Because I decided to go it alone and plan myself a solo holiday!
How to travel solo like an almost-pro
Nothing ground-breaking in the grand scheme of things but I found myself either keeping the trip tightly to myself or sharing with friends and bracing myself for, ‘lol l0ner~ why don’t you take a friend?’ quips. Mostly because, you know, I didn’t want to broadcast that I was about to tackle a new country alone and risk my safety. Ahem. But I stand firm in my belief that there’s no shame in going on holiday alone, or, indeed, in doing anything alone. Do what you want, girl. Except from perhaps slow dancing.
Now that I’m safely home from my first ever solo holiday, I figured I’d share some tips and tricks for others looking at doing the same.
01 | Pro: Do what you want
The best part about travelling alone is easily that you can be as selfish as you want. Instantly, there aren’t any awkward chats about what everybody in the party does or doesn’t want to. You can do whatever you want! And I’ll admit that, whilst I could have invited others for my trip, I kinda wanted to try Seoul alone, I had a list as long as I am tall of things I wanted to do, places I wanted to go. It was time to be a little selfish because, really, when else can you be? I dabbled in the idea of simply booking a tour package to ease my mind but figured 6am wake-ups and blindly following others isn’t my kinda game. Instead, I spent 3 of my 4 days going it alone and followed a day tour in order to easily get to Nami Island!
02 | A place to stay
I opted for an Airbnb for my trip because I figured it’d be an affordable option and a nice way to immerse myself in an authentic experience of the city. And, well, I wasn’t wrong! My Airbnb host was next-level amazing and helped me learn the ropes on the bus route, show me the best supermarket deals and all sorts of insider tips. It’s really worth taking your time to find the best place to stay – for you. Perhaps if you’re very nervous and prefer a true holiday experience, a hotel would be a better option, but I was trying to go for a cheap trip and trusted my own navigating skills and opted for an Airbnb. In the end, I chose a private room in a house in the Itaewon area; perfectly central to most of the places I planned to visit. (See 03!) When selecting an Airbnb, be sure to check out the listing and read the reviews. I championed things like, towels included, the host being happy to help plan your day or gently guide you in the right direction in the mornings, WiFi inclusive, the host knowing English, anecdotes from previous guests, etc. All little things but that will make a difference!
03 | Create a map when planning
If you already have a list of places you’d like to try, things to see, etc. then create a custom map in Google Maps first! I did this to ease my own worries about navigating but it’s also a great tool to help you get the most out of your trip. Even if you don’t want it to be too itinerary-oriented, drop pins in and see how long it’ll take to get to each place – it’ll help with things like separating your days, making sure you’re not going from East to West and back again in one day. Once you’ve loosely mapped things out, zoom in and get savvy about selecting a hotel/hostel/Airbnb slap bang in the middle of the action.
04 | Safety first
Be safe! In the age of Instagram and other social media platforms galore, particularly as an avid blogger, I made a point out of delayed photo posting when out and about. I’m an advocate of geotagging photos to share cool spots and serve as a reminder of the places I’ve been, but I pretty much always do this after I’ve left the area in question. Not to say that serial killers and the like tend to lurk on Instagram, but you can never but too sure. It’s better to be safe than sorry! Post those when you’re already safely back in your hotel or have completely left the area. Another tip I have is to actually carry that social media-friendly phone with you. I did this when I first moved to Hong Kong, actually. Many cities in Asia are plagued with smartphone syndrome, whereby everybody is seemingly surgically attached to his or her phone, and it’s good to try and look like ‘one of them’, it truly is. Not only was it oh so useful for me to open up Google Maps and the subway app to keep track of my route (I’m notorious for getting super lost!), but it makes you look like somebody with purpose and direction – let’s not get too deep here though 😉 – and I always see it as a way of deterring potential crazies because, hey, I could phone the police or my Mum at any moment!
Something that is pretty unavoidable is the whole ‘being out after dark/late’ thing. I mean, c’mon, you’re on holiday, you probably want to make the most out of each day. For me, I had an action plan of hitting up night markets and sampling street food as well as catching a glimpse of the Seoul cityscape by nightfall. So, be smart. Take the normal precautions for walking home alone and amplify them. Have a reputable cab number stored in your phone and don’t be afraid of using it: the extra money is going towards your safety, remember? I also checked in regularly with friends in neighbouring countries and with my parents back home, reminding them of where I was headed that day and evening. If you must walk, choose well-lit roads and attempt to use different routes back, where possible, that is, don’t set up a nice everyday routine for somebody to notice.
Finally, a good tip – if not just for the logistics of getting around! – is to write down your address in English and the local language. Many cab drivers or locals that you may ask for directions aren’t made to simply guide a lost and forlorn tourist around, so it’s nice to have something to show them or even a screenshot of a map on your phone. I had my Airbnb host note this down for me and kept it in my purse but, of course, by all means nab a business card from your hotel, etc.
05 | Self-development
Oh ho ho, time to get cheesy! But there’s no denying that, even if you live alone or independently, a solo holiday does a world of wonder. You’re out of your comfort zone and potentially in a different time zone – all the #zones – you’re getting to explore a new spot on the map. I’d recommend carrying some form of entertainment with you, whether that’s a gaming console, your iPod or a good to honest paperback book. Travelling around a new city or country isn’t too much different from your commute! 😉
Having said that, also don’t shy away from unplugging and simply soaking up the daily hubbub of locals. Observe their way of life, their mannerisms and rituals; I visited Seoul during Lunar New Year – simply because I had a little time off from work – which is a time of celebration, in different ways, for many countries in Asia. South Korea celebrate Seollol in this time and I was lucky enough to spot lots of little celebrations!
Next up? I’m diligently editing another batch of photos from my trip and, by popular request, I’m working on sharing my complete itinerary! With the help of my good friend Rachel (a.k.a. my fellow B2UTY in crime, a should-be holiday planner, fellow cat lady and all-round good egg), I’d listed out some places and addresses to check out but also had a list of cafes I wanted to visit and sights I wanted to see. Nothing was set in stone but I had a pretty smooth visit, so if you’re wanting to visit Seoul for the very first time and enjoy K-pop, shopping for trinkets and cute Korean clothing, visiting cultural hubs and scenic places, stay tuned for an upcoming post!