So, as you all know, I traveled to Seoul, South Korea a bit ago.
And my bags. (but that’s a story for another day)
And I learned somethings taking my first international trip, alone at that, so I thought I’d share. Some lessons I learned from the situations and simply being there, others from friends. Either way here it goes:
- “Slowly, slowly.”
My very first lesson came from an older man working at the airport when I arrived at Incheon. I was trying to get some T-Money to take the train to the Metro, and being the New Yorker that I am, I was rushing. For, like, no reason. I arrived mid-week, no one was behind me, and frankly, had I dropped a 50,000 KRW (오만원) for the sake of rushing, it would have a been a sad day. So the older gentleman walking me through the process kept telling me “Slowly, slowly”, to make sure I had everything, to make sure I put my money back in my wallet, and all that jazz. Even on vacay, I had forgotten to breathe. So remember, especially whilst traveling alone, you must look out for yourself. You could be fortunate and have a stranger look out for you, but even so, remember to take your time, take a breath, adjust to your surroundings and take care of what you need to take care of, even if there is a line forming behind you.
2. It’s Ok to Ask for Help. Not only is it OK, it’s a Requirement.
By now, I’m feeling fancy, I’ve gotten on the metro like the saavy New Yorker I am, and learned to slow down and collect myself. Fantastic. Now, what else was for me to learn? Well, after successfully switching from the local to the express line after a man watched me sit for far to long in my opinion, told whomever he was speaking on the phone with to hold on for a moment, and told me in exactly 3 words of English, “Go, across, go. Express across. Go.” I took his advice, and got off and hauled my luggage across the platform. So thank you kind sir. I couldn’t possibly need more help than that, right? Wrong. That man offered helped, I hadn’t asked, and in the wild, whilst traveling alone, you must learn to ask for help.
My AirBnB was a minute walk from the metro station. And that’s if I wasn’t walking like a New Yorker. Upon my arrival to said metro station, however, I found myself walking in circles. I found a Wi-Fi Spot, I called my sis over Wi-Fi and asked her to look up the address. She was finding a 15 minute walk. I didn’t understand what was happening. Then my sister had my phone turned on for texting, and wouldn’t you know it, I get a text from my AirBnB host saying she was worried, because she was expecting me, and I hadn’t arrived during my estimated time. I remember when she text me. I was crying in front of a Hana Bank 하나은항(don’t worry, this will come up again), while staring at this guy:
Actor Kim SooHyun 김수현, who played Do Min Joon in My Love From Another Star (별에서 온 그대). Apparently he holds the record for most endorsements in a year cuz he’s totally adorbs. He was literally everywhere in Seoul. And there he was, in an ad in front of the Hana Bank I was crying in front of. Le sigh. I should have just asked for help earlier, because my host found me within minutes of me finding my way back to the metro station. My host must have seen the distress in my face, and swept me up in a big hug upon meeting me. She hauled my huge bag(against my protests) and walked me a minute to her lovely apartment. Lesson learned. Asking for help can save you an hour of your life and some tears.
3. Identify Your Person
Why was the bank with the South Korean cutie, Kim SooHyun, oh so relevant? I’m getting to that. When traveling alone, you absolutely have to have someone who is, what we call in my family, Your Person. You know, that friend since the playpen, sister, cousin, play cousin, uncle, or whomever who is your absolute ride or die. If you called them from a prison in Mexico because of some plans gone astray during your travels, they’d be on the next flight. They would curse at you the entire drive back, but they’d come break you out, or work their diplomatic connections. I had a few people in the Travel Squad, but my main Person, that I called at all times while freaking out, was my twin. From giving me a pep talk at Seoul Fashion Week, to getting my phone turned on internationally at no extra cost to me, to wiring me money at, you guessed it, the same Hana Bank I was crying in front of the day before my return flight home, she was my absolute ride or die. Your Person will figure out a way to help you, even if it takes using Google Translate and some hand signs to do it. Your Person will encourage the spiritual journey that traveling alone can take you on, and do what ever they can to help you stay at peace, so you can, absolutely, make the most of your journey.
4. You will Cry, and it’s really OK. (진짜, 진짜~ 괜찮아!)
Traveling alone has it’s stresses. Even though plenty of people were super helpful, and I got to go on a date with a local, and I had incredible experiences, there is just something about traveling alone. I truly believe no matter what prompts you to travel alone, it’s an a act which ultimately awakens, heals, and nourishes your soul. For me, it’s been the ongoing struggle with the loss of my mother, and the desperate need for magic. Traveling, to the exact place my heart said to go, didn’t mean I wasn’t going to cry, it just meant I was going to cry and cleanse in the right place. You get to let it all out, pray, meditate, and just be in a place, simply being. I cannot tell you how nourishing it is for the soul, to just, cry.
5. Answer to You.
This life is ultimately between you and Source. The same goes for your planned or random vacation. The beauty of traveling alone is you don’t have to answer to anyone else’s itinerary or expectation. One of my friends in the Travel Squad, encouraged me over KaKaoTalk, and reminded me that this trip is just for me. I can do every touristy thing imaginable, or I can wander around aimlessly, as long as I was happy. I did way more of the latter. Praying, meditating, smiling at cute locals, and wandering. I got a greater local experience by doing that, and had more opportunities to practice the Korean I spent 3 months learning! This trip is for you, you will emerge stronger, braver, and wiser, so do whatever makes you happy.
I’m sure there are more lessons I learned while traveling alone, but I’m still discovering them, next I’ll post on my practical travel advice! What did you learn traveling alone? I’d love to hear from you!
Drink soju like a boss, dance til dawn in Hongdae, haggle over prices, wear sequins on a Tuesday, whatever, just do what you love. You betta werk! I’m rooting for you!