounge passes ready earlier because they come for free with my credit card. I wasn't aware that I would need a physical membership card to be able to access the lounge because I thought everything's electronically done these days. I didn't get my membership card in time before I flew off thus I didn't get the chance to check out premium airport lounges #FML

8. Book your accommodation earlier 

Needless to say, I was guilty of this too. Doing your research earlier will help you get another to-do out of your system, give your more choices and also potentially save you money. I didn't book my accommodation at Pusan earlier - seriously what was I thinking because I had my eyes on that place ages ago and I just didn't get around to pay for it, before I knew it, it was gone and I paid $80 extra for another place. 

9. The ultimate travel list 

You don't have to come up with a super rigid and compact travel schedule. My mom flies around like Karlie Kloss going on international fashion shows and she never does this. Sometimes she'll just make a list at the airport or something like that. If you don't feel secured enough to do random shit like that, don't do it. 

To some extent, this worked for me because when I tried to plan my trip very thoroughly it stressed me out big time. 

From my experience, all you need to do is find the areas that you'll like to do and check what are the attractions and what are the must-try foods at that particular area and you are ready to go. Give yourself the freedom to play things by ear because life's tough enough to go through mundane routines everyday and the last thing you need on a vacation is to chase after a schedule or to-do list. It's way better to enjoy the present than to rush around just to tick off a destination on your list, I promise it wouldn't take away your fun. 

For instance, I made a plan to go to Nami Island, Le Petit France, Garden of Morning Calm and Jade Garden all in one day because these places are in the same area. Some day tourist company do offer 1-day tours for these places. However, I ended up going to only Nami Island. A little disappointed that I didn't get to go to Le Petit France because you know...how much I love The Little Prince but nevermind, I still had LOTS of fun at Nami Island.

10. Research on skincare and makeup 

You will be effing overwhelmed if you arrive in Korea for skincare/makeup shopping without knowing anything. There are so many brands and products to choose from. Yes, being spoilt with choices is good but you don't want to bring home a tonne of products that don't suit you. Watch some Korean beauty gurus on Youtube or Google for their honest reviews. Also figure out what skin type are you, what brands are more trustworthy and what are the products that are within the budget that you set for yourself. 

I recommend Meejmuse and Hanbyul. I do follow quite a number of Korean Youtubers but these 2 are my favourite.

Of course it is completely alright to do some impulsive purchase here and there because of their insanely cute packaging but definitely make sure what you buy suits you. 

11.  Recycle bag / Plastic bag 

Bring along one small recycle bag with you because in Korea, some of the shops do charge a small fee for a plastic bag. Plus, it's environmental friendly, do your part, bud! 

12. Money

You have a few options and yes here's your banker Fion speaking again: 

-cash (probably tonnes of cash)
-debit / credit card (remember to get an extra piece from your own bank) 
- global currency card 
-or a mixture of the options above
I find myself being very "extra" in saying this but I thought it's helpful for people who may not know?! hmm...

I know most people travel with cash but truthfully you can be OK travelling without any cash. You can use your own bank card at ATMS in another country. Yes, you might be charged foreign currency conversion fees by your own bank and also a small little fee by the local ATMS but at least this is  better than going around with tonnes of cash or getting yourself into trouble when you've ran out of cash.

Global currency card works like a prepaid card. You load up the card with your own local currency and you can use it overseas as if you are using their local bank card. In other words, you load up the card and use it at whatever country that you are heading without being charged any foreign currency conversion fees or ATM fees. Do check with the bank that you are planning to get your global currency card from in order to confirm what currencies and/or countries are included and also the T&Cs. 

Another reminder: don't put all eggs in one basket. Very self-explanatory, if you travel with a bunch of cash, don't bring it all with you everyday. You are NOT going to use all of them in one day anyways. Lock it away in your suitcase if you have a safe accommodation place or your hotel's safety box. 

13. Travel adapter 

Korea's electric socket looks like this, which is similar to that of Europe's I believe.  

Also check with your Airbnb hosts or hotels to see if they do provide you a travel adapter for free. 

It should look something like this. 

14. Fully charged powerbank and phone cable 

Have these on you all the time. I repeat. All the time.

15. Additional SD card or camera battery 

If you are like me who is not satisfied with just using your smart phone to take photos, definitely get additional SD card and camera battery. Korea's so beautiful that every corner and every angle is worth a shot, or rather several shots! You definitely don't want to be caught in a situation where you don't have enough storage/battery for more shots. 

16. Phone apps 

I use an iPhone so all of these are from iTunes app store but I believe Android should have them too. 

Here are a few apps that I found very helpful for me and I highly recommend you pre-download and play around with them before your trip:

Map and route planners for subways in Seoul and Pusan. You don't need to know Korean to use this because you can just type the station name that you are heading towards in English and it will show up. Subway stations have English and Chinese names too. 

From there, you will know which line to take (follow the colour) and which station to get off or to transfer to another line. 

Pretty self-explanatory I love it. 

I recommend having a translation app/dictionary with you in case you have problem in communicating with the locals. This app doesn't give you translations in a full sentence but having at least keyword in Korean and body language or hand signs do bring you a really long way! 

I do speak Korean and am able to understand them quite well so I didn't use this a lot. The only time I opened this app was to find out what's the Korean word for "acne" because I was shopping for pimple cream lolx 

I also came across some apps that allow you to speak your language into it and they'd translate it automatically to the other foreign language. I haven't tried any of those out so I can't really comment on their usefulness. 

I don't like the mobile version of Airbnb. Hence, I recommend having the app on your phone. It is also easier to communicate with your Airbnb host at all times.

KakaoTalk is basically Korea's Whatsapp. However, unlike Whatsapp, it is incredibly cute in terms of the stickers, themes and notification tones. 

Majority of the Koreans use this and some Airbnb hosts use this to communicate with their guests. 

PS: This is also a fast and hassle-free way to get the contact details of the cute guy/girl that you wanna hit on in Korea :p Just tell him or her "카톡해요 Katalk hey-yo?" which sort of means "Add one another on KakaoTalk?" 

Food for thought maybe? 

Another reason why I recommend KakaoTalk is because there is no Uber in Korea but they have Kakao T instead. Kakao T stands for Kakao Taxi and it is owned by the company that developed KakaoTalk. It works like Uber but instead of only accepting payments on card, Kakao Taxi brings the cab to you and you can choose to pay either in cash or card.

To be honest the ultimate app to make the best of your Korea trip is Naver Map. The only downside is that it is all written in Korean. For people who don't understand Korean, I don't think you'll be able to use it. 

This app works like Google map with GPS to track your location. You can type in where you are / use the "locate me" function and your destination, then it will suggest the fastest way for you to get there. It will show you the length of the your journey, the estimated fare and also which form of public transport to take / switch to. Buses in Korea are rather confusing if you do not have this app. I even helped a few Korean old ladies who weren't tech savvy to figure out the ways to their destinations.

I will try my very best to write up a blog post on how to use Naver Map app for people who don't understand Korean. It's too good not to be shared with ya all!!! 

Another alternative is to use Google maps to get around in Korea. Of course the Google Maps is no match for the Naver Map app but it's still better than nothing right? 

17. Bring your passport/foreign bank cards along to some places 

In Korea, as long as you purchase over 30000won in a shop, you are able to get tax refund at the airport. Some shops/areas will prepare your tax refund receipt immediately at the checkouts so you could go straight to the tax refund counter at the airport after going through the immigration. Sometimes, they'll have promotions for foreigners too. 

Highly recommend you to bring along these 2 things to Myeondong, Gyeongbukgong, Sinchon and Apgujeong-rodeo in Seoul and Nampo-dong in Pusan. 

For example, while I was at Pusan's Nampo-dong, Innisfree was having a 30% sale storewide for all foreigners who could pay with their foreign credit cards. 

18. Tips on what clothes to pack

I'm not a travel or fashion blogger by any means so I am not going to tell you how I mix and match my outfits and things like that. 

My only tip is to bring a good pair of walking shoes (I don't do the have-a-pair-of-heels-in-my-bag-for-photo-only kind of thing because it's really insane in my p.o.v) and also comfortable yet presentable clothing pieces. 

I brought 2 pairs of black jeggings from Uniqlo (they are exactly identical) because those are basically the only pants that I wear anyways in my life apart from my workout and corporate outfits. You will see these pants all over my upcoming Korea trip blog posts!  

Packing plain colours for your tops will make your outfit look simple and nice. Plus, you don't have to worry about the need to look super extravagant because the trend in Korea is always just "simple, casual and presentable". 

I like keeping things light-weighted during my travel so instead of bringing my coat for autumn in Korea, I brought my Tommy Hilfiger windbreaker. It's presentable (duh it's TH and TH is love!) and most importantly light-weighted. I had days when I wore it out early in the morning then I had to carry it for the whole day in my hands until it got too chilly again at night. Just imagine if I were to have a long thick coat, I'd kill myself for that. 

Another alternative is pack no shit and buy everything in Korea. I only had these things in my luggage together with my tech stuffs, bras and underwears, little to none skincare and makeup (it's Korea for god's sake), a book and iPad that was loaded up with a few Korean dramas. 

My friend saw it and she asked, "Are you serious that you are done with packing? You don't have anything!" 

"Why should I have everything? I'm going to the land of everything-Fion-wants."

This also saved me the money of having to pay for check-in luggage too because I was travelling with AirAsia. You'll have to purchase luggage weight if you exceed the 7kgs for hand-carry and have your bag checked in. 

19. A spare duffle bag 

Keep a foldable big duffle bag in your luggage because you'll definitely need an extra bag for your shopping in Korea. Or you can just buy it in Korea and it doesn't cost you much. I got a super big one which I swore I could fit myself into it with just 10000won. 

I guess that concludes the list. Nothing too fancy but all the practical tips because it's Korea and you don't have to worry for not having whatever you need. Just grab your essentials and you are good to go! 

Till the next blog post ^^ 

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