7 Things every smartphone user must do before visiting Korea
I took my first trip ever to Korea two weeks ago as part of the Korea Joa Project, and it was also my first time traveling for an extended time with my iPhone. Traveling with your phone can be very expensive potentially, and along the way I made some mistakes and some smart decisions. Here are 7 things that I think everyone with a smartphone should do before visiting Korea!
1. Save That Money
One of my top 3 travel nightmares (I think I've literally had this nightmare) is having a long fun vacation, and then coming home to a phone bill for thousands of dollars of data use. The usual way to deal with this is to buy a travel data bundle from your phone carrier. It's pricey, and once you go over the bundle of data you bought, it can get even more expensive. It's also a hassle to manage data if you have a lot of apps on your phone that like to sneak in updates in the background. It wasn't until the last few days of my trip that I found a pretty great solution: you can rent portable Wi-fi! For as little as $4.00 per day (I paid about $6), this company will have a pocket Wi-fi "egg" ready for you at the airport, or even deliver it free to your hotel! They do require 2 days notice, so it's something that you should arrange before you leave for Korea. To return your personal Wi-fi, simply drop it off at the airport before you head back to your country. Easy!
Tip: Once during my final weekend, my Wi-fi egg stopped working, glaring at me with angry red lights. It was a holiday, and I was worried that I'd have a whole weekend without sweet Internet. I even bought a box of paper clips so I could poke the tiny 'reset' button, to no avail. However, a customer service rep eventually advised me to crack the egg open (there's a small notch at the bottom) and super-reset it by taking out the battery and putting it back in. It worked! If this ever happens to you, just reset the battery.
2. Do You Understand the Words Coming Out of My Mouth?
One day when I was unsupervised, I got a bit lost in Korea and took a break for some lunch. The restaurant owner was very friendly but neither of us were fluent in the other's language (although he knew many more English words than I knew Korean). Then I remembered the magic of the Google Translate App. It's a free download that you should grab right now. After you select English and Korean, you can speak into the phone's microphone and it will translate whatever you say. Is it perfect? Not really, but for simple conversations it was a lifesaver. It also makes a fun conversation piece when you bring it out! Even more impressive is the ability to translate text on signs or buildings via your camera. I actually forgot to try this out, but it sounds cool!
3. Don't Die On Me!
You're going to be walking around, taking pictures and videos, posting to Instagram, texting friends about how awesome Korea is. The last thing you want is to run out of power or have to waste time in your room charging up. Although restaurants are usually happy to charge your phone for you, you're going to feel a lot more confident with some extra juice in your pocket. Get an extra battery, throw it in your bag, and rest easy during your long days and nights of site-seeing, hiking, eating, and karaoke-ing. You can pick up an external battery plenty of places in Korea, but why not get one before you go? This one from Amazon is highly rated and seems pretty pocket friendly.
4. Go Paperless.
A travel guide can be really helpful not only to plan your trip in advance, but it also can give background to what you're seeing, point out the best place to stop for coffee in the neighborhood you're exploring, and more. Although I think travel books on your bookshelf are cool reminders of places you've visited, in real life these are heavy, bulky books to carry around. Don't do it! Get the Kindle app (or your book reading app of choice), and buy a digital travel guide. My personal favorite series is Rough Guides, and I was able to get the brand new version of their Korean guide digitally before the book even hit stores. Bring it out during your downtime in Korea to search for the best place for seafood, K-pop souvenirs, anything!
This is actually a real necessity, but it's also something you can do after you've landed in Korea. You will need at least one electrical adapter in Korea. Yes, you can plug in your good old USA plug in at the airport, and I did find one outlet in one hotel that worked, but 97% of the time, I was dealing with the round outlet pictured above. The good news is that adapters are sold at convenience stores, which are pretty much everywhere in Seoul. I'm sure they are also sold at the airport, although they might be pricey. Anyway, you will need one or more during your stay, so keep an eye out! By the way, an adapter is not necessarily the same as a voltage converter. I didn't have a problem with the voltage difference.
I heard that this only works for foreigners, but if you use it in the US, you can also use Uber to call a taxi in Seoul. Generally I had no problem hailing a cab, but there are some situations (as in when my souvenir bags were seriously heavy because I bought a kitchen full of Korean pottery hello) where you might just want to call a cab at the touch of a finger. Taxis are cheap in Seoul and usually prefer to take credit cards, by the way.
7. Yoo Chun Slept Here
This last one really depends on your travel style, but here's what I recommend. You're going to be traveling on a long flight to Korea, and you'll land dazed, confused, and happy. The first two nights, book a hotel in advance and pamper yourself. After you've explored Seoul (or wherever you're staying) a little though, choose a neighborhood you like and do an Airbnb to experience Korea in a more fun, adventurous, down-to-earth way. The app makes it easy to explore areas around you, and I found options like a sunny studio in Gangnam, a rooftop apartment in Itaewon, even traditional hanok housing in Bukchon for as little as $40 a night. As always, renter beware, but I think it's more fun to choose your own adventure once you've settled in.
The Korea Joa Project was an amazing chance to broaden my understanding of Korea. Read about things that surprised me, learning to cook with a K-drama Food Director, and iKON's debut concert. And there's more to come! Is there something you'd like to know about the trip? Ask me in the comments!