Hello and welcome back to the Seoul Diaries! May is upon us and midterms are finally over (thank goodness). In today’s episode, I thought that I would talk about a few of my experiences traveling alone in Korea.
With COVID still looming in the background and the semester becoming extremely hectic, I have not been able to hang out with as many people as I would have liked to. Often times, I want to do things with other people or go on those big group trips to places like Gwangju and Busan that I see other students doing on Instagram every weekend, but I can’t for whatever reason. So – I have opted to just go alone to different places instead.
Not to go into anything super personal, but I used to be an extrovert before coming to Korea. However, these days I tend to exhibit a lot of introvert behaviors. With a combination of this, COVID, being busy, and feeling like I won’t have time to go to certain places if I wait around for others, this has resulted in me solo traveling around Korea.
Anyways, I wanted to briefly discuss some of my most memorable trips alone so far!
These mountains are my escape from the larger Seoul area. Every time I feel bored of campus life or need to “get out of the city”, I head straight to Bukhansan. When I went to the mountains for the first time, it felt pretty exhilarating going alone. I had my day-tripping playlist on blast, found a really cute and aesthetic cafe, and got to see the pretty fall foliage from my cafe seat. If you can guess which cafe I am about to shoutout (again), give yourself a pat on the back and a cookie for remembering my previous top 10 cafe list! 😀
옥류헌릴렉스 카페 is one of my all-time favorite places to head to when I just need some space to focus or do homework that isn’t on-campus.
I have recently traveled solo to this area again and visited a different cafe further down the hill called Cafe 9. The vibes are definitely still the same, but you can expect to see a lot of groups of older ladies gathering for tea there. The owner was super sweet and even gave my complimentary potato snacks and hot water~
The first time that I went here, I ended the night at (what is is now) my go-to spot for sausage stew (부대찌개) 백곰집. I can eat there comfortably alone and, because I can never finish the whole dish, I can always ask the owner for a to-go container and eat my leftovers later.
Uijeongbu Art Library 의정부미술도서관
This famous and beautifully built library is also located in the mountain area, but it is a bit further away and harder to get to with public transportation. Since I don’t have a car in Korea (obviously), I rely heavily on the bus/subway system. To get here, I had to take the bus and subway, which took me around 2 hours total…but it was worth it the long distance.
It may not look like much from the outside, but the interior is what had me wanting to stay the whole day. Even the bathrooms are a vibe (see below). I went with the intent to study, but I ended up just exploring the various floors of the library instead. I feel that areas in the mountains run at a slower pace than areas closer to Seoul – like bus times (30 minute intervals instead of 11 minute intervals). However, there are a lot of cool things to see and do there, so I would highly recommend taking a day trip to the mountains if you need a break from Seoul-life.
Also, if you are a huge ARMY stan, you should visit this library because RM went there once and now they have a whole shelf dedicated to him on the 4th floor!
Seoul Botanical Garden
Located in the area of Magok-dong, this gigantic botanical garden made it onto my MUST-SEE list. Ever since I saw the artist Dean (check out his music if you haven’t already!) visit there back in 2017, I had to go there myself. While the trip also took around an hour and a half, I felt like I had stepped into a whole other world. It wasn’t Seoul and it wasn’t the mountains, but this area had very long streets, industrial buildings, and office workers everywhere. If suburban-chic was a style, it would be Magok-dong.
The garden itself was very cool to see (even though I went during winter). It is indoors and has a separate tropical forest and desert plant sections. I had a really fun time seeing various plants and environments! Afterwards, I ordered myself some cold-noodles and visited a nice cafe to relax.
Lastly, 1/4th of my trip to Busan was of me solo traveling so I will include it. From my own personal experience, booking and paying for the KTX ticket was hard to do on the app (I still have no idea why to this day), so I had to ask a friend to help me get a departing and arrival ticket from Seoul to Busan. You can also go in-person the day of to buy a ticket, but I find that having the ticket before you get to the station is easier. KTX tickets aren’t that cheap (usually starts around $53 for a seat one-way), but sometimes its the quickest way to get where you want to go.
Tip: If you need to switch your ticket times, simply go up to the KTX ticket station counter and ask the attendant if you can change your time to a later/earlier one. If other seat spaces are available, they will reassign you to that seat and give you a new ticket with the correct information.
Since I was arriving there on my own and was staying the night, I also had to book my own hotel. Checking-in was a pretty easy process to do. I booked the room through booking.com because the price for one-night was cheaper that way. I would have booked an airbnb if I had been traveling with someone else, but I felt that my belongings would be more secure at a hotel.
That one night was an experience.
After a day of exploring Busan, visiting the Haeundae beach, and eating very good food, I made my way back to my hotel room. With my cup of strawberry boba tea, I turned on Netflix on the hotel room’s TV and was finishing off my zombie-themed day by watching Shaun of the Dead for the first time. Not even 10 minutes after I finished the movie, I began to smell… a smell… wafting into my hotel room. I tried finding the source of the smell and eventually made my way to the bathroom. The culprit: cigarette smoke. Someone in the room above me was smoking in their bathroom (which you weren’t allowed to do) and the smell was traveling through the drainage pipes into my room. My inner-self squirmed with discomfort. Korea has a huge number of people that smoke and I really do not like the smell because it gives me terrible migraines.
So, imagine that you just came back from a fun, but very exhausting day walking all around Busan with a heavy backpack and you have to wake up early the next day to meet a friend, but you can’t sleep or relax because the smell of cigarettes is so overwhelming and won’t leave your room. Yeah. It SUCKS. Past-self me would have put up with it and stayed up all night drafting my 1 star yelp review of the hotel to post the next day. However, current-self me decided that I wasn’t going to put up with it. I called the hotel concierge downstairs and told him in Korean about my situation and that I wanted to move rooms. He gave my a bit of attitude at first, but after hounding him about it for 10 minutes, he finally obliged and gave me a different room card to another room. This made my experience better as it was my first time in a hotel room by myself (ever!) and I wanted to be comfortable. The next day, a different worker apologized to me profusely about the situation when I was checking out, so I was happy to see that the working staff were made aware of the previous night’s events.
Faith’s main lesson for traveling alone: Make sure to advocate for yourself. It’s your trip so make the most with what you can and make sure that you are having a good time and enjoying yourself. Trust me, you will feel ten times better after doing this.
Tip: Also, if you ever go to Busan alone, make sure that you change the subway map on the 지하철 종결지 app!! I didn’t know that I could do this and had my map showing Seoul train lines and not Busan train line, which had me confused for a while. To do this, go into the app, look for the box showing “수도권” in the top left corner, and click the arrow. You should then see a list for other regions like Busan, Gwangju, Daejeon, and Daegu! ~~The more you know~~
Also also, here is my Seoul daytripping playlist if you are interested: (a mix of indie pop and pop music to help make you feel truly independent and free in your adventures!)
*The writing and photos here are meant for use on finsupabroad.com and are not to be copied or redistributed by other entities without permission from the author.