Whoever said that planning a 10-day itinerary to a place you’ve never been to is easy must have gotten traveling down to a T. Haha. Not me though, and this is evident in our planning. Planning (and saving) for our Korea trip last year took about half a year, with the final itinerary finished only a day or two before the actual flight! It sort of pays to be somewhat OC, and yet leaving space for us to wiggle in our travel.
☆ PLANE TICKETS ☆
We were able to snag a couple of seats on sale (around Php 2k one-way, excluding other charges and baggage allowance) from Cebu Pacific Air late May and mid-June. Why two separate dates? This is my first travel boo boo: I booked our flights one-way because we couldn’t get good prices for the flight back home. When I checked again in June, both dates had good prices and I could have saved a couple hundred Pesos for each person.
Travel tip: Book plane tickets round trip – not only is it easier, it’s also cheaper as you will be able to avoid the foreign exchange conversion rate fluctuations from the carrier to your local credit card (Incheon-Manila one way flights are priced in KRW). It also pays to watch out for “Piso fares” – usually around holidays – because it really is THAT much cheaper.
☆ VISA ☆
It is generally not difficult to obtain a tourist visa going into Korea. For us, we just had to complete the necessary documents from the list in the (PH) Korean Embassy site (here) and file in the embassy. We were given a temporary release date (after 5 working days) and came back on that day. Filing is done in the morning and release in the afternoon.
Travel tip: File your VISA application within 90 days from target arrival date in Korea. The embassy did not specify the amount for “show money”, so it’s better if you can provide more than enough for your stay. Also, so the chances of approval is higher, make sure that you are able to establish your economic ties with your home country.
☆ LODGING ☆
If you haven’t heard – Airbnb is one of the cheapest ways to book accommodations in recent years, and the app is fairly easy to use in searching and booking places. We were able to get a great apartment in Gangnam district for about Php 3k per day. This includes all other fees (cleaning, service fees), less weekly discount because we booked for more than a week. You can look for a place that’s within your budget and with your preferred amenities, in a location that’s fit for your itinerary. If you have questions regarding the place (like how to get there, nearby subway stations and restaurants) you can quickly message the host before and after booking so you can be put at ease.
Travel tip: Favorite possible choices and include your travel dates and number of people staying so you can get a better idea how much it’ll cost you. Before booking, I also prepared an excel sheet comparing the prices, locations, plus amenities that were important to our trip so it was easy to compare the apartments/hostels/homes we were looking at. Example for us, having a free pocket wifi egg during our stay is a definite plus since we won’t have to rent one anymore.
☆ WEATHER ☆
When going to a temperate country and you’re from somewhere tropical…… NEVER EVER FORGET TO CHECK WHAT THE CURRENT WEATHER IS IN YOUR DESTINATION. Coming from somewhere warm all-year-round, we needed to be prepared for the drastic change in climate. Going somewhere colder (and at a time when it’s almost winter) meant we had to pack coats, tons of leggings, long-sleeved blouses and more layers of clothing than we are used to. No flip-flops during winter (unless you want your toes frozen. Haha)! It also pays to give attention to your health – sudden changes in weather could make us sick so make sure to take those vitamins and build up your immune system before your trip.
Travel tip: Always check the weather and adjust your itineraries accordingly (more on this in the next item). This can’t be done on booked tours, but it can help you adjust your clothing choices for that day and what you need to bring (umbrellas if it will rain, hats if it’s a scorching hot sunny summer day).
☆ ITINERARY ☆
This is a no-brainer. By that, I meant you HAVE to have an itinerary before leaving, even if it’s just a rough idea of what to do and where to go on specific dates. Unless you’re a fan of winging it in a foreign country on a limited number of days (which I am not because it wastes my time and energy trying to get around and worrying). You can always opt for tours since this is hassle-free and would often have guides who can speak English. But since we like moving at our own pace, we decided to DIY our trip, which entailed a lot of research for good places to visit, yummy places to eat, and getting suggestions from friends and family who have already traveled to that country.
Pros and cons of a DIY itinerary: Pro: you can customize it however you want to. If you want to start the day earlier or later, you can adjust the time you wake up and move about. Con: you have to be ready in case something doesn’t happen the way you want it to – we once had to scrap more than a few items off our itinerary because of a sudden rain which lasted the entire afternoon. 😦
If you do DIY your trip, take into consideration other costs you may incur that would normally be covered by the fee you pay on tours, like entrance fees (museums, palaces), travel costs (subway, bus, taxi, cable car fares), and other activity costs (like hanbok rental for our Korea trip).
Travel tip: Whichever you choose (DIY or tour), be prepared for contingencies. We had to shell out a couple thousand Won more than we planned when we forgot to check the bus arrival and departure time from Nami Island to Petit France because we took a cab to our next destination.
☆ OTHERS ☆
I almost forgot this one! Make sure to check if there are restrictions in your country for departing minors. For us, we had a bit of trouble at immigration upon departure since we were not able to acquire a clearance from the local Department of Social Welfare and Development that allows my little sister to travel abroad without our parents. Good thing that the officers there were nice enough to allow us to submit on-the-spot other documents (after a stressful few minutes of worrying and calling mom) that can show evidence that her (our) parents allow her to travel with just me and my other sister.
Travel tip: Check and double-check all legal and necessary documents! Sometimes unexpected requirements turn up out of the blue, so it’s always better to be prepared – thank God for technology!
Whew~! That was a lengthy one. I might have forgotten some other predeparture considerations, so let me know if there’s anything else I missed or what you’d like to know more about in the comments section below. Next post, I’ll start sharing the day-to-day itinerary (and experiences) we had #WhenInSeoul. Onwards to the land of kimchi, kdramas, kpop, and oppa-deul!
Story by Justine Lim from J Day in a Life